We walked into 5 Degrees, a hip downtown Denver dance club near the Pepsi Center, and the first thing I saw were Sean Penn’s angry eyes. At least they looked angry to me. He was smiling, sure. He had a drink in his hand, chatting with friends, gesticulating with a purpose. He was animated, talking politics, passionate, and even though I couldn’t really make out his words, he was clearly getting worked up by a hot political opinion. I thought for a moment I should approach him and try to chat. Hey, it’s Sean Penn, right? Maybe throw out the line I’d heard 20 times that night in the city as folks discussed the beam in Bill Clinton’s eyes earlier: “So, do you think Hillary got lucky tonight?” I tried to move toward him through the crush of Democrats. That’s when Penn looked at me and sussed out my intention. (Elizabeth Lavin was with me, and the huge camera around her neck screamed “press.”) He threw out his patented “if you try to talk to me, I will shank you” look. His buddies did the same. I nodded and walked past. He didn’t nod back. I didn’t feel like talking political shop with him, anyway. I really just wanted to ask him questions about Madonna and re-run entire scenes from Bad Boys. But you can’t have that sort of silliness at a place where everyone takes themselves so seriously. Unless, of course, you find Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia (pictured). Because if what I’d been told about him was true, the line for fun starts to his left.
After Lavin tried (unsuccessfully) to shoot Mr. Penn, we did a quick walk-through tour. This place was huge, a big bar area attached to a small dance floor, where DJ Diabetic spun the club beats that give old guys like me eye pain. This led to a wonderful covered patio, which led to the uncovered patio, serving tonight as the VIP area. I scanned the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, looking for Anchia. A buddy of mine was a young lawyer at Anchia’s previous firm (“Ranch” is currently at Haynes and Boone), and he told me that Anchia is crazy good times when he’s on the town. (The lawyer who made this statement has trashed no fewer than three hotel rooms since I’ve known him, so he knows of what he speaks.) I didn’t see Anchia right away, but how could I have? This party, the “Rising Stars” party, was thrown by Anchia and five other young politicians who are up-and-comers nationally, and had been talked about by several random people we’d run into the past several days. The RSVP had reached capacity a week earlier, and the line got so long by the time we arrived that the door staff gave up checking the list and let folks in until the place reached capacity. It was, in a word, bumpin’.
From the VIP area, a man stood on a small stage with a microphone, ready to introduce the party hosts. First was Cory Booker, the 39-year-old mayor of Newark. He greeted the crowd warmly.
“WHAT UP PEOPLE!? Is Jersey in the HOOOUUUSSSEEE?”
Tough act to follow, but Anchia did.
“O-BAMA, O-BAMA, O-BAMA!”
He then threw out a “Viva Obama,” one quick shout-out to Tejas, and, with that, he was gone into the night, like a Spanish Batman. We waited back inside, chatting with a few Texas delegates and taking advantage of drink coupons, and then I spied Dallas Morning News political columnist Gromer Jeffers. Through my years of observing real reporters, I know they like to hang out with or near their sources. Using this logic, I decided to head that way, hoping to see Ranch (my unapproved man-crush nickname; cute, or too much?) soon.
I’d met him last week in his office. We had a wonderfully professional discussion. We talked about the difference between Obama and Hillary in person. He is one who believes Obama has less magnetism in the flesh because he’s just such a regular, easy-going guy, unlike Hillary, who he says has a very commanding presence. (Onstage, flip that.) We chatted about the then-possibility of Texas U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards getting the vice presidential nod. (Anchia thought he would have been a great choice.) We chatted about Dallas going Dem, will Obama help Texas Dems down the ticket, all sorts of Wick-approved, intense political talk. But aside from his insanely good looks, that’s not the source of my desired bro-mance. It stems from when he leaned forward, told me he was freaked out about turning 40 in a few weeks, said I looked fit for 40, then asked me for my workout routine. “You e-mail me that, I’ll e-mail you RSVPs for the Rising Stars party,” he said. Done and done. Sigh.
