MAD DOG: Tickle Me Bill -- A Guide to Getting Inauguration Tickets

I've been running home and checking my mail twice a day lately. Not because I'm expecting some straggling Christmas cards which the post office has been using to keep a sorting table in Topeka, Kansas level since 1978, but rather because I hope my personal invitation to the January 20th presidential inauguration will finally arrive.There's no question this would be a high point in my life. After all, it's an opportunity to see the swearing-in of the President of the United States of America, a sight we may not see again until the next time he has to give a deposition, testify in court or discuss Janet Reno. Oh sorry, that's not swearing in, it's swearing at. The truth is, you don't need an invitation to attend all the inaugural events. For some of them all you need is a copy of your canceled check proving that you made a $650,000 donation to Clinton's campaign committee. This is especially effective if you're from Indonesia. But of course, I'm kidding. Money orders, cash, and wire transfers are just as effective.Here's how the festivity break-down goes: There's the inauguration itself, which is when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stands in front of a huge crowd of on-lookers who couldn't tell you his name if their lives depended on it and checks to see if the President knows his right hand from his left by telling him to pat his head while rubbing his stomach. Just kidding. Actually he has him raise his right hand while placing his left hand on a Bible and asks if he, William Jefferson Clinton takes her, Hillary Rodham Clinton to be his lawful wedded bride, yet another reason we shouldn't allow Supreme Court Justices to be older than King Tut.Following the swearing-in is the parade, a three-hour extravaganza during which bands from all across America are honored by being allowed to march down Pennsylvania Avenue in sub-freezing weather while trying to figure out how in the hell they'll ever get their instruments unfrozen from their lips without pulling off all their skin. Last, but certainly not the least expensive, are the night's 12 official inaugural balls and the celebrity-studded gala, which for your information isn't a term I'm making up because I like to say "celebrity-studded" but is actually the best our President's high-powered and highly paid staff of advisors and speech writers could come up with.Getting tickets to these events is like trying to get a straight answer from the I.R.S., an organization which (True Fact!) is ecstatic that they managed to answer a whopping 20% of the calls which were made to their help lines last year. But if you're determined and absolutely convinced that this is worth taking a personal day off from work, here's how you go about getting them.First there's the ceremony itself. Standing-room tickets for the swearing-in are free with the purchase of a large Big Mac flavored Slurpee in the special edition Inaugural Cup, available for a limited time only at Washington, D.C. area 7-11's. Actually, the tickets are yours for the asking from your local neighborhood member of Congress, each of whom gets a pile of them (199 per representative and 393 per Senator) to give out as they see fit. Some hand them out to people who helped on their re-election campaign. Others give them away to the 14th caller. Most, however, distribute the tickets on a first-come, large kick-back basis, which is why nearly everyone watching the ceremony will be either a defense contractor, the chairman of the board of a river-polluting factory or a close relative who oddly enough happens to work in the congressman's office.Unlike most everything else involved with the inauguration, the parade is free. Unless, of course, you want to be able to see it. Bleacher seats were sold out weeks ago. Most of the 45,000 parade tickets were being held for -- you guessed it -- invitation-only reservations. There are, as of this writing, a number of perches left on the lower branches of three cherry trees about a half block away but you'd better hurry because I don't think they're going to last long.Then there are the inaugural balls, which are black-tie affairs that cost between $100 and $3,000, depending on the event, your political clout, and whether you gave Chelsea a Tickle Me Elmo for Christmas. But even if you're willing to fork over the money you're going to have a hard time finding a ticket. Although there are 137,000 tickets to these events, they're pretty much offered to 50,000 of Clinton's friends, which for this purpose is generally defined as anyone who's helped block the issuance of a subpoena in Bill or Hillary's name.The truth is I don't expect to get an invitation to one of these balls in the mail any more than I believe in Santa Claus. Of course, considering a recent poll by U.S. News and World Report uncovered the fact that 9 percent of adults said they still believe in Santa Claus, maybe there's hope yet. Just to be safe I'm taking my tux to the cleaners.

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