Christ, it’s early.
I’m awake because Bill Clinton is signing copies of his aptly named autobiography My Life at a nearby bookstore. Why I care is beyond me — I’m not a huge fan of the former President. Chances are I’ll never even read the table of contents, let alone the rest of his 900-page self-serving tome.
But hey — it’s Bill Clinton.
The apartment is pitch black as I stumble around looking for something to eat. For once I’ve actually woken up my obnoxious upstairs neighbor, whose vampiric bedtime habits and heavy feet translate into many sleepless nights thanks to our paper-thin ceiling. After munching on a bowl of cereal, I take a quick shower.
Estimated Time of Departure: 5:00.
· · · · ·
Already running a little late. The shower went longer than expected, but if I’m going to meet the former leader of the free world, I want to look presentable.
And let me tell you, that’s not an easy task. I’ll be standing in line for roughly 12 hours today. Clinton is due to arrive at 5:00pm, but previous book signings have proven that timeliness is not a high priority.
I’m currently in the car with my friend and partner-in-crime. My wife is generously donating her time to drop us off at the mall — no obscene West Los Angeles parking fees for us today.
The mood is high considering all three of us got less than five hours of sleep. Anything less than 12 and I’m a cranky bastard.
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Not surprisingly, there’s already a line several hundred people deep. A few bleary-eyed news teams wait at the curb, praying for something interesting to happen.
Some of those gathered in wait are huddled in their parkas. Those that thought to bring chairs sit tightly together. It’s cold out, and some of these people have already laid siege to the sidewalk for five or six hours.
Having been dropped off at the front of the line, my friend and I troop towards the back. The line already wraps around the corner of Little Santa Monica Boulevard and Century Park West Drive.
We take note of the crowd. People of all races, classes and gender are here to show their admiration for one man. The line strikes me as a testament to the broad appeal Clinton holds to this day. I doubt the sitting president would have a similar reception.
· · · · ·
I haven’t waited in a line like this since the first Batman movie.
We’ve been here less than 45 minutes and already I can’t see the end of the line behind us. The bookstore has only guaranteed that 1,000 books will be signed. After that it’s all a crap shoot.
So what about the 1,001st guy in line? We started thinking about that poor bastard. If someone shows up at 10am, there’s serious doubt they’ll make it into the store. Clinton’s New York engagement saw him shoot all the way up to 1,800 signatures, but that’s no indication of today’s performance.
1,001 is one missed light away from a guarantee that his time in line would reap rewards. He is the story today.
My friend and I look around for the cameramen covering the event. What are they filming? Typical nonsense. Glamour shots of long lines, “entrepreneurs” selling bottled water and tiny stools. They clearly aren’t interested in the human drama unfolding a few hundred souls behind us. Granted, the event isn’t exactly Britney Spears announcing her engagement, but the reporters have been sitting here all night waiting for something noteworthy to happen.
I ask you: what greater drama than the 1,001st visitor as he or she sweats out a 12-hour wait that could all be for nothing?
I should be a news director.
· · · · ·
It’s official — I’ll be the 363rd person to rule Bill Clinton’s world today.
A guy named John, whom my friend has taken to dubbing “the Mayor of Shoppingtown,” has taken it upon himself to hand write on little pieces of torn legal pad paper numbers for everyone in line. It’s good to confirm my elite status as someone who’ll undoubtedly shake the president’s hand sometime later today.
Two little kids are running around in the foliage behind us, throwing acorns at each other. One almost just fell on a board with a couple rusty nails pushed through; the other has already tripped on a discarded piece of metal. Neither met the other before today.
Friendship and tetanus — the true Clinton legacy.
· · · · ·
Trouble is definitely brewing. After a short jaunt down the street to gauge the length of the line, I’ve returned to the start of rebellion.
People have been leaving in small groups to grab breakfast with the Mayor at the food court. My friend and I struck out on our own and found women screaming at a hapless security guard near the entrance to the bookstore. Apparently someone in line sat there with the shocking intention of allowing their friends to join them at a later time. Tempers flared when 20 “friends” showed up.
Maybe it’s because I doubt 500 people are going to magically cut in front of me, but I shake off the worry. At the deli, however, #40 is distressed that there are some out there looking to take advantage of the system.
Hey, dude, you’re 320 spots in front of me. You’re getting your damn book signed. Trust me.
