Inaugural balls: The good, the bad and the American carnage of the parties

The 58th Presidential Inauguration Freedom Ball was held on Friday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump talk to the crowd. Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin

WASHINGTON – American carnage? Honey, you don’t know the half of it. As the daytime ballyhoo dispersed, the scent of scorched limousine on the breeze, there were still the nighttime inaugural balls to deal with Friday: a whole battery of official and unofficial parties, with blistered people limping in tight dress shoes and staggering through dark streets in ball gowns while yelling, “The other security guard told me this was the entrance; no I’m not going back there again.”

Guests, like mice in tuxedos, scurried their way through a maze of concrete barriers and chain-link fences to reach their prize inside the Liberty Ball: cupcakes. With red, white and blue frosting. The plates were paper. The utensils were plastic. But the room was huge, big league, 150,000 square feet of boredom and anticipation. The Rockettes showed – some of them, anyway – just after 8 p.m., and a piano-playing quartet from Utah performed a mash-up of “Amazing Grace” and “Fight Song,” an anthem scavenged from the deceased Hillary Clinton campaign.

The only real celebrity at the Liberty Ball, before the new president arrived, was Caitlyn Jenner, the most famous transgender Republican on the planet. A statuesque presence in a single-strap gown that rippled in the back, Jenner was mobbed for selfies inside a dark and crowded VIP area with indigo lighting, an open bar and former Texas governor Rick Perry, President Donald Trump’s pick for energy secretary.

Las Vegas kingpin and Trump mega-donor Sheldon Adelson scooted in his motorized wheelchair, like a cruise missile, to a tray of brownies. When Melania Trump was introduced at about a quarter to 10, someone bellowed “You’re a hottie!” Guests Facetimed their family members as the Trumps danced to “My Way,” a song that begins “And now, the end is near.”

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We did it Our Way. We went to so many of those balls.

Over in the National Building Museum, at the Salute to Our Armed Services ball, President Trump danced with Petty Officer 2nd Class Catherine Cartmell, a religious program specialist in the Navy. Melania Trump danced with Army Staff Sgt. Jose A. Medina, who was born in Puerto Rico and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Babot, of the U.S. Coast Guard, cut the cake with a saber.

The celebrations were way less official out in Maryland – down a dark road in misty Potomac, where a giant white pickup truck emblazoned with “TRUMP 45” idled, driverless, in a parking lot next to a building named Benjamin Franklin Hall. Inside, “the DeploraBall,” a $500 dinner and dance hosted by a Facebook group and wannabe PAC called Gays for Trump.

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A man in a tuxedo exited one ugly-carpeted room to another with a plan: “I’m gonna get some food and then hopefully find a husband.”

The gays, who found themselves marooned Friday night in the suburbs of Maryland, seemed uninterested in the silent auction of framed photos of Coco Chanel, Dean Martin and the full text of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

In the bathroom, a man struggled with his frog mask, which perhaps was a nod to Pepe, the cartoon character commandeered this campaign season by white supremacists.

“Kermit!!!” a woman exclaimed when he emerged back in the reception area.

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But back to the city. Four blocks away from the official ball fortress, the Hollywood celebrities who had been AWOL for most of the inauguration were now corralled into the Inaugural Ball for the Arts, hosted by the Creative Coalition. B-list actors (John Leguizamo, Tim Daly, Christina Hendricks) talked passionately about the value of their day jobs under a president who reportedly wants to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.

The day “feels like a shiva,” said Paul Strauss, the District’s shadow senator, who is involved with the coalition. “Or like a funeral.” Strauss confided that he had two tickets to the inauguration but woke up Friday morning and just couldn’t make himself do it.

What did he do instead on Inauguration Day?

“Do you know Mae Whitman and Alia Shawkat?” Strauss asked, and yes, he did mean the actresses from “Arrested Development,” and he proceeded to beckon them both over. “They were planning to go to the Women’s March.”

“But Mae and I didn’t pack properly for the weather,” Shawkat explained. “We needed stockings and gloves.”

“So Paul took us to Bloomingdale’s,” Whitman said.

Power attorney Gloria Allred’s date was her client Summer Zervos, the former “Apprentice” contestant who just filed a defamation lawsuit against the president of the United States because Trump said Zervos’s accusations of sexual assault were false. “If he would retract, we’d dismiss the lawsuit,” Allred said. “If not, we’ll litigate this in court. And not by tweet at 3 a.m.”

Over on the red carpet, a woman with a plunging neckline swanned toward the photographers, who did not recognize her. “Pictures, anyone?” she called out. “I’m Jill? Jill Zarin?”

Hmm. Nope, name doesn’t ring a – oh wait, Jill Zarin, from “Real Housewives of New York,” way back when. How have you been, Jill? Were you at the inauguration?

“With the family,” she said, meaning the Trumps. “And now I’m going to the Liberty Ball.”

We told her that those tickets are apparently hard to get. “Oh really?” she said breezily. “I’ve got four.”

After fretting about getting a cab, she reached into her purse, pulled out a pair of Skechers, and walked.

Farther west, in ye olde Georgetown, Republicans from the Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43 administrations reclaimed their God-given right to be relevant again at the Inaugural Afterglow Party, the exclusive soiree hosted by former ambassador Mary Ourisman at Cafe Milano. More than 500 people – including Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham – packed into the establishment restaurant, which was facelifted into a nightclub for the evening.

“You did a terrific job today!” shouted one man to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who got up at 5:30 a.m. to emcee the swearing-in at the Capitol and was taking a victory lap at the party.

“I don’t really get tired,” Blunt said, grinning.

A diverse crowd – rich white people and very rich white people – clustered around Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who spent most of the party posing for photos with a succession of breathless admirers.

“I’m optimistic,” Rubio said. “We have a real opportunity to make a difference, which is why we come to Washington.”

(Rubio last February: “There’s no way that we’re going to allow a con artist to take over the conservative movement. And Donald Trump is a con artist.”)

Time for one more ball? How about a party that evokes the insecure extravagance of a business tycoon trying to gobble the world with escalating demonstrations of power: The Great Gatsby Presidential Inaugural Ball at the National Portrait Gallery.

Guests at that ball wore flapper dresses, listened to music on a gramophone, learned the Charleston and celebrated an era of American prosperity that was followed by an apocalyptic monetary crash and then the largest war in the history of the world. Cheers!

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Maura Judkis, Jonathan O’Connell and Roxanne Roberts contributed to this report.

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