With a small sense of restless regret, I found myself back in the Lincoln Bedroom pondering a night of highly interactive television with my newfound electronic friend, or maybe reading something racy like Leaves of Grass. But no sooner had I flopped down fully dressed on the famously uncomfortable mattress than I felt something poking me insistently in the back. At first I thought that I had maybe lain down on a crystal wallabee from the Australian PM, or a Camembert Eiffel Tower from President Chirac, or perhaps the shell of a recently discarded intern. But, upon closer examination, it turned out to be a small bouquet of flowers with an envelope attached that said read me.
I opened it to find a short note from my old friend Jack Quinn, with a cryptic message. It read: "Meet you near the South Lawn by the swimming pool in five. Wear your bathing or birthday suit."
Normally, I'd be a little dubious about putting on my bathing suit and wandering around a strange house-particularly the White House, especially since this President was capable of construing a modest glance as a shameless come-on. But, although Jack Quinn was not, perhaps, totally trustworthy (he was a big fund-raiser, after all), he was a gentleman and an officer of the court. I put on a modest floral number and a terry cloth robe that I found in my closet.
I hurried through the cold down the stairs to the Rose Garden. I thrust my hands into the pockets of my robe for warmth and found a small card. It read:
This robe is provided for each guest
in the Lincoln Bedroom as a courtesy.
If you would like to take one with you
as a souvenir of your stay, they are
available for purchase for $10,000,
Payable to the Democratic National Committee.
As I approached the bottom of the Rose Garden, I heard a cheery bubbling sound. But when I peered over the hedge, I beheld an image right out of Hieronymus Bosch. A group of chubby men was being slowly boiled in a gigantic pot. Smoke rose from their heads. The entire scene was lit with a ghastly underwater glow. Their faces were frozen in different expressions of agony, their mouths agape.
Then the man in the center brought a smoking cigar out from behind his head, where he'd been holding it, and took a long, luxuriant drag. In the glow of the cigar I could see it was the President.
"It's all right, guys. It's not my wife. You can relight those stogies now." He gestured to a pair of Secret Service men standing nearby. They were wearing shades, earpieces, holstered Glock 9s, and regulation black Speedos. Goose bumps stood out on their skin in neat military rows, and they did their best not to shiver. "You guys keep a sharp lookout, you hear? If Hillary starts heading this way, I want enough time to put out my cigar without having to dip it in the pool." He added, to himself, "I lose more good smokes that way . . ." Then he looked up at me again. "Hi, Arianna. Come on in and join us. We've been expecting you."
I stuck a toe in the pool, then sidled in a trifle warily. The President introduced me.
"You know Jack, of course." He indicated Jack Quinn, who gave me a friendly wave. "This is Webb Hubbell and that's Strobe Talbott." Hubbell was very large, very hairy, and very sullen-like a dog that couldn't shake itself dry. He glared at me from across the hot tub without smiling. Talbott was tall and slim and very polite. The President pointed to two Asian gentlemen sitting next to Strobe. "And this is . . ." He appeared to rack his brain. "Aw hell, just introduce yourselves, guys." They did. One said his name was Herbie Woo, the other Jimmy Hong.
There were seven of us in all, a full capacity for the famous seven-seat hot tub. Although earlier in the day, Socks had told me that Clinton had as many as fourteen interns in it one night when Hillary was at the women's conference in Beijing. No one seemed to mind the close quarters much, except maybe Strobe, whose glasses kept fogging up. Clinton seemed fully in his element-one arm around Jimmy, the other snaking its way, as though it had a mind of its own, toward me. This was a state-of-the-art Jacuzzi, and oddly enough, as I got settled between Hubbell and Hong, I heard the President remark that it was even invisible to radar. A Stealth tub.
Before I could figure out what eventuality this was meant for, some frantic hand signals from the Secret Service men shook me from my reverie. They were puffing out their cheeks and pantomiming to the President, who wasn't quite getting their meaning. "What are you saying, guys? Big? Big hair? Huge hair? Monica?!?! No? Fat? Bloated? Newt! Hey, everybody! Newt's here!"
Sure enough, there, coming down the Rose Garden path, was Newt Gingrich, along with three security guards of his own. His guards had fanned out around him, and woe betide the innocent rosebush or shrubbery that got in their way.
"Hey, Newt," the President called, "did you bring your Contract with America with you? I want to take a look at it again. You know something, it's just full of good ideas." Jack, Webb, and Strobe found this very amusing. Hong and Woo looked baffled. I chuckled politely.
Smiling, Newt reached into his pants and grabbed his testicles. "You bet, Mr. President. I've got my Contract with America right here. I brought it with me, so I could tattoo it on your ass."
