I crashed the Municipal League’s 2008 Civic Awards last night at the Olympic Sculpture Park, where my friend and colleague David Postman was being honored for “Governmental News Reporting of the Year.” Knowing that Postman’s bosses at the Seattle Times had forbade him from accepting the award in person so as not to compromise his impartiality—and unencumbered by these (or any) ethical burdens of my own—I realized that there must be an unused name tag at the registration table with at least half my name on it… and sure enough I managed to sign in as Postman, no questions asked.
His “Honoree” name tag firmly pinned to my lapel and a surfeit of free drink tickets in hand, I strolled into the PACCAR Pavilion determined to do Postman proud by mingling with our city’s power elite on his behalf. As it turned out, I would need the drink tickets.
Indeed, it wasn’t at all what I had expected. To be honest, I think I had the Muni League mixed up with the Urban League, and to my great disappointment this was the league with all the white people. That meant better booze, but boring food, and even boringer conversation. And Republicans. A handful of actual, real life Republicans. In Seattle of all places. Who’d a thunk?
Diving right into the role of seasoned journalist, I headed straight to the bar, where I could swear I saw Pete von Reichbauer palming the contents of the tip jar. (Life is tough for Republicans these days; they never know where their next campaign contribution might come from.) An awkward social situation to say the least, but take it from this big-city native: the first rule to remember when confronting the desperate wretches at the fringe of society is to avoid making eye contact at all costs! I knocked back my syrah, grabbed a refill, and headed off into the crowd.
I soon learned that while a lot of folk supposedly read Postman, very few apparently know what he looks like, for I was roundly greeted with congratulations and hearty handshakes throughout the hall. Fully expecting to be unmasked at any moment I played the role for all it was worth, regaling guests with invented tales of political intrigue and the madcap antics of my Postman’s colleagues in the Capitol press corp, but whether it was the context or the booze or the dulling effects of wealth and power, my subtle satire seemed lost on the crowd. The more bizarre the anecdotes the more credulous the audience; if anyone questioned my true identity they certainly didn’t let on.
But when I was introduced to my Postman’s fellow honoree John Stanton, I figured the jig was up. Stanton looked straight at me. He looked down at my name tag. He looked back up at me, and I could see the dawning recognition on his face that mine just didn’t quite match the name on my lapel. Improvising, I quickly explained that during Passover, I like to “Jew things up” a little. Stanton seemed momentarily stunned, then nodding knowingly, he pulled a hip flask from his pocket, and we both enjoyed a long, hard swig of single malt before heading up to the dais to accept our awards.
At this point there were several people within arms length who know me quite well, and who must have wondered what mischief I was up to, so I figured somebody would stop me before I reached the podium, but Seattle’s polite society was apparently too polite (or too drunk) to intervene. So there I found myself, standing before a room filled with mayors and millionaires and sundry politerati… accepting an award as David Postman… an uncomfortable moment considering I hadn’t prepared a speech.
Still, caught up in the excitement—and fortified by three or four glasses of wine and a generous dose of Stanton’s best whiskey—I managed to muddle through, graciously thanking my hosts for the honor, and warning the crowd to keep their hands on their wallets should von Reichbauer come near (to which more than a few attendees nodded strenuously in agreement), before launching into an angry and passionate tirade against the endless cycle of newsroom cutbacks that threatens to destroy our Postman’s once proud industry.
In short, I Postman was a hit. The crowd erupted in deafening applause as he I kissed presenter Christine Chen square on the lips, waved my his commemorative plaque in the air along with the $50 Ivars gift card that came with it, and quickly headed back to the bar. When who should jump in my way but a puffing, red-faced and very, very angry Jim Vesely.
“How dare you…?!” the Times editorial page editor sprayed in my face, and I must admit I felt an immediate twinge of shame. I’ve had my fun over the years gently ribbing the Times, but in masquerading as their star reporter before a roomful of our city’s rich and powerful, I knew that this time I had gone too far. So I braced myself for whatever righteous fury I deservingly had coming my way.
“How dare you disobey a direct order?!” Vesely angrily continued. And then it struck me: Vesely thought that I was Postman too!
Well, I tried to defend my Postman’s honor as best he I could, asking why it was that ethics prevented me him from attending the ceremony while Vesely was free to swill Muni booze with impunity… but logic only made Vesely madder. Things deteriorated from there, our confrontation quickly descending into ad hominem attacks (Vesely has a mouth on him that would shock a truck driver), and I fear it would have eventually come to fisticuffs had not Sue Rahr stepped in and pulled the two of us apart.
Needless to say, things were said that can’t be unsaid, and if I really were Postman I’d add that Muni award to my resume and start mailing it out. I hear The Stranger is hiring now that Josh Feit is leaving, and since I kinda blame myself a little for Postman’s unfortunate predicament, I’d be happy to put in a good word.
The festivities over, guests started heading toward the exits, carefully avoiding the food table where von Reichbauer was stuffing his pockets full of bagel chips and salmon dip, a scene eerily reminiscent of Dan Ackroyd at the Christmas party in Trading Places, except without the Santa suit or the laughs. I grabbed myself a final drink and said my goodbyes, my heart nearly as full as my bladder.
No doubt it is a great honor to have one’s work recognized by a prestigious organization like the Muni League, but not nearly as great an honor as being David Postman himself… if only for a single, solitary evening.