"LONDON COMFORT" is the story of a seemingly brainless Hollywood celebrity who finds herself in the truly brainless world of Washington when a judge sentences her to community service as a White House tour guide
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Celebutante LONDON COMFORT's coke-filled nights with Hollywood party boys are tame compared to what she finds in the White House -- a world just as exploitive but vastly more dangerous. Appalled, she enlists her black female security guard and an earnest young Secret Service agent to topple the President.
"LONDON COMFORT" takes its readers from the celebrity mansions of Bel Air to the governor's mansion of Montgomery, Alabama, from the stately rooms of the White House to a tattered tent in Pakistan's Toba Kakar mountains, where Osama Ben Laden's would-be successor plots his next move against the Great Satan.
On one level, "LONDON COMFORT" is a satire inspired by American politics. It owes a debt to Presidents such as John F. Kennedy Jr., and Bill Clinton, exemplars of the intersection of sex with politics and power. It is equally indebted to Republicans such as Michelle Bachman, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, whose eccentric quest for their party's Presidential nomination makes credible its incredible story.
The characters of "LONDON COMFORT" are their doppelgangers. They include:
* A moronic Rick Perry-like president who proclaims his affection for the Atlanta Falcons during a ceremony welcoming Mikheil Saakashvili, who, as it happens, runs that other Georgia.
* An obese New Jersey governor who gets trapped behind the steering wheel of his car, requiring the State Police to cut him out and quashing his presidential ambitions. (Americans are fat, but they don't want their leaders to be).
* A Gucci-clad and deeply closeted gay advisor to the conservative and Republican president, who finally opts for money over integrity.
* An African-American vice president (and former hamburger chain magnate) with a murky background that leaves the president's senior advisor justifiably worried.
But at its core, and through London Comfort's adventures, it’s essentially the story of women, young and old, black and white, who struggle to take control of their lives, each in her own unique way.
London, dressed in stained blue cotton pants and shirt and wearing rubber slippers, sat at a Formica-topped table in the visitor’s lounge at the Century Regional Detention Facility. Across from her were the two most important people in her life, other than her father, and she didn’t like what they were telling her.
She’d spent six nights in this horrible place, denied bail because she had violated probation and because she was deemed a “flight risk.” Ralphie Soltis, her lawyer, was telling her she was sure to be found guilty if she demanded a trial. That meant there was a good chance she would go to jail for a few months. Her publicist, Roberto Diaz, nodded in agreement.
“A few months? It’s so unfair! Roberto, can’t you do something?”
If anyone could get her out of this, it was Roberto Diaz. Luckily for her, he was gay as a goose. For one thing, London didn’t have to worry about him hitting on her. For another, he was part of that Velvet Mafia the gossip columnists talk about. Her father and his friends always said the Jews ran the media. London knew better. The media was, like, totally queer! And Roberto was the queerest queer London had ever met. It seemed like he’d had sex with someone at every studio in Hollywood, on every entertainment news show, at every major newspaper, and every magazine. He must have been good, because when he called for favors, he and London got them.
“Baby, I wish I could,” Roberto said. “But it looks like the judge who’s going to hear your case isn’t one of my friends, if you know what I mean. We’ve looked into it. He’s married, Republican, as straight as a five-dollar bill. We do have an idea though. How would you like to work in the White House?”
“What white house?”
“The White House,” Roberto said. “You know, the one where the President of the United States lives.”
“I don’t know,” London said, very tentative. “It’s in Washington? I’ve never been to Washington. I don’t know anyone there.”
“But baby,” Roberto said. “You’d have your own room there. It's like a cool hotel. We think we could even get a TV deal out it.”
“So what does this have to do with the judge and with me going to jail?” London asked.
Ralphie took this one.
“London, the judge is surely going to find you guilty. He’s up for re-election soon. If he lets you loose, he’s gonna get creamed. But we know he wants to be a federal judge. And, well, let’s just say he’ll have a crack at being a federal judge if he’ll release you on what they call community service.”
“You mean like picking up leaves and garbage in public, like Elton John?” London’s frown said “no.”
“We’ve got a classier idea for you,” Roberto said. “That’s where the White House comes in. You would be an intern or a tour guide at the White House! It’s patriotic! It’s noble! It’s self-sacrifice! It’s the new London Comfort — concerned for her country!”
“Intern? Tour guide? I don’t know anything about the White House. What would I do? What would I say? Would I have to wear some geeky uniform?”
“No baby,” Roberto said. “You’d dress like you always do. Well, maybe longer skirts, and maybe looser blouses. But pretty much the same. It would be like being a television host, except without the television cameras. Every day there would be a different audience, there to see London Comfort, and the White House. Whaddya say?”
“So how long would I have to do this? You’re sure it would keep me out of jail?”
“Three months, tops,” said Ralphie. “Monday through Friday, eight a.m. to five p.m., with an hour for lunch and a half hour break each morning and afternoon.”
