Things like Bristol Palin don’t often happen on a Friday night in Fredericksburg (population: 11,305). By 5:30 pm there were about a hundred of us who stood in the line snaking through the Walmart garden center. Waiting was festive because we are Texans are good at making parties where we gather. Both the women in front and behind me had driven from San Antonio, 70 miles away. They’d heard about the book signing on the radio while listening to Rush.
A small army of excited Walmart employees and four local policemen enforced us. There was a single Fox cameraman from San Antonio or Austin.
Nobody talked politics. The lady behind me asked, “What’s her little boy’s name again?” “Tripp,” I told her. “Well, then, what’s that other one’s name?” she said. “Trig,” I said. “That’s right,” she said but didn’t sound completely convinced. A young Latina mother was at the head of the line with three small children, who each held a copy of Bristol’s book.
Nobody talked about Sarah Palin, but one woman had a t-shirt with a giant pair of pink lips and homemade pink lettering that said “Sarah Palin”.
No one mentioned Jesus, God, or church.
We all asked the same question. Why, Fredericksburg? Why not Amarillo or Dallas?
Pretty soon, word drifted back through the line that a Walmart employee had said that this Walmart is the top seller of Sarah Palin books in Texas or maybe even in the world.
“We’re just lucky,” a portly man in a Texas t-shirt said. I told him that I just happened to be in Fredericksburg visiting my parents, and he said I was doubly lucky.
A Walmart employee walked down the line telling us to have our books open to the right page and to display our receipt. She reminded us of the rules: no posed photos, no inscriptions, no conversation with Bristol. All personal items must be placed in plastic tubs like at an airport screening.
As Bristol sat at the table, Tripp was placed in a chair beside her. Almost immediately he started to whine, and the blonde woman carried him away.
The line began to move. It felt a little like a Lourdes pilgrimage, maybe because there were a few wheelchairs and walkers and plenty of babes in arms. As we neared the table, I saw that Bristol broke all the Palin rules. She talked to each person. She posed for photos and shook hands warmly. Her movements were gracious and assured. She seemed to be enjoying herself.
When it was my turn, my friend Finn handed Bristol the book while I fumbled with my cellphone camera. And then we were done.
I’d really wanted to hate Bristol. Laugh about her plastic surgery. Or at least work up a little righteous anger for all the hours and years I’ve spent reading every Palin watchdog blog worth a damn and despairing of the day when truth and justice will triumph over hoaxes, lies, and Murdochian anti- journalism.
But right there in person, I just felt sorry for Bristol Palin. I thought of my own daughter and of other 20-year-old girls I know. How sad that this girl would—on the advice of adults she trusted-- travel so many miles to the middle of the Texas nowhere to autograph a book of lies she hadn’t written for mostly old people who had nothing better to do on a Friday night than mosey over to Walmart for a gander at Sarah’s girl.
“My husband was painting the ceiling, and he just came in and said, ‘How’d you like to drive over to Fredericksburg and see Bristol Palin, and I said, well, I don’t know, and he said, well come on, get your bag, we’re going, and I said, are you sure, and he said. . .”
But more importantly, I experienced first hand the insidious naiveté of the Palin brand/ weapon. Its stubborn and aggressive amateurism. The oxymoronic joke of a book signing in Walmart. Ivy Frye in her ill-fitting gray suit directing folks like a traffic cop. A publicist who picked the wrong stop in Texas. Tripp as stage prop. Bristol’s dramatic signature on the page of a book someone else wrote. It was a carnival sideshow as freaky and crude as a two-headed calf.
And we, the American people, are the suckers.
Dear Bristol, my dear girl, this is exactly the kind of life you need to fear.