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WE TOUCHED CLAYTON S CLOTHES!!!!!
Raleigh is a lovely city. There’s a very nice touch less car wash close to the RBC Center and the bathrooms at Whole Foods market are extremely sanitary. After visiting these two landmarks, we could see why Clay is so fond of his hometown.
Breathing became increasingly difficult as we neared the door to our suite. We presented our tickets with shaky hands and proceeded to have great difficulty putting on our electric pink wristbands. Repeated attempts taught us that it helps to peel the backing off the sticky end first.
We surveyed our domain and quickly realized our suite had no restroom. It wouldn’t be prudent to greet Clay with big wet spots on our pants (again), so we decided to take it easy on the beverages. A small bottle of water would suffice.
The suite began to fill up with people wearing hockey jerseys featuring AIKEN 03 on the back and Bubel Aiken Foundation logos on the front, carrying gifts for Clay and sporting wide, excited smiles. We were about to jump out of our skin, so we planted ourselves in Row D, seats 4 and 5 of suite 213.
After much anticipation, the evening s festivities began with the Star Spangled Banner . Clay sounded magnificent, more developed than his Durham Bulls performance and more assured than his World Series performance. Clay performed vocal gymnastics the way Andre Agassi plays tennis: perfection. His pitch and vocal control were impeccable. If his initial performance was any indication, this would be a great night.
During the first period (apparently, there was a hockey game going on in the building), Clay visited Suite 212, the largest of the three suites he d be visiting. We discovered that 15 minutes to meet 100 people is not a great deal of time. We were hopeful that we would receive a little more touchy feely time with Clay than the folks in the first suite, since our suite was considerably smaller with only fifty attendees, but we knew some thought still needed to go into our plan for his foray into our suite. And since we are superior at multi tasking, we were able to plan our strategy AND rubberneck simultaneously!
At the first intermission, Clay skated onto the ice wearing his Hurricanes jersey. He circled the rink several times while singing I Will Carry You , finishing the song at center ice. Danielle was very satisfied that her Skating!Clay! fantasy was fulfilled, but she would have liked to see some wobbly bendy ankles. How dare he be so sure footed on ice skates!
We knew that Clay would be visiting our suite next. Clay s bodyguard, New Jerome, a hulking tank of a man, came by our suite to give us the ground rules. He spoke softly and respectfully to the fans. One picture per person or group, since the multitude of bright flashes was starting to irritate the Tropical Green Pools. Those with cameras on the left, those without on the right. Everyone swarmed to the left. We were bouncing with anticipation. We could see him down the corridor in Suite 211, posing for photos, TOUCHING AND BEING TOUCHED. Soon that would be US! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Danielle began to hyperventilate. Tony said, Breathe for me, while the people standing around us just smiled and said, Oh. Oh. She s got it bad.
We realized that he would not be signing autographs, so we put our cds away to remain unencumbered by unnecessary baggage. Our next thought was positioning. We had to maintain the premium sight line and still get our picture with Clay. We moved to the edge of the stairs within the suite and waited.
We should note that this decision was not made willy nilly. Oh no. Many a discussion had taken place prior to the event regarding optimum positioning. Tony felt the end of the line would be most desirable, since we could observe Clay for the most amount of time and collect ourselves slightly before meeting him. Danielle was nervous that being at the end of the line might jeopardize our chances of meeting him at all, in the event that they might need to whisk him away in preparation for his next performance. He might need a Chloraseptic throat spritz or a Ricola lozenge before each song! No, the end of the line was too risky. Danielle wanted to barricade the doorway so she could jump on him and maul him like one of Siegfried and Roy s tigers the moment he entered the suite, but Tony didn t think that would be wise. Entertaining, yes. Wise, no. So, we agreed that the middle of the line would be our best bet.
And then, it happened. In. Walked. Clay.
His bodyguard swept him into the room, but Clay appeared unfettered by this routine. He strolled in smiling and greeting people casually and situated himself at the base of the staircase that led from the hospitality area of the suite to the seats. Once comfortable, Clay s first words were
It was clear he wanted to spend the entire meet and greet time with us, but we agreed he should have his photograph taken with some of the other charitable souls in the room. We re so generous that way. So we waited. Three feet away. And watched.
Halfway through the line, we jumped into the fray. This was it. The moment we had been planning and discussing for the last week. What to say? What to say? What does one say to a man who has honestly and truly impacted one s life in unimaginable ways? Our friends insisted that we tell Clay the tale of how we met on the purple pages. Teacher!Danielle! wanted to thank him for inspiring her to be a better teacher and for the incredible work he does to enrich the lives of children, particularly those with special needs. Should Tony give him his amazing DVDs and thank Clay for providing him with the opportunity of discovering new technical challenges and creating his masterpiece of a tribute? Would we congratulate him on his awards, his record sales, his graduation? No. Bossy!Danielle! marched right up to Clay, and in true Shoe Whore style, announced, I LOVE YOUR SHOES!
Well, thank you very much! was his response. There may have been a cliggle. More likely, a look of utter confusion. Perhaps fear.
Before Clay could shoot New Jerome the I think we may have a stalker here look, Danielle grabbed Clay around the waist and drew him into her body. She was holding on the way Rose and Jack gripped the bars at the helm of the Titanic as it plunged into the Atlantic. Holding on for dear life. Her fingers palpated the soft skin under the black pinstriped shirt with French cuffs while Tony fought to get in the frame of the picture. He managed to get his arm around Clay s shoulder, but he had to duck and lean in since Amoeba!Danielle! was trying out her new osmosis moves and engulfing Clayton Aiken.
As Danielle moved back to our primo vantage point, Tony took full advantage of the opportunity before him. He stuck out his right hand and shook hands with Clay. Clay gave a firm, confident handshake and flashed his perfect smile.
Clay took his final pictures with the rest of the group. At one point, when a group of women and the usher taking their picture didn t realize the flash hadn t gone off, Clay hollered, Wait! Wait! and insisted that the usher take a second photo for those fans. How cool is he? His smile was as radiant and sincere in the last photo as it was in the first.
His bodyguard guided him out of the room and the meet and greet was over.
At the second intermission (Carolina and Dallas were still playing hockey what do you know?!), Clay rose above the crowd on a hydraulic lift. Don t Save It All for Christmas Day was followed by a phenomenal performance of The Way . His voice was perfect and he commands the audience, even when he s not moving across the stage with the Hoppy!Feet! we all know and love. A few moments later, Clay returned to sing Invisible, Even though he was in a tight space instead of a stage, he managed to perform Invisible with gusto, holding out the microphone and encouraging the audience to sing along while his name scrolled across the marquee around him in shimmering lights.
The crowd cheered and the suites sighed. We planned to hear two songs that evening,
but we never expected a five song mini concert!
Apparently the stars were in perfect alignment last Monday night when Danielle found the eBay auction for tickets to the Hurricanes game in Clay s hometown and Tony clicked the Buy It Now button. We agreed that we would have paid triple the cost of the tickets to replay the entire event exactly as it had occurred. Well, maybe for triple the price there ought to be a pantsing, at least.