So they’re back. Fifteen years after leaving us for the Texas Governor’s Mansion, Laura and George W. Bush have returned to Dallas. Not since the Jonas Brothers bought a house in Westlake have so many North Texans gossiped about their new neighbors. When the former leader of the free world moves to town, there’s a lot to talk about. In the following pages, five writers explore how the Bushes will affect our lives in Dallas—from why China might be our new BFF to how to survive an encounter with the Secret Service. Let’s be careful out there.
George Bush is Big in AsiaGeorge Bush’s popularity (yes, popularity) could be a boon for Dallas.
by Wick Allison, illustration by Sean McCabe
Ex-presidents seem to follow a protocol that requires them to disappear for a few years after they leave office. Jimmy Carter was barely heard from after being beat by Ronald Reagan; he only emerged (as an unwelcome gadfly) when Bill Clinton became president. George H.W. Bush also disappeared, only to reappear in public when his son asked him and Clinton to spearhead the tsunami relief effort. To everyone’s amazement, even Bill Clinton stepped off center stage until the call came from the Oval Office.
Considering his low approval ratings, George W. Bush might be expected to be even more low-key than his predecessors. But I would like to argue a different line for the former president to take. While showing proper deference to his successor, he still can have a very positive continuing role where it counts most for the American economy: in India and China.
As it turns out, the former president’s approval ratings abroad are not as low as people might think. In India, Bush is the most popular American president in history. Future historians may look at Iraq as a blip on the screen (an expensive blip, yes, but still a blip) and count the president’s success in courting India as the major foreign policy turnaround of the early 21st century. Because of it, Bush could become one of the most influential and respected ex-presidents in the nation’s history. If he succeeds, Dallas as his operating base will reap many of the benefits.
Bush is not known as a man who indulges in retrospection. So while he suffered many “disappointments” (his word) during his two terms, don’t expect him to dwell on them. He will write the obligatory memoir, but that will be an effort directed at his first priority (after overseeing the fundraising of his presidential library at SMU): repairing his own family’s fortunes. The sale of the Texas Rangers brought him an after-tax return of about $12 million, which no doubt increased substantially in the bull markets during his time in public service. But there’s also little doubt that he, like everybody else, has seen those gains disappear in the market collapse. To begin the repair program, he gave his first post-presidential speech in Calgary in mid-March, probably netting him an easy $150,000, and there’s little doubt more will follow. Even so, Bush is likely to be considerably more circumspect than Bill Clinton in this regard (as in others). The Clintons have reportedly amassed a $100 million fortune since leaving office.
America’s preeminence in the post-Cold War era and its dominance of the global economy have given ex-presidents a prestige abroad that Americans at home cannot really grasp. Bill Clinton has not been shy about using it, which is why so many governments and sovereign funds are donors to his foundation. While Bush is not likely to follow Clinton’s lead in grasping after every available dollar, he could not ask for a better model in forging his post-presidential identity.
Like Jimmy Carter, Clinton established a nonprofit foundation, named it after himself, and began leveraging his name to do good works. His HIV/AIDS initiative—an issue Bush cares deeply about—has provided free, life-saving medicine to 1.4 million people, mostly in Africa. His climate initiative is working with 40 of the world’s largest cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. His foundation is now tackling childhood obesity.
Bush is in a position to do more than promote good causes, important as that is. His strength is in Asia, and he should use Bill Clinton’s model to leverage it.
China, of course, does not encourage public opinion polls. But a recent Los Angeles Times story found indications of affection for Bush everywhere, especially in Beijing, where his image dominates an exhibit hall in the Cultural Palace of Nationalities. Bush extended a hand to China immediately after 9/11 and backed it up with free-trade policies that enabled China to become the third-largest economy in the world. He sealed the deal by attending the 2008 Summer Olympics in the face of criticism over China’s human rights record. No one action could have been more important to the face-conscious, still-insecure Chinese. The Times quotes a retired nuclear scientist: “We will never forget that the leader of the most developed country in the world stood up to pressure to come to the Olympics.”
