When Liza Met Bill

Whatever you want to say about Bill Clinton, he gives good speech.  The morning after listening to his endorsement of President Obama at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, I was still giddy with excitement.  Other women in my circle seconded that emotion.  “I could have listened to him for hours,” gushed one friend. “I mean he could just go on and on and on,” said another, making Clinton’s speech sound almost… orgasmic.  It reminded me of how inspired I was when I first became acquainted with Bill Clinton the candidate.

In December of 1990 I began a career in broadcast journalism at the NBC News Channel, the network affiliate feed service based in — of all places — Charlotte, North Carolina.  The “news chunk” as we affectionately called it, was NBC’s answer to CNN.  We brought in stories from around the world via satellite, re-packaged them, and aired them on our national overnight newscast, Nightside.  We even hired a Latin hunk to deliver the news.  The culture at the News Channel was, for the most part, young and un-jaded.  North Carolina was a right-to-work state (meaning no unions) so the pay was low.  For many of us, it was our first job out of college.  The few grizzled veterans who ran the place called us the “News Children”.  I cut my teeth on writing and editing stories about The Gulf War, the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith and the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Remember Anita Hill, pubic hairs on Coke cans and “Long Dong Silver”?)  I learned that it’s impossible to be objective while watching my city burn during the Los Angeles race riots.

Two years later, at the ripe age of 26, I was one of the more senior Associate Producers at the News Channel.  I was promoted to running the overnight newscasts “live” from the booth, which meant coming to work at 10pm and drinking Bloody Mary’s to fall asleep each morning.  I watched the debates between President George H.W. Bush and the young Governor of Arkansas.  There was no doubt that Bill Clinton’s warm, folksy personality was winning over Bush’s stern humorless approach.  The TV loved Clinton and so, apparently, did the voting public.  When results came in over the AP wires that Clinton had won, I could barely contain my excitement.  Best of all, The News Channel was sending a group of producers, reporters, editors and satellite truck drivers to his Inauguration in January.  I scheduled a meeting with my boss and asked to be among them.  I was clearly qualified, and it was my turn at bat.  I had never requested an assignment before and didn’t try to hide the fact that this meant a lot to me.  She gave me her poker face and said she would think about it.  Then she sent a younger, less experienced (and higher paid) male to Washington instead.

I always sensed that my two immediate superiors, both women from the South, didn’t like me.  I was too much of a Yankee, and not enough an ass kisser.  Now I had concrete proof, but what could I do?  I couldn’t stand on the sidelines and watch a pivotal moment in history from my television set.  This was the first Democratic President to take office since I was in middle school.  So I did the only thing in my power – I called in sick and booked a train ticket to Washington, D.C.  I even used a made-up name, Liza Redd, in case anyone found the ticket stub.  Thanks to relatives in town with the Ohio delegation, Liza had a bed to sleep in, free dinners and copious amounts of booze every night.  When the big day came, she went to the Inauguration, not as a journalist but as a regular citizen.  And she listened outside on that cold January morning as Bill Clinton spoke of “pushing the spring”.  It made her think about how she had gotten there and what was really important to her.  For the past three years she had been imprisoned in a job that, while intellectually stimulating, gave her little joy.  She hated Charlotte.  Her social life sucked.  Most importantly, the creativity that once fed her soul was all but dead.  She vowed to take those words to heart from that moment forward.

I didn’t feel one ounce of guilt when I ran into my co-workers at the same hotel where my family was staying in D.C.  I took it as a sign.  They promised not to rat me out, but I knew that they would.  Back in Charlotte, I got a talking to from my boss about calling in sick before a weekend.  I considered telling her it was my evil twin, Liza, but instead responded with an empty apology and quit three weeks later.  By July of 1994 I would be in film school back in L.A., having narrowly escaped the Northridge Earthquake but in plenty of time for O.J. Simpson’s murder trial.   As I sat in my Santa Monica apartment listening to the report of O.J.’s acquittal, fearing for my safety in the event of a riot, I had zero regrets about leaving Charlotte.

Bill Clinton will always be my president.  No, I haven’t forgotten about Gennifer Flowers or Ms. Lewinsky, or the ridiculous Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or the fact that universal health care was actually Hillary’s idea, before the Republicans quashed it.  It’s just that, whatever he did or did not do, President Clinton inspired me during a critical time in my life.  That pot smoking (but not inhaling)-saxophone playing-Walt Whitman loving-Fleetwood Mac grooving-Big Mac pounding-country boy-Rhodes Scholar will always represent hope for me.  After listening to Clinton’s speech last week in Charlotte I was reminded that, even now, especially now, I must keep pushing the spring.  I must use my God given talents to make the world a better place.  Oh, yeah, and I must vote for Obama.

 

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