Brian Matuszak column: The day that Clinton felt Brian's pain, along with his sweaty palm

So we all have a killer Brush With Greatness story that we break out whenever we want to impress someone. We'll sit back and relate that special moment when we found ourselves breathing the same air as someone who is generally regarded as being m...

Brian Matuszak
Brian Matuszak

So we all have a killer Brush With Greatness story that we break out whenever we want to impress someone. We'll sit back and relate that special moment when we found ourselves breathing the same air as someone who is generally regarded as being more "famous" than us.

For you, this story probably involves a local celebrity -- maybe your kitty goes to the same vet as Laura Kennedy's kitty, or you bumped into George Kessler inside Spencer's Gifts at the mall, in the back of the store near the posters -- but for me, my story is an honest-to-gosh-is-that-who-I-think-it-is-IT-IS! moment. And it happened when Bill Clinton came to


I thought of my Presidential Brush after viewing Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention last week. (After viewing the Republican National Convention, the only thought I had was that I shouldn't waste my vote on a piece of Clint Eastwood's furniture. And that scripts are important.)

It was November of 1994 and I was "between gigs," a fancy way of saying that the ad agency where I had been previously employed didn't need me anymore and my days as a Creative Services guy at Channel 6 had yet to start up. Unfortunately, even when your employment status is "between gigs," the bills are still "full-time," and so I took a temporary job selling advertising space in those fancy Visit Duluth summer brochures. It was pretty sweet. All I had to do was re-up people who had purchased ads the year before, which left me lots of time to do other important stuff, like crossword puzzles and drinking bucketloads of Carnation Instant Breakfast.


By November, most of the brochure was wrapped up so I had even more free time to do things like ... oh, I don't know ... say, meet the President of the United States!

See, Bill Clinton was in town to stump for senatorial candidate Ann Wynia, and although it didn't do her any good, I got to shake the president's hand, so it worked out for me. Plus, it was pretty cool to have an American President back in this neck of the woods. Carter was here in the late '70s, Kennedy was here right before that awful day in '63, but, other than a completely fictional visit by Taft in 1912, when he got stuck in the Aerial Lift Bridge after a Park Point Smelt Fry, we hadn't had many visits by the commander in chief.

As I was getting ready for "work" that morning, I heard on the radio that Clinton and crew, including Duluth Mayor Gary Doty, would be jogging somewhere on Skyline Parkway. We live just down from Skyline in West Duluth, so I figured I would drive by there, just to see if maybe I'd catch a glimpse of our mayor gasping alongside the leader of the free world. I parked at a nearby overlook and walked down Skyline a bit, but didn't see anything. As I turned to go back to my car, a surge of black sedans came around the corner in front of me, followed by a pack of joggers and an entire cavalcade of media vans and trucks.

I didn't want to look suspicious, so I decided to stand where I was, alone on the side of the road with my hands in my pockets. One Secret Service jogger patted his chest as he went by, which I assumed was the universal "I'm packing heat" gesture, although he could have been trying to smack-start his heart after spending a couple hours outside in a frigid, Minnesota morning. Right after that came the herd of local politicians trying to keep up with the Jogger in Chief, President Bill Clinton. He kind of waved at me as he passed on by, and I remember thinking "Well, now I have a pretty good story to tell people." And, if it had ended there, it would have been a pretty good story. But it didn't, and so I have a pretty GREAT story!

The joggers finished their jaunt a little ways down the road from where I was standing, which also happened to be right where I had parked my car. As I walked back, I noticed a couple of other local folks who had the same idea I had that morning and were parked next to me. Our small group of presidential gawkers stood and watched Clinton chatting with the others ("Good joggin' there, Gar', old buddy. Your hair almost moved.") while one of those big, black sedans maneuvered into a position to whisk him away. As he was being ushered toward the car, he suddenly veered over toward us, telling the Secret Service guys, "I'm gonna go talk to these folks over here."

Before I knew it, I had President Bill Clinton just inches away from me, ready to share my pain! It happened so fast, the only thing I could think to say came out in a meek squeak.

"Uh, thanks for, um, coming to Duluth, Mr. President."

He looked me straight in the eye, squeezed my right hand, and I may even have seen a slight lip quiver.


"It was my pleasure."

And then he was gone. Knowing what we know now about where that hand had been, I probably should have immediately disinfected it, but instead I ran to "work" and unspooled my Brush With Presidential Greatness Story for the first of what has been many hundreds of times.

Not too long after that, I started working at Channel 6 and remembered that their news van had been in that gaggle of media vehicles that day. I looked through their footage and sure enough, there was my moment, captured on grainy videotape for all to admire and giggle at. I pulled a still photo off of that tape and that's the picture that accompanies this column.

When I watched the entire exchange play out, I realized that I looked even goofier than I imagined. Clinton even puts his hand to his head after shaking my hand, as if to say, "Why do I get all the Brushes With Morons?" But I'm used to that look.

It's the same look George Kessler gave me when I purchased the Justin Bieber poster for him at Spencer's.

Brian Matuszak is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre, founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, and clings to the fact that he doesn't look as silly as that guy right behind him in the Clinton photo.

Matuszak and Clinton
The Great Clinton-Matuszak Skyline Summit of 1994.

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