The President threw his head back and roared. "Come on in here, you old so-and-so. I want to watch a real man boil in this thing for a change." He turned to the Chinese men. "Sorry, guys, your time's up. We need the seats. Don't forget to sign the guest book on your way out." Hong and Woo looked even more confused. Clinton bobbed his head at the Secret Service men, who came over, lifted them out of the hot tub, and carried them off.
Newt lowered himself in, easily filling the space left by Hong and Woo. Although Newt's guards and the President's men eyed each other warily, the Speaker and the President seemed exceptionally matey.
Newt grunted with satisfaction. "Ahhhhh, this is livin'. Can't beat it with a stick, right?"
I murmured assent, but he was right. This was living. Sitting in a radar-proof hot tub with genial company, looking up at the stars, protected from Washington's simmering underclass by the world's best security team and an antimissile defense system-no, you couldn't beat it with a stick. Not by a long shot.
It was then that Newt appeared to notice me for the first time.
"Jesus wept! What the hell is she doing here?! Rocco! Get this broad-"
One of Newt's henchmen made a move toward me. At a wave from the President, Clinton's boys blocked his path.
"She's with me, Newt. She's all right." Newt's cronies backed off, but the Speaker was still highly agitated.
"I should have known she was one of yours. She's your type. But come to think of it, Bill, every woman is your type. Actually, I should have known when she described me in her column as ╬almost Leninist' just because I'm determined to set right any supposed conservative who dares to hurt our cause by publicly questioning my leadership."
"Aw, c'mon, Newt, lighten up; after all, she called me an ╬ethical cripple' or something." Clinton turned to us, his tubmates. "But you know something, we're off duty now. Here at the White House, we work hard, we fund-raise hard, and we play hard. We're the Dallas Cowboys of politics, only we've committed more felonies."
As Newt settled into a sulky soak, I took a closer look at Clinton. I've often thought that the President looked slack-jawed and dopey when I've seen him on television-mainly because he usually stands around with his mouth open, which makes him look dumb. But here, close up, I could feel the sexual alertness that produced a double-digit gender gap, and had made it possible for him to keep a harem of interns at the White House. Maybe barring campaign-finance reform, we could at least make all the candidates wear their swimsuits. But I guess Mitch McConnell would never let that happen either.
Clinton took note of Gingrich's pout.
"Hey, Newt, I got to make my wiener a little leaner. Care to
"I was just thinking the same thing, Mr. President. Got to shake a little dew off the lily. Besides, hot tubs'll drop your sperm count below measurable standards. You'll be shootin' blanks." The President looked deeply concerned for a moment until Newt winked. They both laughed loudly.
The President and the Speaker moved off a discreet distance, where, guarded by the Secret Service, they urinated on some rosebushes. Another happy splashing sound joined the bubbly chorus from the
The two men talked intensely for five minutes, just out of earshot. I could only catch a word here and there, but it seemed that there was some serious political horse-trading going on. I thought I overheard phrases like "cooking the books," "couldn't keep her mouth shut," "balanced budget, my foot," and "I'm shriveling up here, let's get this over with," but I couldn't swear to it. Then one voice said, "CBO numbers," and I thought another replied, "My own damn numbers," and then I heard raucous laughter.
No wonder the glass ceiling bars women from ascending, I thought. Shared bodily functions were part of a timeless male bonding ritual, one that joined men as different as Clinton and Gingrich and, in turn, bonded them to a family tree of human leaders that went all the way back to the first Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon who put down their clubs and chose, instead, to go have a pee together.
Without bothering to take formal leave, I jumped out of the hot tub and hurried away; Webb, silent the entire time, was making me nervous. Jovial shouts of "Hey, let's cross swords!" receded in the distance.
The hot tub had warmed me and I was able to stroll leisurely back toward the White House. Then, over the crunch of my slippers on the gravel, I heard a rustling in the bushes beside me. I suppose I should have been frightened, but all I could think was: What now, has John Kasich come over with a new Grateful Dead bootleg?
But the small figure that emerged from the underbrush was only Socks, carrying a dead rat. It's too bad Newt hadn't brought Majority Whip Tom DeLay with him. A guy who made his fortune in the extermination business would love this.
"Socks, are there any of those inside?" I asked.
"You mean outstanding public servants like Newt Gingrich? Yeah, there's plenty."
"No, I mean rats," I said.
"So do I," Socks shot back.
"I just have a hard time accepting that two men who seem like such opposites can get along so well."
"You think they're getting along well now, you should see them in a little while when the girls arrive. It's the world's longest-running bachelor party. But, come on, Arianna. What about you and Al Franken? Besides, it's really not so surprising."
"I suppose you're right. By the way, Socks, if you're thinking of leaving that rat with me, thank you, but I have several already."
"Oh, it's not for you." His eyes shone in the dim light and he seemed to wink. "I save these for Hillary. She's not exactly a cat person, so I try to bring her as many presents as I can."
And he was gone.