The nation has caught Clinton autobiography fever. And like any good liberal, I'm showing the symptoms, too: I've suddenly become quick to forgive myself of horrible lapses of judgment, my hair stands on end whenever I hear the word "Gingrich," and I no longer believe that a cigar is just a cigar.
But one symptom I'm not suffering from is the national case of Lewinski-itis, a condition characterized by an obsession with the prurient details of the President's sad, reprehensible and--come on, you gotta admit it--pretty hot liaison with the portly pepperpot. Most of the pundits are upset that Clinton didn't fully come clean about his affair, but I'm satisfied: He admitted he's weak. He admitted he's got deep psychological issues. He owns up to making small errors and Big Mistakes. To me, that's refreshing in a president. (Then again, as far as I'm concerned, you could sleep with half the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders as long as you balance the budget.)
We all thought that Clinton's "My Life" would be too much information from the notoriously verbose former president (at 957 pages, it's "War and Peace"--without the war or the peace). It's not. I wouldn't have minded a few pages devoted to Bill's role in not preventing the 9/11 terror attacks or even a simple explanation of why he thought it was a good idea to give the much-hated First Lady the job of devising a health care plan that could actually pass Congress.
But then I got to page 811: "Meanwhile, I was still sleeping on a couch, this one in the small living room that adjoined our bedroom. I slept on that old couch for two months or more. I got a lot of reading, thinking and work done, and the couch was pretty comfortable, but I hoped I wouldn't be on it forever."
When you're an investigative reporter of my talents (and when I say "talents," I of course mean "obsession with couches"), you don't ignore a paragraph like that. You can't. You go to sleep (next to your wife, by the way) and you wake up with your mind still imagining the Leader of the Free World sleeping on a spare couch in a White House rec room.
Parsing Bill Clinton's words has been a national obsession for years, so I found myself deconstructing this paragraph, imagining the "small living room," the "two months" of marital purgatory and, naturally, trying to convince myself that the "reading, thinking and work" did not consist merely of reading Hustler.
Anyway, it was Bill's "pretty comfortable" "old" couch that I kept coming back to. The President. Sleeping. On a couch. It's a stunning image. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to sleeping on couches. In fact, if it's Saturday afternoon and there's a ballgame on, chances are that I'll be doing my Clinton impersonation outside of 20 minutes. But I'm not the president of the United States (I'm not? Clearly, there has been a horrible mistake). The president of the United States should not be sleeping on couches like a ne'er-do-well houseguest who never leaves. Clearly, I needed to know more about that couch. Was it a two- or three-cushion model? Was it a pull-out?
Like any good reporter (and when I say "any," I, of course, mean "any reporter other than me"), I sought out the experts. My first call was to Carleton Varney, who not only was Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter's interior decorator, but is also a member of the Interior Design Hall of Fame (you should see this guy's career stats: his Matching Upholstery Average is still the all-time best and he ranks near the top in On Chaise Percentage and Divans Batted In).
"I know that couch," Varney told me. "It's a Lawson sofa. It has a rolled arm, three cushions and a tight back." I was beginning to think he was describing Clinton's physical appearance, so I asked more. A Lawson couch's rolled arm "would provide a nice resting place for the head." Still, Varney said, over the long term, "sleeping on a couch like that would be like sleeping across three seats on an airplane" (minus the beverage cart slamming into your head every hour, unless Hillary was particular vindictive).
Clearly, it was time to see whether I could get a little shut-eye on one of these fancy Lawson jobs. I headed for a Crate & Barrel, where saleswoman Jackie Karuletwa-Kakiza steered me towards a bright white, overstuffed sofa (its cushions seductively called to me, "Sleep with me," but the fabric screamed, "Take your shoes off first!" in my wife's voice). The rolled Lawson arm does indeed provide nice support for your head, whether you're reading a Briefing Book or just catching up on your porn. Lying on a couch this comfortable almost provides an incentive for arguing with your wife.
Next, I turned my attention to that "small living room" where Bill slept. Again, I simply could not escape the image of the president padding off to his marital purgatory in his jammies, dragging a blanket and a pillow while the White House staff snickered behind him.
Perish that thought. "The staff would not have known that he was sleeping in the living room," says Neel Lattimore, Hillary Clinton's former press spokesman. "There aren't maids and butlers scurrying around. Bill and Hillary really kept the family quarters separate from the outside world."
If he or any White House staffer wanted to drop off documents, for example, they left them on a little table in a foyer. The staffers generally would not go into the residence, lest they see Bill snoring on the couch with Hillary standing over him with a meat cleaver. Lattimore says that this system was put in place to protect Chelsea: "If we were all wandering around, it would have made her feel like she was living in a government office, not her family's home." (Yeah, what a functional household that must have been: Mom's devising a health care plan and Dad's in the office having sex with an intern.)
These were nice insights, but as Deep Throat's go, Lattimore was clearly PG. So I persisted, and he dispelled my notion that Bill had to walk past a glaring First Lady every time he wanted to go to bed. "The family room had a separate entrance," he explained.
Lattimore did not know if Clinton really did sleep on that couch or whether page 811 was the former president's bid for sympathy. But one White House expert thinks Clinton is lying about his lying. "I don't think he actually slept on a couch," says Bill Harris, author of "The White House: An Illustrated Tour." "I went through a divorce and I slept on the couch for a while. But I think Bill is just trying to look like a regular guy in the doghouse. And I say that as an admirer."
Hey, so am I. Any guy who sleeps on the couch is a hero to most American men.