It was about 2AM. Bernie Leonard was having trouble sleeping, nothing unusual for him. Most nights when he couldn't sleep, Bernie would slip into his cheetah-skin smoking jacket and his white tiger fur slippers, plunk himself down behind his grand piano-sized desk carved from a centuries-old California Redwood (a gift from the California Lumber Industry), contemplate the view from the ten million dollar penthouse he shares with his wife Lapeer, and fire off another angry letter to The New York Times, spewing his disgust at the "oppressive liberal agenda" that was "ruining this great country by wasting our precious resources" on a bunch of "laggards and thieves." He distrusted government, and his distrust had grown, so much so that, recently, the sixty-six year old "Maestro of Wall Street" actually considered buying a gun. That's how angry Bernie Leonard had become.
On this particular night, however, Bernie didn't write a letter to The Times. Instead, he had a vision. A vision that would change his life. In it, he's addressing his "troops" at the next board meeting (he's CEO of Reynolds, Roberts, and Stone, a major Wall Street investment firm started by his wife's grandfather in 1910) when all of a sudden the doors to the conference room burst open and dozens of gun-toting federal agents storm in they grab his "people" and begin to fire at the file cabinets where the financial records are kept and then Bernie reveals from beneath the rich woolen blend of his Armani suit a semi-automatic assault rifle, the kind of semi-automatic assault rifle liberal crybabies like Clinton and Sarah Brady want to ban, and he starts firing away, semi-automatically, at the jackbooted swine. He saves most of his people, he saves his company, he saves his financial records. He's a hero.
It's only a dream, a fantasy, but it does something to Bernie: it "reactionizes" him just as, once, many years before, scenes of atrocities on the nightly news "radicalized" another generation. Now, Bernie Leonard is a true believer a loyal foot soldier in the real U.S. Army, the brave defenders of our right to bear arms and paranoid delusions. Suddenly, Bernie Leonard hears a call to action. It's time to do his part.
The next morning Bernie can barely wait to tell his wife the good news.
"We're going to throw a party for the boys!" he shouted, trying to be heard above the whirring of her electric toothbrush.
"What boys?" she spritzed, fully aware they had no children, no heirs to the throne, no inheritors of the Leonard family fortune most recently estimated by Fortune Magazine as between two and three billion dollars.
"The boys in the militias! The posse comitatus! The Aryan Brotherhood! The real Americans!"
Lapeer Leonard, nee Lapeer Reynolds of the blue blood Newport 400 Reynolds, was taken aback. Normally she was oblivious to politics. To her, the right to bear arms meant sleeveless dresses were back in style. And she certainly was an innocent when it came to anti-one world anti-Semitic white supremacist paranoid schizophrenic militant nazi survivalist fringe groups. She knew that her husband had strong feelings about the government, how he hated to see the few tax dollars he actually paid go "directly into the pocketbooks of welfare queens driving purple Cadillacs." And, she knew that "a party is a party," and she could always get excited about the prospect of entertaining all their wealthy, influential friends.
"What kind of food do they eat?" she asked, already thinking ahead. "I'll call Arianna, maybe she'll have some ideas."
In the season of Reactionary Chic, the meeting of Wall Street and Waco is not all that surprising. What these rebellious wackos in the hinterland represent to the wealthy wackos on Wall Street is nothing less than a frontal assault on their biggest rival: the government more specifically, the Internal Revenue Service. Less government, less taxes. No government... you get the idea. So, on the night of July 4, 1995, at the huge penthouse apartment of Bernie and Lapeer Leonard, a cocktail party was given in honor of those second amendment-interpreting militiamen of the way right. Everybody who was anybody in the rarefied world of reactionaries was invited, and many showed: Bill Buckley was there. So was Bill Bennett. So was Rush Limbaugh. Even P.J. O'Rourke popped in for a whiskey and a (shhh... Cuban) cigar. And, of course, money people, BIG MONEY people. And me, one of the dozen or so "servers" from the catering company. (How I hooked up with the catering company is another story one best told in the presence of a lawyer.)
The first to arrive was, not surprisingly, Bay Buchanan, GOP firebrand Pat Buchanan's look alike sister/campaign manager and the first to appear at any function where hors d'oeuvres are served. I personally explained to her that the tiny white-and-gray curlicues were pressed dove and gray whale caviar rolled up in a butter pastry, and then steered her to the ones that I'd dropped on the kitchen floor near the roach motel.
Next came the Rush man himself, no stranger to hors d'oeuvres, along with his new bride, who he met on the Internet, and who he didn't introduce to anyone. I think her name is Marta. The big fella occupies a unique position in the Reactionary Chic firmament. He is free to say and do what he wants, fire away at any and all, a loose lipomorph who's rarely criticized, perhaps because he's just so lame. Not that Lapeer Leonard wasn't having a conservative version of multiple orgasms as she hugged the great western face of Mt. Limbaugh.