Like Japan, China is an export-driven economy. Japan’s severe contraction this year shows the risks of building an economy based on other people’s purchasing power and subject to the ups and downs of the energy market. Indeed, China will manage to maintain its growth in 2009 only by pumping a huge stimulus investment into the economy (10 times ours relative to GNP), and even then growth is expected to fall from 9 percent to barely 5 percent.
India, on the other hand, depends little on exports. Its is a service economy. While India, too, has been hit by the global meltdown, growth is only expected to fall to 7 percent from 9 percent last year. (A report by the Federal Reserve of Dallas last August predicted that India’s economic growth would be more resilient because of its mix, and so it has proven to be.)
In the world’s largest democracy and now fastest-growing economy, we have tangible proof of Bush’s popularity. During his time in office, polls in India routinely gave him approval ratings in the high 50s up to the low 70s, even while Indians expressed disapproval of such policy decisions as the Iraq War.
To understand why Bush is so popular, we have to understand a little about India’s recent history. After independence in 1947, India kept three vestiges of its colonial past, one that would serve it very poorly and two that would serve it very well. The first was a state-managed economy, brought to India by English graduates of the London School of Economics and maintained by Indian graduates of the London School of Economics. We know how well that worked. The second vestige, which worked considerably better, was the British educational system. The third was, as every educated Indian’s second tongue, the English language.
Anti-colonialism and a socialist ideology in the first 50 years of the new country’s independence tilted India toward the Soviet Union. In response, American policy makers adopted Pakistan as our proxy in the region, which only pushed India further into Moscow’s open arms. As the Cold War heated up, India became perhaps the most anti-Western country in the world not directly under Soviet or Maoist control.
The Soviet Union was India’s largest trading partner, and when it collapsed, one or two Indian states—which have a great deal of autonomy in the Indian federal system—started gingerly experimenting with loosening business regulation, encouraging entrepreneurship, and allowing free trade. The experiments were so successful that even the orthodox socialists in New Delhi had to wake up. Even so, Indian hostility was so deeply ingrained that, three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Tom Clancy could write a best-selling novel envisioning a scenario in which India would ally with a Japanese business cartel to take down the United States in the Pacific.
With three moves, Bush reversed this decades-old antipathy. First, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he threw the Taliban out of Afghanistan, removing an Islamicist putsch in a nation long friendly with India. Second, he abolished restrictions on India’s access to civilian nuclear technology and nuclear fuel, which was viewed as sign of India’s maturity as a world power. Third, he visited India in 2006 to establish new bilateral relations, a personal touch that was welcomed as a sign of America’s new respect for India’s emergence in the world economy. Meanwhile, the Bush presidency coincided with the rapid rise of outsourcing by American companies, which fueled enormous employment growth in India.
For his willingness to embrace this recalcitrant emerging power and overturn a half-century of American policy toward the subcontinent, Bush is regarded, if not as the father, at least as the rich uncle of the Indian economic miracle.
The former president could do no greater service to his country than to continue to build on the foundation he laid in Indo-American and Sino-American relations. The Bush library complex will include a policy institute that, I hope, will focus on his most notable foreign policy success, the new bilateral relationship with India. By bringing together Asian and American policy elders, business leaders, and opinion leaders, the institute could continue the work he began. Under the president’s leadership, the Bush institute has the opportunity to become the place where conversations between the world’s two fastest-growing economies and the world’s largest economy take place and where bilateral policy questions can be addressed in a less formal, more collegial, and more creative environment than allowed by diplomacy through official channels.
The high regard for Bush in Asia could be a major asset as Dallas becomes an international player. Dallas already has a direct stake in the success of the major Asian economies. China’s shipping containers are unloaded at the Port of Long Beach onto railway cars headed to the Dallas Inland Port for breakup and delivery across the country. Major Dallas employers such as Texas Instruments, Kimberly-Clark, Hewlett-Packard’s service division (formerly EDS), AT&T, and Verizon have made major investments in China and India. Dallas already is blessed with vibrant and prosperous Chinese and Indian communities. (The Chinese have a Dallas daily newspaper; Indians here have their own glossy monthly magazine.)
