The lap of luxury 


Living downtown isn't cheap. I, however, am. Don't get me wrong; if I had an option, surely I wouldn't skimp on the top-shelf and caviar flourish of the fashionably forward, fabulous Phil Rampy life.

Fortunately, sometimes the reporter guise gets you free drips and nibbles among those who actually can be financed and fancy-free. Unfortunately, I'm not really prepared for what that means in big, gay downtown Orlando.

"Who's this we have coming down the red carpet?" chirps event heckler Greg Triggs of Watermark fame, as I stumble awkwardly up the red-lined sidewalk to a small, searchlighted condo-courtyard open house. "Well, he wins the award for most bleached."

These roots were made for walking, I grimace to myself before the obligatory identification segment of our pageant. "Billy Manes ... Orlando Weekly," I imp.

"Oh, how nice," triggers Triggs. "The third-rung media."

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you," I scuffle. "I couldn't get past your jacket."

We're instant friends.

Anyway, the offense at hand is actually quite charming in its cobblestone context. Right there on Broadway Avenue, between Concord and Amelia streets, we're to sample our own greasy slice of New York life in the newly refurbished Broadway Marquee development. It's a little more Melrose than Fifth Avenue, to be honest, but I'll play along. For a drink I'll play along.

"They say it creates 'Sex in the City,'" beams the ladeling matron manning the Cosmopolitan punchbowl.

"I thought I did that," I demure, realizing that I don't even have cable. Yuck. I'm actually worse than Sarah Jessica Parker. But then, this is Orlando.

Thus, this is also some sort of theme-park treatment to a pedestrian living situation. Which is novel, really, right down to the mini-authenticity provided by hired entertainers, Manhattan-style hot-dog peddlers and a scattering of kooky vagrants.

Naturally, I'm on the cell phone trying to find sanity in a New York phone call when one such pawn approaches.

"I need to call my mom," interrupts a costumed bag lady with a trash can.

"I've got a slot if you've got a quarter," I attempt, with all of the vulgarity three Cosmopolitans can muster. Oooooh, I could be a cab driver.

A slinky spaghetti-strap of glamour comes and crosses legs next to me on my faux park bench, the lap of luxury. She politely introduces herself.

"I don't know anybody in this crowd who would actually EAT a hot dog," I slur.

"I would," she debutantes. "Let's go get one!" I love New York.

Wobbling through the crowd of mostly Realtors and curious neighborlypassersby (although one actual vagrant does intrude -- and is swiftly escorted out after a noticeable group-wince from the fiscally fortunate folk), the eavesdropping is less than sensational. Realtors take their work home with them, after all. Lots of talk of accruals and property taxes swish through swaying plastic-cup potables, and frankly I'm craving said frank for a sense of personal steadiness.

The giant outside TV is blaring Broadway madness when I sit back down with my other buns for some digestive consultation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Bernadette Peters!," goes the tube. Then the emcee backpedals. "That's what we call a false start," says Triggs, who's still busy reading the arriving types. "We do have entertainment, however, from a woman who represents the feminine spirit of the '60s ... because that's when she went through menopause."

What follows is a drunk drag-queen showcase by a brick house who is ostensibly representing Phyllis Diller. The effect, however, is decidedly more Dutch Boy than show-woman. No matter, she's performing on a condo balcony.

"One of the most lovely features of the Broadway Marquee is the lovely Parliament House-style balcony. What a great way to greet your neighbors in the morning," chuffs Triggs, with a stage-right glance to me. "You're the only one who will get that ..."

No, I'm not. The event's promoter and Orlando gay ubiquity, Michael Wanzie, approaches with an "I didn't know you were here!" smile, and then proceeds to present me, all reporter-like, to the development team (which is currently turning another property on Michigan Street into a thematic replica -- brownstones). So, now I'm sidetracked on a real-people tour of property I could never afford. This is my life.

Before I can issue a credit report, I'm saved by a delightfully insane balcony foray from funny lady Miss Sammy. She's doing Barbra's "Don't Rain on My Parade" while straddling the balcony trim to the applause and delight of the insurance agents and lawyers beneath her.

Me, I'm swaying in the Cosmopolitan breeze, admiring the glow around fake street-lamp bulbs. Eventually, Sammy saunters over to entertain an assembled group of Brooks Brothers without their wives. Drunkly, I give her the gay shoulder-tap of acknowledgement. This always works.

"Oh," she coohs, "and speaking of cheap!"

Give my regards to Broadway.


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