By Spencer Hicks
Our newest contributor Spencer Hicks is a very funny local comic and, as you will soon see, the personal assistant to our (sadly term limited) governor.
“When the president calls, you answer that call.”
This truth is held to be self-evident, at least by my boss, Governor Brad Henry. This is why I was sitting in the south lawn of the White House. I could feel myself start to sweat, partly because of the gravity of the situation, partly because of the sticky 100 percent humidity. I was missing the Oklahoma City Comedy Competition because of this event. The subtle voice in the back of my mind was nagging me for missing the competition, but I drowned it out by telling myself that this opportunity probably won’t present itself to me ever again.
I looked at the schedule of events after using it as a fan. It reads:
2:30 – POTUS enters with Jimmie Johnson.
2:35 – POTUS introduces Governor Henry.
2:37 – POTUS begins speech…
The PA system boomed, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States and 2009 NASCAR points champion Jimmie Johnson.” I peeled myself off my chair to give the leader of the free world the respect he deserves. Barack and Jimmie were flanked by the nine other finalists in the NASCAR points race.
I explained to a grandmotherly woman behind me that in NASCAR, they race for points (as well as money). The better you do in a race, the more points you get; so, at the end of the race season, the driver with the most points is considered the winner. The points champion is like the winner of the Super Bowl in the NASCAR world. She pretended to understand, and I pretended to believe that she understood, and turned my attention back to the event as the applause slowed and people began taking their seats.
The drivers and president were cool and collected. We the people, the ones who’ve been waiting in the audience, were dripping with sweat. I looked around and realized I’m not perspiring as much as the people around me. Sure, I might be sweating, but it was entirely hidden under my jacket. The middle-aged gentleman sitting next to me was focused on the president. His salt and pepper hair seemed to be leaking, the sweat rolled around the edge of his ear and hung on his earlobe… hanging… hanging… hanging… finally falling onto his shoulder to make room for the next drop. I smiled to myself.
I took my attention away from this gentleman’s ear-faucet and gave it to the President, who gave a quick speech and then posed for some photos with the drivers. He then approached me as he began the presidential tradition of working the crowd. Working a rope-line is like reading. You start from the left and go to the right, hoping you don’t run into any problems. This truth is not self-evident. Well, maybe it is self-evident, but not at the state level. In Oklahoma, the politicians just get in the mix and start “kissing hands and shaking babies,” as I tell friends for a laugh. The left-to-right method of presidential crowd working probably has something to do with the Secret Service and efficiency.
I’m seated on the front row, first seat on the left. Not realizing that was going to be the first to be greeted, I felt confused. Why is the president coming toward me? Sure we made eye contact a few times during his speech, but that is just him being a good public speaker. I realized where I was seated.
As he gets closer, he made and maintained eye contact. His head up, an easygoing smile, and a confident stride that shows no hint of his dropping poll numbers or the other problems of our country that were placed on his shoulders when he took the oath.
“How ya doing today?” The President asked. I manage to eke out, “Good, it’s an honor to meet you.”
“Honor to meet you?” How cliché. Like the President doesn’t hear that a million times a day. Holy crap, why didn’t I think of something better to say?
That is probably the most annoying thing he ever hears. Like the buzzing of an alarm clock.
“HONOR TO MEET YOU! HONOR TO MEET YOU! HONOR TO MEET YOU!” He hears as he slaps at his night stand, trying to make contact with the snooze bar. I imagine Michelle rustling next to him, giving the president a grumpy groan of disapproval.
I can’t believe I said that to the president. I’m sure if I had said something else, anything else, it would have thrown him off; making him stop in the DC heat to find out more about this fine red-headed American.
Maybe if I had responded, “I’m good, Prez. I just bought a pocket Thesaurus,” he would have been so taken aback by this statement he would be forced into a conversation with me. Perhaps he’d have responded, “Who let you in here?” or “Why aren’t you wearing your helmet because you are special.” That would have made for a better story to tell my friends.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, I had to settle for being demeaned by my own mind.
Just like that, my encounter with the President was over. I furrow my brow, Was that it? Somehow I expected more. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe our ever-wise commander-in-chief would see something in me. He would take one look at me, and say, “You there – here is a pile of money and a new car.” But he didn’t say that, so I scan the crowd to find Governor Henry. It starts to drizzle, which came as a relief to the heat, as well as an alibi for the sweat that started to show through the back of my jacket. I switched from “awestruck” back to “personal assistant”: I would have rather performed in the comedy competition.