Slam, dunk, get drunk 

"If you guys have a question feel free to ask it. The only thing we do ask is please 'par-tain' it to Challenge for the Children," stumbles a slimeball with a microphone. "Don't ask too-personal questions, like, well, you know what I mean."

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.

It was just two months ago that 'N Sync sat a few of us down to detail their heart-rendered involvement in the fourth annual installment of their Challenge for the Children basketball event (less a chance to do anything meaningful than a chance to prove that maybe they aren't gay). And again we're being advised to avoid any salacious content-oriented questioning, in favor of some publicity strokes in favor of our increasingly irrelevant hometown heroes. "'Cuz all these guys want to do is have fun this weekend."

Funny, all I want to do is have fun this weekend, too.

Enter the gaggle of tomorrow's leaders, a depressing array of almost-weres and premature has-beens all thugged out in baggy WB pessimism: 'N Sync, Alfonso Ribero ("Silver Spoons!"), Pat O'Brien ("Access Hollywood!?"), Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), Donald Faison ("Scrubs," "Clueless" ... hell), Trevor from O-Town and a wet-haired Shannon Elizabeth from the "American Pie" movies. Other DJs and basketball players litter the mass, but who cares?

"Anything to say before we start?" ringleads our moderator.

"Yeah. Just talk about the charity," gruffs Joey. "There ain't no boyfriends, girlfriends, no French-kissing anybody, and that stuff, AY!"

Damn. No advantageous French-kissing with meatball Joey Fatone, then. Alternate dinner plans will surely be required.

Next to me sit two teen-age girls who each run competing 'N Sync websites. They've flown in, parent-free, to"seriously" cover the proceedings. I long for their innocence, mind you, but not their braces. "I just would like to say," one stands up and lisps, all spelling-bee poised and ready to cooh the first query to the stars, "that it's really great that you guys take time out of your busy schedule to come here every year. ..."

Canned pep rally applause.

"And my question is, what methods do you guys have in mind for making the world a better place?"

"Ummm," all around. "Do we have any easier questions out there?"

"Don't drink a lot of Mountain Dews," nonsenses Justin, coming off sounding insensitive, and, well, stupid. "Anything that you want to do is in your grasp," he salvages. "And never doubt that the world is yours."

"And don't make bets with me. You see what happened to Chris."

Chris (nudge, nudge) is sporting a lilty suburban mohawk situation that is neither punk rock nor cute, it should be noted. He's still the old, fat one. Only now he seems just a touch more desperate than the rest. "Yeah, we'll see what happens on the court," Chris cowers, slowly being kicked out of the band.

"Why did you pick basketball as the sport, as opposed to tetherball or hide-and-seek?" seethes an older journalist, asking one of those screwball questions characteristic of someone who should be covering events more serious than the philanthropic whimsy of millionaires.

"Did you just say tetherball?" squeals Justin. "I don't even know what that is!"

Of course you don't, dear. Perhaps that's the point.

"No, we chose basketball because all of us in the band enjoy the game," diplomats JC. "Lance?" chimes Chris, ADD stirring his aging silence. "Lance is playing for Russia!"

Wait a minute! We're not allowed to ask that. This, even though Lance, the Ellen DeGeneres-mugged sweetness of 'N Sync, is mysteriously absent. (A phone interview is promised, but the spaceman wannabe proves a poor draw.)

"Russians are people, too," Chris makes things worse. "Why? Did I offend anybody? Are there any Russians in here?"

By now my hotel bar-buzz is wearing off and my crumpled list of questions involving solo careers and sex with Janet Jackson is itching at my ankles as I attempt something equally appropriate/obnoxious to say.

"Hey, Billy from Orlando Weekly," I press, waving the microphone seductively around my face. "How did you come up with this mass (mess?) of people to, er, 'represent' in this event?"

"What?" grumps Justin, obviously not liking me anymore.

"What?" I what back.

"No, it's just that when you moved your hand, I couldn't hear your question."

"Is it better like this?" I slither, pulling my best 'Bye Bye Bye' microphone maneuvering around my head and face. Everybody laughs, which, for me is dangerous.

"I'M NOT A POP STAR! SORRY!" I crowd-please, at least in my head.

"I'm not trying to be funny," laughs Justin. "It's just that when you move the microphone away, it looks like you're lip-synching."

Exactly, dear. Exactly.

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