Meeting Someone Special
Cambridge, MA—-The line’s population was eclectic, I noticed, as I stood sandwiched between an elderly Indian woman and a white mother carrying her adopted Cambodian toddler. My lack of gainful employment allowed me to spend three hours on a recent Monday morning waiting to get into a notable book signing.
The mother of the Cambodian toddler regaled bored twenty-year-olds with stories about his adoption: “It took eight and a half months,” she said proudly. “We have friends who have been waiting two and a half years.” There was the pair of very excited African-American ten-year-olds who appeared to be there on their own, a patient quadriplegic, and a young man with multiple facial piercings who waited at the front of the line for five hours just to be the first to see Hillary Clinton pull out her pen. We were all there to greet her as she signed our new copies of Living History, which chronicles her experiences in the White House while First Lady. I was there to meet her as Senator, and as (I hope) future president. The diversity of the group was indisputable, but there was a nice solid showing of white girls in their late twenties and early thirties, as if to ensure that I didn’t go around feeling particularly original. I wondered if I’d ever have my own book signing.
As helicopters landed outside, people in front of me tried to guess what colors she might be wearing, and what outfit; “a pantsuit, for sure” said a middle-aged woman confidently. An older woman approached the Indian woman behind me and took her hand. “Now, you and I must be the oldest ones here,” she said. “At Caroline Kennedy’s book-signing, the staff found a chair for me. We don’t want to be standing for hours! We need chairs! We must ask!” The Indian woman laughed. “YOU can ask,” she said. Soon both women were supplied with padded chairs. The press began to line up, interviewing the pierced guy over and over, chiefly about the five-hour wait. What could he possibly have to say? I’d only waited three hours, and I was no more than thirty people behind him. Talk to me, I thought. Talk to me if you want a good interview.
I imagined what I might say to Hillary when the moment arrived. “Thank you,” I’d gush, “for being such a strong woman.” “You have my vote in 2008.” “I hope you become president someday.” These were the sentiments I wanted to express? It was somewhat disappointing that my brief moments with the Senator might dissolve into an unmemorable string of clichés. Surely I could say something arresting, original. “Hillary,” I’d say, “there really was a vast right-wing conspiracy; we all knew it; it was obvious to anyone with a brain.” My vision got grander. Handing her my resume, I’d exude such a natural glow that she was bound to stop, mid-signature, and look up at me. Her staffers would gather at her side. “I need a job,” I’d say confidently, “and I want you to be my boss.” Sure, I wasn’t in pumps and hair gloss like her formidable, gorgeous, diverse young staff, but it had been a hot weekend, and I didn’t have a job. What could be wrong with sandals and a sleeveless shirt with a plunging neckline? God, if only I’d at least brushed my hair this morning. Anyway, she’d know. By the time the Presidency became hers, I’d be her right-hand woman.
When she entered the room, everyone was on their feet, books in hand. She was so strikingly beautiful, much more so than I’d realized. She looked young for 56, rigorous and joyful, with sparkling blue eyes. She was in a pantsuit, by golly, a black one, with a light blue sweater wrapped loosely around her shoulders. “Hello!” she hollered. Everyone clapped, shouted and whistled. Secret Service rimmed the room, bookstore workers manned the books, and her staff, each trim and chic, manned our long line of people. “I’m so glad you’re all here!” she yelled, throwing open her arms. We whooped some more. Secret Service eyed the stroller of the adopted Cambodian toddler, checking for weapons.
As we filed towards her, I noticed I was shaking. What did I say to Joyce Carol Oates when I met her? I think I said, “Thank you for being a good writer.” Truthfully, I’m not good with famous people. Maybe I should just hold on to my resume. I looked at my newspaper again. My daily horoscope read, “You stand to meet someone special.” Maybe I could tell her just that: our meeting was scripted in the stars. “Hillary,” I could say, “you are my destiny.” I noticed that she allowed people to occasionally shake her hand. I arranged my newspaper under my left arm for an ideal hand-shaking posture.
But when the moment arrived, she sat there, beaming at me, until surprise crossed her face for an instant, as if she didn’t quite expect to see me. I reached for her hand and she shook it. “Thank you,” I said. “Sure,” she replied, signing the book. Then she looked expectantly, with the same instant of surprise, at the elderly Indian woman behind me.
Walking away with the book, trembling a bit from the geeky, humbling rush, I felt consumed by the tension in the room. But Hillary radiated. She, the epicenter of action, left everyone hushed and shaking. I was immediately pulled aside by a reporter and stumbled through an interview with the Cambridge Chronicle: “I wanted to thank her for being so strong and intelligent! But all I said was thanks.” ‘Thanks?’ Thanks for what? Thanks for the book? Thanks for the signature? Perhaps I could have said thank-you for the eight years of peace and prosperity, the amazing role-modeling, the terrific smash of the glass ceiling? I stumbled downstairs.
The basement-level bar advertises a summer line-up of comedians. Two of them I’ve known very well, and have seen perform dozens of times. Years had passed and now people were paying $15 to see Brendon Small perform one night in August. Perhaps someday, I thought, I really will have my own book signing. Maybe not with so many helicopters, but a signing just the same.
Past Secret Service, through the glass doors, back into fresh air, clutching my book. Across the street, two guys held signs. One read, “What REALLY happened to Vince?” The other read, “Liar, liar, pantsuit on fire.” Boy, everyone was right about the pantsuit. I walked over to them. “Are you guys from around here?” I asked. I just wanted to know if they were part of the conspiracy. “Yeah,” said the ‘Liar, liar’ one, still in his teens. “Do you go to all the Clinton events?” “This is our first,” said the ‘Vince’ one, “but we go to stuff like this all the time.” I left, fairly certain that they were just bored and crazy.
“Hillary would never leave us out here like this!” yelled a woman who showed up too late to get her book signed. “Make sure Hillary knows we’re out here!” she yelled at a cop. He shrugged and continued to calmly block the doorway. I heard, behind us, a helicopter leaving.
By Cedar Pruitt