Thursday, July 01, 2004

I knew I liked Bill Clinton. I mean, if I didn't, I wouldn't have stood in line for five and half hours in Pioneer Square - with a thousand or so other people - just to have him sign a copy of his book for me.

But now, having met him in person, shaken his hand, and had him smile at me – well, I think I have new fetish. (Roman, are you listening?) Oh, wow. Serious, but serious, charisma. In about seven seconds of interaction, he made me feel like I was the person he came there to see.

Max and I got downtown at about four in the afternoon, with folding chairs and an ice chest, and settled down at the back of a line of several hundred people. We weren't at the end of the line for long – I'm glad we didn't get there any later than we did, because pretty soon the line behind us was snaking up and down the square as the Elliot Bay Bookstore employees struggled to keep order. It wasn't easy, especially since a lot of people in line were joined by partners or friends, prompting a few accusations of line-jumping from touchy types in the crowd.

About six-thirty, the police and Secret Service agents started arriving. Guys in black suits with wires in their ears everywhere, and motorcycle cops cruising around and around the block.

At eight-fifteen, the word went through the crowd: he's here. I started getting excited.

About nine pm, our section of the line was within sight of the door. Bookstore employees instructed us in what we were allowed to take inside with us, and made sure the inner flap of the book jacket was tucked into the page Clinton would be signing, so it could easily be found.

Nine-thirty, and we're in the room with him, at the back of the line. I stared at him. He looks slimmer in person – or maybe he's just lost weight. But otherwise he looked just like he does on TV.

And then we were at the front of the line, and he signed my book. As I shook his hand, I smiled at him and said, "I wish you were still the president."

He looked me in the eye and said, "That's a nice thing to say, thank you." And he smiled back. I do not lie, I felt my heart beating faster. His assistant handed me my book back, and I walked away, but I paused and looked back at him over my shoulder. He happened to look up and catch my eye, and he smiled at me again. I think I actually blushed. I felt like a fourteen-year-old. I caught myself thinking, I wonder if he thinks I'm pretty? I had to shake myself: Matisse, get a grip. He can't even see you - he's smiled at so many people today, he probably hasn't completely focussed his eyes since he had breakfast.

I've met a few celebrities before, but I have not met many people who had such an effect on me in such a tiny space of time. And according to the lady counting heads at the door, I was the seven-hundredth-and-some-odd person at the Elliot Bay Bookstore whose book he had signed, and who he had smiled at and shaken hands with. He was at Costco earlier in the day, doing the same thing, and from what I hear his whole book-tour schedule has been pretty non-stop. I mean, that's a talent. Lots of people can be charming and attentive and make you feel special - for short spaces of time. I think I can do all right in that department myself on good days. But do that for hours and days on end - wow, that's impressive. I knew it intellectually before, but now that I've experienced just that little snippet...Well, all I can say is: Bill Clinton has definitely got a gift.

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