Nothing ever came from being small, and other American truths

The greatest thing about the inaugural events was the fact that they were so badly organized...

Published January 20, 1997 5:29PM (EST)

the greatest thing about the inaugural events was the fact that they were so badly organized: it was very simple to get in where one didn't belong. Boy Strange and I ended up sitting in the bleachers across from the White House. When we first approached the bleachers, we were stopped by three teenage girls in red plastic windbreakers who said "You can't sit there! Those are private seats! People paid hundreds and hundreds of dollars for those!"

"Oh, OK," we said, and climbed into the private bleacher seats in full view of the girls, who were volunteers, realizing that they were too young and busy and frightened to want to argue with us.

The private section we barged into had been purchased by the Riggs Bank of Virginia, and the crowd consisted largely of 30-something businessmen who appeared to be cultivating an eccentric mustachioed oil baron persona  a look hovering somewhere between Teddy Roosevelt and the patriarchal pimp apparel of Dr. Gene Scott.

These men were accompanied by women who, as B. Strange pointed out, seemed genetically predisposed for rich, white wifedom: the small, stretched, pointed faces, the big plastic glasses and teeth, the luxurious pelts, the distinctive nasal call: "Parker, get the Nikon! This could be our Christmas card!"

We were in direct eyeshot of the president and first lady and first teen when they walked down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the bulletproof box which would protect them the rest of the day. The discomfort level was enormous for everyone, seeing the first family so ceremonially exposed and vulnerable like that. It was a gesture akin to a zealot Christian saying "I trust God so much, I'm going to wear this live rattlesnake like a necktie for five minutes." Bill's trust made us all very nervous, despite the fact that we'd all been through three rounds of patdowns and metal detectors and hundreds of men in trenchcoats were posed to destroy anyone who flinched suspiciously, and the president's head seemed to be coated in peach-colored Teflon. All anyone could think of was how easy it would be to murder Bill, even though we all suddenly loved him and were waving flags and screaming happily.

We loved him again later when he made his cameo appearance at the California Ball. The balls were a slick professional hoax on the level of junk bonds or auto insurance: $150 to get patted down again and walk through more metal detectors for the pleasure of standing around a warehouse the size of an airplane hanger listening to the 74th incarnation of the Doobie Brothers sing "Jesus is Just All Right With Me" and paying another $45 for a bottle of Korbel Brut. It had all the earmarks of a lame adult prom or a Princess Cruise ship event, but nobody could deny feeling overjoyed when Bill and Hillary walked on the stage to say "Hi" to us again. That's our Bill! We all surged, emphatically. He may be a gangster and our country may be breathing its last before drowning in its own waste, but it's ourmessed-up country and he's ourshifty lothario. Love it or leave.

By Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton White House