29 June 2003
Sunday afternoon my husband and I were thinking of going to an matinee at the Laemmele Theatre in Pasadena. We burst out of the apartment, 2 blocks away, thinking that the show would be pretty empty and we could do a last-minute run. As we approached the theatre we saw a crowd milling around the box office and realized that we couldn't possibly get tickets before showtime, so we decided to run some errands then stop and pick up tix for a later show on our way back.
Returning from the Hardware Store (one of my very favorite things, but that's another story), we slowed as we passed the Laemmele. The theatre is situated on the main street of Pasadena, next door to the LA equivalent of City Lights, Vroman's bookstore. (An Independent bookstore. What a rarity! What a delight!) I realized as we passed that the line was not for the theatre; it was for Vroman's. I jumped out of the car to buy the movie tickets and asked some folks who were standing in line, "what's the big deal at Vroman's?"
Hilary Rodham Clinton was there to sign her book. "People have been waiting since 3:30 this morning," a woman told me breathlessly as she gently but effectively elbowed her way through the crowd. I've seen the star-sighting moment often enough in LA to notice that this was something different. People seemed eager for something beyond a chance to touch a celebrity.
Across the street from the bookstore was a ragtag band of gaudy protestors with American flags, sequins, and a handmade sign that read, "Don't ever trust another Clinton." Seized by a free speech moment, I shouted out the only words that came to mind: "DON'T BE STUPID!" They were quiet for a moment. I should probably have tried to engage in meaningful discourse but, given the looks of them, that wasn't likely to happen.
Rob had bought me a copy of Mrs. Clinton's book just that morning and I was savoring the thought that on the plane ride home I'd be able to crack the cover. My daughter Hilary - named after both Sir Edmund Hilary and Hilary Stevens, a fictitious character in a May Sarton novel - feels that Mrs. Clinton does not spell her first name right. Hillary is one of my heroes, but the spelling is regrettable.
The crowd was pushing and the cops were standing tough and the lights started to flash and Hillary [sic] left the arena. The gathering dissolved into happy chatter on the sunny weekend afternoon on Route 66 in a wealthy but intellectually lefty so-Cal town. Rob and I went to see "Spellbound," a sweet documentary about the National Spelling Bee.
Later in the day it was time to head back to San Jose. In the Burbank airport, I started noticing women carrying Hillary's book. A lot of women. An old Japanese-American woman with a cane. A young mother with kids. When we arrived in San Jose, there were more women carrying the book. A thick-set African-American teenager. A facelifted white lady with Versace suitcases. Me.
And then I noticed that we were all carrying the book in the same way: cover out, facing the rest of the world, like a secret sign. I got goose bumps. We're onto something here. Maybe this doesn't have to be about seven well-meaning white men and a few eternally marginalized candidates who must know in their hearts that they can't win. Hell, maybe it even transcends the obligatory political spectacle. Wouldn't that be cool?
I wondered then if the Suffragettes of yore had a sign like that. Did one wear a pink flower pinned to one's dress? Did one carry a particular book or wear one's hat in a particular way? I'm not talking about flippant flappers, who were part of a different discourse altogether than the serious feminists who marched for a woman's right to vote. Today what I think I saw was a bunch of women who would argue about everything from the meaning of feminism to how (or whether) to cook a good meal, all holding that book, on which was the picture of that face. A woman's face. This particular woman's words. A woman for our time - strong and compassionate, articulate and empathic, humiliated and proud. A woman who makes Mrs. Feinstein look like a drag queen.
By their books shall ye know them. We are not a minority. And in her book this woman, Mrs. Hillary [sic] Rodham Clinton, is not speaking to Democrats or lefties or any of the usual categories that we have come to know in the media's segmentation of the electorate. She's just speaking.
Maybe Mrs. Clinton is not about that old, tired rat race. What a shining wonderful thing that would be! Maybe she is about something real. Maybe she is about social justice and good sense and hard work. Maybe she is about compasssion. Certainly, she is about a sea change.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, don't run for vice president. You've done your time as number two in the White House. Go for the gold, girl. You have a silent army. If 2004 ain't it, well, I trust your judgment (that's why a bunch of New Yorkers elected you despite the fact that you didn't grow up there - and that's what representative democracy is supposed to be about). Be President. Do it in my lifetime. Do it because if you don't, these boys will win that little game played by the wrong rules, and everybody will lose.
Just say the word, Hillary, and I'll be knocking on doors again. I faced more than a few shotguns last time I did it and I'd enjoy doing that again. And hell, life is too short. No good reason to go extinct just because we were playing Monopoly instead of (get a) Clue. At this late hour in our human race, compassion and reason have to come together to make a new kind of human agency. Hillary, I think you maybe could do that. As a sign of hope, I'll be carrying my copy of your book through airports, face out - long after I've read every word.