“Eight in the morning? Are you fucking kidding me?” London said. “Do you know how many lines of coke I’d have to do to be awake at eight in the morning? Ralphie, Roberto, get real.”
“Baby, it’s either that, or more of this,” Roberto said, gesturing with open arms to the visitor’s room, now full of enormous black and Latin women on London’s side of the tables, and screaming babies and the tattooed gang members who fathered them on the other side.
“Okay. Okay.” London relented. “I’ll do it.”
The alarm sounded to indicate the end of visiting hours. Roberto and Ralphie blew kisses across the table to London before turning to make their way through the throngs of people to the door. London stood for a moment, watching their backs recede, stunned by the enormity of what had happened to her and what was likely to continue happening. She joined the long line of women waiting for a pat down from one of the big prison matrons, who would make sure she wasn’t smuggling a file or a gun or a lipstick back into her cell.
"Life is so unfair!" she complained to the young Latin woman standing in front of her, who rolled her eyes at hearing that from one of America's best known and wealthiest young women.
London couldn't believe the judge had denied her bail. He could have fixed one of those Martha Stewart ankle bracelets on her and let her go home, like some of the other girls in her cell when she first arrived. The prosecutor had argued that she was a flight risk. Like, where the hell was she going to fly? She wasn't about to pull a Roman Polanski and run away to Paris. The only thing French that she liked was the kissing and the fashion.
The only time she had even flown out of the United States, other than for visits to resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, which sort of belonged to the United States anyway, was against her will. That was twenty years ago, on September 13, 2001, and it had been a nightmare. She remembered all too well the last-minute call from her father’s lawyer. They thought one of her mother’s brothers had been involved in the Trade Center bombing, and they were trying to get them all out of the United States before other people learned about it.
London hadn’t wanted to leave. After all, she told her mother, at the age of eight, with blonde hair and flawless gold skin, no one was going to mistake her for some Arab terrorist. Yes, her mother and father were Muslim, or at least they had been way back when they were growing up in Saudi Arabia. But now her mother and father were Bel Air through and through. And so was London. She didn’t even really know what Muslim meant.
The lawyer had insisted though. She had thirty minutes to pack. Thirty minutes to pack! That was, like, so totally insane. Her nanny managed to throw only a few things into London's Vuitton by the time the car came for her and her mother. She’d been put in an economy seat in a chartered jet — even at that young age the first (and thankfully only) time in her life she’d flown in the back of an airplane. The meals were just awful. She’d already seen the in-flight movie. She was surrounded by strange people she was told were relatives. Some of the women wore those black shrouds that showed only their eyes and noses, an outfit her mother donned only just before the plane landed. The guys dressed normally, although they looked like dorks. It was strange the way they looked at her mother, like they were undressing her with their eyes and wanting to beat her up, all at the same time. Twenty-four hours later they landed in Saudi Arabia. Before she got off the plane, a woman came up and insisted London, because she looked more like she was thirteen than eight, also put on one of those black shrouds. It was awful, and it was made of muslin. Muslin, Muslim. There was forever a connection in London's mind.
London’s skin itched all the way to the hotel, where, once in her room, she finally was able to peel off that damned shroud and take a hot bath. Muslin was all wrong for delicate skin like hers.
A week or so later she was back in LA. No one had connected her parents or London with this Abdullah bin-Salem. When London asked her mother about him, she just rolled her eyes.
“I have a dozen brothers, and a dozen sisters. You expect me to remember all of them?” she’d said.
After ten minutes of shuffling along in the line, it was London's turn to be patted down. She was surprised to recognize the woman cop who had arrested her.
“How you doing honey?” the woman asked, giving London one of the few smiles she had gotten in this place since she’d arrived.
“I don’t know. Not so good,” London said. “What are you doing here?”
“Got transferred. I wasn’t with the Highway Patrol, you know. I was with the Sheriff’s Department. Just got called out because they needed a woman to help bring you in. You’re looking good honey. Hope you ain’t letting this get you down.”
“It is getting me down. It’s not looking good for me. Uh, I’m sorry. I don’t even know your name."
“My name is Kameela. You’re London Comfort, the celebrity, right? Well, I gotta get this line moving. So I can’t talk now. But I’ll stop by a little later if you’d like.”
“Sure,” London said. “I mean, whatever. That would be nice.”
London shuffled off to her cell. At least, because of her celebrity, she had one to herself. She’d heard horror stories about some of the other inmates. She’d had sex with other girls, and it had been fun, but only with guys involved too. The women in this prison — well, let’s just say it was clear none of them had ever had a bikini wax. They looked like truck drivers.
The door to the cell clanged shut behind her. London was back in her little eight by ten room, with a single bed, a metal toilet bolted to the wall, and a metal sink with a metal mirror. The light was fluorescent. Never had she felt or looked so ugly. There was no TV, no radio, no iPod, no wireless Internet, no telephone. They told her they would order books for her, but London wasn’t really the reading type. She was just so damned bored!
An hour must have passed when she heard someone quietly calling her name outside the cell door. It was Kameela.