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October 5, 2011

Contest also-ran(t)

I greeted my invitation to the LEO Readers’ Choice party with skepticism. A personalized note said, “All those with whom you’ve been intimate will be there.” I was suspicious until I noticed it would be held at the Ice House, a venue possibly large enough to accommodate my posse.

Two weeks ago, when the winners were published and I was not among them, I might have felt like the personification of America in decline. Last year, I was named second-best feature writer after only one cover story. Naturally, I felt entitled to another undue triumph. But I was nowhere on the radar, not even among the five best local news writers. Not even after I wrote, “Aroused by Jewish New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s sexting boner, Southern Baptist exclusionary guru Al Mohler milked it for all it was worth.”

Even before the big reveal, the contest was controversial. Many groused that it once again allowed competitors, their families, colleagues and Facebook friends to cast a ballot daily.

Imagine their surprise when some of them won.

But, alas, the also-rans shouldn’t feel robbed — it’s no Fourth Estate secret that in at least some cases, this is a popularity contest.

Cheers to the winners, many of whom no doubt campaigned heavily and voted daily. Muchos kudos to the victors who voted once and exhorted none of their allies to vote early and often.

I’m proud to rank among the class of reporters and columnists who didn’t win: Kentucky Journalism Hall of Famer Tom Loftus, Deb Yetter, Marcus Green, Ralph Dunlop, Andy Wolfson and Pam Platt — all of The Courier-Journal; Cary Stemle, contributor to Time, Louisville Magazine and this publication; LEO Weekly’s Joe Sonka and Jim Welp, a master columnist who makes us whinny and weep before thoughts and emotions congeal at the end — and beginning — of a perfect, 750-word circle.

The fact that so many of this city’s award-winning icons and institutions never win doesn’t embarrass me. Rather, it defines an embarrassment of riches in a great place to read, feast, frolic — and have emergency bypass surgery.

That’s not to say I didn’t cringe a little at the category of “Best Laid-Off Gannett Employee.” A letter-writer decried it as tasteless. I agreed, so I filed a request to change it to “Best Laid Gannett Employee.” Maybe next year.

Neither that foul nor the larger travesty kept me away from our annual party to celebrate the Readers’ Choice winners and also, this year, to recognize LEO’s 21st birthday. My cardiologist begged me not to go. If the allure of ice cream and cheeses proved irresistible, I explained, I would simply pop an extra Lipitor. “Are you having sexual side effects from your blood pressure meds?” he asked. “Nope, still no libido,” I replied before he released me to re-live my 21st birthday party almost three decades hence.

The 1920s gangster theme would allow me to feel young again. A fedora covered my bald spot, baggy pants and a white coat concealed my diaper — and I packed a .357 magnum in my pocket.

If only I could find my dentures, I might get lucky.

I arrived late and was subjected to indignity of being asked who I am. In defense of the help, I sounded like Tom Waits with a hangover and looked almost as broken.

As I ran a gauntlet of autograph-seekers who mistook me for Andy Rooney, I borrowed his bark, “What kind of idiot wants my signature on a piece of paper?”

I called out the few who recognized me: “I don’t need your sympathy!”

I looked so scary that when Dawne Gee said she couldn’t go to sleep without a horror movie, I thought she was hitting on me. She gave me her autograph on request but, alas, not her number.

As I bellied up to the bar to drown my sorrows, I stepped over that crude Sara “Bar Belle” Havens and said, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The swarm of hungry, horny guests wearing too few or too many clothes reminded me of LEO, its staff and founders: witty, urbane, sophisticated, eccentric, observant and thoughtful.

Cheers to 21 more years of stalwart, spirited writing of, by and for precious community assets who make winners of us all.