I threw into the air half of the only glass of wine I held on the evening I spent, sort of, with Governor O’Malley. Todd and I sat among Todd’s fellow Naval Academy faculty in the living room of a house filled with holiday-partying academicians and other assorted nuts. (If you’ve had half a view into an academic department or two, you understand my characterization; if you don’t understand and want to, read Richard Russo‘s novel Straight Man.) In slow motion I watched my red wine float in the air at eye-level. Our airplane, so to speak, had hit turbulence and dropped: half the liquid content of my glass hung inert, still up at cruising altitude, while my hand had yanked the glass out from under it.
If you can look at these things objectively–that is, forget for a second that red wine leaves stains like bloody hell–it was great slapstick. A lifelong slave to physical humor, I laughed in helpless shame after wine rained down onto the coffee table, the carpet, the couch, and onto the laps and legs of those around me.
“I don’t know what made my arm jerk,” I said.
But I did know. Around more than one or two near-strangers, I can get nervous enough to spasm. I’m that shy. I could never be a college professor like the folks surrounding me in that living room, the ones who earn their keep by standing in front of classes of equally self-confident midshipmen all day long.
“Don’t sit there laughing,” said a guest with presence of mind. “Quick, get soda water so we can draw the wine out before it soaks in.”
“Yes, yes,” I agreed. Someone rushed for soda water, and then those around me worked with sponges while I, as humiliated about laughing as about throwing wine in the air, stood looking on, a role that comes more naturally to me with each passing year.
With things cleaned up as well as possible, we all calmed down, shifted seats, resumed conversations. I abandoned my remaining half glass of wine in favor of folded, still hands. I was probably wishing we could leave–something else that comes easier to me with each year–when Todd leaned toward me and whispered, “The governor’s here. He’s in the mud room.”
Mud room? I grew up in dry LA and spent twenty-odd years in a fourth-floor DC condo before Todd and I moved to buggy, boggy Annapolis. “He’s where? What’s a mud room?”
Todd motioned with his head. O’Malley took off his coat in a glassed-in porch, from which he entered the house and passed through the living room into the dining room, while we all pretended to continue our conversations and politely ignore him as though he were any other private guest at this private holiday party.
“It’s reality imitating fiction,” I said in Todd’s ear. Just last week I had written a scene in my novel The Man Who Asked to Be Killed where a crowd at his wife’s gallery opening politely ignores my fictional Maryland Governor Roren. “What are the odds,” I asked Todd, “that right after I wrote the governor-politely-ignored scene I should be in a house with a sitting governor for the first time in my life, and that everyone should behave just as they did in my book?”
There was, however, a slow drift–like a continent breaking up and floating away in pieces, these pieces from everywhere in the house coalescing in the dining room where we continued our show of quiet conversation while we each tried to hear the greater conversation between our governor and whomever had his ear at the moment. From the periphery of the new continent, I watched O’Malley and was struck by the fact that he’s even better looking in person than on TV. I couldn’t help staring, any more than I’d been able to help throwing a half glass of wine in the air earlier. Really, you can’t take me anywhere or introduce me to anyone.
I looked around and saw no security officers in the house, nor did I see any out front when we left. Todd later asked the host about that, and she (whom I fear now has a stained couch) said sometimes O’Malley came to their home with security, sometimes without, and she added that he liked to disappear into woods to be alone at times, which didn’t please his security force but greatly pleased me because I’d already written about my Maryland governor ditching his security now and then to be alone, a necessity for the plot of The Man Who Asked to Be Killed. By the way, my ineffective, up-to-his-eyebrows-in-crime Governor Roren bears no resemblance to Governor O’Malley, who strikes me as a competent, squeaky-clean public servant who would fit well wherever else voters choose to place him.
Photo above from City-Data Forum, attribution juppiter.