Sea and Be Seen at the Gala

We suspected something fishy was going on, but the come-hither mermaid who greeted guests at Saturday's 17th annual Lombardi's gala confirmed it hook, line and sinker. Then again, the theme was "Treasures of the Sea," and few could resist the renowned silent auction. More than 1,400 guests enthusiastically competed for trips, meals, wines, jewels and other lavish goodies. "You guys don't put on riot gear?" Nevin Kelly asked volunteers five minutes before deadline. Art gallery owner Kelly nabbed a $1,500 Web site design for a mere $450, proving once again that this was the best shop-op in town. "It's like black-tie Target!" he said.

All this fun was for the serious cause of raising $1 million for cancer research and treatment. Guests such as Sen. Don Nickles, Microstrategy's Michael Saylor, and ambassadors from Australia and New Zealand cheered the honorees: former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, jockey P.J. Cooksey, and Hecht's vice president Nancy Chistolini, a gala volunteer for 17 years (thanks to founder Margaret Hodges). "Margaret's a very good persuader," said Chistolini. "I thought I was signing up for one year."

Floating fish balloons, iridescent tables and undulating lights turned the cavernous Hilton Washington ballroom into a dazzling giant aquarium. We especially liked the video of sharks and other predators gobbling down smaller fish -- but then, this is an election year.

Lest you think the big fish always wins, breast cancer survivor Cooksey brought down the house with her account of life as a female jockey: "Not only do you have to deal with the male ego, but you have to deal with the little-man ego" -- a line that transcends horse racing, the devil and the deep blue sea.

Taking a Bow at the Builders' Ball

Let's get one thing clear: None of the guys at Saturday's fourth annual Builders' Ball would be caught dead wearing the pink work boots that served as centerpieces. Their idea of a "creative accessory" was (gasp!) a colored bow tie. Cases in point: architect Darrel Rippeteau and Steve Kenton of the Washington Building Congress (from left, below). This was progress for the 1,200 folks from the construction, design, real estate and engineering fields. "Tonight, they're not wearing pocket protectors," giggled Sabine Haas of Tishman Construction.

Organizers of the party transformed the Ronald Reagan Building into the elegant "Fred Astaire Room" (with top hats and red roses) and the funky "Saturday Night Fever Room" (with tie-dye tableclothes and hot-pink daisies). The biannual event raised $160,000 for six local charities, which will receive design, construction and housing support. Proving once again: Money is the best creative accessory.

That's a Lot of Bread Per Sandwich

Not all birthday parties serve cake. Friday's National Sandwich Day was celebrated with a "Belly Buster" contest: a five-minute sandwich-stuffing sprint hosted by (surprise!) Potbelly Sandwich Works in downtown Washington. No surprise: The seven contestants were men. Derrick Forde and Brett Goyne, right, were impressive, but Kyle Nicholson, a 19-year-old student at George Washington University, won $1,000 by gulping down 2.75 sandwiches (turkey, swiss, mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomato on an Italian roll).

The event loosely commemorated the 1718 birth of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. Supposedly the earl invented the sandwich as a hand-held meal to eat while gambling. The story's questionable authenticity mattered little to this celebration. "The Earl of Sandwich is a genius," Nicholson joked. "I'd like to shake his hand." The one without mayo glop, we presume.

With Janelle Erlichman