Step into the sleek lobby of San Francisco's legendary Clift Hotel and your eye is at once drawn to the whimsically outsized parlor chair there. Look around a bit further, though, and you'll see this attention-grabbing "Alice-in-Wonderland" touch for what it really is--just a clever decoy for the far more playful safari motif that lies in wait for you throughout the carnivorously red drawing room and beyond. It's there in the faux tiger-print rugs, in the tusk-laden lobby settee, and, most wittily, in the illuminated photographs of such prized prey as lions, leopards, and elephants that line the walls. It's as though designer Philippe Starck knew from the start that, in the urban safari of San Francisco's dating scene, the Clift Hotel was destined to become its ultimate big-game hunting preserve. For here prowl the politicos, executives, and sultrier-than-thou singletons that make up the city's elite. And never in a more dazzling concentration than tonight, where they've come to celebrate the 5th-year anniversary of this legendary institution and where even the most coveted quarry of all' Mayor Gavin Newsom' has ventured into the crosshairs for a prized appearance.
I have somehow managed, despite falling into none of the above profiled categories' well, save the token 'thou' all those other singletons are so busy being sultrier than' to snare an invitation to this event. Though I arrived expecting the usual menagerie of bebe-clad beauties and predatory playboys, I thrill to find myself surrounded by San Francisco's genuine cultural elite instead. One moment I'm swapping favorite book titles with an accomplished writer, the next I'm discussing post-bubble economics with a Silicon Valley tech analyst. Which is not to say the evening is without glamour, mind you. That magical quality electrifies the gathering as soon as Mayor Gavin Newsom shimmers into view.
It would be difficult to exaggerate the frisson of excitement this man's presence sends through a crowd. No sooner does he enter than the 'cougars' start to circle and the men muscle over to shake his hand. All eyes turn his way as surely as compass needles swing due north. It is amidst this steady swirl of glances he moves and tirelessly works the room. Let's just say that, were this man's romantic market value listed on the NASDAQ, it'd be worth more than shares of Google stock. How fitting, then, that any development in his love life should generate the kind of speculative press worthy of the most hotly rumored of I.P.O.s. Yet no matter whom he chooses to squire about' even the goddess-like actress Sofia Milos who speaks, like, seven languages' the blogosphere goes all Goldilocks and attacks each and every one of them. Too young. Too C-list. Too thetan. Yikes. Whoever ends up filling Steve Irwin's shoes will probably face less savagery than the woman who snares the heart of this city's most favored son.
And why all the fuss, exactly? I edge closer to see if I can't answer that question first-hand (aren't I the selfless trooper?). Sure, he's charismatic. And yes, he's cinematically handsome. Articulate? Unfailingly and stunningly so. And then there's that voice, as gravelly and masculine as sandpaper. In short, this is a man who exudes the kind of old-world panache you just don't expect to see outside of a Cary Grant film. Yet perhaps what makes him most alluring is the fact that, despite having won the genetic lottery, he appears to be' get this' a genuinely decent guy.
Indeed, to his great credit, all the fawning adoration does not appear to have gone to his head. And I say this with no small degree of authority, having personally subjected him to a far higher level of gushing than is currently approved by the FDA. Ahem. Yes, though I had every intention of maintaining a kind of detached perspective in the presence of said celebrity, the moment we're introduced, what can I say, I dissolve into a puddle of fatuousness. I'm sure anyone watching thought to themselves, oh just put on the beret and flash the thong already. Seriously though, it should be said, no matter how fawning the attention directed at him, or how relentless, he remains nothing but gracious, self-deprecating and charming throughout.
Curiously, what strikes me later, after watching my own interaction with the mayor replayed in a reel of similar introductions with all the other would-be Monicas, is just how little we actually let him speak. I mean, here's this man who goes to the World Economic Forum in Davos, hangs with the likes of Bill Clinton and the Google guys, yet we all persist in talking at him rather than the other way around. It's as though, in the presence of celebrity, we all turn into stage-hogging American Idol contestants eager to prove that we belong beyond the velvet ropes, too. Reflecting on this, and suddenly feeling more William Hung than Kelly Clarkson, I decamp to the bar to savor the quiet pleasure of anonymity and to marvel at the great, glorious hunt from afar.