Saturday, July 24, 2004

"My Life" imitates art

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[Note: The following column was one of two to gain notice by the New England Press Association's 2004 Better Newspaper Awards, a second-place award for Best Humor Columnist. --Dan]

Our recent spell of warm, clear weather has put me in the mood to indulge in my favorite pastime on summer days: hiding for weeks in some dusky crevice of my apartment with the shades drawn, plenty of books on hand, reading in the dark and periodically hissing at splashes of sunlight that accidentally land nearby while my legs bow from rickets and my skin curdles to a moldy white from lack of fresh air exposure.

Yes, and who indeed among us doesn’t like a good book during the summer? Now that I think about it, lots of people don’t. Which explains why in the summer it’s easier parking the car at the library than at beach, for instance, or at Disneyland. And some people hate reading any time of the year. Some people can’t read. And then there’s the blind. I’ll move along now and let’s forget I said anything, shall we?

So anyway, everybody loves to read during the summer. It’s fun, educational and the page-turning is good aerobic exercise for people with porky fingers.

This summer’s hottest beach read is shaping up to be the autobiography of former President Clinton, "My Life." People are buying the 957-page phone-book-sized epic by the bushel. Empty bushels are available at your local bookstore, usually stacked near the registers.

I’ve only thumbed through "My Life," but it seems like a snoozer.

All the reviews I’ve read slam Clinton for not describing his intimate encounters with intern Monica Lewinsky in more graphic, Penthouse-style detail. The thinking is that, if you pay 30 bucks for a book, it better have some hotcha in it. Of course, people who are old enough to tackle a 957-page book can remember when we went through all that crap dominating the news every day from, like, 1995 to 2000.

From what I gather from paging through it, Clinton’s book is pretty short on interesting bombshells. Once again, everyone old enough already knows the story: becomes president, jogs over to McDonald’s, economic boom, plays saxophone, enjoys a fine cigar with a friend, Republicans twirl their mustaches and scheme to throw him in jail, later becomes a best-selling author.

Clinton may be a Rhodes scholar, and may have led the country through some good times, but he knows bupkes about churning out a thrilling summer plot. He sets the tone in his prologue, writing, "My life in politics was a joy. I loved campaigns and I loved governing." Way to build the tension, Bill. Wait until you get to the part where he expresses fondness for his mother, wife and daughter.

It seems that Clinton misses opportunity after opportunity to rev things up — specifically, he could have spiced up the 1996 election scenes by having Bob Dole kidnap Chelsea with a live grenade in exchange for a few swing states. Instead, Clinton describes simply winning more votes. How dull!

In fact, I flipped to the end of "My Life" and found its most shocking plot twist, on a page marked "A Note on the Type":

"This book was set in Janson, a typeface long thought to have been made by the Dutchman Anton Janson, who was a practicing typefounder in Leipzig during the years 1608-1687. However, it has been conclusively demonstrated [italics mine] that these types are actually the work of Nicholas Kis (1650-1702), a Hungarian, who most probably learned his trade from the master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens."

In the interest of giving the book a little zing, I’m offering this excerpt. Clip it and staple it inside your own copy of "My Life," maybe on one of the pages where he’s yakking to Yasser Arafat about something or other:


Monica and I had been working late that night, as usual, putting the final touches on a stack of one-dollar bills that had to ship the next morning. Monica sat across my lap in a skin-tight black leather catsuit that held the curves like a well-maintained Ford on a NASCAR track. She held up her green Sharpie.

"Billy-boo-boo," she said, "I ran out of ink again. Let’s go into the closet and make out."

"Please leave me alone," I said, turning away with a blush. "I love my mother, my wife and my daughter, Chelsea."

"You were much more fun in your first term." Monica stood up and sashayed over to the window, drawing the curtains shut. "Now the Washington press corps can’t see us," she cooed.

I glanced up from my work and bit my knuckle, so captivated was I by a sliver of pure white moonlight spurtled across her zaftig, smiling derriere like a lick of fresh paint. In that instant, she perfectly resembled my wife, whom I love very much, along with my mother and my daughter, and I found welling within me a passion I had previously only felt for cutting budget deficits.

I flung my shirt away to reveal a gleaming chest perfectly sculpted and heaving as the fell deeds I would commit raced through my mind. She pressed herself close to my bestirred loins, the wind chilling her shoulders as the catsuit slipped to the carpet.

"I feel your pain," I said, and we kissed with the vigor of lampreys.

Just then, the door burst open. In flew master Dutch typefounder Dirk Voskens, a revolver at the ready.

"Les jeux sont faits, Clinton," Voskens said. As he strode toward us, his wooden shoes clacked with ghastly finality. "Hand over the Janson typeface and you might live to see a third term."

I shielded most of Monica with my body. "Not a chance, Voskens. I’ve been on the bum end of a roscoe more than once — and you don’t look like you have the guts to use it."

"Try me," he said.

As he fired I sprang forward, knocking the gun askew. The bullet tore through a photo of my wife, whom I love, along with my mother and my daughter. We grappled desperately for the weapon as Monica’s shrieks of terror pierced the room. But Voskens, having died in the 17th century, was no match for my brute strength.

I knocked him to the floor and saw his baneful eyes widen as he found himself held under the gun.

"This will hurt your approval ratings," he spat.

I considered it. He was right, of course. But I cared not.

"See you in hell, Voskens," I said, and fired.

Just then, flashes of light flooded the room — camera flashbulbs. I recoiled and caught a glimpse of the gaggle of Republicans hiding behind the sofa where Monica and I had whiled away so many pleasant afternoons. I knew then that I would have to wake the press secretary early.

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