The time I was pen pals with Bill Clinton and it changed my whole life

The time I was pen pals with Bill Clinton and it changed my whole life

CultureOctober 05, 2016 By Isabelle Kohn

When you're a kid, you have a particular "thing" you're into. Maybe it's dogs. Maybe it's Girl Scouts. Maybe it's NASCAR because you're a future trailer daddy and your name is Brett or Chet or Kevin.

Mine was presidents.

That meant that before I was even tall enough to ride this ride, I had a fondness for old white men with resolve and the kind of facial hair only made possible by years of abrasive colonial life and dysentery. Making friends, as you might imagine, was not easy.

I had eleven-ish books about presidents that I read and re-read to glean them for conversational fodder I could use to demonstrate my advanced maturity. Conversations would go something like this:

Mom: "You'd better finish that broccoli, you can't just eat pasta if you ever want to get taller."

Me: "At 6 feet, 4 inches (1.9 meters), Abraham Lincoln was the tallest U.S. President ... Also he patented a system to alter buoyancy of steamboats in 1849 so you can thank him for getting this pasta to you from Italy."

Mom: "You were a mistake."

But, while I really liked Abe Lincoln because he seemed chill and FDR because he looks like a cat, by a landslide, my favorite president was always Bill Clinton.

I have no idea where this came from. My parents voted for him, but I was five when he was elected so it's not like they were talking to me about politics. My family could not be more apathetic about government officials. No impassioned person from my childhood worked on his campaign. There was zero reason for me to be enamored by this person.

Yet, there I was, seven or eight years old, with a poster of Bill Clinton on my wall. It looked like a mock baseball card, with stats on it and shit. It had things on it like his height, weight. his favorite food, where he went to college ... all the vitals. I had a Bill Clinton birthday cake. I wrote a story called "Bill and I Go to the Party," which was about Bill and I going to the party.

So, given this proclivity for Bill, I was beyond thrilled when in 1997, I got a chance to take a tour of his place, otherwise known as the White House.

I was in D.C. with my dad for some cousin whose name I cant remember's wedding. Being acutely aware of my passion for Clinton, my dad took me to the White House so I could see where my favorite Bill lived.

But when we got there, we discovered you can't just walk up to the White House and go in. That's terrorism or something. You have to sign up for a tour, and stand in line for hours with 2,000 people who don't even like Bill Clinton as much as you in the sweltering heat of our nation's capital.

My dad didn't like this option. He's not a standing-in-line kind of guy. But we had come all the way from Colorado to see the Clinton lair, and he wasn't about to crush my adolescent dreams by leaving without a taste of presidential habitat. So, he took my hand in his, told me to "look devastated" and we walked up to one of the secret service people guarding the house.

"We came all the way here from Colorado to see Bill Clinton's house," he said apologetically, "but our flight leaves in a few hours. We don't have time to stand in this line. Is there any way you'd let us sneak by?"

The guard looked down at me as if to suss me out, and that's when I turned on the ultra-drama. Tears welled up in my eyes. I reached my quivering hand out to him as if to say, This is the only thing that'll keep me from becoming a stripper and/or egg donor in my late teens.

"I love Bill!" I added.

There was a pause ... then he cracked under the weight of the completely absurd nature of by desire for Bill.

"Come this way," he said, looking in both directions to see who was watching (everyone) and who was currently guarding the door (no one).

That day, this guard, this random White House guard, gave us a private tour of Bill Clinton's home office. I honestly don't remember much of it because the shock of excitement electrocuted a lot of my brain cells, but I do know I left feeling whole, like I had just been bathed in the cleansing waters of Bill Clinton absolution. 

When the tour was over, the guard left us at the gift shop. There, I saw this little ceramic sculpture of this dog sitting on top of a dog house. On the dog house, there was a sign that said, "I love you." The dog had red droopy eyes and looked really high.

Looking back on it, I have no idea why the fuck this object was nestled in amongst the White House brand pens and commemorative USA mugs, but at the time, I knew I had to give it to Bill. I had to give Bill Clinton, our nation's 42nd President, a dog bauble.

This was pre-9/11, so shit like this flew if it wanted to.

When I got back home to Colorado, I put the ceramic high dog in a box with packing peanuts along with a card that said "I really admire your president-ing!" and addressed it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave with Bill Clinton's name on it.

My parents, being rational people, advised me that he might not respond or even get the package since he was the President and all and was probably busy negotiating trade agreements with China and looking handsome.

I knew that. I knew what was up with Bill Clinton. Please.

Within a few days, I forgot about the package and moved on with my life, reciting presidential facts at recess to a rapt audience of stuffed animals and the occasional other kid.

But five months later, in June of 1997, Bill Clinton wrote me back.

My mom had just picked me up from summer camp and we were pulling up to our mailbox on the street outside our house. I rolled down the window and reached out of the car to get the mail, when I saw an envelope embossed with a seal that said "Office of the President of the United States." I practically died; it was the closest I've ever come to a near-death-experience.

I ran inside and ripped open the envelope, not caring that two decades later it could have been worth like $14.00 on eBay.

In his letter, to me, Bill Clinton said this:

"Dear Isabelle,

Thank you for the wonderful gift you sent to me. I am touched by your thoughtful generosity.

You are the future of our country and I hope you will use your talents as you and your generation help lead our nation into the 21st century.

Best wishes for much happiness and success,

Sincerely,

Bill Clinton"

He spelled my last name wrong, but ... I let it slide because he was from Arkansas.

I don't know if Bill Clinton wrote this, or whether he had Monica Lewinsky or another species of assorted internii do it, but either way, someone had gotten the ceramic dog and told him about it and he signed a letter to me.

Bill Clinton and I were officially pen pals.

I wrote him back to tell him I couldn't believe he was talking to me and also what was his economic plan for the new millennium looking like? He didn't get back to me, but 1997 was when things were really heating up between him and Monica (sluuuuuut), so I knew he had bigger fish to fry.

When people tried to impeach him for getting some head, I was devastated. I couldn't imagine a world without Bill. Even if he had cheated on his wife and lied about it, he was human just like everyone else, and plus, have you seen Hillary? Even my eight-year-old sensibilities could tell that bitch was frigid.

The subsequent Lewinsky scandal had a huge impact on me. It taught me that no matter how mighty and awesome at saxophone a person is, they always have flaws and weaknesses. But you can't really love someone without accepting those as part of who they are.

But more than anything, it taught me that people like to judge you for your personal life. People feel entitled to knowing what you do behind closed doors. in order to be relevant in society, they condemn you for your kinks and deviances because it makes them seem current and righteous. That's stupid to me.

Those people's opinions don't matter. They don't know you. They don't know where you've been, what your life is like at home, and what compels you to make mistakes. They have nothing important going on in their own lives, so they have to get involved in yours.

When I realized this, I actually stopped judging people. I learned other people's business was other people's business. I learned to find their bizarre needs endearing, because that's what made them, them. I found myself really appreciating people's kinks. I think that's why I write about sex today; I find the parts of people that society sees as shameful as completely awesome.

I have sex columns and everything. Check it out.

So, while Bill and I never enjoyed the kind of USPS relationship I wanted to, I still think he's responsible for my current personality in some small way. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know. All I know is I still have his letter to me, and that he's fucking great at sax and probably better at sex.