It’s after I’ve been standing out in the unusually cold Atlanta weather for an hour and a half, with no breakfast and too thin socks, with my nose running and my fingers on strike, that I begin to think, why the hell am I doing this? How far can you stretch irony before it snaps back and slaps you in the face?
I’m in line to get a wristband to be able to come back the next day and stand in line again and THEN, finally, have President George W. Bush and Laura Bush sign copies of their respective autobiographies.
And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
I got the email from Borders yesterday saying the Bushes would be at a Borders downtown signing. My immediate thought was, I’ll go get my picture taken with them for the blog! That alone should have warned me that I’m in a strange mental place. My second thought was, I’ll get Bush to sign one for my sister that says, “Thanks for all the support!” Because that’s HILARIOUS.
My sister is not Bush people.
So these and other motives were enough to get me up out of bed and through early rush hour traffic to the bookstore at 8 in the morning. I didn’t know what to expect – it’s cold, it’s a workday, and lots of people don’t like Bush. Will I be the only one? Will I get my picture taken for the paper with a caption that says “This little boy waited hours just to meet his hero”? I might be the new poster child for the GOP!
No. There was already a line stretching the side of the shopping complex. It multiplied several times after I arrived. Maybe it’s because we’re all unemployed and have nothing else to do?
It doesn’t take long for people to start making small talk pleasantries, and maybe the first thing that catches my attention is this woman behind me – think Laura Linney but not as nice skin – talking about how she gave her blanket to this pregnant woman who showed up without proper insulation. “And she was like, no, that’s okay, and I said, honey, for your baby, at least.”
Nice murmurs of approbation from her neighbors. It is true that the woman was generous – she had her son procure an extra pair of foot warmers (I don’t know what these are; they came wrapped in foil like astronaut food) for this other lady in line. Her charity was almost matched by her enthusiasm for repeating the stories of her charity. “Mommy gave her blanket to the pregnant lady, remember?”
Yes, you see, she had her school-age children with her, though she dispatched them to the car to wait in relative warmth. “They’re so excited about possibly getting to meet him,” she said. “Yep, we’ve got good little Republicans.”
I know what you’re thinking: shouldn’t they be in school? But come on. You must know what’s coming next.
“We homeschool,” she said, “so this is a field trip.” Ah. “Yeah, you know the public schools sometimes I think want to turn them into little Democrats, so we homeschool.”
Yes she did say that. You could feel the uncertainty in the air around those listening to her, all of whom – like the overwhelming majority of normal people – went to public school. So they smiled but didn’t say anything. Then they quietly checked their political pulses to see if public school had made them Dems without their knowing it.
“I already got Laura Bush’s book signed this summer,” said the guy in front of me; okay, you’ve passed the test. When pressed for details – and when not pressed, as he liked to be the expert – he informed me that it’s just a marathon signing session – no pictures, no personalization, no handshaking, no small talk.
I had long given up on a photo, but part of how I had been passing the time, when my hands retreated from holding any more books, was to imagine what I might say to the Man, or how much I might spit into my hand before I offered it for shakes. Now the most I could really hope for was just being in mostly the same air space as him, and – if I’m lucky – making eye contact, maybe getting a smile and a “hello.”
In part this is a relief, because I worry about failure of nerve. First of all, my Bush hatred is behind me, a relic of my NYU years when I even wore the t-shirt with his face x’d out. Yeah I still think he did a lot of unparalleled damage to the country, but it’s hard to muster real indignation about it now. For lots of reasons I won’t delve into, but also for the commonplace reason that it’s hard to sustain rage or any strong emotion for any amount of time. So while I thought about making some kind of grand gesture – the guy who spat tobacco juice in Jane Fonda’s face comes to mind – I figured I’d end up like Dorothy on The Golden Girls.
You see, in the classic episode “The President’s Coming! The President’s Coming!,” the girls are told H. W. will be making a special visit to their house – a meet the common people sort of thing. Dorothy’s going to give him a piece of her mind – she has a clipboard of notes. In the end, Rose asks about vacuuming, Sophia asks why he didn’t bring a cake, Blanche hits on the secret service, and then Dorothy is struck speechless. All she can say is, “Buuuuush.”
But my Golden Girl daydreaming was interrupted when the woman behind me said, “So you’re an ACLU intern? I see it on your bag.”
“Yes, yes I am.” She asked me what I did there, and I told her about the intake process for letters. Very boring, but, I said, humbling because you learn about what other people are going through. This is mostly a pompous lie, but I said it. Then I said, “I think maybe I should turn that badge around, I know it’s not a favorite organization around here!”
She and the guy in front of me laughed. But they didn’t say anything. No, “oh no don’t be silly.” Just laughter and then silence.
“But you can be both!” I said. Which is another stupid thing to say. I can’t be sure, at this point, why I was acting like one of them, but I bet if you’d given me another few minutes I would have praised God.
Luckily, nobody spoke to me. But speaking of God, Laura L.’s son returned from the car in time to tell us about this crazy thing he heard on a “church retreat.” “There were these people who were going to Walmart at like midnight, to buy stuff.” Uh huh. “And they didn’t know that it was the night the Twilight movie was coming out.” Uh oh. “So there were like a ton of people there, like more than in this line.”
Wow. Enjoy your time with the Christian Youth, kid. It’s a whole lot of bad haircuts and boring stories.
Puzzlingly, the jovial man in the Bears cap then said, “Well I guess none of those people are here today.”
I don’t know what he meant either. Those bastard Twilight kids. Having all that no sex with each other. Look, it’s made Harry Potter giggle:
That picture can be found by Googling “Twilight sex,” by the by. Yes, for you I go to the uncomfortable edges of the digital frontier.
He also told Laura L. that he’d taken his family to the inauguration, the most recent one (involving you know who). “But why?” she said. “Oh, we go to every one. It’s a tradition.” “Oh,” she said. “A tradition. And…well…it was history.”
We could all feel that there was some rather bigoted joke to be made here, but no one had the guts or wits to make it.
Getting back to God: once we finally made it inside the store, we were still waiting but in better spirits. But the lady behind me was anxious about the time. “I’m doing Meals on Wheels today,” she said. “And I don’t want those seniors to go hungry because I’m here! I don’t think God would look kindly on that!”
The woman next to her said, “What, you don’t think he’s a Republican?”
At this the first lady leaned in and, sotto voce, said, “Actually I think he is.” As if this very question had kept her up last night, and she’d resolved it.
But I tell you what, for all this God talk, what that line really needed was some New York liberals and Jews. If you’ve ever waited in line for Shakespeare in the Park or, well, anything in New York, you know that if somebody cuts, there is a loud uproar. This is not tolerated. Well, our line started to swell from late arrivals having places saved. In front of us there appeared two UGA-law-school-types, a guy and a girl. I said something, mostly to myself, in that way you do when you don’t want to get into it. But then the waters started to boil. Others voiced their annoyance, and then we all started to focus on Laura L.
“You should say something,” we said. “You’ve been nice all morning. You’re due.” You could feel our brains egging her on, please, do something, say something, stand up for us. We’re so cold. You have foot warmers.
So she approached them and said, “If they run short [of wristbands], I’m calling you out. But if they don’t run short, we’re fine.”
TAKE THAT, YOU LINE CUTTING BITCHES.