August 12, 2002
Rooftop of the CNN Center
Billy, Leigh, and I are standing in silence on the rooftop. Billy’s wearing the same thistle hoodie he wore the first time we met. His hands are in its front pocket. Leigh is standing beside him, her arms woven around one of his arms and her head on his shoulder. It’s a strange, long, and awkward silence.
BILLY: I think this is the longest we’ve ever gone, uh, not saying something.
ME: Yeah, I don’t really do silence. It makes me uncomfortable.
Leigh laughs politely.
ME: I’ve just been trying to figure out what to say. I’ve . . . I guess I’ve decided that what you did, squaring off with Rumsfeld like that, was most incredible, brave, and bold thing you could have done . . . or the dumbest.
Billy laughs knowingly, as if in agreement. I hand him the credit card.
ME: And I’ve tried to figure out what I should say or if I should say anything at all and . . . I remember this time. It was right before a show. I like to greet the audience and if we have time, do a little Q & A. This girl was sitting on the front row and when I said I’d open the floor to some questions, her hand shot straight up. I pointed to her and she asked, “how is it you always know exactly what to say? You have so many different people come on this show. Actors, musicians, writers, and politicians. Yet you always seem to know exactly what needs to be said and you always say just the right thing. How do you do it?” And, of course, I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “What goes on inside my head isn’t choosing between a list of possible things to say. I don’t organize them and categorize them from ‘best thing to say’ to ‘worst thing to say.’ Usually I just say the first thing that pops into my head and see where that takes me.”
ME: It’s what keeps me honest.
BILLY: It’s what makes you “the voice of our generation.”
I laugh at Billy’s reference. Back in 2000, Time Magazine featured me on the cover, looking bemused. Underneath me, in bold block letters was “The Voice of the Generation.”
BILLY: That’s why people like you. You say the things they want to say. You ask the questions they want to ask.
ME: So what are you going to do?
BILLY: The first thing that pops into my head.
ME: And you’re going with him, I suppose.
LEIGH: Of course!
ME: Another P.A. bites the dust. Look me up if you ever need a job.
BILLY: Shall we shove off?
Leigh climbs onto Billy’s back.
LEIGH: Up, up, and away!
BILLY: Okay, that’s the last time you get to say that.
LEIGH: It never gets old, though!
BILLY: It does and it has.
Leigh laughs and slaps Billy’s butt.
Billy laughs and soars into the sky. This time, they disappear over the horizon.