I Told You So
was completed at the end of July 2008. This book is a
collection of columns from magazines, essays translated from earlycentury
Bloggerean, and material written especially for this compilation.
After I sent the document file of my book to my editor just by
warily pressing Send, I made a big flourish of checking off the last day
of my six-month writing schedule. I cleaned off my desk, filed two
trees’ worth of hard-copy rewrites, and turned my full attention to
writing for my summer show in Provincetown.
For more than twenty years I have performed in July and August
in Provincetown. I write something new every day, especially if the
weather is bad; I ride my bike down to the club and try the lines out
at night. My audience knows that a lot of the material is being workshopped
for the show I will take on the road in the fall. They know
because generally I tell them.
Some weeks a brilliant three pages of newly minted material becomes
an aside after only three shows. But other times a throwaway
line gets a surprising response and over a few performances grows to
a brand-new ten minutes. My audiences like being part of the process.
They often talk to me after a show: “When you said that, I thought
you were going to go this way,” as if the show were on MapQuest, but
then they finish with the perfect punch line that had eluded me. Since
I have joke dyslexia, they kindly point out when I have reversed setup
and punch line altogether. Or they tell me their stories. I take notes. I
promise them royalties.
My partner of twenty years has said to me after almost every show
she has seen, “Well, that was too long, but you need to do more political
stuff.” Over the years, and because of the world, I have become
more political. Actually I am a full-blown junkie. My shows reflect
that. On the Provincetown entertainment menu of drag shows, piano
bars, Broadway adaptations, theater, and comedy, I am the entrée
known as “that political one.”
In the past, doing a lot of political material for people on their
precious one- or two-week vacation in a resort town could be dicey.
They have been at the beach all day reading trashy beach books or
boogie boarding. They have not kept up. Some nights I felt that I was
anchoring a news show, not so much doing a comedy show. Instead of
laughter, I would hear, “I wish she had this on PowerPoint.”
The summer of 2008 was like nothing I had ever witnessed. It
was not just because critical mass had been reached in the possession
of personal handheld devices. Nor was it because the town mothers
and fathers had finally gotten some decent radio transmitters and
fewer people had to stand out in parking lots screaming into their
cell phones, “I can’t hear you!” That summer Wi-Fi was the
guesthouse amenity. More than a private bath. No one wanted off the
grid. No one wanted to miss anything. Even on vacation.
Would the Hillary supporters get over themselves and make the
change to Obama? Could Obama really beat McCain? The town slept
fitfully, waiting for a text message about Obama’s choice for vice president.
Would he pick Hillary? In the line at the Grand Union, strangers
would say, “Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about Palin.”
Increasingly panicked mass e-mails from California warned of the
passage of Prop Hate, the anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative. Everyone
bemoaned high gas prices. Bear Stearns Week trumped the fun
of Bear Week. International tourists crowded town during Carnival
Week. Some shops accepted euros. In one ominous sign, the store
called Don’t Panic was shuttered.
When your situation room is a resort town in August, it is difficult
to convey the seriousness of some developments to vacationers. It is
also perhaps cruel. In one late August show I joked about George W.,
back stateside from the Chinese Olympics, which had been brought
to us by our own credit card debt. With not one little toenail left on
his moral footprint, and still president-erect from cruising the Olympic
volleyball babes and hectoring China on its human rights abuses,
our spectator in chief excoriated Russia for its preemptive strike on
Georgia. You could practically hear the world snorting, or maybe it
After the show, I was talking to one very sunburned woman and
realized she thought Russia had invaded the state of Georgia. (No, it
was not Sarah Palin.) She confided, “If they can fix the Atlanta airport,
I’m all for it. They should give them Florida while they’re at it.” But
even at half-attention, people were more politically and passionately
interested in politics than I could recall.
After Labor Day and before my tomatoes had ripened, dammit,
I finished my summer-long run and returned to Manhattan with a
shiny new show for fall touring. But every day brought such dizzying
change, I wrote new material and eased out pieces that seemed dated
with just a week’s shelf life, because the show was getting as long as a
Bruce Springsteen show. I felt like an embedded war correspondent
just a sentence or two ahead of breaking news.
Whenever I thought back to some sections of the book I had had
to turn in at the end of July, they seemed like all setup without punch
line, cruel foreplay. I regretted not being able to finish the Clinton-
Obama/McCain-Palin/Prop Hate/campaign/election story lines. It
seemed unfair, unfinished.
As we who wanted a woman president almost learned from Sarah
Palin, be careful what you wish for. In early September, I received a
call from my editor at Beacon Press requesting an additional chapter
to conclude the political dramas I had been following. Though I had
a busy fall tour schedule, it was like receiving a reprieve from the governor.
And at sixty, I find I work well on deadlines.
The stay of publication also allowed me to move on. This time,
when I finished the last chapter, the book felt finished. I felt finished.
Eight long years of being Kate the Designated Bush Watcher can
make you very cynical. Yes it can. I am finished living in I-told-youso.
The schaden is off my freude. I am eager to transition into my new
job: Kate the Happy Chronicler of the Successes of the Bush Toxic
Cleanup Committee, the Great Restoration Hardware Voting Rights
Act, the International War Crimes Tribunal, the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission, the Actual Intelligent Design Project, the Stepping
Aside of the Baby Boomer Ritual, and the Cynicism Abatement
Excerpted from I Told You So by Kate Clinton. Copyright © 2010 by Kate Clinton. Excerpted by permission of Beacon Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.