Monday, April 07, 2008

Star quality

This whole Hillary versus Obama contest reminds me of my own brush with the US presidency, which sounds exactly like the buildup-with-an-anticlimax-in-store that it is.

One morning at Bryn Mawr College, circa 1993, the sun rose on a normal day of two-hour lunches, fighting sleep, imagining that the world is a rosy place filled with promise, and padding term papers with adjectives, which turns out to be one of the most useful skills contributed by a higher education.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon a whole posse of grim-looking men in black sunglasses and suits arrived in a car with blacked out windows that looked as if it was wearing a flak jacket, which it was. They parked—with some nerve, I thought—on the lawns, and wandered about looking grim and shady, which is how their rigorous training prepares them to blend seamlessly into a casually dressed all-female population in the 17-25 age bracket.

Soon the strange car had sprouted all sorts of antennae, and passing undergraduates who caught a glimpse through a window or door and lived to tell the tale, spoke of an inside full of mysterious flashing lights and screens. Some of them weren’t even smoking anything. Eventually news trickled out: It was the Secret Service! They were reading all our emails! Bill Clinton was coming to campus!

We loved Bill Clinton—even those of us who professed to hate him, loved him. Our papers suddenly got written. We ate very fast. We remembered to get righteously mad about suits reading our emails (pigs! pigs!) but we had to put it on a bit. The world, we figured, must really be rosy and filled with promise, if Bill was coming to see us.

Plus, while reading our emails, the Secret Service unearthed an amateur bomber we hadn’t known we had, right there on our campus; they found her mixing chemicals with an insane gleam in her eye, and gave her a ride home forever—or so the rumour went.

A couple of days later we lined up behind a security cordon on the path to the gymnasium. When President Clinton began to walk along this path, you could tell where he was just by listening: his location was marked by catcalls and whistles just ahead of it, a sort of breathy hush around it, and hysterical chatter just after it.

He was using both hands to reach into the crowd, so when he got to me I grabbed the left one (he’s left-handed! it’s the one which signs all the important stuff!). It was pink and yellow and very large. It’s a strange thing, star power. I had something to say, but as I gaped up at his pink face and yellow and white hair, my brain shut down and the only thing that came out of my mouth was “You’re great.” And he said, “Thank you,” exactly as if he wasn’t thinking, That’s the 26,359th blistering idiot I’ve had to make nice with this week.

It was not my finest hour, though it was no worse than when Zakir Hussain kissed my hand and said “When is your birthday, darling?” while looking wearily over my shoulder, and I earnestly replied, “Beugh.” I really wish I’d had the √©lan of the woman nearby who, a few seconds later, said: “You’re the first man I voted for, Mr. President, and a girl never forgets her first.”

Watching Hillary and Obama, I have prepared a speech for just in case either of them ever wants to shake my hand. They’re both Democrats, and I like them both, so I will draw myself up, smile warmly, and say, “Gah.”


Anonymous said...

remember the "avon ladies" who came by to make sure there were no guns pointed out our dorm room windows?

thanks for the memories.


Becky Motew said...

I was at Bryn Mawr way before that. I can't even picture students lining up for a president. But times change, of course. Nice picture...I thought there were men by then????


Roshan said...

hahaha!!! You captured that experience exactly as I remembered it, Mitali!!!! I enjoyed this so much!!!