The Best Time I Met Bill Clinton
On February 21, 2003, I was lucky to be a friend’s date to an event held by the Grammy organization, honoring Bono as Person of the Year. A bunch of bands both cool and uncool played U2 songs (including U2) in the relatively intimate venue that was the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, but my main takeaway was meeting President William Jefferson Clinton and holding hands with him while Jon Cryer tried and failed to take our picture.
At first, I had no interest in meeting President Clinton, because there was a long line, and the food they were serving at our probably thousands-per-plate table was an unimaginable feast compared to the peanut butter sandwiches I was living on as a temp. Also I probably considered myself too cool to wait in line to meet a celebrity. (Okay, I definitely did.)
But after my friend’s sister and her friend returned to our table, their faces red, giggling and smiling and gushing “Oh my god that was amazing!” and otherwise appearing to be on ecstasy, I decided I should probably make an exception to my no-waiting-in-lines policy.
But I did roll my eyes inwardly at their excitement — I mean, it’s Bill Clinton. He’s famous for making women swoon. It was a total cliché. I wasn’t going to be impressed. I was going to meet the former president of the United States of America, but I was going to do it my way: ironically. You know, just to have a fun story to tell my friends back in Brooklyn later that night.
I joined the line of about 20 people, most of them famous. Waiting patiently right in front of me was Ashley Judd, who was breathtaking in a lavender gown. Having nothing else to look at, I studied her skin, which was perfect except for a minor case of bacne, which only endeared her more to me. Ashley Judd had an extremely minor case of bacne! I’m sure most actresses and models do because of the body makeup they have to wear or whatever, but it was thrilling to have such an intimate “Just Like Us!” moment.
After about 20 minutes, it was almost my turn. Ashley and her racecar-driver husband posed for pictures with Bill, seeming every bit as excited as I was to meet him. It was cute. Just like us! I looked at the guy behind me, who was practically jumping up and down with excitement. I noticed he was Jon Cryer, who was, in those pre-Two and a Half Men days, mainly remembered by all for his role as Ducky in Pretty in Pink. In my excitement, I temporarily forgot his name.
“Hey, are you … um … Ducky?”
Jon Cryer scowled appropriately. “No, I’m not Ducky.”
(Obviously, I was the villain in that scenario. Sorry
Ducky I mean Jon! You’re so rich and famous now, don’t be mad! Also, you let them call you Ducky on that one episode of Mr. Show and you seemed fine with it.)
Finally, it was my turn. I stepped up to Bill Clinton, who smiled welcomingly. “It’s so nice to meet you,” I must have said, and I must have asked for a picture, probably by mutely gesturing with the disposable film camera I had pulled out of my purse.
(A note about 2003: phones did not have cameras, and temps did not have digital cameras.)
President Clinton asked the next person in line if they could take our picture, and it was still Jon Cryer, and though he probably still (rightfully!) hated me, he acquiesced.
As we were about to pose for the photo, President Clinton reached down and took my left hand and intertwined our fingers for a full-on holding-of-hands!
In the hand-holding base system I worked out on paper later that night, in which hand-grazing is first base, and the kind of hand-holding you reluctantly do with a relative on Thanksgiving while saying grace is second, and holding an anxious friend’s hand while a plane takes off is third, the fully-intertwined hand-hold President William Jefferson Clinton did with me was a FUCKING HOME RUN. We were basically having simultaneously orgasmic sex with our hands, right there in front of hundreds of famous people.
I froze as Ducky set up his shot. A cocktail of neurotransmitters flooded my brain as my life as I knew it changed in an instant. Obviously, Bill Clinton had fallen in love with me at first sight. That much was clear — there were no other women — no other people in that room anymore. As unlikely as it seemed, in this place full of the most beautiful people in the world, Bill had chosen a shabbily underdressed temp with an awkwardly-growing-out pixie cut as the love of his life. (Maybe it was because I was so, like, real? I didn’t know why. I just knew it was true.)
I chuckled to myself in my head at the true irony of this meeting — oh, how I had scoffed at the giggling girls at the table for thinking they had a connection with this man so famous for his charisma, for making everyone he met feel like the only person in the world, when it was actually happening for real with me.
Then Ducky took the shot. And the flash didn’t go off.
“The flash didn’t go off, can you try again?” said my darling, his larger hand still squeezing my smaller, feminine one. Ducky tried to take another, but scowled again when the button wouldn’t push. (Again, Jon Cryer is not the enemy here. He was nice to even try! And every time a re-run of Two and a Half Men is on, he gets more money than I had in my savings account at the time. He’s fine.)
But my new love had a plan. “Do the thing with the thing” Bill said, using the hand that wasn’t wrapped lovingly and completely around mine to gesture to Ducky to move the film forward with that little dial thing that was on the top right of disposable cameras in 2003.
Ducky did the thing with the thing, but the flash didn’t go off again. I knew I’d used up my time and would have to step back to my table without a photo, but I didn’t care! There would be time for all the photos in the world later. Bill would make sure of that. “It’s okay” I must have said, “It was great to meet you.” And then I reluctantly allowed my hand to drop from Bill’s, took my camera back from an eager-to-get-rid-of-it Ducky, and raced through obstacles in the form of the bodies of Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow and Gina Gershon and John Mayer back to my table to tell everyone, red-faced and giggly, “Oh my god. That was amazing!”
“Was it really that great?” asked the gorgeous woman seated next to me. “Yeah, it’s worth it,” I replied dreamily. “You should go.” So Ali Larter wiped her mouth with a damask napkin and jumped up to go join the line.
I fell back to Earth within a few minutes (the drug that is Bill Clinton’s Charisma is more like a whippet than an ecstasy trip), and at the end of the night, back in Brooklyn, regaled my friends with the story of me thinking Bill Clinton was in love with me, and demonstrating on each of them individually the exact way Bill held my hand, which actually ended up being really awkward each time.
“Everything they say about him is true!” I said, astonished and still in awe as we divvied up the contents of the best party gift bag I’ve ever received (Seriously: it had a hair dryer. And La Mer creme.) “I can’t believe it even worked on me.”
“Also, Ducky is an asshole! Who knew?”