By Mario Kladis
Last Friday I sneaked into "A Night in Bloom," the kickoff for the city's fifth annual flower and garden show at Navy Pier. It was a silent auction benefiting the Chicago Gateway Green Committee, a group dedicated to maintaining and increasing Chicago's greenery. For $250 you could bid on a lunch date with Jesse White.
The food and drinks were free. After a few glasses the wine was all right, but the bruschetta was dotted with chunks of ham that fell off when I took a bite. One landed in my drink. I reached into the glass and popped the ham into my mouth, checking to see if anyone was looking, and that's when I saw Mayor Daley--he was about ten feet away and coming straight at me.
"Wow," I said, turning to the guy next to me. I was going to say, "Hey, look--Mayor Daley!" But it was Bill Kurtis. The mayor headed over to him and said hello. To someone who grew up watching local TV and who had never seen either of these guys in person--and who was already a little drunk--it was like seeing the Shedd Aquarium shake hands with the Field Museum.
I hovered beside them for a few minutes, trying to eavesdrop on their conversation, but I couldn't hear over the piped-in music. Also men with earpieces in overcoats were walking around talking into their hands. I moved away from the mayor because I didn't want the overcoat men talking into their hands about me.
I found a good spot at one of the fruit and cheese tables and arranged Swiss and cheddar cubes on a plate while Daley worked the room. There was a pretty woman next to me, and I said, "Hey, look--it's the mayor."
She looked over and nodded. Then she turned back to me and said, "You have food on your face." I wiped my mouth, but she shook her head and tapped her chin.
A bagpipe band started up and marched through the crowd, cutting a path for the mayor. By then many of the guests were elbowing their friends and pointing at him, or at least looking at him out of the corner of their eye. He walked through the hall, politely shaking every hand that poked out at him. I don't know how he stays healthy in flu season.
The band led Daley to the stage, where the committee chairman introduced him as "our Johnny Appleseed." The few guests who'd bothered to break away from the buffets and the bars applauded as the mayor took the podium. For a few minutes he spoke on the importance of landscaping and gardens, which he said "help save energy, keep our air clean, provide habitats for animals, produce food, increase property values," and somehow even "reduce crime."
After the speech dozens of people rushed the stage to meet the mayor. He signed a book for someone, which gave me an idea: it would be perfect if I could get the Irish mayor with the great gay-rights record to autograph my pink cocktail napkin.
I waited on the floor in front of the stage. When Daley stepped down he almost got swallowed by the crowd that had formed to my right. But instead he sidestepped them, looked right at me, and came over. He held out his hand and said, "How ya doin'?"
"Hi," I managed to cough. He started to let go of my hand, but I shoved the napkin at him and said, "Will you sign this for me?"
Daley looked at the napkin and shrugged. "Sure."
"Great," I said. "You can use my shoulder." I handed him my pen, which I'd been chewing on. It was probably wet.
I turned around and Daley looked at my back, which I later noticed was spattered with dried slush from riding my bike. "That's OK," he said, laying the napkin on his palm. "It was a nice show, wasn't it?"
"Oh yeah--it was great." I wanted to say something else but couldn't think of anything. Finally I mumbled, "Hey, congratulations on the election." But the mayor didn't hear me, because some guy in a suit patted him on the shoulder and said hi.
Daley gave back my pen and the napkin and said, "Thanks for coming." He shook my hand again and smiled. You wouldn't think so from seeing him on TV and in the papers, but we have a good-looking mayor. Short, but good-looking.
He'd written "Mayor RM Daley" on the napkin, and I walked through the hall clenching it in my hands. I had to show it to somebody, so I went up to one of the waitresses. "Look," I said, holding up the napkin like it had the Ten Commandments on it. She read it and shrugged. "Big deal--it doesn't even have your name on it." She was right. I forgot to ask the mayor to sign it "To Mario."
I tried to catch up with him, but it was too late. He pulled away from the last pack of hand shakers and left the party flanked by the overcoat men. I wandered around for a few minutes and ended up at a table where people were bidding on a golf outing to Orlando. Next to the bid sheets there was a pen shaped like a golf tee. One of the guests, a very tanned man with oily hair, saw me looking at it. He winked and said, "Go on, take it."
I smiled and put it down. But when he walked away I stuck it in my pocket. I don't know what I'll do with that napkin, but I used the pen to write this story.