Friday, November 5, 2010
Showdown on Pennsylvania Ave.
“Mr. Millsaps, this is Bill Clinton. Wassup, buddy?”
This was the second time in the past week I’d been called by an American president and I was thinking nobody’s going to believe this. I might as well claim I was called by Kennedy and Nixon.
“Wassup, Mr. President.”
“You ready to have our crossword showdown?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“How about next Monday at 1 p.m.? Some Secret Service guys will be in Mansfield to pick you up at 8:30.”
“Well, I’m afraid I’m striking a jury in an armed robbery case Monday.”
He laughs. “I think we can get that put off. Your client have a bond he can make?”
“O.K., we’ll fix that too. Don’t want your client spending extra time in jail ‘cause you made some outrageous claim in a résumé, now do we?”
“Mr. President, if you don’t mind my asking, why are you doing this? What’s in it for you?”
“I’m doing it because George H. W. Bush asked me to. He’s been such a good sport about me making him a one-termer I just couldn’t say no. And the fact of the matter is this is a win-win situation. If you win you get the job, and you gotta be better’n anybody Junior would pick on his own. If I win that’ll be nice ‘cause I like winning, and either way we keep our fearless leader busy a while on something where he can’t do nearly as much harm as he does when left unsupervised.”
“I see your point. I’ll see you next Monday, I guess”
“I’m taking you down, buddy.”
After we hung up I for the first time wondered what I’d gotten myself into. I was about to make a fool of myself, which I’m used to but not on such a large stage. I mean the man is a Rhodes’ scholar. He’s probably pretty good with puzzles.
Monday at 12:30 I’m escorted into the Oval Office where President Bush gets up from his desk and pumps my hand.
“Mr. Millstead, the puzzle man, hope ye don’t mind we gotcha here a little early. We got a little pre-game strategy to work on. Now this’ll be your spot rycheer.”
He ushers me to a high-backed armchair, and when I’m seated says, “Now this little ear plug thing here pulls right outa the chair on the side Slick Willie caint see, and if ye run into any trouble, the Vice President is just outside the door with a camera on your puzzle. He’ll have a dictionary, an atlas and Google right there widdem.”
“Mr. President, with all due respect,” I say, getting up, “Isn’t the point here to see whether or not I can actually beat President Clinton?”
“Well dang Millhouse, I see ye point. Well then ye probably not gonna like…Well never mind. It’s just that you’re my boy here and I like winning. George W. Bush is a winner.
“Can I getcha some coffee or ice tea?”
It’s at this point that President Clinton enters followed by Al Gore and a snarling man on all fours who has Mr. Gore’s pant leg in his teeth and is shaking it furiously.
“Get this thing offa me,” Gore shrieks.
“Down Cheney, down,” the president says, grabbing him by the collar. “Ye gonna blow ye pacemaker.”
He gets the vice-president out the door, and turns to the three of us. “Sorry boys, Dick’s just doin’ his job; he just has a little trouble sometimes knowin’ what is and what ain’t an attack dog sicheashun…What are you doin’ here anyway Gore?”
“I’m here as an observer to make sure you don’t cheat. I know you’ll steal this thing if you can.”
“Steal it huh? Well talkin’ bout stealin’ stuff, I mona check’n see if somebody done stole the Goodyear Blimp, ‘cause it looks like ye done swallered it since the last time I seen ye. I got my doubts ‘bout global warmin,’ but obesity is real son.”
Mr. Gore takes a step toward the president before Clinton stops him with a hand on the chest.
“Now, now, just calm down Al. He’s just making a joke instead of being one for a change. Let’s all smoke us a cigar and have some fun and games here.”
He produces a golden case which opens to reveal eight H. Upmann Churchills and holds it out to me, but before I can accept the president has his own humidor open saying, “Better take one a mine Millstop. Ye don’t know where them’s been.”
“Mine’s better,” Clinton says.
“Yeah. Well ye probly got yours from Feedel Castro personally.”
While they’re bickering I take two of each, because, well, I can.
Meanwhile Mr. Gore has stepped between them.
“Now there’ll be no smoking. Air quality’s bad enough as it is. You’re setting a bad example for the American people. Have you read the reports out of - -.”
“Shut up, Al,” his former boss interjects, “and smoke your cigar. It’s that kinda namby-pamby-mama’s-boy attitude that made the troglodyte here president instead of you.”
“Ye think you’re so smart Bill Clinton. Ye think ye can use big words and I won’t know you’re makin fun a me. Well I been to college too, smarty pants, and I like the Troggs as well as the next fella. ‘Wild Thang. Ye make my heart sang. Ye make everthang groovy’.”
The president is playing air guitar when the First Lady comes in carrying a tray with coffee, tea, Kool-Aid and Oreos. “I thought you boys might could use some refreshments.” She smiles sweetly until she notices that we’re all holding large unlit cigars. “I hope ya’ll aren’t planning on smoking those in here.”
She says this to the company at large but she’s glaring at the president who grins and shakes his head, and we all follow suit when she looks our way.
When she’s out the door, the president cracks it a little and looks down the hall, then gives us a grinning thumbs-up, whereupon we all sit down and light up.
Next week: Let the Games Begin (And I haven’t forgotten the Ozark woman, she’s just been delayed.)