Waiting for Bill
The Comeback Kid bids
This story is probably best told on a therapist's couch, but I'm not embarrassed by my subconscious. I take no responsibility for what it does when I'm asleep. Clinton is no longer President. Some other guy got the job and I want to get this incident off my chest. When Bill Clinton came to Dover a couple of weeks back to deliver his farewell address, a few of us picked up red admission tickets at city hall and attended the historic event at Dover High. We'll get to that story in a moment.
I don't remember the dream that woke me with a start in November 1992, but it must have been a doozy. I'd stayed up late to watch the election returns roll in, then retired happily. During the next few hours my subconscious put the pieces together: a man not much older than me, a man who shared my values and aspirations and for whom I had voted was ascending to the most powerful job on Earth.
Like a swimmer kicking toward the bright surface of a deep dark sea, my brain struggled to wake. I broke through to consciousness at last with the loud wheezing inhale of a man nearly drowned. In the midst of a tearful jag I shouted, or whispered, or maybe just thought words to this effect: "I can do whatever I want! I'm the President from now on!" This was accompanied by a rapturous, even religious burst of awareness. Freud would have had a field day with this one. Luckily, he wasn't there. Moments later, it all seemed pretty silly.
Sure I might be nuts, but I prefer to see my psychic episode in global terms. There is the history we read about in books, and the history we live, each of us, at gut level. Most of that second type of history is highly personal, a litany of jobs, partners, births, deaths, incidents and accidents that we experience alone or among small groups. A cloud of emotion swirls around each body of events, and that emotion, makes each of us who we are. Sometimes what is going on in the outside world rubs us where we live, and sparks fly.
I grew up in a Republican household. With one other exception, in two decades of voting, my candidate never hit the winner's circle. I was imbued with a deep respect for the presidency, but through my earliest adult years the Oval Office appeared no better than a den of thieves. For many Baby Boomers, Richard Nixon was the anti-Christ. Ronald Reagan was a dangerously vacant senior citizen. George Bush? Why the guy had been director of the CIA! Nothing they stood for resonated with me, except of course, that they were presidents of the United States and due all the respect one could muster.
And so my long, long adolescence came to an end in a thunderclap revelation. The kids had taken over the candy shop, and with it an awesome responsibility. I didn't know it intellectually, but in my dreams, I had been waiting for Bill. We wouldn't have Nixon to kick around any more and all the political power we had denigrated and feared, was suddenly in our own hands.
Don't get confused. This is not a piece about politics, but about emotion. I liked Bill Clinton from the start, and I still do. Okay, he lies now and then, but he doesn't lie about things that matter to me and I have forgiven him his trespasses with ease. I liked most of what he did during two-terms in office. I believe he was a great president with all the fervor of people I know who believe the same about Reagan. I can't fathom what the Reaganites saw in their hero, and my man equally nonpluses them. I still trust Bill with an unshaken faith. I'd vote for him again. I'd let him watch my laptop at the airport while I grabbed a sandwich. I'm proud of him and I don't care if other clever people who keep their flaws a secret think differently.
It seemed only natural to say goodbye. If the president of the USA was willing to come all the way back to Dover, NH to thank us for sticking by him through a grueling impeachment trial, I could survive a few hours in a high school gym. Only the red tickets didn't get us into the gym. After a detailed search by a big security guard with all kinds of beeping equipment, our little party of Clinton fans were ushered into the Dover High auditorium instead. The large projection TV screen on the stage told us instantly that we were overflow.
"This sucks," somebody said, as we settled into our seats, but no one left. For nearly an hour hundreds of us overflow outcasts watched the backs of the heads of the in-crowd on TV as they waited for Bill's arrival. We couldn't hear the Green Wave band. We couldn't see the press, just a static shot of an empty podium with three presidential seals and a banner that read, "Real Progress for Real People." Time passed. Stomachs growled as noon approached. A kid from Newmarket made a bundle for his sports team selling candy bars to the waiting outcasts. The imported White House audio visual crew played light jazz to keep us calm. Samuel Beckett, eat your heart out.
Then from nowhere a deep rich voice announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States" and, by golly, there he was, smiling and waving, looking young and fit and happy. When the announcer told us to stand for the National Anthem, although we couldn't hear it, the outcasts stood obediently. The sound quality was excellent, but the visual effect was like watching pay-per-view in a sports bar. Still, I was moved. Bill was in the building. He had remembered.
Amazingly, we listened for an hour, as the waning President worked to convince us -- and himself -- that his mission was accomplished and all our faith in him had been worthwhile. The man who would no longer be king ticked off a litany of social programs, economic stats and legislation, and then thanked us all again. "Thank you for lifting me up in 1992," he said. "Thank you. Thank you."
The President waved around a copy of his 1992 book "Putting People First" and told us a little story. While he was in Portsmouth in '92, he said, he hit the nadir of his political career to date. The primary was going badly, but in a photo in a Seacoast NH newspaper, he appeared defiant, unbroken. He liked that photo, he said, and had an artist turn it into a painting, which he swears, he looked at in that famous presidential niche just outside the Oval Office. That memory of hanging tough, he said, got him through some even tougher times to come. Monica, we can only assume, saw it a few times too. Oh well.
The President left the podium. The screen went blank and the piped-in mellow jazz returned as the overflow crowd stayed, not knowing if the President had left the building. Hundreds of us pressed toward the front of the auditorium in a final act of faith - and waited. Half an hour later a group of reporters appeared from behind the curtain and lined up on the stage. That was a good sign. Then suddenly they rushed off. That was a bad sign. Then they came back and waited with us, chatting into cell phones. A group of young women broke out sandwiches. The baby to my left cried, then dozed as the last minutes of the Clinton administration ticked down.
Suddenly he was on stage, tinier now, but beaming. The President did a comic double-take as if to say - whoa, more people! He apologized for making us wait, asked if we had heard the speech, then jumped into the fray, pressing hands, holding them, chatting, working the room from right to left like John Travolta playing Bill Clinton in the film "Primary Colors." A woman asked the president how his dog was feeling and he stopped, and might have talked all day about his dog if men and women in dark suits were not urging him to make short work of this overflow crowd and move on to Manchester and Nashua and back to the White House for his final days. But Clinton did not make short work of us. He stayed and talked with everyone who waited, like Martin Sheen playing Bill Clinton on the TV-show "West Wing."
I didn't want to blurt out something stupid to the President of the United States, or, heaven forbid, get choked up and look like a dork in public. Not that Bill Clinton hasn't had his embarrassing days. He's just some guy after all - kind of smart, kind of dumb - a real human. That's what they say about George W. Bush, too. He's the same age as Bill Clinton. He's running the candy shop now. But personal history is about emotion, not facts. Already I'm not happy with the decisions he's making. His words don't resonate for me and I wouldn't wait two hours in a high school auditorium in the middle of a workday to hear him speak live. He seems pleasant enough, yet there's a sense of danger in the air. I guess, if pushed, I'd trust him to watch my laptop at the airport too. I'm just not sure I'd trust this president with my dreams.
Copyright © 2001 by SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.
Credit: Photo collage depicts Fandex Family Field Guide to the US Presidents, published by Workman Publishing Company, New York. Click here to buy from Amazon.com.
Don't miss Dennis Robinson's new column "Seacoast Rambles" every other week in Foster's Sunday Citizen at your local newsstand.
New | Site Map | Talk | Store | As I Please | Search