© 2006 by Spider Robinson; all rights reserved.
Well, I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was. George W showed up for dinner Friday night, unannounced. We’d only been told to expect the First Lady.
My first clue was when we entered the Thomas Jefferson Building. I expected to be X-rayed, fluoroscoped, radared, chemical-sniffed and eyeball inspected. I expected dozens of serious guys in dark suits and shades with curly wires running from their ears to their collars to prove we don’t know how to make reliable wireless earphones. But I did not expect dozens of soldiers in full combat camo gear with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, bayonets, and other weapons I didn’t even recognize. That tipped me...so I wasn’t stunned when we entered an auditorium and they announced “President and Mrs. Bush,” and there was The Dark Lord himself, the Clown Prince of Darkness, a hundred meters away from me and Jeanne. Okay, I’m lying; I was stunned.
He sat beside his wife while four famous writers addressed us all about the significance of the National Book Festival and the Library of Congress itself, and then we were all off to dinner upstairs. A very nice dinner it was, too; mango shrimp, medallions of lamb, and something called a Fallen Chocolate Souffle that was to die for. The coffee was terrific. The company was dull; we were the only writers at our table. Which was table #31: the Bushes were not visible from there.
The next morning, George slept in, I believe. But after breakfast in the East Wing of the White House (which was also delicious; too many things to describe, all fabulous), we had our picture taken with the First Lady. I thanked her for creating the National Book Festival, and Jeanne thanked her for her efforts on behalf of literacy. Then we shut our mouths and walked away. Can’t blame a woman for her husband. (A great comfort to Jeanne, no doubt.)
We also spent a couple of very happy hours walking around the White House, gawking and taking pictures of ourselves in front of various Presidential portraits and so on. If you’ve seen the TV show The West Wing, they do a pretty fair job of capturing the majesty of the place.
There were a few short speeches before breakfast of course....most memorably by Elmo, of Sesame Street, who was there (honest) to flog his new book, My Life As A Furry Red Monster.
And as we were leaving the White House that morning, walking past a magnificent grand piano being played by an anonymous virtuoso, he began Debussy’s La Mer, which my mother always loved to play, and Mary nudged me and said “Mom’s here,” and we smiled at each other and got misty-eyed.
Later that morning, on the National Mall, I got Michael Connelly, one of my favorite writers, to autograph a couple of his Harry Bosch novels for me. I missed Yevtushenko, and missed meeting Alexander McCall Smith for the second time in two weeks. Then Jeanne and I did our rap at the Fiction And Fantasy Pavilion, ending by singing “On The Way To The Stars,” the song I wrote with David Crosby (accompanied by a prerecorded guitar on CD), and we went over bigtime, and then we autographed copies of VARIABLE STAR and THE STARDANCE TRILOGY for two solid hours, until they made us stop because Bob Woodward needed the table for his new book trashing the Bush Administration. All of this in the company of our darling daughter Terri, my sister Mary, Jeanne’s sister Laurie, and her sweet son Andrew—some of my favorite people in the world.
Watch the 40 minute video of Spider and Jeanne's talk at the 2006 National Book Festival.
So, an interesting weekend.
One of the most memorable bits: before the buffet breakfast, wandering around the East Wing of the White House, I asked where the men’s room was. They said, in the Library, sir. Sure enough, a door off the (very impressive) President’s Library led to an antechamber filled to the ceilings with leatherbound Presidential Papers, off of which was the can. I entered....and found that someone had literally ripped the marble door off the toilet stall, and stood it up against the wall: there in the middle of the room stood a naked commode, with a roll of toilet paper on the floor. In the East Wing of the White House. I swear: I’ll send you the photo I took when I get a minute. This is a strong clue how long it’s been since the President visited the Library. That, or Homeland Security is way out of control...
I walked out giggling uncontrollably....and found myself face to face with a 10-volume leatherbound set of the Presidential Papers of Richard Nixon. Perfect!
The whole weekend we kept thanking Robert and Virginia Heinlein out loud; if not for them (and Tor and Baen Books), we’d never have been there. I made a point of reading VARIABLE STAR in the President’s Library.
One small thing I found very ominous. A fan on the autograph line gave us, in dead seriousness, two heavy medallion-coins larger than an old silver dollar (don’t know what metal) naming us “special agents of ICE,” and stamped, “National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center—US Department of Homeland Security.” As he handed them over he smiled and said, “We’re in charge of copyright, now.” What the hell copyright has to do with Homeland Security, I leave to your imagination: mine rejects the whole idea.
And now after two days’ rest back home, Jeanne and I are off on a two week driving tour up the West Coast, reading and signing. Hope we see you out there.