Charlie on the Town

Crist and a former beauty queen are "a confirmed item" — at least in some newspapers

Hudson says that Crist drank moderately but never to excess in her presence. "I never saw Charlie do anything inappropriate," she says. "He was always a gentleman."

And that, good reader, is illustrative of what it's like trying to solve the mystery of Charlie Crist. Always right there on the edge but never crossing over.

The hard-learned moral of the story is that it's wise to be skeptical about any story regarding Crist and romance, whether it be of the gay or straight variety.

Heyniger and Crist: "Hanging out, for lack of a better term."
Photo by Aime Dunstan/Palm Beach Post
Heyniger and Crist: "Hanging out, for lack of a better term."

You wouldn't know that from the media onslaught last week during which it was reported that Crist and Heyniger are a "confirmed item."

The really funny thing is that, if you actually read the small print under the headlines, you realize that neither Heyniger nor Crist has ever said publicly that they are an "item" or that their relationship, whatever the heck it consists of, is exclusive in any way. Reading what has been said, in fact, indicates they aren't and it isn't.

The coverage of Crist's latest alleged romance started with Palm Beach Post gossip columnist Jose Lambiet's scoop in February that Heyniger was seen out in public with the governor and that, at one point, she was rubbing his back "like a wife."

"I guess you could say we're hanging out, for lack of a better term," Heyniger told the newspaper.

The story came out just six weeks after his inauguration, which was attended by a St. Petersburg banker named Katie Pemble. You might remember the name; it was Pemble who played the role of Crist's "girlfriend" throughout the campaign. The mainstream media — I'm looking your way, St. Pete Times — ate that up without irony or skepticism as well.

But after he was sworn into office, Pemble suddenly disappeared. Apparently, the gig had wrapped. Then Heyniger showed up. During the past few months, Lambiet has reported a couple of more Heyniger-Crist sightings at the Cucina restaurant in Palm Beach. In March, he wrote that a "spywitness" told him there was "no heavy canoodling" between the two "but beaucoup eye-to-eye contact."

The following month, the columnist wrote that Crist left Cucina "through a back door while Heyniger stayed on to party."

There's a serious clue: No man who is even semi-serious about a woman is going leave by the back door while she parties into the night. It just doesn't happen.

The Lambiet stuff was all good clean fun, but the dam broke on the affair last week after Heyniger gave an interview to the ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach, WPBF (Channel 25). During the televised chat, the former Mrs. South Carolina said in her Southern accent, "I enjoy his company and I think he enjoys mine too. But I don't like to project."

Translation: They haven't been intimate. If they had, she wouldn't need to "project." She'd know.

The TV interview turned to rumors that the governor is gay, which WPBF illustrated with website displays of stories that were published in New Times last fall. She bravely ventured that the rumors weren't true.

This is nothing against Heyniger. The woman is pretty, charismatic, and wildly ambitious, all traits valued by most Americans. To get on Fear Factor, she sent the show videos of herself eating a live earthworm and having live lizards crawl out of her mouth, a stunt that reportedly scared the bejesus out of her young kids.

She's also a self-professed tomboy. When she went on Fear Factor, a psychological test found that she was 78 percent masculine. (Add your own punch line here.)

In other words, she's the perfect hetero-front, also known as a "beard." Even the content of the Herald story seems to put the lie to its premise that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. Heyniger, for instance, told the newspaper that she sees the governor about once every two weeks.

That sounds more like an occasional prop than a girlfriend.

She also told the Herald, "We have good conversations."

Yes. Conversations. Endless, mind-numbing, horribly frustrating conversations.

Crist, for his part, is wisely staying mum on the topic. He told the Associated Press last week only that Heyniger is "a lovely person," which echoes his Ned Flandersesque take on Pemble in the Times last year: "She's a wonderful lady. I think the world of her."

And that echoes his initial denial that he's not gay, during which he said: "I love women. I mean, they're wonderful."

C'mon, is the guy even trying to convince us? I don't think so. And that's what makes the media's confidence on reporting about his "girlfriends" even more perplexing.

In the old-fashioned sense, it's like they want to believe in fairy tales.

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