Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Years in the Second White House

Nobody was more surprised than I when I got a call from the White House asking if I wanted to work for the President. For one thing, I hadn’t submitted an application.
“How did you get my name and phone number?” I said.
“The President has his sources.”
“What would I be doing?”
“Hanging out in the Second White House, or Caddyshack.” Turns out there’s a SECOND White House on the White House grounds. It’s painted with special invisible paint so you can’t see it on Google’s satellite photos. But if you could see it, you’d see it was white and cute. “The job description is ‘hanging out.’?” I asked.
“Yes, you hang out like a NORAD pilot or a fireman, waiting to scramble your jets, You know: Where’s the fire?! You’ll be awaiting the President’s summons. It may come often or never. Probably never, as the President is a very busy man.”
“Who are you?”
“You don’t need to know my real name. I used to be a dancer. I was trained at Sarah Lawrence in their dance department, as was the White House Chief of Staff, Rahv Emmanuel. You can call me Tiny Dancer. That’s what the Secret Service calls me.”
“What should I call Rahv Emmanuel?”
“He’s Angry Dancer. But he’s even busier, and maybe more important, than the President. So it’s unlikely you’ll ever have the honor of speaking directly to him.”
“Let me get this straight: I’m more likely to speak directly to the President than I am to Angry Dancer?”
“That’s right.”
“Can I read or watch TV or listen to talking books while I’m awaiting the President’s summons?”
“Of course. Or you can exercise. The Caddyshack has a full gym. People on the 2nd White House staff tend to get into phenomenal shape. For one thing, the President has a whole basketball team in there, just waiting to play pickup games.”
“There’s a basketball court in the Caddyshack?”
“You betcha. Glass backboards and hardwood floors. It’s NBA quality.”
“Wow. Will I get to use it?”
“Yes, so long as the President isn’t on it. We don’t want you interfering with his games.”
“Maybe I could join the pickup games.”
“Nope. We know your game. You’re too old and rusty and out of shape. You’d embarrass yourself out there, and Barry doesn’t want anybody doing that. Not even Dick Cheney. Those guys don’t kid around. Remember, the Big Kahuna played varsity hoops for Occidental.”
“Big Kahuna?”
“That’s the President’s Secret Service handle.”
“No it isn’t. It’s Renegade.”
“He has more than one. For the purposes of the Caddyshack, it’s Big Kahuna.”
“What would I be doing besides waiting around for his summons?”
“Keeping him company, hanging out with him. He heard you were a good guy.”
“He heard right. I am. What will I be paid?”
“Twice what you’re making now.”
“That’s still not much.”
“But think about it. You’ll be on the White House staff. Some day you’ll be able to publish your memoirs. That’ll be at least a six figure deal. And medical and dental are superb for White House employees.”
“Will you help me find housing?”
“The White House has already lined up a cute little brick two-storey just across the Potomac in Arlington for you. It’s in a very good school district.”
“I don’t have any kids.”
“We know. But your value on the dating market will go WAY up once you join the staff. Some divorcee with kids may well latch onto to you, if only for your medical benefits.”
“How can I say no?”
“You can’t. Nobody dares say no.”
* * * *
The first few days at the Second White House were paradise. Alternating between the treadmill and the basketball court and the uneven parallel bars, I started to get into the best shape I’ve been in in 20 years. My basketball game started to come around. I played more and more minutes with the President’s squad as my waist trimmed down. But nobody asked me to join in when The Big Kahuna dropped by for a game, as he did 3 or 4 times a week. And he never spoke to me, either. That kinda hurt. But I reminded myself I hadn’t been hired to play hoops with him in the first place.

I found myself wishing I knew exactly which part of my personality the President had heard about. I mean, I can be charming, but I’m not the most sociable guy in the world. Did he like it that I was well read? Maybe that was it. He had majored in English and I was an English professor. But I taught at a community college and he had his pick of the most prestigious professors in the world. It didn’t quite make sense. What part of myself, I wondered, should I be developing and preparing so I could be the best pal I could for him when I finally got my summons? I phoned Tiny Dancer and asked.
“Don’t bother to do homework for your summons,” she said. “Just hang loose. You’ve already spent a lifetime preparing to be Barry’s homey.”
“I have?!”
“Believe it,” she said, and hung up.
