Yesterday my treat of the day was having lunch with Jim Kelly, the Top Dog at Time magazine. Monday is always a holiday of sorts. If Friday night is hell, signified by Chinese food in waxy containers, Monday is heaven: There’s still an eternity before the next issue is due. Monday means you can eat lunch as if it’s dinner, going as heavy as you want. I ordered an eggplant, mozzarella, and tomato appetizer; salmon with pesto sauce, asparagus and tomatoes; and warm chocolate cake drizzled with pistachio sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream. And—this shows how celebratory the meal was—a glass of wine. I long ago gave up drinking at lunch and the soggy afternoons that go with it.
I spent the summer writing my book while subsisting on the Margaritas (only after 6 p.m.) and Starbucks’ coffee almond fudge ice cream diet, so my lunch intake was nothing. Having woken up at 6 a.m. (remember, I’m a big sleeper), I needed to carbo-load to power through the afternoon and evening, which included an appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show, the trip back to Washington from New York, writing this installment of the “Diary,” and preparing to give a speech to the George Washington University international business fellows at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Plus, I had to eat my dinner at lunch, since that evening I’d be dining on the shuttle.
I’m old enough to remember the days when flight attendants handed out stale sandwiches, an apple, cheese, and a cookie. The bad food (slightly) took your mind off the gamble the shuttle always presents. If all goes smoothly, you can make it door to door in less than two hours, so the shuttle seduces me like a siren call. When all doesn’t go smoothly, which is often, you’re trapped, with nothing to eat but foil-wrapped dry pretzels. There are no plugs for your computer. You can’t use your phone (a conspiracy to give business to Airfone?). Worst of all, you can’t use the bathroom during the entire trip. Just asking is a federal offense.
On the train, you can plug in all your gear, drink Green Mountain coffee, and buy sandwiches not past their sell-by date. While you’ll never make it in less than three hours, the trip will rarely take longer. I f nature calls, you can answer. But I’m still wary of Amtrak since getting trapped a few years ago. (A tree branch fell on the track and tripped something electrical; all the passengers were locked down. At Hour 8, I recruited a stranger, found an unlocked door, jumped off, scrabbled down an embankment, and flagged a very expensive cab to take us back to Washington.) So at 6:30 p.m., I handed Elizabeth Hayes, my publicist at Simon and Schuster, my train ticket and bravely declared, “I’m taking the shuttle.” (I’m renovating my house and was eager to get home to the gaping hole in my kitchen.) The flight hummed along smoothly until we arrived in D.C. and our assigned gate was said to be occupied. By what? By whom? The airport was a ghost town. But that time wasn’t completely lost: I met a lovely tax attorney who’s going to help me with my overdue taxes.
I’m not dreading my speech to the fellows as much as I dreaded the film festival. While it’s live, I’m protected from being the obvious cause of anyone dozing off by the fact that I’m sharing the stage with my CNN colleague Tucker Carlson (to answer the hundreds of e-mails I’ve received on the question: no relation, mere coincidence) and Matt Cooper, deputy bureau chief of Time, who is moderating. I expect Matt to do the heavy lifting, considering he is the winner of the Funniest Celebrity in Washington contest, an annual benefit held at the Kennedy Center. (The competition is heated, though not exactly stiff: Sen. Lieberman was once a winner.) People want to be entertained, even at (especially at) 9 a.m., and Matt is funny, so I was glad he was there.
Someone who is not funny is Bill O’Reilly. He is a very serious guy, on and off the set, which has made his show the top-rated show on cable. (Post-9/11, people want discipline in their talk show hosts.) O’Reilly wanted to talk to me about the invincibility of Bush, and at this moment, it’s not a point I want to argue. In the first debate, we had nine Democratic candidates strutting their stuff on a stage in South Carolina. There are too many of them, and their message is too diffuse. The Democrats are trying to get through to a public who, on the one hand, hopes that toppling Saddam actually makes them safer and, on the other, is entertained and impressed by Bush landing in a fighter jet on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Democrats point out how artificial and choreographed the whole enterprise was. But it’s a little like Christmas. Not believing in Santa Claus doesn’t stop you from loving those presents under the tree.
Conservatives are entertaining the notion that, in the end, Hillary Clinton will jump into the vacuum and run in ‘04. I know this from my many midday trips to Home Depot—when you’re renovating, you always need something—which give me a chance to catch up on talk radio. Rush Limbaugh, the most entertaining of the conservative chatterers, has been playing a Hillary Clinton sound bite in which she goes after the administration for accusing critics of being unpatriotic. Limbaugh says Clinton’s screed reminds him of his first wife’s tirades toward the end of their marriage—a characterization that is not off the mark. But as fingernails-on-the-chalkboard grating as that speech is, Clinton is far too cautious to have made an uncalculated move; has anyone ever gotten more out of sexual favors she didn’t dispense than Sen. Clinton? She gave an attention-getting speech to get, well, attention, as carefully calibrated leaks about her book Living History started dribbling out: the $8 million advance, the bidding war for the excerpt, the huge initial print-run of half-a-million copies. And then she released that boffo cover photo, with its gauzy, Vogue-worthy perfection.
I’m not being critical. After all, to plug my own book, I’m going to film festivals and on any talk show that will have me. I’m just watching closely, hoping she has coattails. Sure, there are a few differences: no bidding war for excerpts, no bidding at all, in fact. My publisher isn’t boasting a large initial print run. As for the cover, I rejected the nicely airbrushed version on the grounds that a digital facelift is OK for a book by Danielle Steele, but not quite right for a work of nonfiction. Other than that, and a few more zeroes in her advance, there’s no difference. So I’m rooting for her. Some of those eyes she draws into Borders will surely turn my way.