With social and business connections already so well established in Dallas, the Bush institute is perfectly positioned to strengthen the intellectual and public policy connections that smooth the way for friendly relations and increased trade. That would be a lasting legacy—for George W. Bush, for Asia, for America, and for Dallas.
Write to [email protected].
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 15, 2009
We stated in our story “He’s Big in Asia” that “Ross Perot’s companies have more employees in India than in the United States.” Of Perot Systems’ 23,000-plus employees working across the globe, 65 percent are based in the United States.
Don’t Bum Rush the BushesHow not to get shot by the Secret Service and other tips for living with an ex-president.
by Trey Garrison
The question no one wants to ask out loud about the Bush family moving back to Dallas is: how much of a pain in the oval office is this going to be? How often will their movements and security requirements inconvenience me? We asked around. The generic statement from the U.S. Secret Service about having “as little impact on citizens, neighbors, and neighborhoods as possible” wasn’t very helpful. But their evasiveness is to be expected. It says it right there in the name: secret.
Rob Saliterman, communications director for George W. Bush’s office in Dallas, was likewise oblique. He was only able to say the former president will spend most weekdays in Dallas. Except when he doesn’t.
So D Magazine turned to Ronald Kessler, former writer for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times bestselling author of Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World’s Most Powerful Institution; Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady; A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush; and 14 other books with the word “inside” somewhere in the title. Kessler has had extraordinary access to the Bush White House, the FBI, and the CIA. We figured he’d have some insight on what it will be like to have Dubya and Laura tooling around town.
Critics won’t like hearing this, but Kessler says President Bush is well aware of the effect his presence has on people, and he doesn’t like it. “He is very thoughtful,” Kessler says. “He doesn’t like inconveniencing people.”
Here’s how to cope with that inconvenience:
Can I Get a Picture, Mr. President? If you see President Bush in public, a good way to get a cement kiss is to run up to him digging in your pocket for your cellphone camera. Even if you know him—say you were in the oil bidness together back in Midland or owned that baseball team together—you’d best ask the nearest Secret Service agent if you can approach. Look for the guy with sunglasses, earpiece, suit, and the bulge under his jacket.
I’m Late for Work. What Is This Gridlock? It’s probably not him. When the former president is being driven around town, they won’t close down roads like they do for the current president. At most, you’ll see rolling roadblocks at intersections. A lower profile means better security.
Why Is There a Chopper Hovering Over My Pool? No one in officialdom will talk much about this one, but it’s likely that President Bush will use neighbor Tom Hicks’ heli-stop to fly short distances, like to Crawford. Hey, you borrow your neighbor’s weed wacker, right? For fixed-wing flights, he’ll likely go to Love Field, just like you and me. Unlike you and me, he’ll probably use a friend or supporter’s plane.
How Does He, Um, Eat? With his mouth. But seriously, President Bush doesn’t enjoy going to restaurants for lunch or dinner, because he feels weird when people watch him eat. He’ll likely just order hamburgers delivered from somewhere near his office. (Hello, Snuffer’s.) If it’s a scheduled lunch or dinner in public, the Secret Service will run background checks on guests, restaurant employees, and anyone else involved, and the area will likely be secured. If it’s a surprise drop-in, agents will take up positions outside and inside the restaurant while the former president dines with his guests or noshes while reading a book. No lockdown. And, no, he’s not a king. He doesn’t travel with a food taster. Laura likes to dine out at the best—though not necessarily fanciest—places. Expect to see her at Herrera’s and the Porch.
Is He Going to Hog the Katy Trail? President Bush doesn’t jog much anymore, but he does bike. There are plenty of trails at his Crawford ranch, but he might take advantage of some of the trails around the Dallas area. They’ll be picked at random, and rides will be low profile. Laura is a big walker, so don’t be surprised if you see her strolling near Daria Place—with big escorts and a black SUV creeping along behind her.