So I went back to hanging out. There were some artisanal gardeners who liked to watch Animal Planet when they weren’t working in Michelle’s organic garden, but I couldn’t get with that. It seemed wrong, somehow, to watch TV while I was drawing down government money. I joined the Second White House’s yoga classes. Sometimes I’d attend two or three a day. Jasmine, a tall skinny Aussie, one of the teachers, warned me against this, saying I might end up with Yoga toe, or downward dog back, or one of a hundred other over-use ailments which afflict yoga addicts. So I backed off to one 90 minute class a day. By this time my waist was down from 40 inches to 34, where it hadn’t been since the first Bush Administration. And there was a lovely girl who always seemed to have her mat near mine. I figured I didn’t have a chance with her. Women that young and pretty always had at least one boyfriend. They didn’t need banged up middleaged white guys almost old enough to be their fathers.
But she was very sweet to me. She probably found me safe and unthreatening, like a stuffed panda. Turns out she wasn’t exactly sure why she had been hired, either. “I’ve got a graduate degree in Medieval Art History from Yale. I wrote my thesis on Flemish tapestries.”
“Maybe Michelle eventually plans to buy some Flemish tapestries for the White House.”
“I thought about that. And immediately dismissed the thought. They would clash with everything else in the place. They’re very un-American. Anyhow, Michelle keeps her backup people in the Third White House, with the exception of the gardeners, of course.”
“There’s a Third White House?”
“Yes, it’s painted with invisible paint, too. But if you could see it, you’d see it was painted very brightly in green, black, and red.”
“Wow. That doesn’t sound good.”
“It has trim in the national colors of Trinidad-Tobago.”
“Which are?”
“I dunno. We can google up the colors up if you like. I heard they clash with the black liberation colors of the roof and walls. But who knows? As I say, nobody’s actually SEEN the place because it’s invisible.”
“That’s probably a good thing. Can you imagine what Sean Hannity would say if he had pictures of the Third White House? Why, the color scheme alone might be enough to return the GOP to power.” I looked into Suzi’s eyes. They were deep violet, like the young Liz Taylor’s before hers got all bloodshot. I realized I was falling in love with her. I was about to say something when she jumped in with: “Don’t say it. I know what you want to say and we’ll both regret it if you do. I already have a boyfriend. An age appropriate boyfriend with a solid income and a bright future. He’s a stallion in bed. And I’ve got a couple lovers on the side, as well. One’s a rockstar. The other’s a rapper. The only reason I’m even talking to you is because we share the strange, exalted, private world of this Second White House. We’re around each other every day, and I feel very comfortable with you, like I would with a golden retriever or a basement barcalounger.”
“Wow,” I said. “You really cut to the chase.”
“Men come on to me all the time. I’ve had a lot of practice drawing boundaries. If I didn’t, my life would be impossible.”
“Maybe you’re around here because you’re so pretty and appealing and refined. Maybe your presence helps the general morale in the Caddyshack.”
“That thought has occurred to me, as well. But I’m so bright and hardworking there surely has to be more for me than just being a high class USO girl.” Her eyes welled up with tears. I dared to give her a comforting hug. She didn’t wriggle out of my grasp. “I’m only letting you do this because I feel safe with you. You’re like a eunuch. You can never hope to have sex with me, even though I’ve already told you I’m unfaithful to my studly boyfriend with a couple other men. And by the way, I’m skilled in the tantric arts.”
All I could say was “Damn.” Just then my phone rang. I had a little red mobile phone which had only one purpose: taking summons from the White House. “This is Tiny Dancer,” the voice said, “Big Kahuna wants to go for a burger at Five Friends. Are you ready to rumble?”
“Yes I am,” I said, and she hung up. “I have to go get a burger with Barry,” I told Suzi. She looked at me with such admiration that I was almost sure that she might, eventually, be willing to sleep with me after all. I started wondering if I could keep up with her youthful, tireless body and her tantric skills. The answer was clear: hell no. I hoped she would forgive an old man his inadequacies. No doubt her expectations would be low. And there was always Cyalis. Still, for her, accustomed as she was to tussles with rough boiz, it might be more like going to bed with a plush. A very large plush.
Just then the President, with a full retinue of Secret Servicemen and press, appeared. As soon as we shook hands, I felt as if we had been best pals for years. “You ready to rumble, Panda Daddy?” he grinned. Panda Daddy, as you might have guessed, was my Second White House Secret Service handle.
