Mark Sanford boned me
Barbecue makes me hot, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Whether the sauce is based in ketchup, mustard, or vinegar, it might as well be Spanish Fly shaken with raw oyster liquor. I moved to the South in 1997 and I’m fairly certain I’ve been aroused by barbecue as much as I have by all my potential paramours. That’s what made Governor Mark Sanford’s inauguration such a drop-my-pants-sexy event.
It was 2003 and I was vulnerable. I should admit that from the outset. I’d not yet been married three years and I was childless at the time. I was drinking a lot more in those days and I weighed a little less. So, it should be clear what would happen when I–then a rising star in the world of television news–crossed paths with the newest Governor of South Carolina. It was going to turn into something you couldn’t buy over the counter. This was prescription strength Governor-on-reporter action.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?
For those who weren’t there, Sanford’s 2003 inaugural party wasn’t some northeastern elite gala. It was more blue jeans than black tie. And let me be quite clear about this: while there was little pomp, there was circumstance out the wazoo. See, Sanford cast himself as a man of the people, a frugal leader with a taste for the common man. Sure, he married well and into a quarry full of money. Granted, he dressed his four little boys identically, like something out of a Martha’s Vineyard travel brochure. No doubt, he had a home on the tony Sullivan’s Island. All of that and his cheekbones notwithstanding, Governor Sanford was our man, and we knew it because instead of throwing a ball, our man threw a BBQ to celebrate his rise to power.
Now, I’d never really “experimented” with the love that dare not speak its name, but it was Columbia, SC, and even in January, it’s hot in Columbia. The entire city is made of concrete and testosterone. People walk around with the word COCKS on their hat. And they sweat. It’s a recipe for some sort of Bacchanal that can’t be described on these pages. But, even then, I could’ve resisted. After all, for years I’d fought off the advances of Governor Jim Hodges in the same city, and–with the help of right-hand man Kevin Geddings–he was much more persuasive.
Yes, I could’ve avoided every sexy thing about Governor Sanford if he’d just kept his BBQ ribs in his pants. But no. As I stood there in my cheap tie and blow-dried hair, I knew that I would be keeping secrets before campaigns began for the midterm elections.
There we were in some giant warehouse with barbecue as far as the eye could see. My dander was higher than the Capitol dome and was flapping as wildly as the Confederate flag had on top of that dome’s spire. The atmosphere was all pork, ribs, hash, and beans. I was salivating. And sweating, of course. And, lordamercy, how more appropriate could the band have been? The Swingin’ Medallions? It was as if some phallic god had reached down and touched everyone in the room and said “Shag to the band named in my penis’ image.”
Even with all that, I could’ve put the night behind me. I could’ve let the hot January night marry with all the other indiscreet flavors of those halcyon years. It could’ve been just another dreamy memory of BBQ binges and guilt-laden regret. But then my microphone flag caught Governor Sanford’s eye. From that moment forward, everything changed.
I don’t think anyone–even Sanford–knew of his festering fetish for TV news reporters. Even at the time, it was probably something Sanford let slip into his mind when he and Jenny practiced procreation at home. She might have even encouraged it–maybe brigning a reporter’s notebook to bed, or wearing an IFB with her ankle-length negligee. Regardless, my meeting with the onetime Congressman over a rack of ribs seemed something new and exciting for him. It was like we stood on the edge of the Garden of Eden, and instead of exchanging ribs for something with breasts and original sin, we just dry-rubbed them and got to eating.
A different writer, nay, a different reporter, would take this opportunity to list the events of that night from the glance across the room to a post coital cigar behind a convenience store dumpster. I, however, will not. It’s not discretion, so much as the opportunity to tell my story first to Inside Edition. Or Lt. Governor Andre Bauer. Whoever can get me the best deal.
No, like Maria in Argentina, I will keep my memories to myself–the rib rub, the pulled pork, the one night in Columbia that I know Mark Sanford has kept forever tucked away inside a special book in his house.
Still, as I bed down tonight with the smell of mesquite smoke still in the air, Sanford is on the news saying he won’t resign. Now, restless and craving brisket, I can’t help but remember what Sanford told the Associated Press when it was revealed he was not only having an affair, but had “crossed the line” a handful of times.
He said, “You know you meet someone. You dance with them. You go to a place where you probably shouldn’t have gone.”
Oh, I know. I know too well. To paraphrase another fictional leader of our time, “I love the smell of a Governor in the morning. It smells like barbecue.”