There was a strange and tangible energy, an uncomfortable edginess seeping like mist through the normally civilized streets of La Jolla this Monday. "Bush is an idiot!" A woman shouts at a total stranger who just gave her directions. "At least he served our country!" The stranger shouts back.
Kicking, yelling obscenities, spitting, getting arrested, carrying protest signs-it sounds more like the streets outside a World Trade Organization summit than a book signing. Yet, that was precisely the scene on a surreal and sunny day when the Hillaryland Circus came to town.
Senator Clinton's book tour for Living History, her memoir of her White House experiences generates its own sideshow of freaks, fans and anti-fans alike, all slamming together in a kaleidoscope of mayhem. According to the book, Hillaryland was the pet name given to Mrs. Clinton's staff during her husband's terms in the West Wing. It has re-banded in the shape of this summer's chaotic book tour.
Whether or not you agree with what seems to be Hillary's sucking up of Bill's infidelity for what looks like her own political agenda; whether you think she is destined to be the first female in the highest seat in the land; or think she is a bald faced liar-she sparks an emotional reaction. No one is lukewarm about Hillary.
Such was the backdrop at Monday's event, where supporters carrying "Hillary for President" banners and peace signs stood side-by-side with a noisy minority of pro-life activists waving signs depicting bloody fetuses and shouting biblical references at the sleepy masses who had been waiting for hours for their turn to meet the Senator.
"This man was yelling and hollering at everybody from the curb," said Patti Sullivan of La Jolla, who showed up at 5 a.m. with her 14-year-old daughter in tow for what she called an opportunity of a lifetime. "I asked the police if he has a right to do that because I feel like I'm being assaulted with his words, his pictures and his loudness. I believe in free speech, but I'm not subjecting you to my view. I mean-shut the hell up!"
"This is America," San Diego Police officer Bob Van Wulven said. "You can yell all you want."
"We've had some stern "talking-tos,'" said Kat Kinzer, events coordinator for Warwick's Book Store, which hosted the signing. "The energy was really at a fevered pitch at certain points in the day."
According to police, one woman was arrested on a misdemeanor charge after an altercation with some of the anti-abortion protesters. "She kicked their sign and then started spitting on them," Van Wulven said.
In a separate incident, a Clinton fan destroyed a pro-life sign. "This guy was really upset and yelling. He proceeded to kick the sign and it hit me," said 19-year-old Rayna Sullenger, a California Life Coalition member who says physical responses to their protests are unusual. "I'm used to people yelling and flipping me off."
Around the corner, in still more Hillaryland fun, 83-year-old Ellen Wight passed out after standing for three hours in the sun. "I wanted to meet her, that's why I'm here," Wight said, "but I don't know if I can last that long." Warwick's staff eventually brought a signed book to her.
Inside the store, in contrast to the carnival atmosphere in the street, the Secret Service dominated the energy and the over-controlled environment ran like a train conductor's stopwatch. Media was allowed entry at precisely 11:30 a.m., and herded behind a barricade.
None of Clinton's staff, not even her "spokesperson," Phillipe, who refused to divulge his last name, would talk to reporters. Once Clinton did poke her head out from behind a staged area she dodged any potentially hot-button issue and took one seemingly staged question about the Davis recall, answering obediently with the Democratic slant.
"Every state in the country is suffering from budget problems and it seems unusual to handle the budget crisis in California through a political recall effort like this," said a seemingly well-rehearsed Clinton. "I support Governor Davis and I'm going to do what I can to express my opinion, but it's really up to the people in California, and I trust their judgment."
After signing the agreed-upon 900 books at a brisk 10 a minute, the Hillaryland entourage bolted up to L.A. for a Tonight Show appearance, during which the senator complained of a sore writing hand, discussed hairstyles and joked about sleeping with aliens.
All in all, Monday could have been even more chaotic. In other book-tour cities, one conservative group has been protesting outside of Clinton signing events by blaring music through a sound system. The Free Republic's "2003 Hilla-Palooza" tape is full of numbers like ELO's "Evil Woman," "Stand by Your Man" and "The Bitch is Back."
Living History has broken sales records since it first went on sale June 9. It is the fastest selling nonfiction book ever published, was No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list for five consecutive weeks and has currently sold roughly 1.3 million copies.