The Magazine

Bill Clinton's "My Life," Abridged

From the July 5 / July 12, 2004 issue: The Clinton Autobiography: A User-Friendly Abridged Version.

Jul 5, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 41
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CHAPTER 1: Shreveport, Louisiana, 1943. Our future president's father, William Jefferson Blythe Jr., escorts "a date with some kind of medical emergency" into a hospital where our future president's mother is working as a nurse. While the other woman is rushed away for treatment, Blythe flirts with Mother and decides to dump his ailing girlfriend on the spot. Two months later, the new couple is married. Three years after that, William Jefferson Blythe III is born in Hope, Arkansas, "under a clear sky after a violent summer storm to a widowed mother"--the senior Blythe having meantime died in a freak auto accident. For the longest time, young Billy Blythe knows next to nothing about his father's life and character. Then, in 1993, the Washington Post reports that "my father had probably been married three times before he met Mother and apparently had at least two more children." The president later meets his half-brother. But, "for whatever reason," he never meets his half-sister.

CHAPTER 2: Until he's 4, the toddler is cared for largely by his maternal grandparents. Mother is often elsewhere, especially after she decides to seek training as a nurse-anaesthetist in New Orleans, which is then "an amazing place" with "over-the-top haunts like the Club My-Oh-My, where men in drag danced and sang as lovely ladies." In retrospect, Clinton figures "it wasn't a bad place for a beautiful young widow to move beyond her loss."

CHAPTER 3: Having "dated several men in New Orleans and had a fine time," Mother returns to Hope and marries Roger Clinton, the owner of the local Buick dealership and the man who supplies Papaw, Billy's grandfather, with the bootleg liquor they sell at the family grocery store. "Not long afterward, I started calling myself Billy Clinton," and entered a "new world" that "was exciting to me." For instance: Clinton humiliates himself by tripping over a nonmoving jump rope and breaking his leg. Also, his new "Daddy" has a bad drinking problem, and there are violent incidents at home that require the attention of the local constabulary. Suchlike experiences help mold Clinton's sense of self. "For cartoons, I preferred Bugs Bunny, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Baby Huey, with whom I probably identified."

CHAPTER 4: On a whim, Daddy Clinton sells the Buick dealership and moves the family to a farm outside Hot Springs. There is no indoor toilet. "Later, when I got into politics, being able to say I had lived on a farm with an outhouse made a great story." But the farm grows tiresome quickly, and the Clintons soon relocate to a nice, big house downtown. Hot Springs in the 1950s has a little of everything, in just the right proportions. There is organized crime, for example, but only within strict limits: "The garages of two houses were bombed, but at a time when no one was home." And all kinds of law-abiding people live there, too. "The Jewish residents owned some of the best stores and ran the auction houses," Clinton remembers. All in all, he concludes--with the mastery of ambiguous sentence construction for which he is justly famous--"my friends and I led pretty normal lives, apart from the occasional calls to Maxine's bordello and the temptation to cut classes during racing season, which I never did."

CHAPTER 5: Clinton's brother, Roger Jr., is born in 1956. In 1957, "even though I wasn't yet 12," Clinton is forced to buy a full-price, adult ticket to a showing of Bridge on the River Kwai; he is so big, the cashier thinks he's lying about his age. "It was the first time in my life someone refused to take my word," which "hurt," of course, but also gave him valuable "preparation for life in Washington, where no one takes your word for anything." Entering junior high soon thereafter, Clinton recognizes "the first stirrings of sexual feelings toward girls." Alas, not everyone is attracted to him in return. It is around this time that Clinton has to "face the fact that I was not destined to be liked by everyone, usually for reasons I couldn't figure out."

CHAPTERS 6 AND 7: In fact, "I tended to make enemies effortlessly, just by being me, or, after I got into politics, because of the positions I took and the changes I tried to make." Mother, too, has a knack for making enemies, and she, too, unfairly suffers for it in her career--as when certain unspecified "problems with a couple of her operations" later derail her anaesthesiology practice. Whatever. "High school was a great ride." In the junior class play, Clinton performs a scene that involves kissing "a tall, attractive girl" named Cindy Arnold. Otherwise though, he isn't at this point doing "bad things"--nothing "beyond petting with girls,"at any rate.