There's a place in New York where they all go when they're in town. Sometimes it can be a rowdy joint; the great space between those carved and polished oak walls echoing with laughter and slaps on backs, the tinkling of glasses and the clatter of silverware on china plates. Other times it can be a mortuary; dreary, sparsely occupied by patrons who are drearier still, who stuff their mouths with bits of braised mutton or entrecôte, and gulp down Cabernet Sauvignon like water. The Friday following the election it was the latter.
At the center of the dining room, where several tables had been pushed together to accommodate them, the usual circle of gabbers and scribblers had gathered to commiserate. Sean Hannity held up his empty glass, and a waiter appeared and filled it with red wine. He looked at his companions around the table and raised a toast: "To conservatism in exile."
"Hear, hear!" and "Huzzah!" and "To exile!" they all said. When that toast had been drunk, Mark Levin tapped his knife against the side of his glass and stood up to offer another one. "Since Sean just raised a toast to remaining steadfast in the face of this unhappy, undesirable, less-than-ideal election result, let me propose a few things not to toast."
There were smiles and pleased murmurs from around the table.
"I do not propose a toast," Mark continued, "to the president-elect. I do not propose a toast to socialism, to Marxism, to the class warfare, wealth redistribution policies of our Alinskyite incoming chief executive. I do not propose a toast to the weak-kneed, cut-and-run military strategy of our new commander-in-chief. And I do not propose a toast to the gutless, incoherent, and cowardly campaign waged by the nominee of the Re-pubic-an party!"
Mark took his seat to a round of righteous applause. "And here's to our nominee next time around," said Rush Limbaugh, lifting his glass but remaining in his chair, "whomever he or she may be." He grinned as he glanced around the table. "Let's hope we've learned our lesson this time, with the nomination and defeat of the Democrat from Arizona!"
John McCain sat at a small table by the window. He sipped from a cup of coffee, and broke off another piece of pecan pie with his fork.
"I'll drink to that," Ann Coulter said, then tilted her head back and drained her entire glass. "Waiter!" she barked, and snapped her fingers. A waitress approached with a wine bottle a few seconds later. Ann pulled her glass back just as the girl was about to pour. "What'd you have to do, ask directions?" The waitress gave an apologetic, insecure smile. Ann rolled her eyes and held out her glass.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," the waitress said when she'd poured the wine.
"Whatever," Ann said. "Get lost." The waitress turned on her heel and marched quickly into the kitchen. Ann looked to her companions and shook her head. "Where's she think her paycheck comes from, anyway?"
"From our taxes, in a couple of months," said G. Gordon Liddy into his glass.
"But you know," said Sean, dabbing his mouth with a napkin after swallowing a bite of his dinner, "we shouldn't be sore losers here."
"No," said Rush, shaking his head.
"Absolutely not," said Mike Reagan sitting next to him. He scooted his chair toward Rush another inch.
"We should wish the president-elect well," Sean went on. "Who knows? Maybe we're wrong about him being a leftist radical who associates with terrorists and black supremacists, who wants to appease our enemies and take all of our money and give it to people who are too lazy to get a job and earn it themselves-"
"-And who wants to take us by the ears, force us to our knees, and thrust the gay agenda down our throats!" said Mike. He traced his fingertip around the rim of his glass and glanced next to him at Rush, who slid his chair away, regaining the inch Mike had taken and more.
"That's . . . right," Sean said, reaching for his wine.
Every head in the place turned to the front of the dining room as the door flung open and in swept Sarah Palin, followed closely by her daughters Willow, Piper, and Bristol, Bristol's fiancé Levi, and, bringing up the rear, her husband Todd carrying little Trig. The whole family was dressed in tailored designer clothes. A $650 Louis Vuitton purse hung from Piper's shoulder. "Oh, hello, everyone, so nice to see you!" Sarah bellowed excitedly, smiling, her eyes darting around the room.
John slid down in his chair and shifted toward the window.
The maître d' rushed forward to meet the Palins, who had already begun to wander into the dining room like a herd of caribou. "Governor Palin, so nice to have you join us," the maître d' said with a gracious wave of his arm. "May I show you to your table?"
"Oh, are there any booths available?" Sarah asked.
"We have only tables, Madam Governor," said the maître d'. He pursed his lips and displayed a tactful smile.
"We'll take a table, then!"
The maître d' led the Palins through the dining room. As they passed, everyone seated at the center table - Limbaugh, Hannity, Levin, Coulter, all of them - stood and gave the Palins a round of applause. Mike Reagan threw in a shrill whistle, which made Rush privately appreciative of his hearing loss.
"Palin in 2012!" Mark shouted.
"We should have nominated you!" hollered Ann.
"You're prettier than Katie Couric anyway!" Sean cried.
Sarah waved and smiled and said, "Oh, gosh, thank you, you guys are just so darn sweet!"
The host and two waiters helped the Palins get seated around their table and handed each of them a menu. "What would you like to drink?" asked one of the waiters, clasping his hands in front of him.