Linda Chavez, former Treasury Secretary under Reagan and current mouthpiece for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, got tanked, and within twenty minutes was dancing buck naked on top of Bernie's Redwood desk and this was before most of the guests arrived. She single-handedly changed my image of right-wing ideologues forever. The fun ended when Charlton Heston came in and gallantly draped his jacket around her and got her some coffee.
Bernie Leonard was interested in hearing how Bay's bombastic brother was doing in the polls. "He's stuck at 4 percent," she admitted over a platter of giant panda patι. Bernie offered financial assistance. "I've got a textile factory in South Carolina the union's gone, so I can hit the workers up for whatever it is they think it'll take to keep their jobs." I chimed in that I would be honored to contribute ten bucks. Bay was perfectly gracious, but "Mister Leonard," as I was told to refer to him, fixed me with a withering glare, as if he knew I was being facetious.
And then "they" arrived. "They" had been anticipated anxiously by the whole tony crowd for nearly an hour. "They" included:
"Jeff," a nervous twenty-something ex-Marine who was wanted in connection with a shoot-out in Idaho. Jeff never said a single word. Not one.
"Mark," not Mark Koernke, the "Mark from Michigan" you may have heard of, but "Mark" of Florida, another first-name-only type and a talk-radio host who espouses the opinion that UN troops are training in the Everglades as well as North Dakota and Alaska and are poised to move in on all us "good, loyal, religious folks" (nazi nuts) and take over the country. Mark never stopped talking.
Norman Olson, Commander of the Michigan Militia, an actual celebrity in the world of extreme fascist crazies, having risen to where he can use his last name. He was addressing a small group that included loose-cannon Congressman Bob Dornan (our next president, the way things are going) with an endless diatribe against taxes, quotas, gun control, "Negroes," Jews, all foreigners, and the media. It didn't come up, but I'd bet he's against food stamps, too.
Linda Thompson, an Indiana attorney and a leading proponent of the New World Order Scare Theory which has gained so much support from the unintelligentsia lately. She's also a woman, a rarity in militant fringe groups. And she's a lawyer!
A few other characters, so anonymous they didn't even use first names. One, a big, bearded, heavily-tattooed Santa Claus, passed along this little tidbit to G. Gordon Liddy and actor/former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein while I held the dolphin sushi platter: It seems that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bombing suspect (who was in custody and awaiting a hearing as this is being written), had connections to a "left-wing theater group" in New York City, a group that at one time included in its ranks a young actor named Robert DeNiro, and that DeNiro, on direct orders from the American Communist Party, had paid McVeigh one hundred thousand dollars to blow up a large federal office building in the nation's heartland and make it look like it was the work of the right. Ben Stein, never one to miss an opportunity to seem witty, said, "Gee, I wonder if DeNiro has cast the role of John Doe No. 2 yet?" Santa Claus didn't get it, but it drew a chuckle from Liddy, who was eating the sushi like it was his last meal. (I was going to ask G. if he'd pass his hand through a flame for me but Kennedy, another one-name wonder, and the only right-wing VJ in this galaxy, asked him first. He politely declined.)
Arianna Huffington, looking positively radioactive in a silver metallic gown, once again showed up fashionably late, and once again without her million-dollar-a-vote hubby, and the rumor quickly spread that she was on the make for any young, athletic man who had bathed recently.
"She's the next Clare Booth Luce," I overheard Bernie (Mister my ass) Leonard tell Roger Ailes, the head honcho of the America's Talking But Nobody's Listening cable network. "She's bright, she's beautiful, she's got money. If my wife wasn't such a good shot I'd chase after her," Bernie cracked. Ailes chortled, and then looked at me.
"What's so funny?!" he barked. I hadn't realized I was laughing.
The first dramatic moment of the evening, not counting Linda Chavez, came when we, the servers, were given new, specially prepared hors d'oeuvres platters, meant specifically for "Mark," "Jeff," et al. As one of my cohorts leaned in to offer a shaven-headed Aryan youth a tray filled with beef jerky, pork rinds, and beer nuts, all chatter stopped. It was suddenly as quiet as Oklahoma City on a Wednesday morning, so quiet you could hear a grenade pin drop. Would these knee-jerk nazis take offense at being served "white trash" food? Why were they being treated so differently? Were they being... patronized?
"Thanks," muttered the kid as he sampled a pork rind, and a relieved gathering went on with their Reactionary Chic small talk.
