The Sun King Back in the Spotlight 

As thousands of faithful adherents stand in line just to touch his hand, Clinton's new über-earnest memoir outsells all the populist pulpslingers.

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"Whenever he's around, you just feel so much more secure," said Aiyana Armijo, a young Cal student who lay on an inflatable mattress near the driveway that she hoped Clinton would take to get into the building. "He's charming, not so much in a handsome way, but he knows so much it's amazing. I just remember feeling a lot more secure when he spoke. And it wasn't in a speech -- it just all came out."

As the sun finally broke through the clouds and the crowd swelled to three thousand, the '90s era of good feelings, the generosity of this moment, stretched around the block. People passed food down the line. Men tried to help strangers in wheelchairs to cross the street. They looked like pilgrims on their way to Lourdes or Our Lady of Fatima. And they came in search of relics -- in this case, the president's handwriting, scrawled on the books they clutched in their hands.

By 11 a.m., the festival was really getting under way. The cops blocked Telegraph Avenue and Haste Street with metal barricades, and a crowd coagulated outside the perimeter. Reporters snagged man-in-the-street interviews by intercepting people in the Porta Potti line. Hare Krishnas soft-shoed down the street, ululating their mantras. The Cal marching band showed up and broke into a brassy rendition of "Come on Eileen." A college kid dangled from the fire escape across the street, wearing a Clinton mask and flashing Churchill's victory sign. Ten years ago, a mob of rabid radicals would have burned the former president in effigy. Now, just one lone street vendor hefted a "Ralph Nader for President" sign.

Clinton's book publicists and personal advance team scurried back and forth, tying up loose ends and finalizing the motorcade route. His personal entourage consisted entirely of young interns -- male ones, thank you very much -- all fresh-faced and idealistic, fresh meat for life's disappointments. Their leader was a skinny, driven woman in a black business suit who spent the day giving herself an ulcer. Secret Service agents swept the crowd with their eyes. The Cody's front doors burst open, and a linebacker in a suit and earpiece escorted out a crank who somehow had snuck in the building. The nut leaned on his cane and breathlessly explained how he had learned of a sinister assassination conspiracy, while the agent crossed his arms and listened with admirable professionalism. "I'd very much like to meet him, okay?" the intruder begged. "You can check out my background."

The publicists dropped hints of our impending annunciation: "He just left San Francisco." "He's ten minutes away." "He'll go through that entrance there." Security agents herded reporters and cameramen into the "press pen," which was exactly that, a cattle car of metal barricades. Using metal wands, the Secret Service swept us for weapons, but they might as well have been checking for brucellosis.

Finally, the goons ushered five reporters at a time into the store's second floor, where we dutifully waited behind a velvet rope. The first two dozen pilgrims assembled next to us, giddy with lack of sleep. One woman kept reciting what she wanted to say: "You know, you're the first presidential candidate I voted for that actually won!" Motown dripped out of the speakers -- the president signs faster to Martha and the Vandellas, we were told. A roar from the street tipped us off that the motorcade had arrived, and Clinton entered the building. Befitting his messianic itinerary, he spoke first with the disabled fans who had gathered on the first floor. No word on whether any of the lame could walk by the time he was through.

Cody's proprietor Andy Ross stood to the side, a big, beaming smile permanently etched on his face. This was the apogee of his career, and he knew it. Then, as Clinton's advance team scrambled to customize his autograph station, the former president glided into the room, drifting over to a bookshelf and lingering on the Judaica section. Everything was in its place -- the coiffed silver hair, the capillaried face, the immaculate suit. But when he said, "Hey, everybody," it came out timid and vulnerable. We had to strain to hear him. Everything about him was soft and warm, and the line of fans began to move forward into his amniotic orbit.

Outside, a few lefty radicals finally showed up, walking up and down the line and taunting the mushy, well-meaning liberals. Indymedia volunteer Chuck McNally hefted a loudspeaker festooned with Palestine stickers and shouted, "He fucks the world with a smile! ... Think about how you're screwing the world and yourself with your cognitive dissonance! Think. That's all we're asking!" One of his friends mockingly played the old Phil Ochs tune "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" from a boom box, and they all seemed deliciously pleased with themselves as the crowd rose to the bait: "Fuck you!" "Fascist!" "Go home!"


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