Have you ever made a fool of yourself in front of one of the most powerful people in the world? I have. (All right, maybe not one of the most powerful people, but he was president of the world's 12th largest nation for six years and so that spells powerful in my book.)
Picture it. Downtown DC. October 11, 2007. I was just settling in to my new job as editor at the financial publishing house that hired me when I arrived from California (yes, that one I left two months ago). My office was conveniently located near four Au Bon Pains and a spattering of Starbucks within a half-mile radius, so whenever I was in need of an overpriced $10 salad and $4 mocha frappuccino, I silently thanked God my urges could be pacified and my wallet emptied. But one of the best parts of my workday was strolling over to a Border's no more than two blocks away on my lunch break and spending money just because I could use one of those snazzy Border's Reward coupons emailed out on, oh, a weekly basis. I know, I fall for their marketing every time.
Anyway, one fateful day while exiting Border's with yet another F. Scott Fitzgerald book, a poodle pencil sharpener and a copy of Bread's Greatest Hits (I rationalized these latter two purchases with the fact they were on clearance), I noticed a sign in the front window boldly proclaiming that Vicente Fox -- the ex-president of Mexico -- would be holding a book signing right there, in that very Border's, where mere minutes ago I was postulating the merits of a pink plastic pencil sharpener for my office desk. I was floored, and here's why.
Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated with Mexico, and I mean the real Mexico, not just the parts you see on Mtv's Spring Break specials. Its culture, language, customs, politics -- everything about the country has always deeply compelled me and is the setting of the book I'm working on now as a result. A while back I visited Mexico City for a few days and instantly fell in love with the place, and prior to that I'd taken roadtrips from Northern California to Guadalajara. It's a poor country and I saw many heartbreaking things, but its people are beautiful and culturally rich. Point is I love it, therefore it was inexcusable not to meet Vicente, who worked his way from ranch hand and truck driver to being the youngest CEO in Coca-Cola history (then later, of course, president of Mexico).
It was a cooler day, so I wore a burgundy cap-sleeved blouse tucked into gray tweed wide-leg slacks with black pointy toe pumps. Classy, sophisticated but fun. I wanted to make a good impression in front of Vicente, and perhaps compel him to invite me down to his mansion in Guanajuato or offer me a job in his post-presidential cabinet. Normal things like that.
Two of my coworkers and I made our way over to Border's on our lunch, bought Vicente's new book to get signed and waited in a long line that snaked through the stacks, all of us wearing our yellow wristbands. After nearly an hour, we finally got up to the front signing table, which sat on the basement floor facing the staircase that took customers to the main upper level. I caught sight of Vicente, who was bigger in person and donned a healthy black mustache rivaled only by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. He sat surrounded by his private guards, guys who wore dark sunglasses indoors, that's how badass they were. I began to perspire, not only because I was excited but because it was blistering hot down there (what is it with Border's and their lack of proper air conditioning?).
I stepped ahead of my friends and opened my book out to him, leering at him slyly like I knew a secret he had yet to find out. He grinned back. We locked eyes, smiling, and he put out his hand to shake mine. "Hello," I said provocatively, like a young Blanche Devereaux. We shook hands. "Hola," he said in a grisly voice. Our hands lingered in the shake, or maybe I just thought they did, since this whole part happened in slow motion. "Muy bien," he smiled seductively, finally letting go and taking the book from my other hand. He scribbled his signature on the title page, never breaking his smile or eye contact, and handed it back to me, thanking me. I turned on my heel, turning bright red and breaking into a hysterical fit of giggles. We had a moment. The ex-president of Mexico...and me! My friends followed behind and we gossiped about what had just transpired, rushing up the the stairs to get back to work with our signed books when....
I tripped. On the stairs. Falling onto my hands and face. Right smack dab in front of Vicente Fox. Down I went, like the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in 2003. My purse flew a few feet ahead of me, the contents of which tumbled out onto the carpet. It suddenly got quiet as everyone turned to look at me, Vicente's guards tensed for a split second but then relaxed after seeing that the scuffle was not an assassination attempt, but merely an overzealous fan who'd tripped over her wide-leg slacks. Oh yes, I didn't just trip on the stairs -- I tripped because the pointy toe of my left pump got stuck inside my ginormous left pant leg, like so:Instead of helping me up, the first thing my charming friends did was laugh hysterically and point at me splayed out, cutting the sudden silence in the bookstore after my epic fall. I didn't blame them; I was laughing too. How could I not? Not only was half the financial district also in Border's, donning suits and browsing books on their lunch breaks, the second-to-last president of Mexico had just witnessed me make a fool of myself. This, after we shared a moment.
I quickly stood up, laughing and blaming my friend for "tripping me". Weak excuse that no one bought, especially when he loudly denied it. I dusted myself off, grabbed my bag off the floor, and continued walking up the stairs and out the front door. I couldn't bear to look back. I wanted to remember the scenario as it originally was, pre-fall, when my dreams of high-profile cabinet jobs and Christmas parties at the Fox's still seemed (slightly) attainable.