Sure enough, Ranch was holding court near Jeffers and the DMN crew. He already had that sweet one-half-drink-too-many gleam in his eye. He greeted me and Lavin, holding her loaf-of-bread-sized camera, with smiles and handshakes. He was thrilled with the turnout. “You see Sean Penn here?” he asked. I decided I should try to play a reporter for once.
“So, Hillary did what she had to do tonight, I guess,” I began. “Make immediate concessions to the Obama camp that the party needed to get behind the candidate and stop the talk of division just because she was snubbed.”
He looked at me with a grimace that said, if it could talk, “Are you effing kidding me? Are you seriously going to try to talk politics in here? Do you not hear the crush-groove stylings of DJ Diabetic, aka Shepard Fairey?”
He actually said, “Uh, yeah, sure. I really didn’t stay for the speech. I had to get ready for the party.”
And with that, all pretense of political discourse ended. Lavin asked if she could take his picture. He asked what she wanted him to do. “Dance!” she said. Done. He sashayed over to the DMN’s Karen Brooks and threw down a two-fists-in-the-air boogie move. She had no problem dancing impromptu with him. Did I mention he moves well? And is hot?
Lavin, though, had already changed her mind. “Let’s shoot you with Sean Penn!”
“Follow me!” Anchia yelled. He and Lavin took off through the crowded club toward the outside patio. I ran after them. He checked with security. Too late. Penn had left. So she shot the picture you see on this post. Anchia wondered aloud who else would be good to shoot. He settled on Eric Garcetti, president of the L.A. City Council. Introductions were made, a photo was taken, and Garcetti, as Italians will do, immediately began to sway his hips. “Aren’t you guys going to dance? C’mon, let’s go dance!” He grabbed Lavin, who handed me her camera but kept her big Cheshire cat grin, and I followed them inside third-wheel style.
This brought us to the dance-floor portion of the evening, which lasted for the next, oh forever hours or so. I tried to figure out Lavin’s camera and get shots of her dancing with Garcetti, with blurry results.
Here, the Greatness of Anchia (capped for trademark purposes) was in full effect. Every half hour or so, he would bring another Rising Star to meet and dance with Lavin. (I must report that the married Anchia was a complete gentleman; he did get his grind on later, but only with the rarefied air about him.) This included, but was not limited to, Michael J. Sorrell, the president of Paul Quinn College, who is about 6-feet-4 of dancing machine. While I chatted with an education consultant who had made the trip with Sorrell, Lavin proceeded to show Sorrell why she is nicknamed Spider Monkey: you can’t catch her, your only hope is to contain her, because she is everywhere at once.
After a few hours of me doing the awkward white-man shuffle and being served by our fair city’s politicians and education officials, Anchia came by and took pity. “Who needs a drink?” he yelled, pointing at us like a car salesman. He returned with three cocktails and a desire to join us on the floor. The music was a challenge for me. There was very little ’80s rock (none) or Texas country (ditto). It was the sort of music you find in a video game. But who was I to complain? My bro-mance was in full effect as closing hour approached.
Then, as if by a miracle, the buh-buh-buh club beat stopped. There was a pause as Anchia and I looked at each other, confused. Where was the music, the fuel for my boogie board?
That’s when I heard from the speakers the screeching joy of The Outfield.
JOSIE’S ON A VACATION FAR AWAY
COME AROUND AND TALK IT OVER
Our eyes widened and our mouths opened. That’s right. “Your Love.” Mentally, we threw each other a high-five and an eff yeah. And with that, we began to sing.
SO MANY THINGS THAT I WANT TO SAY
YOU KNOW I LIKE MY GIRLS A LITTLE BIT OLDER
For just a moment, as Ranch and I fist-pumped the cool night air, two 40somethings needing to do a few extra crunches, I remembered why I love politics. Spider Monkey? She was at the DJ table, requesting, and being denied, “anything by Journey!”