I sat in the backseat of Big Kahuna’s limo, between him and Motormouth, the Vice President. We whizzed through the streets, sirens shrieking.
“You’re probably wondering why you’re my burger buddy,” said Barry. I shook my head no. “I just had an instinct about you as soon as Angry Dancer showed me your file.” I had a file. Double wow. I mean, I always knew I must have a file. Everybody at the White Houses has a file. But now I was wondering if they knew about that bust in Panama City. Of course they did. And somehow it was all right.
The burgers were fantastic. Everything tastes better when you’re in the presence of the Big Kahuna. We talked about David Foster Wallace’s suicide. “A great loss,” said the President, biting into a juicy cheeseburger. “You’ve got time to read Wallace?!” I said. “I can’t wait to read his last novel. The one they’re going to publish posthumously.” I just shook my head. Was there NOTHING this paragon couldn’t do, couldn’t find time to enjoy?
“Did you enjoy Joe Turner’s Come and Gone?” I asked as I squeezed catsup on our shared fries. “You like salt on your fries?”
“What are Freedom Fries without salt?” he grinned. “Yeah, the play was great. Roger Robinson, the lead, is amazing. He got a Tony for the performance, you know.”
“So I hear.”
“You gotta go!”
“Well, it’s hard to tear myself away from the Caddyshack.”
“Yup, you’ve always got to hang close to the Shack. Suzi makes it a little easier to pass the time, eh?”
“The whole job is a joy, Mr. President.” We munched away. Katie Couric approached me with a mike. “Who are you?” she said. “Nobody, really,” I grinned. I hoped my teeth weren’t covered with half chewed fries. “Just an old pal of Barry’s.” Vice President Motormouth started to say something but the Big Kahuna shushed him. I noticed nobody had bought him burgers and fries. He had nothing, so I offered him a few of ours. The President shook his finger no. “Biden’s on a diet. Don’t let him beg any of this off you. If you feed him, you may harm him.” Biden gave me a very sad look, as if he were a prisoner behind bars with a life sentence. I tried to look back sympathetically, but he was kinda creepy and I quickly looked away.
On the ride back to the White Houses I was again seated between Barry and Biden. This time Biden was so downcast he didn’t even TRY to talk. I felt incredibly close to the Big Kahuna, as if we were twins who had been separated at birth. I started to think about hoops, about how much fun it would be to join him on the court. He gave me a cool look, as if he were reading my thoughts. “Don’t even go there,” he said. “You still don’t have the game. You’d be an embarrassment.” Damn, that word again. “You’d get in the way. I used to play college ball.”
“You haven’t seen my hook. I’ve been working on a mini-skyhook.”
“I heard about your skyhooklet. It’s not ready.” He got on a phone and started to talk to Bernanke about the bank bailout. Just like that he was a million miles away. I feared I had blown it. How could I have been such an ass……just when things were better than perfect?!
I was almost as downcast as Biden when I returned to the Caddyshack. “Things didn’t go so well?” said Suzi. “You not a beefeater?”
“The burgers were super,” I said. “Best ever. But he frosted over when I asked about joining the b-ball game.”
“Uh oh,” she said. “You may be out of a job, old man.” Suddenly Suzi, too, was almost a million miles away. She was looking at me with whole new eyes, as if I would soon be gone. In a snap I had become just another tiresome old man. The horrible thing was, I loved her and wanted her more than ever. She drifted away from me, clearly wanted to put distance between us, and I didn’t see her again until the next day’s yoga class.
“You’re still here,” she grinned. On the other side of the yoga studio, a couple gardeners, livid with mat rage, were coming to blows. “That’s the trouble with yoga,” she said. “Everybody’s got to get in on the fun.” It was a joy to share a joke with her. I didn’t delude myself that I still had a chance with her, but at least she didn’t seem a million miles away. I was back to being her eunuch friend.
“So you think maybe I won’t be fired after all?”
“The jury’s out,” she said. “For sure you’re on probation.”
“I’m going to keep working on my game and keep my big yap shut. I understand my place, if there’s still to be one, in this universe.” Suzi gave me a gorgeous grin. I realized that she had been hired by Angry Dancer expressly to keep ME company. She realized it in the same instant. If I was ever fired, she would be, too. She was utterly dependent on me.
“As you go, so go I,” she said. Her eyes were incredibly large and luminous. I could see tiny gold flecks in her violet pupils. I knew it was going to be a wonderful eight years indeed.