NEW YORK, June 22 -- The rain pummels the masses. They're outside, huddled on the sidewalk. They've got their overnight blankets and umbrellas and picnic chairs and nostalgia. They're ready to pontificate for the sound-bite-hungry TV crews, ready to tell how much better it was back then, how much they miss their Bill, still.
Former president Bill Clinton soon will arrive at the Barnes & Noble store in Rockefeller Center to sign his new book, turning midtown Manhattan into another installment of what the Daily News has dubbed the "Bubba Bombardment." The line of book-seekers snakes from Fifth Avenue to Avenue of the Americas, from 48th Street to 49th. Close to 2,000 people have queued up.
By all indications -- Alfred A. Knopf has printed 1.5 million copies of "My Life" and has reserved press time for reprinting -- the book-buying public seems ready for 957 pages of Clinton reflecting on Clinton, as well as on Arkansas, the White House, his presidency, his many detractors and, of course, the Big She, Monica Lewinsky.
In the store, awaiting his arrival, we are wedged between "Drama" (a title, "Forbidden Acts," catches the eye) and "Fiction." "Mystery" is a few aisles away. Such Clinton-era themes.
The bookstore bristles with anticipation. He is late. He is Clinton. But then a cheer arises from outside in the rain, near the sign that says "Barnes & Noble Welcomes President Clinton."
And then there he is, bathed in the flashes from cameras, the sound of shutters clicking and cheers from inside the bookstore, too. He's got that aw-shucks mouth-gaping expression, as if this moment is something new, something fresh, though he's had this kind of moment thousands of times.
"I'm glad it's finally happening," the former president says. "I've been living with this for two years."
The thought occurs: And now we shall have to live with it, too.
It's not just a book. It's not just a book launch. It seems like something more, something in the category of burnishing the image, of rehabilitating the legacy, of Clinton getting another go at his love affair with the spotlight, especially in these times when Democrats are deeply disillusioned with the Bush White House. It's more than a book. It's a kind of rallying point.
Of course, the cultural and ideological wars that surrounded the Clinton years have broken out again. The old cleavages are exposed. It may be unseemly, even just plain old, but lo and behold the debates are keeping Clinton all over the airwaves, which will no doubt help sell his book.
It started with Clinton's speech a few weeks ago to the American Booksellers Association convention in Chicago. C-SPAN carried it live and 3,000 people were in the audience. And we've had the "60 Minutes," Time magazine and USA Today interviews. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" taped a segment with him Monday that aired Tuesday to push the book. And Knopf threw a book party for him Monday night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Clinton friend and lawyer Robert Barnett, holding forth in the press pit during the Barnes & Noble spectacle, calls it the "mother and father of all rollouts." There'll even be an AOL and Infinity Broadcasting town hall meeting Thursday, live.
There are so many angles to play. The dueling Clinton biographies, his and hers: Who will outsell the other? The Clinton score-settling: Does Ken Starr even care? The unkind reviews: ooouch!
The most prominent review so far came in a rare front-pager in the New York Times on Sunday, which, to quote but a snippet, called the book "sloppy, self-indulgent, and often eye-crossingly dull."