An F-List Celeb Imagines What Preston Hollow Life Will Be Like For WI, too, am a huge celebrity who happens to live in Preston Hollow. I expect George W. to drop by soon.
by David Feherty, illustration by Brian Ajhar
Given the events of the past eight years, once George the Second escaped from Washington, D.C., I think most of us here in Dallas would have understood if he and the former First Missus had moved someplace a little more secluded than Preston Hollow. Like Area 51, maybe, or some sandbar in the Galapagos Islands, just so they could catch their breath for a couple of years and take stock of their lives. I mean, what a nightmare of a time that was to be president of the United States! His two terms must have felt like the rest of the world had inserted the Washington Monument into him and it was his job to heave it out. Although there are those who insist that most of our problems were Dubya’s fault, having spent considerable time in the Middle East myself, I think it’s unlikely history will tell the same story.
But that’s another story. Right now, I have new neighbors about a par 5 away, just across the Tollway, which is far enough away from my place for me to act neighborly. I hate my neighbors because of their very proximity, or at least I hate the ones that want to talk to me who aren’t doctors or gun dealers or who don’t have their own airplanes. Doctors, gun dealers, and other people’s airplanes can be useful, but people who want to “visit,” whatever that peculiar Southern application of the verb entails, just get on my nerves. If I have to visit someone, he had better either be in jail or the hospital, and to be honest I’d prefer jail. I do golf commentary on CBS and sometimes star in television commercials wherein I jump on a trampoline while wearing a skirt. I’m an F-list celebrity at best. But for some reason an inordinate number of people want to talk to me, and always about blubbedy-blah-blah (imagine the sound of a single gunshot here) or Tiger Woods. No, when I make it home, I slam the door behind me and peek out the letterbox to see if I’ve been spotted by any of the bastards who live nearby.
So I was thinking: if it’s that bad for me, what is it going to be like for George and Laura? I mean, it’s not like they can stroll around Tom Thumb stealing grapes like the rest of us, is it?
Even with their Secret Service entourage, the Bushes are going to be besieged by herds of North Dallas McMansion-dwellers, more brown-nosed and full of BS than any longhorn. Nouveaux riche and face-lifted old-monied fossils alike will descend upon them like ants to the honeypot every time they set foot outside their door. The area that encompasses the Park Cities and Preston Hollow is home to roaming packs of these social climbers. I’m talking to you, the guy with the champagne flute, the stupid grin, and the trophy wife who, if she has one more facelift, will be wearing a triangular beard. You’re just the type who will want to show that famous hospitality for which Texas is renowned, and your nasty little dog will try to hump poor Miss Beazley half to death. (Although that former First Scottish Terrier has shown some gnashers recently, so Fido beware.)
After George and Laura spend a few days wringing the unwashed hands of North Dallas’ finest, and, what, with Tom Hicks vaulting the fence and banging on their front door, looking for free advice on what to do with the Texas Rangers (who, incidentally, I believe will be useless until Chuck Norris is in charge), I suspect that Crawford will start to seem like a much better idea to G2, provided he can get planning permission for an alligator-infested moat around the ranch and a bigger wall than we have planned to keep everyone in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona from immigrating to Mexico when Iran takes control of the entire Persian Gulf and we’re paying $15 a gallon. Dick Cheney had enough sense to bury himself under 12 feet of snow in Wyoming instead of the 12 feet of concrete everywhere else he’s been stationed for the past eight years. And while I’m on the subject of vice, for my money, Sarah Palin came along too late. She’s waaay better-looking than Dick Cheney, and when she shoots at something, you can bet that at least the damn thing will be dead.
Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. Here’s the thing: all of this visiting will be perpetrated by people who actually like 43! What about those who consider him the root of all evil? We have a few of those, and I can’t imagine what that bunch of self-righteous, indignant jerks might be like if they get the chance to visit. As for me, my politics are somewhere in the middle—and then way outside both wings. I believe in the death penalty, especially for pro-lifers, child molesters, those opposed to gay marriage, and for stupid dancing in the end zone. I believe in the abolition of estate taxes and the Pickens Plan. I’d lower the legal drinking age and raise the driving age to 18 nationwide, make Kinky Friedman governor of Texas, and make all schools, public and private, start earlier with one hour of physical exercise.
I’d have to say, though, that if I were G2, I’d have to consider the wisdom of that 30-year rule that applies to classified government documents. I’d wait at least that long before I moved to Preston Hollow. Thirty years seems to be about the length of time it takes Americans to forget really bad things. Look at Donny and Marie Osmond. Does no one remember how badly they sucked the first time around? Yet both of them are back on television for no apparent reason, other than one is fat and can’t dance, and the other is a Hollywood used-to-be who squeals mindless gossip on people who would rather dive into oncoming traffic than talk to him. If Dubya were to reappear at 92 years old, his first album would probably go platinum. And, anyway, it will be that long before any of us knows the truth about how and why he played some of the rotten cards he was dealt.
From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this, though: despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there’s a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death. I’ve never met a soldier who didn’t love this president and this country, and I’ve met a bunch of them, at home and abroad, in hospitals and in theater. At Walter Reed, Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, I have visited dozens of patients, and I always ask of them before I leave: “What do you want to do when you get out?” No matter how broken or burned, or how many limbs they are missing, they give only one answer: “I want to go back. I want to rejoin my team, to finish our mission.” They are rightfully proud of what they have done and want nothing more than to be with their brothers and sisters in arms, because they know the consequences if their job is left unfinished. Right here on American soil, we will end up with unqualified people having to do the job they have been doing over there so incredibly well, and with such extraordinary compassion. The fact is, Americans in America have been safe since 9/11, almost the whole length of G2’s term as president, and for that we should be thankful.
So I think I’m okay with my new neighbors. I’ve met George the First and the great Barbara a few times and have enjoyed their company immensely. I don’t think the apple fell too far away from the tree. G2 loves to ride bikes, and so do I. Maybe I could get a job in the Secret Bike Service, as the official drafter to No. 43. I’ve already taken a couple of vehicular bullets from behind (experiences I’ve chronicled in this magazine), so the safest place to ride in Dallas is apparently in front of me.
Call me, Mr. Prez. Your dad has Jim Nantz’s number, and now that you can’t surreptitiously listen in on my cell phone calls anymore, Nantz can get ahold of me for you. I’m just around the corner, and I promise not to do any dry-humping, although I can’t speak for my much-loved mound of hound, Ziggy, who is the worst beagle in Texas. You might want to have Laura put Miss Beazley up if I do happen to drop by to, you know, visit.
David Feherty is a golf analyst for CBS and the author of four books, including, most recently, An Idiot for All Seasons.
How The Bushes Will Change Dallas Real EstateHow the Bushes will change Dallas real estate, from the Cooper Aerobics Center to Tom Hicks’ living room.
by Mary Candace Evans, illustration by Peter Horvath
Since 1988, George W. Bush has kept a private locker at the Cooper Fitness Center. For security reasons, the name plate simply read “George Walker.” In January that changed. Dr. Kenneth Cooper promoted his patient and running buddy. He moved the former president’s cube to the No. 1 spot. And now the name plate bears the full “George W. Bush.”
There’s no word out of the Cooper Center about who got booted from, or graciously gave up, locker No. 1. But you can bet that the cachet of locker No. 2 has risen considerably. Such is the impact that George and Laura will have on Dallas real estate.
