Barbara Feinman Todd, an accomplished former ghostwriter and book researcher who worked with Bob Woodward and Hillary Clinton, goes behind-the-scenes of the national’s capital to tell the story of how she survived the exciting, but self-important and self-promoting world of the Beltway. But at its heart, Pretend I’m Not Here is a funny and forthcoming story of a young woman in a male-dominated world trying to find her own voice while eloquently speaking for others.
Today, Feinman Todd tells us about being a guest at one of the most famous houses in the country.
From the Author: My Spend-the-Night at the White House
I’ve stayed overnight in the White House, and not many people can say that.
I’m not a visiting head of state, a Hollywood celebrity or even a wealthy donor. I’m just a writer who was hired to help Hillary Clinton with her first book It Takes a Village when she was the First Lady. I wish I could say I was invited because of my star power, but it was actually my clumsiness. I sprained my ankle stumbling on a sidewalk curb, and when Mrs. Clinton saw me on crutches going back and forth, to and from the White House, she suggested I stay over. So for a few days, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue became home.
“What was it like?” Everyone asks. It was like staying in a very quiet, extremely upscale hotel. I woke up feeling like Sarah Crewe in The Little Princess, the scene where she goes to sleep a penniless orphan in a dreary attic and wakes up to an elegant bedroom complete with tea and muffins, luxurious quilts, fancy slippers and a crackling fire. Though I hardly lived in a dreary attic, the 500-count Egyptian cotton sheets, the delicious mattress, the silk drapes and fresh cut flowers at the White House were definitely a step up from what I had in my apartment.
I was there for four nights in the residence in one of many guestrooms, on a separate floor from where the First Family stays. I was relieved about that because I didn’t have to worry about running into the President in his jammies. But still I’ll admit I was so excited that first night that I barely slept. I hobbled across the room to the desk and eased myself into a chair, my wrapped ankle sticking out to the side. I opened the various drawers, rooting around for swag and soon enough found it. Stationery. But not any stationery. White House stationery. It was suitably understated, considering the power it beheld. And it came in two different varieties. The first was white, ghost white, with navy blue needle-thin lettering: THE WHITE HOUSE. And then as if one needed more information, beneath that, in thinner, smaller font: WASHINGTON. The second variety: a pale, robin’s egg blue with white embossed lettering, THE WHITE HOUSE. The colors were so delicate, so fragile-seeming that you had to hold the sheet of paper at an angle, so that the light could catch it, to make out the letters.
I pulled out a single sheet and started writing. “Dear Dad,” I began, “You always said I would never be able to support myself as a writer. I guess you were wrong. Maybe it’s time to eat your words. Your loving daughter, Barbara.”
At our next family gathering, my dad tapped his fork against his wineglass. The table quieted down. “I just want you all to know that I am a man of my word. And sometimes that includes eating my words. What I am about to do was cleared by my gastroenterologist,” he paused, pulling out a sheet of paper from his shirt pocket, unfolding it slowly, holding it up for all to see. I recognized my handwriting and the White House stationery. My father then tore it up into little bite-size pieces, put it in his mouth and started chewing. I guess technically he wasn’t eating his words. He was eating mine.
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