Excuse John Ruth for a moment, this is his jam

by Brian Clarey

The nurse’s legs go all the way from her ass to the floor, as the saying goes, two shapely pins stretching from just beneath the hem of that short, tight skirt.

Right now she’s using them to work the room – or the rooftop, as it is.

We’re all up at the top of the Kress Building on this warm, clear night while clad in crimson hues as the city seethes and teems on the ground below. There’s drinking and dancing up here, and the space is tricked out like only John Ruth can do it – red Christmas lights cling to the balustrades and red tablecloths drape over tall cocktail tables topped with red police lights; a cluster of red balloons – 99 of them, perhaps – has drifted into a corner. There’s a bed up here, too, a brass four-poster with a couple kicking back atop the covers with their drinks resting in their bellies while the band against the east wall works out the groove to “Disco Inferno.”

And then there’s these nurses… three of them, with these tight, gauzy frocks that show plenty of skin and… are those red brassieres they’re wearing? They’re not real nurses. Probably not. But just looking at them makes me acutely aware of my heart rate, which by my account is quickening.

Ain’t no party like a rooftop party, particularly when the host is John Ruth, the 36-year-old engine behind Channel Red.

The company is a vaguely-defined boutique design agency whose purview includes advertising, publishing, public relations, fundraising and party planning. This event, a fundraiser for the Red Cross called Red Element, is as apt a showcase as any for Ruth’s talents. This is the third one, and in years past it’s been held at the Red Room and included flourishes like giant bowls of Red Hots and Big Red gum and a tabletop Styrofoam tree bearing red candy apples.

This year’s event is less lavish by a third, though a fine spread including sushi, turkey wraps and other delectables sits atop red-clad catering tables. It’s also better attended than the other two events, and it’s possible that Ruth, who has raised more than $8,000 for the Red Cross since this idea came to fruition, could be hitting his personal best tonight.

His presence up to this point is a blur: moving, shaking, hugging, mugging, easing through the assembled do-gooders, making them feel welcome and special. He’s clad all in black, with a velveteen top hat and a crushed velvet smoking jacket dark as pitch. He’s also encircled his eyes with a rim of black guyliner, giving him the look of an intense, manic raccoon dilettante.

And then the band lays down the opening strains of “Proud Mary,” starting slow and loose with a smoldering crescendo.

Please excuse John Ruth for a moment. This is his jam.

Off comes the top hat and smoker, and by the time the horns hit their riff he’s got the dance space to himself, feet hitting the ground much like Tina herself, whirling like a dervish so his black necktie flies like a ribbon and his black shirttail whips up so you can see the waistband of his red underwear.

And the sweat pours from his brow like claret.

Moments later he’s in the men’s room for a cooldown.

“Isn’t this fabulous?” he calls out from a stall. “I’ve already cried twice.”

Now he’s assaying his reflection in the wide mirror, making cool-guy faces as the perspiration evaporates from his visage.

“We’ve been planning this for four months,” he says, “and it’s all coming together. Except for the part when the lights went out. I’m glad you missed that. But it’s going good. Real good. Channel Red Magazine is coming out in the summer of 2007. The Channel Red Foundation is coming soon after. We’re gonna focus on dystonia – it’s this low-profile disease related to Parkinson’s; my best friend has it – and PKU. The Red Cross is a great organization, but maybe we can help more if we kind of focus.”

He adjusts the velveteen top hat atop his crown once again, gives himself an approving look in the wide, clear mirror.

“Don’t forget to say how hot I look dressed all in black.”

And he’s out the door, because there are no flies on John Ruth.

Back on the rooftop Greensboro’s favorite avant dance troupe, the Emberellas, work their hula hoops in front of the band during a rendition of “Heat Wave.” Patika Starr, founder and leader, has dyed her hair red, perhaps in honor of the occasion, though maybe not. The nurses are frolicking among the red ballons in the corner for a photo shoot. You can see Ruth’s top hat bopping among the revelers.

It’s about 10 p.m., and the booze has washed over the crowd pretty good. When the band packs it up and a DJ spins a techno version of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” the red-clad partygoers crowd the space in front of the stage. It’s understood among them that when Madonna’s “Express Yourself” comes on that the dance floor will be surrendered to the black-clad host.

That’s his jam, too.

For questions or comments email Brian Clarey at