RALL: Katoing With Bill and Hill: Fast Times at the Hotel Pennsylvania
kaueto, n. To reside with another person without providing rent or any other discernible benefit, particularly for a duration of more than one month: Because I was without prospects or principles, I katoed with Natalie until her boyfriend threatened to O.J. me.Washington D.C., bastion of obsessive irrelevance, is all atitter about revelations that President Clinton spent the last four years subletting rooms in the White House to various well-heeled heels whom he hoped to separate from their ill-gotten gains. No wonder he didn't have time to do any president work.To be sure, the idea of Barbra Streisand downing taxpayer-funded midnight snacks while crashing in the Blue Room on a bed where Rutherford B. Hayes once slept -- in return for $85,000 -- doesn't do much to maintain the dignity of the presidency. And the fact that Motel 1600's list of "long-time friends" includes 29 people, of whom only 6 have no corporate affiliation, confirms many cynics' suspicions that Friends of Bill are also Friends of Dollar Bills.But while the concept of running a grand total of 938 overnight guests through the nation's imperial palace at an average rate of $10,849 per night per person, single-occupancy, may appear a tad gauche, the rap the Clintons are getting for Motelgate just isn't fair. As the president said last week, "I did not have any strangers here. The Lincoln bedroom was never sold."In fact, many of those guests didn't pay a penny. They simply needed a place to stay, and the Man From a Trailer Park Near Hope was only too generous not to oblige. I should know -- I was one of those guests.It was December of 1995, near the end of the Gingrich co-presidency. Having tired of Manhattan winters, I planned to move to D.C. to look for work. The only person I knew in Washington was Clinton, so I called him for advice."Yo, Bill my man," I intoned in my best hipster voice -- Bill loves that. "You probably don't remember me, but I designed your 'College Democrats for Clinton' posters in '92.""Oh, sure!" Bill said. "The ones with the red trim, right?""Right, those ones." (Who am I to argue with the dude with the launch codes?)"Anyway, I'm coming down to D.C. and I'm wondering if maybe I can crash with you and Hillary while I troll for a crib and a gig. Of course, if it's a problem--""Not at all," Bill replied graciously. "I'll leave the keys at the front desk."A week later, a taxi dropped me off at the White House. The doorman escorted me to the Putting Room in the mansion's East Wing. He pointed to a buzzer over the big four-poster bed. "Press that if you need anything." Then he was gone. I couldn't believe it. Here I was, sleeping in the very same room where Jerry Ford had planned his pardons and vetoes! There was even a display of his pipes, one for each of the 17 days he had come to work. I still have one somewhere in one of my travel bags.Living in the White House left me with memories I'll always treasure. One night I was heading to the Thomas Jefferson Pantry to score some cinnamon buns and eggnog when I stepped on a tail attached to Socks, the Clinton's cat. He bit the top of my foot with a howl and disappeared into the Marilyn Monroe Vestibule, just the way my cat would at home. I mean, here was the President's cat -- the same cat he actually petted -- and I'd stepped on him. Now that's history!Another time the President himself came in with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ask me whether or not we should invade Honduras. "The invasion plan's been lying on my desk under a pile of fund-raising brochures since I arrived," Clinton said apologetically. "We ought to do something about it eventually.""What would you do with Honduras if we got it?" I asked. No one had an answer. I had saved world peace for another day.After six weeks I had finally settled in. My mail was coming c/o Bill Clinton, I had a cell phone and was thinking about checking out the classified ads. It was time to throw a party.I called up everyone I knew and told them to invite everyone they knew. By 11 p.m. the next Saturday, the Putting Room was seriously rocking. Op-ed columnists were hanging from the Rupert Murdoch Drapes, cartoonists were dancing on the Al Haig Table and a bunch of women who worked at some record store in Georgetown were howling in unison to the then-new Superchunk CD.Unfortunately, some high-school kid ODed on E and had to be medevac-ed to GWU Hospital; also, one of my old college roommates leaned too far out the window ledge and had to be extracted from the Rose Garden. "Cool party, man," my last guest told me at 6 a.m. "Two ambulances!"I wasn't that surprised when the president showed up with the first spouse that afternoon. "You caused a lot of damage last night with your irresponsible behavior," Hillary said. "This is the people's house, not some frat house. And don't think we didn't hear those remarks about Chelsea over the Nixon Intercom.""She's right," Bill chimed in. "You've abused your status as a Friend of Mine. I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to leave."And so my stay in Washington came to an end. But I still appreciated the Clintons' charmingly genteel sense of hospitality, and deplore the atmosphere of cruel cynicism that has put an end to the right of a free people to live for free.