It makes sense that we’d be forced to think about Donald Trump at a place that sells high-end dildos.
It’s late afternoon, May 23rd, hereafter Stormy Daniels Day in West Hollywood, California. We’re in front of Chi Chi LaRue’s, a store that sells porn DVDs – quaint but still necessary – and the area’s widest, most affordable selection of small-batch, artisanal poppers. We’re waiting for Stormy to emerge from the store and receive the key to the city for “being a national figure in the resistance to the Trump Administration.” Her constantly-on-TV-lawyer, Michael Avenatti, we must assume, will be here.
To catch us up: Stormy Daniels is the porn star that might save our republic. She came on the scene in a big way back in January via a story in The Wall Street Journal that detailed a hush-money payment concerning her alleged affair with Donald Trump. The money, we learned, was funneled through Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s office, and her lawyer has been dropping new bombshells from the depths of Cohen’s financial-statement vaults nearly every day, and Stormy is on a stripping tour of the United States, and I am aware that this is a run-on sentence, but do you know what else is? Every single day of American life in 2018.
Anyway: Chi Chi LaRue’s is on the main drag in WeHo, tucked right between the faux-Mexican Fiesta Cantina and Micky’s, which seems empty without its trademark tabletop go-go boys. Both patios are packed. Smart move, I think, Get in early and find yourself a seat and a margarita for the big presentation. (Later, Stormy will appear, and nobody on either patio will turn around. Oh right, I think again, This is just Los Angeles on a Wednesday afternoon.) The sidewalk is shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the media and onlookers and small dogs.
Sham Ibrahim, a drag performer and pop artist in golden go-go boots, struggles to find his light in the dappled sun as he talks to the assembled local news crews. He carries a placard that says “Stormy for President” and has brought along a pair of original artworks he hopes to pass to Daniels: A silkscreen of a beatific Stormy, and one of President Trump as a baby in a diaper, playing with a replica of the continental United States.
“I really wanted to come out here and support Stormy, because I really believe she is one of the most important people right now,” Sham tells Rolling Stone. “More important than any Kardashian. More important than Taylor Swift.” We are steps from Pump and SUR, so I do not get an appraisal of Stormy’s cultural value relative to a Lisa Vanderpump or a Stassi, nor do I ask.
West Hollywood has a consistent record of opposing the Trump agenda; its city council has already called on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings. But there’s not much in the way of politics in the air. It’s a zoo, and people are watching because people are watching. The whole thing reminds me of a time 10 or so years ago, when I was down the street at Barney’s Beanery and everyone noticed that the guy singing Live’s “Lightning Crashes” on the karaoke stage was actually Ed Kowalczyk. Everyone packed in, everyone watched, rapt, and then everyone looked at each other for cues on how to react. Are we enjoying what’s happening right now? Do we like this? Is this good?
At 4 P.M. on the nose, the bodyguards come out, with the talent right behind. Michael Avenatti – shorter than you’d expect, but isn’t every celebrity? – takes to the lectern.
“Stormy is one of the most self-aware, courageous people you will ever come to know in your lifetime,” Avenatti says through the blown-out PA system. “She’s not packing up, she’s not going home, she will be here for the long fight each and every day until it’s concluded.”
The crowd roars, and I am left to grimly acknowledge that self-awareness is a rare enough trait in 2018 to count as heroic. Two women fight their way west, through the crowd, and one of them says, in an affectless vocal deep-fry, “Wait what they’re giving her the key to the city that’s actually so great.”
Stormy addresses the assembly: “This community has a history of standing up to bullies, and speaking truth to power, and I am so lucky to be a part of it.”
It’s a quick speech, and then it’s back inside among the cock rings and butt plugs, where we may not follow. Stormy will host an unveiling of her #TeamStormy T-shirt line at Chi Chi’s later in the night, with a VIP reception at The Abbey afterwards.
The woman standing in front of me, who has not said a word this entire time, turns to me and says “I have to get out of here. I have a 15-and-a-half-year-old Pomeranian at home.” She leans in as she leaves me behind. “She is not doing well.” I wish her the best.
It was a ceremony without any direct references to Trump, and with only a small taste of Stormy (though the fro-yo spot down the block is selling “A Storm’s A-Comin’ Cake Batter” for the day). An hour or so afterwards, I bump into Sham again. The placard and the artwork are gone; Sham got into Chi Chi’s and gave them to her.
“It was like I was meeting an icon, like Madonna or Cher,” he says. Sham didn’t expect Daniels or Avenatti to take any photographs with him, but they were all in. “They’re totally open. And they’re totally doing their job.”
And what is their job?
“Robert Mueller’s job. They’re doing his job faster than the special investigating committee is.”
Hard to dispute. And also hard to imagine how else it would have happened in a world where Donald Trump is president. Of course the traditional media would try to get him to release his tax returns, and of course we’re going to find out whatever madness and treason those documents reveal because of a botched NDA over a hush money payment to a porn star. This is our reality now.
Stormy Daniels got the key to the city, West Hollywood got a little adult film/Goliath-slayer star power, and Sham got to meet his new idol. “I mean,” he shrugs, “I didn’t expect to be the only drag queen, but you know, like, whatever.”
And just like that, Stormy Daniels Day is over, unless you want to buy a T-shirt, or a VIP ticket to The Abbey, where the air is redolent of Red Bull. I feel a little dirty, I feel a little disoriented. I feel proud of the efforts of an adult film star, I feel my face go red with shame when I say the name of my president. The sun is setting behind the place down Santa Monica Blvd that sells $600 T-shirts, and I’ve donated to three of my friends’ healthcare GoFundMes this week alone. I feel like an American.