The wind chill hit minus-3 degrees the night "Fire and Fury" came to town.
But neither polar vortex nor "bomb cyclone" nor gloom of night could keep Washington's political gossipmongers from lining up at Kramerbooks on Thursday night for the midnight sale of Michael Wolff's newly published romp through the Donald Trump White House.
"This is a D.C. moment, and I wanted to be a part of it," said Steve Dingledine, a fifth-grade teacher from the District who showed up shortly after 11 p.m. and held the pole position in a line that snaked through the Dupont Circle bookstore/cafe. And it was definitely a D.C. moment: Dingledine found himself flanked by a cluster of cameras — the BBC, Fox News, someone conducting interviews in Turkish, and emissaries of various local TV channels. Reporters from BuzzFeed, HuffPost, the Weekly Standard and Vice News hovered nearby.
Dingledine was not fazed. This was not his first D.C. moment.
"Mark Halperin came to my classroom last year to film his show, 'The Circus,' " he said, laying down his money before tucking his purchase under his arm and exiting into the cold night air.
For days the capital had been captivated by deconstructed versions of Wolff's book: excerpts in New York magazine and British GQ; an essay by the author in the Hollywood Reporter; and the juiciest tidbits (Bannon said what about Don Jr.???) published in the Guardian after its reporters stumbled across a stray early copy in a New England bookstore. High-level White House staffers called around town to find out if they had been mentioned. When Kramerbooks announced it would start selling copies of Wolff's book at midnight — nine hours before the text would be available to download via Kindle — the legendary bookstore started trending on Twitter.
Hours after the first book excerpts appeared online, the book was ranked No. 1 in sales on Amazon.com. And even during a week that Trump threatened to jail a former Clinton aide and press a button that would annihilate North Korea, Thursday's White House press briefing was dominated by questions about the book.
A great debate waged over whether "Fire and Fury" was more damning or damnable: Were the anecdotes all accurate? Is it true that President Trump can barely read? Do his staffers really think he's basically an overgrown child? Does it matter if the book turns out just to be mostly true? Does anything matter?
Not up for debate: This has become the biggest must-read Washington book in a generation. The president saw to that when he threatened to sue the author and publisher, which only encouraged them to push up the publication date by four days, from Tuesday of next week to Friday. He had earlier boosted its profile when he sent a cease-and-desist letter to his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, a major source for the book. And he pushed it over the top just hours before the book hit the shelves by tweeting: "I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don't exist. Look at this guy's past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!"
It could go down as the greatest unintentional marketing campaign in history.
By Friday morning, the city was in full "Fury" mode. Politics & Prose ran out of its 84 copies within 15 minutes of opening, an anticipatory line having formed outside of the Connectict Ave. location. "Some folks came in and wanted six books apiece," reports owner Bradley Graham. The store limited everyone to two, promptly placed a refill order, and for the rest of the afternoon, the phone was "constantly ringing" with would-be customers.
"It's not as if we haven't had to deal with best-selling books before," Graham says. But the fervor over this one took him aback.
Call the Barnes & Noble in Potomac Yard, and a clerk will sorrowfully report that their stash of "Fire and Fury" hasn't arrived yet — a delayed shipment, and no, you aren't the first person to ask. Call the one in Bethesda, and get a recorded message: "If you are calling to inquire after the title 'Fire and Fury' by Michael Wolff, we regret to inform you that our location does not currently have the book in stock. Nor are we planning to carry it at any time before we close our doors permanently."
The wonks who had managed to acquire the book began to flaunt it, in some sort of primal, peacocking nerd ritual. "Follow our White House reporter for live copy edits of 'Fire and Fury,'" tweeted the Weekly Standard, as the reporter in question began to populate his feed with photographs of book pages and his own notes: "I think Wolff means belied, not belayed, here."
Live copy edits.
This is why they hate us.
The city kept talking.
"We usually buy copies of books about our targets," Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee, responded primly when asked whether the DNC planned to get a copy of the book. "Especially when there are direct quotes from their own staff trashing them."
"No, I'm a little busy doing my job," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a press briefing on Friday when asked if he planned to read it. But — but — the index says he was mentioned 13 times! "If it's a book with my name in it, an aide puts double-stickies over it," Mattis said, "So I don't read about myself."
The night before at Kramerbooks, the journalists had come first, of course — looking for a scene but finding only one another and posting up at the bar in wait.
Maeve McGale, a 19-year-old bookstore employee with fading purple hair, swept the floors wondering if anyone would even show on such a frigid night. (Hasn't anyone ever heard of a Kindle?)
"People have been calling about it all day," she said. "So we've been taking bets in the store about who will actually be here."
But first came Dingledine. Then a woman named Moira who works in the legal support field, followed by a historian from the University of California at Riverside, who said this president is "off the rails" (historically speaking, of course).
By 11:40 p.m., there were dozens of people in line.
"It's like Harry Potter for adults," someone said.
"Is it, though?" a woman asked. "I feel like that's giving Michael Wolff too much credit."
"I have a half-drunk beer and some half-eaten nachos at my table," a man shouted, seemingly to no one in particular. "But I don't want to lose my spot. I'm here for the party."
The store had 75 copies to sell. It took 15 minutes for them to sell out.
"We'll have more soon," a clerk told a gaggle of disappointed would-be shoppers. "Plenty more."