· · · · ·
We’re supposed to have official tickets by now. We don’t.
· · · · ·
The woman bearing tickets arrives at our group. It turns out she’s been passing out tickets for over an hour, but because she refuses to address the crowd at large and prefers to give out rules on an individual basis, it’s taken her roughly twice as long to reach our section of line as Clinton will — and all she’s doing is handing out a ticket.
I’m given ticket 367. All that outcry and anger, and only four people have cut in line in front of me in five hours.
If only the Mayor of Shoppingtown could rule the world with his no-nonsense efficiency.
· · · · ·
The line heading out of the women’s restroom gives me a moment to reflect on the glories of the urinal.
· · · · ·
I try Indian food for the first time during the 15-minute allotment of freedom we’re granted should we need to leave the line. A previous embarrassing encounter with curry has stopped me from eating this for 26 years? I’m a boob.
· · · · ·
I just heard perhaps the greatest story ever.
It turns out that when people started lining up at midnight, a bum who was looking for a place to sleep passed out on the lawn and woke up 27th in line for the event! Dazed, confused and clearly unwilling to shell out $30 for a book, he tried to sell off one of the most coveted scraps of paper on the block.
KABC should put him and the 1,001st guy together in a wrestling match. Or get them both drunk and have them comment on Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez.
“Melrose” Larry Green, the obnoxious Howard Stern sycophant, has arrived yelling that he doesn’t blame Lyndon Johnson for his brother’s death in Viet Nam, somehow proving that no casualty in Iraq is George W. Bush’s fault.
This has what to do with Bill Clinton, you witless imbecile?
· · · · ·
He’s finally here.
The mob freaked out when Clinton’s car rolled into the garage. Even though they’re going to see him in an hour in person, people flocked to the curb in a vain attempt to see a shadow behind the tinted windows.
The funniest part of the arrival has been the transformation of the ladies in line around us. I came here knowing that I’d look like a complete mess after standing in line for 12 hours. I guess I didn’t have a cogent enough battle plan, because some of the women in front of us disappeared for twenty minutes only to return completely decked out.
One woman looked like she’d just rolled out of bed until 4:45 — sweats, no make-up, bored, shiftless look on her face. Come time to meet Slick Willy? Belly shirt, push-up bra, jeans that’d make an anorexic feel challenged. It’s funny that all these chicks want to doll themselves up and try and flirt with the president when they’re not his type.
By that I mean they’re actually attractive.
I’ll give one woman credit — she stood there all day in a low cut evening gown and 3-inch heels and talked about little else than flashing Clinton or showing off her ass. That’s dedication.
· · · · ·
We did it.
The line started to move slowly at around 5:40. This, of course, was the news correspondent’s cue to give her glib, pedestrian voiceover of a completely dull shot. No nail-biting tension. No drunken bumfights.
Just people in a line.
After a quick patdown from a Secret Service agent and a bag check, we made our way into the Holy of Holies. Store employees made sure the book jacket was folded to the right page for the signature. From the distance, we could see the Man himself.
He was standing behind a table of books, wearing a blue shirt and a God-awful pink tie. He was smiling and greeting visitors with a handshake before turning to their book and giving it a little love. The line snaked through the stacks but through them all you could see Bill Clinton. Amidst the din of those in line you could occasionally hear the sound of his voice.
The people around me were energized not only by a seeming end to their journey, but by the charisma we could feel being exuded from the back of the store. Despite my nonchalant attitude towards the day’s events, I was getting butterflies in my stomach.
How do I spend my time with him? Do I tell him how much my wife enjoyed being an intern under his presidency? (Probably not the best idea.) Do I shake his hand and wish him well despite all the rotten stuff he did while in office?
In the end, I shook his hand and said, “It’s an honor, sir.” He looked at me with a warm smile on his face and thanked me for being there. I watched as he scratched his name with a blue pen into my book before the store’s handlers waved me aside for the next person to meet destiny for fifteen seconds.
As I collected my belongings outside I moved the book back and forth in my hands. What had I just done? I thought to myself. It sure wasn’t a waste of my time. I met a President of the United States. In cynical times like this, I didn’t think it was possible for me to lend any faith to the office anymore, let alone the men that inhabit it.
Yet there I was, smiling and mulling over my brush with greatness. I had stood before a man, a life as fragile and as human as my own, and felt something different. He is an ordinary man put through extraordinary trials.
And now I have his autograph.