In 1994, George and Laura left a 3,600-square-foot Austin stone home with a gravel driveway on one-half acre at 6029 Northwood. The Bushes lived in Preston Hollow—but they lived east of Preston Road, not in the enclave of high net worth west of Preston called Old Preston Hollow or “The Honeypot.” The relative modesty of their home endeared them to their neighbors. Laura was a quiet homemaker. She seldom had a housekeeper and is said to have bleached her own countertops. Both she and George carpooled their daughters to school in a Suburban. When his parents visited, No. 41 and Barbara stayed in the guest house and sprinkled Secret Service around town, which was kind of fun. Dallas sent them off to Austin with enthusiasm, kind of sad to see them go. This city practically exploded with pride when he went to D.C. “Austin? George Bush is from Big D.”
Now, 15 years later, he’s back, and Dallas has changed. My 27-year-old Uptown hairdresser said she would refuse to style Laura’s locks, which I don’t believe, but she’s not alone in her dislike. Dallas County went nearly 60 percent for Barack Obama. We are larger, more diverse. Travel north of LBJ, the psychological dividing line of blue-chip real estate from the burbs, and you find entire communities of Sikhs, Buddhists, and Muslims. George Bush may have super-glued himself to the religious right, but while he was gone, Dallas grew more liberal and tolerant. Gay men hold hands, kiss in public, and lead corporations. You see more Birkenstocks, even at the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market on Central. Whole Foods has stores across the city. We eat more fiber and yogurt and save the fat grams in ribs for special occasions. Even our garbage collection has changed. The former president will have to divide his paper and plastic from the rest of his rubbish.
Then there was the housing boom that changed the face of North Dallas. The Bush administration’s housing policy aimed to make home ownership a dream come true for every American—including some who probably should have limited their dreams to multi-family housing. But when money is cheap and anyone can get a mortgage, why not? We all got newer homes, bigger homes. You couldn’t drive down the street without picking up a nail in your tire from some construction project. The mid-century ranches were scrapped to make way for 7,000-square-foot stone castle-ettes with turrets, porte-cocheres, and a media rooms. It all began pre-Bush, at the tail of the ’90s dot-com boom, but those low interest rates magnified the momentum. Now even homes built in 1994 look worn.
When I first reported on the DallasDirt real estate blog that the Bushes had bought a home on Daria Place, off Meaders Lane, life on the quiet Mayflower Estates cul-de-sac changed forever. Choppers swooped, and television news trucks put up their microwave masts. In eight hours, images of 10141 were beamed across the world on television and the Internet. A steady parade of gawkers streamed through the neighborhood, and it seemed for a time like living near the Bushes wasn’t going to be much fun. (Except when it’s time to sell.)
The gate incident allayed that fear. On January 7, an unusual neighborhood meeting took place at the 25-acre estate of Cynda and Tom Hicks, which backs up against the new Bush home. Everyone who lives on Daria Drive and Daria Place was invited to the Hickses’ for an hour-long meeting to find out what was going to happen to their street now that the Bushes were moving in.
“The Hickses were incredibly gracious,” says a person who attended the meeting. “I think he was even busy that night, but we felt if we had the meeting at his home, everyone would attend.”
Refreshments were offered—water, sodas, no alcohol. Also in attendance: Secret Service agents and officials from the city of Dallas. Tom Hicks welcomed everyone, and then he said, “We have a call from the president.” He put George Bush on speakerphone to chat up his new neighbors for the first time.
“I cannot tell you how excited Laura and I are about our new home and neighborhood,” George said from his ranch in Crawford. “I promise to keep my lawn mowed and be a good neighbor.” He apologized for any inconvenience their home purchase was causing. The president said he hoped they could have a gate if all the neighbors agreed. Bush clearly wanted their support, but he didn’t need it. When his father, George H.W. Bush, moved back to Houston, Texas passed a law that gives cities the right to erect a gate at a former president’s residence. Still, George W. discussed with his neighbors what the gate would look like, how it would operate. He mentioned that he’d pay for its construction. Questions were answered, everyone was asked to sign a form to give the city the go-ahead, and George thanked them and said he couldn’t wait to move into his new home.
Before he hung up, the president drew attention to a 14-year-old boy and future neighbor who was at the meeting in the Hicks home. His name was Jacob. Back in 2004, he had given George Bush a small donation for his second presidential campaign.
