PARIS—Vice-President Al Gore felt a deep, all-consuming sense of worthlessness Monday, when, after months of careful diplomatic networking, he was stood up by French officials who were supposed to meet him to discuss vital foreign trade issues.
"I'm pretty sure the minister's office said two o'clock," the vice-president said, speaking from his empty table. "I wrote it down."
Gore, who was scheduled to meet with the French minister of trade, André Picallard, and a delegation of leading French economists at Paris' posh Grande Hotel restaurant at 2 p.m., waited alone for more than four hours, sources close to the maître d' said.
Not until restaurant employees began placing chairs on tables and vacuuming the famed 250-year-old eatery's fine rugs did Gore finally give up, shaking his head in a desultory manner as he exited the establishment.
"They could have at least called," Gore was overheard mumbling as he left the restaurant and began the long walk back to Air Force Two in the rain, alone.
A placemat was later discovered where Gore had been sitting, covered in "squiggly little doodles" and the words "Everybody Hates Me" in tiny, shaking handwriting.
"One can easily imagine what was going through the vice-president's head as, over and over, waiters asked him if he was ready to order," Georgetown University political science professor Walter C. Ayers said. "As he pathetically requested basket after basket of bread, having his water glass refilled time after time, he surely must have been thinking, 'Those French officials don't even want to talk to me. Nobody really cares about me at all.'"
Particularly humiliating was an incident in which a group of foreign dignitaries waved from across the room, causing Gore to stand up and extend a handshake, only to realize that they were actually waving to a group of Algerian dignitaries seated at a table behind him.
"They probably just got the address mixed up," Gore was overheard saying to a busboy. "Paris can be a hard city to find your way around in, right?" The busboy did not speak English and was unable to respond.
White House officials were quick to put the incident into perspective.
"I don't feel that what happened at that restaurant says anything about Al Gore's leadership capabilities. Nor does it in any way damage his standing as the leading candidate for the presidency in 2000. Al Gore is as vital and dynamic a political candidate as ever," said Andrew Conner, a White House staffer whose entire job consists of telling the press that Gore is a vital and dynamic political candidate.
"Gore is the man to lead America into the 21st... Oh, what's the use?" Conner added, before trailing off and shutting the door to his office with a labored sigh.
"It is safe to assume that Vice-President Gore's self-esteem hit a low point during those four long, lonely hours, as he sat there with no one to talk to, occasionally eating the complimentary crackers, toying with the artificial sweetener packets and checking his watch every few seconds," Rep. Jonathan Diedricks (R-FL) said. "Why wouldn't he? It's only natural to feel an all-consuming sense of one's own worthlessness after such a humiliating rejection as this."
President Clinton personally reassured Gore upon the vice-president's return to Washington late Monday. "There's plenty of other diplomatic fish in the sea, sport," Clinton told Gore as the two shared a carton of ice cream and a good cry.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta moved quickly to restore Gore's confidence as well, telling him that he "has to just get right back up in the saddle and give it the old Al Gore try." Panetta also set up a hastily arranged summit with a friend of the Zimbabwean ambassador's sister.
Gore, however, declined the offer. "I'm thinking that maybe I want to take a little time off from negotiating for a while," he told reporters at a press conference Tuesday. "You know, sometimes 'alone' is a really good place to be."
Though the assembled media smiled and nodded sympathetically during Gore's remarks, the majority were just trying to save face. "We didn't want to hurt his feelings," said NBC Nightly News reporter Cynthia Hayworth. "He looked so sad up there behind his little podium—like a hound dog left out in the rain, a hound dog nobody loves or wants."
Gore is spending the next several days at his mother's house, White House staffers said.
The vice-president is also said to be "working on a poem for his diary."
Tipper Gore refused to comment on the incident, saying she had "more important things to do than worry about Al's constant little crises."