Editor's note: As Billy Manes is a candidate for the mayor of Orlando, he has been instructed not to use his column as a campaign podium. In fact, he's been told not to mention the election much, if at all. However, he disregarded the stern warnings and did it anyway. Just this once, we promise.
"Fag on the ballot!" booms a shirtless bartender named Donovan, over the heads and into the drinks of his Sunday evening Parliament House liquor-fueled flock.
And so my auspicious foray into the political arena a peculiar plane of polemics populated by people less prone to alliteration begins. Tonight I launch my petition drive to ascend to the grandeur of local campaign legitimacy with a cocktail and a bevy of exposed nipples, pressing flesh harder than most (and in different places) to obtain the 843 signatures necessary to get me on the ballot for mayor. Can I have your John Hancock? And by Hancock, I mean han-COCK. Yeah, you get the joke.
Only I'm not joking.
I could be forgiven if I was. The recent chain of events rattling the shaky foundations of Orlando City Hall make a surprisingly good case for an exasperated albeit polite chuckle, what with good ol' boys, Irish barkeeps, failed lawsuits, felonies and questionable absentee ballots littering the depths of absurdity. It's enough to make even me interested in politics, if only for the level of bathroom gossip that must be going on up on the second floor. Names like Buddy and Ezzie are kind of fun to think about, too, although not as fun as it must be up in the Sanford mayoral race, where "Whitey" Eckstein is running against a woman named Kuhn. See, there's no reason why local politics can't be funny. Fucking hilarious, even.
Following Monday morning's city council session in which tempers flare over the legality of a special election, a Channel 2 camera is thrust in both my hair and my face.
"Why are you here?" the cameraman drones as if he might have done all of this before.
"Because, um, I have to be?" I try to come up with an answer that looks like a question, as if to imply everything and nothing at the same time. Further questioning from both WFTV Channel 9 and Central Florida News 13 will follow outside, wherein I'll go through the odd motions of spelling my name to the camera while being ordered to stand "like a brick wall," and I'll start to get my local news wings. I'll think that I'm totally newsworthy as the cameras swarm around my small assemblage of supporters for B-roll footage, and brace for the soft-lit exposés to follow later on the evening news.
Except they won't. Instead, quick stills of my mug caught in mid-tooth-licking dork face will appear next to those of others in the running, and I'll bleat out a nervous laugh at just how ugly I really am, run out the door for some fresh air, and slip off the front steps just clumsily enough to sprain my ankle.
"I've sprained my ankle running for mayor!" I'll giggle in between the tears caused by the baseball-sized hemorrhage growing on my foot.
"You'll be limping for the people," adds the boyfriend, Alan, not helpfully.
By the weekend the campaign is in full swing, with only a mild limp. For three nights, groups of volunteers and I swarm the downtown nightlife in search of people not too drunk to know their addresses, but too drunk to ask too many questions. We're successful, largely, thanks in no small part to the fact that we're handing out buttons with a floating head image of my own smirking head.
"They're Billy Buttons!" quips my campaign manager, Dave.
"They're perfect!" I descend into a vain puddle of marketing overflow.
It's an exhausting process a cross between speed dating and doing my regular nightlife shtick at warp speed and by the end of each night I'm hoarser than a cheerleader totally winning at the varsity semifinals. But it's worth it. I, unlike your standard candidate running for local office, am somebody who actually goes out, so that part is fine. It's the conversations that are enlightening. Reactions range from comedic disbelief to sincere interest and support, usually mildly slurred by the varying elixirs of downtown decadence, and from the extensive mingling with passersby and policemen alike, it's hard to think that I'm not on to something.
"What are your feelings on crack cocaine?" quizzes a cutie at the Back Booth. "Will you legalize it?"
"Are you gay?" queries everybody at The Club at Firestone. "Will you reopen Southern Nights?"
"Hey Billy, if I sign this will you outlaw pasties and panties at the strip clubs?" chuff a couple of lawyer-types at Scruffy Murphy's. "No pasties and panties!"
My answer to all of them is, quite simply, "yes."
This, I presume, is what they call politicking.
One guy approaches me outside The Social and stares at my hairline.
"You must be my age 32, right?" his eyes roll into the back of his head. "Why don't you just get drunk and party? Why do you care?"
"Because I have to?" I pull my party line.
By Sunday night, politicking has given way to politics. Fresh from an afternoon encounter with my favorite commissioner, Patty Sheehan, in a pink leopard-print top, Alan and I are settling into and quickly out of our Easter ham. The petition drive has gone extremely well, we're due at City Hall in the morning, and all is right with the world. And then, just like in the movies, the phone rings.
"I just wanted to call and tell you some information that we've found. It appears that Billy was arrested in Leon County in 1996, so he has a conviction record there," comes a Deeper Throat than that of Marilyn Chambers. "Just wanted to let you know that this information will be released in the Sentinel on Monday."
So this is legitimacy. Let the games begin!