“I hope he remembers he sent me a dollar,” George said. “Jacob, I want to shake your hand and look you in the eye and see if I spent your dollar wisely.”
Write to [email protected].
Dreaming of LauraWe have so much in common. We will do lunch.
by Pamela Gwyn Kripke
My people move away. They go fast, and they go far. Paige went back to Chicago, seconds after we picked the beige-y yellow for her living room. Carolyn, out of nowhere, packed up her singing voice and Southern wit and gorgeous necklaces and zipped north, right past my hydrangeas, hope and promise spilling from her sports car like a julep in a tipsy hand. Then—it pains me still to describe it—Heidi, my college roommate, 2,000 miles and 900 decades from the dorm and somehow serendipitously placed two blocks down, relayed the news: “We are going to San Francisco.”
I cannot walk by the house. It will be two years this summer.
I decided, during this time of mourning, that I would not attempt friendship with another human being who was not in my family. It would be fine. Isolation would provide alternative benefits. On occasion, though, the pull of social interaction has found me, me being a human being, and I have succumbed to it, to a safe point, like, “Oh, hi.”
When I heard that the former president and his wife Laura would be setting up camp nearby, the pull tugged again, with unexpected gusto. At first, I did not understand the feeling. Why would the First Lady’s proximity provoke notions of warmth and companionship in my asocial soul? “It’s obvious!” I yelled to my surrogate pal Rachel Maddow, as footage of Mrs. Bush and Barney rolled past. I had a terrier named Barney. I have two daughters. I love words and books. A baby sitter we had years ago actually lived in Laura’s room at the sorority, for goodness sake, and we went there, to the room, for a Halloween party. We were fairies in Laura’s room. This is it, I told Rachel, the end of buddylessness. Laura is going to be my friend.
I should say that I am a Northeastern liberal Democrat, but I do not think that she will mind. Gals like us can tolerate political differences because we have the gal thing. We’ve had babies and we’ve made choices and sacrifices and floppy soufflés. We’ve had terrific careers. We’ve learned—and taught—the lessons that matter. We’ve selected boys, and handled them, and set them up in the most flattering of lights. Because they were cute, or nice, or both, or neither. Or something.
Of course, Laura is unaware that a marvelous new camaraderie waits for her in Dallas, and I am prepared for the possibility that she may be one of those lucky people who already has enough friends within driving distance, friends whom she actually speaks with and can recognize by sight, people who are not overly imaginative strangers with the ability to publish. But I am confident, nonetheless. So certain, in fact, that I can visualize a fabulous afternoon of fun, just us girls.
I’m thinking that Laura might want to drive, after all the chauffeuring and helicoptering, but I will offer to pick her up in my Honda, just in case. We will wear pants, casual, maybe a low heel. I will give her a bottle of that primrose hand lotion we talked about the last time, and then we will head to the bookstore for a browse, a read-through of some new first pages. On the way to lunch—which we will have near a porch, not on a porch, but on the inside, at the open window—we will pop in to the lighting store with the floor lamp I am considering buying. Floor lamps are so troublesome, for so many reasons, and Laura’s eye could be very helpful. For lunch, we will have pasta with mushrooms in it and salads with no frisee, but plain old hearty romaine, and to drink, drink-drinks, because why not, it is Saturday and we are out living life and having a blast, talking and laughing and doing what we do. No interruptions, no work. George calls on Laura’s cell phone, but we ignore it.
Feeling a little bad, later in the afternoon, after seeing an exhibit of mid-twentieth-century American photography, we get the screw tightened on his reading glasses, which Laura has in her purse. Then we eat chocolate chip cookies.
“Give those girls hugs for me,” she says, stopping in front of my house and hugging me.
“I will, and hi to George,” I say, hugging back. “What a great time, as always, Laurelei.”
Next time, we’ll try the pizza place on Inwood and see a movie. Friends are good, and I have the best new friend in the world, right here, in my own ZIP code. My luck, though, her husband will be transferred to Indiana.