Monday, February 16, 2009

Happy Presidents Day

Happy Presidents Day

Here's a list of the United States presidents and first ladies that I've seen, along with the circumstances. I've given each encounter a numerical grade based on nothing more than the general vibe of the experience.

Let's start with the most recent president. In February of '08 I saw Barack Obama when he spoke at Reunion Arena in Dallas. This was the infamous appearance where he got applause for blowing his nose. Having re-read my post about the event, I'm proud to say that I didn't get suckered in, although I had a lot of respect for his rhetorical skills. I'm also proud that I contributed $12.50 to help him defeat She Whose Name Is Not Spoken in the Democrat primary. But Godalmighty, he's an economic disaster.

Score: 7

I used to manage the Bookstop store at Preston & Forest in Dallas. (We were bought out by Barnes & Noble, who eventually closed all the locations or converted them to B&N stores.) This store was in the same shopping center where one-time presidential candidate Ross Perot got his infamous $10.00 haircuts. In 1992, Perot was often in our store saying things like "Ahm lookin' fer yer books on guvment waste !" We'd go find whatever he was looking for, and two nights later the little man would be quoting the books on television. We were drunk with power.

Another celebrity of sorts often came into the same store to kill time. George W. Bush was then owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team, and he often came in the store and spent a lot of time in the History, Current Events, and Biography sections. He always bought more than one book. You can say a lot of things about the man, but illiterate he's not. In person, he's a really nice guy. We had more than one conversation about how 3rd baseman Steve Buechele's batting average was improving. Somewhere in my house I've got an autographed GW Bush business card that I've been trying to find for about 10 years.

Score: 9

I've never seen the current Secretary Of State, or her husband.

Score: 10 (out of gratitude)

The guy before The Clintons was George H.W. Bush. I saw him throw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers baseball game in 1991. Papa Bush was captain of the Yale baseball team, and played first base. But the pitch he threw made it only 2/3rds of the way to home plate before bouncing in the dirt.

Score: 4

My mother went to high school in Merigold, Mississippi, and graduated in a senior class of maybe 7 people. One of these 7 was a guy named Larry Speakes. After running a few newspapers, Larry became press secretary for senator James Eastland, and then worked his way up to press secretary for president Ronald Reagan.

Larry's now known for two quotes: "I would dodge, not lie, in the national interest," and "Those who talk don't know what is going on and those who know what is going on won't talk."

In 1981 or 82, my father bought a used Winnebago motor home for about $2,500.00
That was about $2,000.00 more than it was worth. We worked on it for a few weeks, and decided to take it on a shakedown cruise.
From Mississippi to Washington D.C.
My mother made arrangements with Larry for us to get a private tour of the White House. My father's farm co-op gave us a 50-pound bag of Mississippi Delta rice to take to the Reagans. Larry's father was still the town banker in Merigold, and he gave us two fishing poles that he wanted to give his grandsons as birthday presents.

So my parents, two sisters, brother and I drove a ramshackle motor home all the way to the White House parking lot, got out of it with a 50-pound bag of rice and two fishing poles, went through security, and carried the stuff inside. We didn't get to go into the Oval Office, but Larry took us to the press briefing room where they have all the news conferences. Somewhere there's a picture of me behind the podium looking very un-presidential.

We got to see Reagan's helicopter land in the back yard of the White House. He was a very tall, very healthy looking man. The helicopter prop wash was blowing everyone's hair all over the place, but Reagan's didn't budge. He waved at us. I don't know if Nancy ever cooked the rice.

Score: 8

Before I worked at Bookstop, I managed stores for a Mom & Pop company called Taylors Books. I once had to help work the door for a Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter book signing when they came to Dallas. They were publicizing their book "Everything to Gain: Making The Most Of The Rest Of Your Life". The line of customers zigzagged down every aisle of the store, out the front door, around the store, and into the back alley. Carter seemed nice enough, and Miss Rosalynn seemed mildly sedated. Their publicist would hand them a book, the former president would write "Jimmy &", and his wife would write "Rosalynn Carter". They could get it done in less than 8 seconds per copy.

We had plenty of copies of the book. Acres of it. But the Carters could only stay for about two hours. Even at 8 seconds per copy, some customers were going to be turned away.

This would have been in 1987 or 1988. Reagan had been in office for most of his second term by then. History had already passed judgement on the Carter presidency, and that judgement wasn't very kind.

The people waiting in line to see JIMMY CARTER OF PLAINS GEORGIA with their own two eyes? They didn't care. These were die-hard democrats, the last of the true believers. Jesus Christ himself was inside Taylors Books, turning water into wine, and I was the one who had to keep letting them in at the rate of only one customer every 8 seconds.

This was my first experience with The Herd Mentality. It wasn't pleasant when Jimmy and Rosalynn left us to do radio and TV appearances.

Score: 2

I never saw Gerald Ford, although I had one supervisor in the early 80's who thought I should go to his wife's clinic.

In April of 1973, my parents got us up in the middle of the night to go to the new Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi. Richard Nixon was going to be guest speaker at the opening of the base. Daddy fired up the station wagon, Mama threw some peanut butter and crackers in the back seat, and we took off.
(This was near the peak of the Watergate scandal, and the only places that Nixon could appear without being booed were military bases in the Deep South.)
When we got to Meridian, we'd eaten all the peanut butter and there was already a mob in the open field that surrounded the podium. The best we could have honestly done for seats was about 75 yards away from the president. But we are not a shy family.
Daddy saw some empty chairs in the second row of the VIP area, and we started plowing toward them. The seats had signs on the backs, reserving them for assorted high ranking officers. My parents STEPPED OVER THE ROPE BARRIERS WITH THE SECRET SERVICE MEN WATCHING, and led us to the chairs.
We got to hear Nixon speak from about 10 yards away. When the speeches were over, my mother was impressed that Pat Nixon got down on her knees at the edge of the stage to shake hands with a woman in a wheelchair.
Daddy's theory on why we got away with it: The Secret Service knew that any family smelling that much like peanut butter couldn't be a threat to the president.

Score: 8

I never got to see LBJ, but I saw his wife Lady Bird get the BRIT International Award of Excellence for her work in preserving Texas plants and wildlife. Fort Worth's own Van Cliburn played the piano and sang for her. It was a great night.

Score: 7

That's all the presidents and first ladies that I've seen. Hope you enjoyed hearing about it. I've enjoyed remembering it.


Dr Ralph said...

WS -- what a great piece. I won't diminish that praise by trying to come up with something clever to add.

AssX said...

Oh how I miss the ramblings of Sensei. I am so glad I found time to log on and hear the teachings of the great one.
I miss you you big ol' hunk of intelligence...hee hee...

Elaine said...

I fell asleep somewhere along the fifth or sixth paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Very nice. Guess it's a good thing peanut butter was not as dangerous in 1973 as it is today.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Doctor, AssX, and LnaLA,

Thanks ! AssX, I hope you land somewhere with your feet on the ground. Or perhaps on the well-padded feature in your icon.

That usually happens when the wine runs out. So after you passed out, what did you think about afterwards?