In search of

Time for a confession. Sometimes in my head I fancy myself ringside for the battle to end all battles, the Trojan war, if you will, of pop music: the inevitable 'N Sync vs. Backstreet brawl. Color me a sensationalist -- not a pedophile -- but so well-matched a challenge of sweet nubility and oversprayed denial could be just the thing to settle my hooked-out nerves in this profession of shiny-shirted, cynical observation. To see some skin finally break, or a nose knocked permanently out of place (sending publicists into photoshop-frenzies worldwide) might be just the link to pull it all together -- why they're here, why I'm here, and, well, why I'm queer.

So to read in the Dec. 29 Sentinel that Joey Fatone and A.J. McLean would be putting aside their differences in a meeting at Howie's paintball nightmare, Tabu, sent a shiver up my twice-tapped spine. After all, it is just those differences, that dimwitted antagonism, that makes my head bob through "It's Gonna Be Me," and my heart stop at "Shape of My Heart." Without it, I'm nothing. OK, maybe without it, I'd be something. Still, the late-afternoon charity event, designed to raise funds for an ailing dad to a girl-band hopeful (3rd Phase, they're called, although I'd hate to have seen the first), could give me a chance to stand in between the two beefier boys of the boy-band war and drop a piece of cheese. It could have been the best cheese war ever.

Only that would have required them to show up.

At least I did. Indeed, the promised lineup seemed too good to be missed: O-Town, LFO, Innosense, Roger Clemens ... what?

"Joey should be here soon," offered a sheepish emcee over a gurgling chant of "Joey, Joey, Joey" from the 30 or so spoiled spawn littering the dance floor while the awful Pink album played its mush. One unfortunate future queen vogued the Britney burp vogue with his two cheerleader lady friends whilst sporting a rhinestone belt symptomatic of too much Sarah Jessica Parker. I tried to walk past and philanthropically shove him, only I started to recall my "Like a Virgin" days and could only muster a gaze into the ether.

To V.I.P. or not V.I.P.

Soon I was penetrating the V.I.P. area, sipping a seven-dollar cocktail and, like every other mom and boa-ed daughter in the concourse, gazing into every hair boy's eyes to check their celebrity meter. It felt a little like Easter, only without the glittery eggs and pink marshmallows. It also felt a little like dirty fake snow in Celebration, but that's a whole other story.

"I'll meet you in the V.I.P. area," reiterated the marketing gal upon another fruitless wandering by yours truly. (I had to go outside to smoke, you see. Seems the Truth kids might maul me if a puff of nicotine were to sully their feathers.) "That's where the celebrities will be," I was assured.

All I saw was what might have been Eric from O-Town (were it to have mattered) holding couch court in a corner, occasionally caught in a flash from misdirected lensings by the trust-fund girls promised a prince charming. But then, that's the whole point of O-Town, anyway, right? -- to lame through the finish while Big Poppa's real players warm the bench. A.J., it should be noted, was probably a little busy washing his stench following a poorly disguised, XL 106.7-reported night out with a "hoochie mama" and a friend of mine. Southern Nights and strip clubs, it was. Surprised?

Not as surprised as I and my empathetic colleague Tyler Gray (ex-Single Guy of the Sentinel) were upon hearing the dreaded emcee's final coffin nail. Pitching the place to the youngsters, he announced, "We want to try to do some new things around here. You know, like House of Blues." Then he added, "Tell all of your friends that Tabu is very friendly to the underaged!"

Um, surely more friendly than I am, right?