"I think you should wear the cowboy hat that I just bought for you."


"I'm the man of the house, and I say that you're wearing the cowboy hat. I'm the leader of this pack. End of discussion."

Given no context, you might expect that I'd be waxing Farrah right about now and burning the bed for my 16th movie of the week.

But it should be noted that Alan's and my relationship is a nuanced ball of complexity not visible to the naked eye. You take my Tori Spelling "Yes, these are Uggs" and "No, I did not have boob job"-isms, bleed them of their vodka-with-mixer and marinate them in John Wayne's bile, and you might get the general idea. We're a refused VH1 pilot.

I love him. I love him so much.

I, however, do not wear hats. Nor do I typically attend events that include "cattle" in their titles. So it's with a particularly violent bout of teeth-grinding that I've accepted tonight's invite to the American Cancer Society's Cattle Baron's Ball, a concept so very wrong that I can't even fit my hair around it, much less a hat. My inner Tori may be quietly marveling at the financial angle

($250 for an Urban Cowboy/Cowgirl up to $10,000 for an Urban Partner … cute!), but the geometry goes all amorphous at the juxtaposition of cancer and cowboys. Frankly, I'm depressed.

"Are you a cancer survivor?" grills a volunteer at sign-in, as if it's the kind of question you ask anyone. And while she isn't directing the question at me (at least I don't think she is), she might as well be. Ouch.

Inside the :08 Entertainment Complex (the Siamese kissing cousin of the Orlando Weekly building, natch), things are significantly more benign. Sure, Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" is blaring without irony and one of the two African-Americans present has just welcomed us with a "Howdy, pardners," but I'm not breaking out in sociological hives or anything. I am, after all, a tax-paying citizen of Redneckia.

"Do I have a booger in my nose?" Alan puts his face all up in mine.

Um, no.

Snottily, my mind drifts to the mucus-like existence of the Orlando leisure class, exhibited here in their starched-jeans-and-leather-vest mode — Saturday night slummin' it, hearts aching and breaking in line dance formation. Like, what exactly do they do, and why do they move so slowly while they're doing it? Are there small dogs? Plastic surgeons?

But there are to be no grand epiphanies here, just the standard blank-stared, shuffle-footed circulation of office parties at offices where you don't work (but, perhaps, next to one you do).

I bore quickly.

"I think the game here is to decide who is actually a redneck, and who, presumably in the name of comedy, is pretending to be," I scribble on a scrap of paper, as if it means something.

In one of the outside tents, a silent auction is inspiring more slow movement, soundtracked by a country band whose affinity for all things Merle Haggard is apparent. No sooner am I humming along to "Silver Wings" than the first item we come across is a giant painted portrait of somebody else's child.

"How much would a portrait of somebody else's child go for?" I wonder aloud.

No answer returns. Further in, a plaster cast of a baby's ass and another of a pregnant mother's belly (retail value $150) frighten me, and I'm totally scrolling Tom Cruise on my speed dial and ruing procreation.

Alan, meanwhile, keeps himself busy bidding on golf miscellany and other things that men with Southern accents cherish.

"I should bid on that Sean Hannity book for my mother." He kills me.


"But it's autographed."

"Double no."

And get this. Turns out that lunch with the mayor of Winter Park is "priceless," with a minimum bid of $10, and I'm at a blond loss. Who exactly is the mayor of Winter Park? Is that a real city?

Speaking of mayors, Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty is milling about with his wife, looking at Sean Hannity books and stuff, and I assign myself the pointless challenge of talking to him. It all proves uneventful, with him pretending to recognize me and throwing a paternal gaze, mouthing something like "Is everything going alright?" as if I'm a cancer survivor.

"Nice hat," I deadpan in the direction of his cowboy hat.

"Thank you, pardner," he obliges.

Onstage, Chris Egert from WRDQ-TV Channel 27 decides to tell the mayor a joke, something that starts, "Tonto and the Lone Ranger are sitting in a bar …" and ends with "… you left your Injun running!" Even the stupid people don't laugh. All I see are gin blossoms on blotchy faces and turquoise boots on housewives standing there in still life, like they're pretending to be at a small-town fair or frozen dead in their tracks for posthumous portraiture.

So I light a cigarette at a cancer benefit, and virtually yank everybody's carcinogenic scorn in my direction. This is clearly the end for me. I just don't know exactly how to tell Alan.

"You tipsy?" he smirks at me, eyeing the way out. "You sound tipsy."

I love him. I love him so much.

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