"I'm having difficulty liking these people," Lapeer Leonard confided to the supremely unlikable Leona Helmsley over deviled bald eagle eggs. "They're kind of scary," she whispered. The ex-con hotelier merely smiled, the irony apparently eluding her.
Another dramatic moment occurred when the penthouse's own private elevator doors opened and everyone's attention shifted to the elevator's occupant: an unsmiling African-American man in a dark blue suit. Lapeer Leonard shrieked as if she'd seen a mouse, or a Jew. One matronly woman, a longtime Republican fund-raiser, fainted.
"Well, holy shit," muttered "Mark" of Florida.
"Hi everybody," said the black man who, as it turned out, was Alan Keyes, the ultra-conservative presidential candidate. (Too bad Godfrey Cambridge couldn't have lived another thirty years, he'd have been perfect as Keyes in the movie version of this article. One note: All the "servers" were white, apparently to avoid any awkward situations for the guests of honor.)
Later in the evening I was asked to bring a plate of spotted owl quiche to Mr. Leonard, who had retired to the library. When I went in I saw that the master of the house was not alone, and he was hardly retired. Both Norman Olson and Linda Thompson were with him, and all three were standing, facing the window, looking out at the awesome view, which included a panorama of midtown Manhattan from the Empire State Building to the south, across to the Chrysler Building to the east, and further east to the UN Building! I damn near dropped the tray of near-extinct canapιs and I really did drop it when I turned to see a mobile missile launcher mounted on a tripod, with the rocket aimed directly at... you know what. It's obviously ornamental was my first thought, figuring Mrs. Leonard rented it to spruce up an otherwise stuffy decor.
"Just leave it, and go," Bernie stated to me sternly.
"Yes, sir," I groveled, not wanting to seem too uppity. But, before leaving, I took another look at the faux missile launcher and realized that it was, in fact, not faux, but loaded and, according to an LED readout on the barrel, in "READY TO FIRE" mode! My heart pounding, I left immediately to look for a telephone.
CALLER: "Hello? 911?"
911: "This is 911. What's the problem?"
CALLER: "I'm not sure how much time we have, operator, but there's a live, armed torpedo aimed at the United Nations Building, and it could be launched at any moment."
911: "Where are you calling from, sir?"
CALLER: "666 Park Avenue, Apartment 52-J. It's the penthouse apartment of financier Bernard Leonard."
911: "You say you're at Bernard Leonard's apartment? The Wall Street guy?"
CALLER: "Yes. And there's a party going on."
911: "You're at Bernard Leonard's apartment, and there's a party, and there's what? A torpedo?"
CALLER: "A torpedo, a missile, I don't know, operator, just send someone over here immediately. And alert the Air Force. They might have some anti-missile installations still active out on Staten Island. Something must be done, operator!"
911: "Sir, calm down. Hold, please... "
I hung up. This was no time to dawdle. The UN Building was about to go boom. I went into the kitchen and asked Yvonne, one of the catering people, if she would like to help a worthy cause.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Saving the world from certain chaos," I overstated, slightly.
"Will this take long?"
So the condor a la king would get soggy Yvonne and I left it simmering in its juices as we sprinted out the "help entrance" and took the "help elevator" down to the lobby. I went immediately to the doorman, who looked a lot like Richard Nixon, which wasn't surprising since it turned out to be comedian (and former Nixon impersonator) David Frye, who'd been down on his luck recently, none of his old show business friends would throw him a bone, so he's a doorman. "It could be worse," he reasoned. I gave him what I had on me, about five bucks; he was grateful. In the meantime, Yvonne had flagged down a police car and was explaining the situation when all of a sudden there was this tremendous, incredibly loud BOOM that reverberated throughout the building. It sounded just like a oh no! I thought and with that I ran to the elevator and, along with Yvonne, two New York cops, and David Frye, ascended to the fifty-second floor.
The elevator doors opened directly into the living room, but it was empty. Where was everyone? We fanned out it's a big apartment. The cops went in the direction of the bedrooms, Yvonne and David Frye went into the kitchen, and I went to the library.
Bingo. The library. That's where everybody had gone. Packed like sardines, all heads turned to the windows and the view of the fireworks. Of course! July 4th! The Macy's fireworks display in the East River! I sighed a sigh of relief that comes from knowing the world had not yet dissolved into chaos, and even tried one of the unicorn dogs. It wasn't bad.
In this, the season of Reactionary Chic, irony abounds. As the guests were leaving, I overheard one of the militia types ask a wealthy, and tipsy, old dowager if that indeed was Richard Nixon standing by the door, wishing everyone goodnight.
"I think it is," she said to him upon further inspection. "Although I believe he's dead."
(This originally appeared in The Realist.)
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