There’s a President sitting at the corner table…

President Bill Clinton 2007
Image via Wikipedia

If you live, as I do, near the suburban New York town of Chappaqua, and if you like the local French bistro, Jardin du Roi, the odds are good you will see former U.S. President Bill Clinton there.

It’s a little like seeing a UFO or a unicorn, something you’ve heard about for years but thought…nah…not in my lifetime.

On our last visit, a few weeks ago, he was sitting at the corner table of this quiet, unpretentious bistro, run by a mid-life career changer named Joe, with two delicious blondes, women somewhere near his age. Knowing the deal, I asked my husband — who spent eight years in the White House Press Corps as a New York Times photographer, and who has met Clinton in that capacity — where’s his security detail?

Are there Secret Service agents who look like models?

It’s the second time we’ve seen him there. The first was decidedly odd, as he stood in the very narrow doorway to the restaurant — a large, bulky agent standing visibly a few feet away that time — and held forth to a rapt audience for a long time. His zeal for conversation was legendary when he was in office, but you might expect that of a politician who, in some measure, is always campaigning.

In private life, not so much.

It is a strange, if interesting, moment when you encounter someone so iconic in the flesh. After seeing thousands of images for decades, there they are!

I followed Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip around Canada for two weeks on their 1984 Royal Tour, and the cognitive dissonance was even greater. As a Canadian, I grew up with her image on our coins and stamps and, suddenly, right in front of me, there she was.

Not only was she a living, breathing woman, she was surrounded by an eddying sea of equerries and ladies-in-waiting. Not to mention her security detail, which included a devastatingly handsome Glaswegian in tweed and her bodyguard, a quiet, small man people referred to only as The Detective.

We watched an excellent two-part documentary on Clinton this week, on PBS show, The American Experience; if you ever wanted to know more about this man, or how American politics shape a President once he’s in office, I highly recommend it.

Sunday Afternoon, West 44th. St., NYC: Michelle Obama And A Sardi's Goodbye

Image by angela n. via Flickr

It was a classic Manhattan Sunday afternoon.

As we filed into a fourth-floor room at Sardi’s, the legendary midtown restaurant whose walls are lined with framed caricatures of the famous, some dating back decades to people we couldn’t recognize, (Brooke Shields’ was above the fourth-floor podium), an NYPD helicopter buzzed overhead and six gleaming Suburbans — the surefire sign of a political heavyweight — sat parked on the north side of the street.

One, silver, had thick, green-tinted glass — bulletproof — and distinctively smaller rear side windows and the giveaway, the DC plates that are put on wherever that Presidential vehicle is flown to.

Inside the Shubert theatre, FLOTUS (First Lady of the U.S.), aka Michelle Obama, was watching a Sunday matinee of “Memphis”, a new musical. Outside, cops in dark blue and Secret Service agents in suits wearing earpieces, made sure no one came anywhere close. One eyed me unhappily as we counted the number of Suburbans.

We were at Sardi’s to mark the passing of Mort Stone, a man who for 40 years served as a picture editor at The New York Times, where he worked with my partner and with many of the colleagues, past and current, who came to pay their respects. Speakers ranged from Times writers and editors to Mort’s 11-year-old grand-niece, who was funny, sweet and a terrific speaker.

Mort was an amazing guy and we were honored to be invited to his service. He started his career as a war correspondent for the International News Service in the South Pacific and was a deskman for Life magazine.

I met Mort a few years ago for lunch at a Village institution, Cafe Loup.  He was near 80, lean as a teenager, wearing a pale gray wool crewneck sweater, blue Oxford cloth shirt and thick black Ray-Bans — his unerring style for decades. After knowing me about 10 minutes, he turned to my sweetie and announced firmly: “If you don’t marry her, I will!”

He skiied every winter for a month in Austria — for 55 years in a row — at the same hotel, who now have a room with his name on the door and whose manager sent a long, lovely letter to be read aloud at the service. His companion of 40+ years was a Baroness, Boszi (pronounced Boozhee), whose apartment sat beside his in the Village and who cooked his breakfast every morning. He was 21 years her junior and, when she died at 90, as she requested, buried her ashes in the patio at Tavern on the Green, which recently went into bankruptcy and closed.

In his elegance, style, class, eccentricity, mystery and passions, Mort — as my sweetie said in his remarks today — was a New Yorker cartoon, in the best way possible.

We will, and do, miss him.

The White House Gate-Crashers Need To Get A Life — And Bravo Needs To Smarten Up

The White House (Washington DC)
Not just another reality TV location...Image by ~MVI~ via Flickr

It’s hard to find the words — bad news if you’re a journo — to express my visceral disgust with the morons, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who thought the White House’s first state dinner would make a great backdrop for their bid to get onto a Bravo reality TV show.  The pair, who seem to have an insatiable appetite for attention, blustered their way into the White House and posted photos of themselves with Vice-President Biden, and others, on Facebook.

She’s skinny, blond and wore a red sari. Would she have even made it in without the trophy wife look and the snotty attitude to go with it?

Beyond the heads likely rolling at the Secret Service for the security breach that allowed them in, what’s it going to take for this insanity to stop? Do you really hunger deeply for yet another reality TV show about skinny-rich-vapid-overspenders? Or do you admire their chutzpah?

The idea that a state dinner at the White House — like some Hawaiian beach or Tuscan terrace — is just one more scenic backdrop for a pair of social-climbing assholes who want to be on TV is so deeply offensive to me. In their world, Narcissists-‘R-Us, it’s just another pretty room filled with people in fancy clothes useful as a rung on their aspirational ladder, a piece of stage scenery, even as the President of the United States welcomed Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, a nation with whom  good political and economic relations actually matter.

And why, exactly, does being “famous” mean so much to these people? If you’re broke and it might bring you wealth, it’s a tempting means to an end.

If you’re “just” addicted to attention, you need a shrink. And you really need to get a life.