Anthony Mueller attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1984 but failed to obtain a degree in fashion design. That was that last Michelle Robinson had heard from him. He was dropping out of college because he was offered a gig of a lifetime. His clothing designs were to be featured in a major fashion show. Anthony always seemed to be one step ahead of life and it buckled when he swished by. Michelle never imagined that her childhood friend with such talent had fallen on hard times.
So much time had passed since their last conversation. Life had moved on, but it took only moments for the two to catch up on what had transpired since 1984.
Michelle assumed Anthony had made his way in fashion and left his label on the world– probably one day to become the chairman of the Fruit of the Loom corporation or perhaps he would take control of the board of directors of Victoria Secrets. He was always a charismatic charmer with irresistible wit. Anthony managed to graduate high school three years sooner than most in Chicago. Like Michelle studying sociology at Princeton, he had his head on straight when first moving to New York City, but found himself lost in a world of racial inequality while in college.
Michelle was devastated to learn that her gifted childhood friend had been railroaded early in his career by the powerful queen, Alvardo Valenci who saw to it that Anthony’s work never appeared on a New York City fashion runway again.
“I wouldn’t have sex with him after doing it once for pride,” Anthony explained to Michelle after she returned his call four weeks before the election. “It had nothing to do with what I had designed or how the fashion page of the New York Time’s covered my work. That bastard ruined me. I’ve been forced to pedal ribbon as a career, girl. You have to hire me as your design consultant if you become First Lady. We promised to always be best friends and shared white Barbies–.remember?”
“That’s horrible, Anthony. Let me ask you this– was Alvardo Valenci Italian or a white designer with a fancy name?”
“What do you think? Of course he is white. This is New York.”
Michelle laughed. “Alright. Sit tight. Staff here have been attempting to assemble a fund raiser in New York City this weekend– let me see what I can do. I like your idea of a fashion show attended by Barbara Streisand. Do you really know her?”
“We’re like best friends. She’s going to be honored at the Kennedy Center this year– remember– you heard it from me first,” Anthony lisped. “I have all the inside connections.”
Michelle lost touch with Anthony and all grammar school friends who had grown up with her in the ghettos of South Shore, Chicago. With the exception of her mother who still lived there, memories of the hard life of Chicago faded away in Michelle’s story, at least until the presidential campaign began.
Michelle often wondered about her cherished friends from the nest of childhood and where they may have landed. Surely most would pop out of the woodwork like grub worms the moment if and when she became First Lady, she realized after taking Anthony’s call. Would they all have struggled so much in the world, like Anthony had, needing her influence to change things for the better in their little worlds? Surely they would. Michelle braced herself and promised, inside, to do what she could for all her friends.
Anthony flew to Chicago the day after Michelle took his call at the campaign’s national office. They met for lunch at Frontera Grill and Michelle brought Barry along for an informal introduction. The story of their childhood together and Michelle’s first encounter with a man was fresh on the Illinois senator’s mind. Michelle told Barry the story about her first time with Anthony when the two were getting serious, just days before Barry asked to marry her.
Barry was too preoccupied at the restaurant to give much thought to private discussions with a flamboyant homosexual during a luncheon. There was too much press scrutiny lurking. Anthony did most of the talking anyway. He explained how he single handedly built the Norma Ribbon and Trimming empire– a family- owned, gay-run, manufacturer of small flowered ribbons and bows that are found on most high-end lingerie items.
“The ribbon flowers on Michelle’s bras are my weakness,” Barry confessed while nibbling on a pile of mashed potatoes. “They are an important part of the world economy.” Barry wondered if the man who was Michelle’s first got the intended metaphor, and took the compliment to his profession as a friendly warning in regards to male campaign staff, who, despite sexual persuasion, may still see his wife naked and try, out of desperation, to re-live fond moments of childhood.
“I assure you that even Michelle’s ribbons in Chicago came from one of my designs,” Anthony insisted.
Barry had no choice but to burst-out, laughing. He tossed his fork to his plate like a musketeer who had lost a challenge.
Anthony, over a campaign funded t-bone, explained that his life had been reduced to coordinating the production of hand-made flowers between Offray– the ribbon giant, and a woman in Brownsville, Texas, who each morning, drove Federal Expressed reams of Offray ribbon in her trunk ,across the Mexican boarder, to where brown skinned women would weave thousands of tiny bra and panty adornments for just over a dollar a day.
The fashion industry wasn’t a pleasant environment for an American born designer after NAFTA, Anthony explained. Barry’s mind was elsewhere– the comments made by his pastor– the media frenzy that surrounded him. It was refreshing to Barry that he didn’t have to talk at lunch and the agreement regarding the New York City fashion show for the Obama ticket was made with very little objection or consideration by senior campaign staff.
“Can we bring him aboard?” Michelle pleaded, finishing every last piece of romaine lettuce from her tiny saucer .
“You have my authorization,” the senator assured as they left the table.
Barry had been successful in not smoking until having lunch with Anthony Mueller. Deep inside, Barry sensed danger with the man with whom he was forced to meet and have lunch with. There was such a stagnant taste in his mouth caused by the things that Pastor Wright had preached and now, the people from early-life, in both his world and Michelle’s, would surely reappear.
It didn’t matter, months after their first luncheon, that the designer would work as part of the First Lady team, just a few doorways down from the Oval office. Barry had to remain focused and trust Michelle’s judgement on staff. If Michelle needed a hairdresser as first lady, then by all means, he would hire Anthony Mueller to screen calls at the white house, despite the less than satiny record of the clothing designer. Barry wondered how Hillary would react to such a snippy queen when she tried calling the White House at 3 a.m.
Barry won the presidency. Baggage that comes with old friends from the past would have to be unpacked after they got a puppy. Barry was indeed the new captain of the free world– one with the addition of Anthony Mueller to the Obama campaign. Barry remembered the speech he made at the 2004 Democratic Convention and how now, thanks to his wife, found himself eating his own words and working next to a gay man, who due to a past that Barry could never change, would always have one up on the president and a place in the White House to boot.