"Well, I'll just have a Vanilla Coke," said Sarah. "And Todd will have a glass of beer, 'cause he's just a regular Joe Six-Pack! And bring the girls and my future son-in-law some all-American chocolate milkshakes!"
"Look at that," said Rush to his dining companions. "That's what they were afraid of! Turning the country over to the regular people, the ordinary folks, taking the power away from the elites in Washington!"
"And for your little one?" the waiter asked, gesturing to Trig.
"Oh, we've got him covered, thank you," said Sarah. She reached into Piper's Louis Vuitton bag and pulled out a full baby bottle.
"You've brought your baby formula," the waiter said with a nod.
"Oh, no! Homemade!" Sarah said, squeezing her right breast.
"We'll have those right out for you, then," said the maître d'. He signaled his waiters, and they hurried into the kitchen.
John began to discreetly scan the room for his waitress.
Sean turned to Mark. "It's that plainspokenness, that unpretentiousness that the media hated so much about her. They just couldn't stand that she hadn't attended a hoity-toity Ivy League school, or that she doesn't read newspapers!"
Mark nodded. "Or that she refused to play their Marxist class warfare games."
"Oh, Todd, you'll never guess who called me last night," Sarah said to her husband. "Joe the Plumber! He said he'd come up to Alaska and campaign for me if I decided to run for Ted Stevens' Senate seat!"
The waiters returned with Coke and beer and milkshakes. Once the drinks had been passed out, the waiter who had taken their drink orders asked what he could get them to eat. "Would you like to start with some hors d'oeuvre? Or a salad, or perhaps a bowl of shark fin soup?"
"Oh, no, I think we'll skip right to the main course," said Sarah. "That shark fin soup does sound good, though, to eat. I'm in a mood to eat some seafood. Do you have maktak?"
"No, ma'am, we don't."
"That's a shame. I was skeptical myself, too, at first, but it's really terrific, you should try it! I sort of held my nose the first time I tried it, but then I tasted it and thought, hey, these harpoon-chuckers are really onto something here!"
"My mother is Inupiat," the other waiter said, his face tight and expressionless.
Sarah's eyes went wide. "Oh, really? Does she make her maktak with Bowhead blubber? Because I got to experimenting awhile back and I think I like it better when it's made out of beluga."
"Aren't they a threatened species?"
The first waiter grabbed his partner by the sleeve and pulled him back toward the kitchen. "We'll give you a few more minutes to decide," he said to the Palins as he pushed through the door.
Little Trig squirmed in his father's arms and began to cry. Todd tried bouncing him in his lap, but it did no good. The child rubbed his eyes and cried louder and louder with every second that went by.
"That's another thing," Ann said to G. Gordon, pointing over her shoulder in the direction of the Palins' table, "those sexist hypocrites in the media would never have been able to stomach having a good, proud Christian mother as the vice president."
"The mere fact that she carried that dear, retarded child to term should have won her the election," G. Gordon said.
Ann shook her head at G. Gordon. "I can't hear you," she said, speaking over Trig's ever more piercing cries.
"I SAID BLESS HER HEART FOR NOT ABORTING THAT RETARDED CHILD OVER THERE!" G. Gordon bellowed.
For the second time that night, Rush felt privileged by his deafness.
"Here, give my beautiful special needs child to me," Sarah said, reaching out to take the baby from Todd. "There, there. Will you settle down for Mommy? Do you want Mommy to sing you a song? Okay, here we go! . . . One little, two little, three little pickaninnies . . ."
John spotted his waitress and raised his hand. She didn't see him. "Waitress! May I have my check, please?" She couldn't hear him. He pounded his fist against his table and stood up. "Excuse me!" he yelled across the dining room at Sarah. "Could you please take that child outside until he calms down? You're in a public place, for God's sake!"
Sarah stopped her singing, but Trig went right on crying. The patrons seated at the center table all turned to John with icy glares.
"How dare you speak to her like that!" said Rush.
"You liberal schmuck, you don't even deserve to be in the same room as her!" said Mark.
"Do you think getting shot down in Vietnam gives you the right to hurl abuse at this great woman?" asked Ann, folding her arms deliberately.
John sat back down and put his hands over his face. Trig Palin continued to scream his little lungs out. His mother resumed her song where she had left off. "Seven little, eight little, nine little pickaninnies . . ."
The waitress brought John his check, and a shot glass of bourbon.
"I didn't order this."
"It's from the gentleman," the waitress said.
"What gentleman?" John asked, looking around.
The waitress pointed out the window.
John looked. Across the street, seated by the window in the restaurant directly opposite, was the President-elect of the United States. He gave John a sympathetic smile and lifted his own shot of bourbon. John took the glass the waitress had brought him and returned the gesture, gave Barack a grateful nod, and drank it back in a single gulp. He brought out his wallet, pulled enough to cover his bill plus a generous tip, dropped it on the table, and left.