“Bill, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.”
“What about, George?” What everyone said about his Bill-ness? All true. All hand over hand, palm atop forearm. All those late nights on the phone talking core values, Foundation news, Katrina, PEPFAR. All those years he’d wanted to be an F.O.B., friend of Bill.
“About all I’ve done for this world. All the things that might live on after me.”
“You have the most efficient military victory in a generation, consequential SCOTUS selections. For a one-term president, you got an awful lot to be proud of. In fact if it wasn’t for the whole supermarket scanner thing —”
“I don’t mean politics, Bill. Personal.”
“Mr. President, may I ask if you’d be willing to define your terms?”
“Well, I keep thinking back to an incident back in New Haven I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. For so long I’d rather not have spoken of it, but I’m getting on with things and — when you were in law school, Bill, did they take freshman photos of your class?”
“I’m afraid I don’t remember, but maybe that’s not the only thing I’m not as familiar with up there as I’d like,” he said, laughing that big belly laugh of his that welled up from his core like the hot of the Ozark springs.
“If they’d taken one you’d remember,” George continued. “They lined up my whole class at Payne Whitney and — “
“The gym? Wow, I used to live over there. There’s a picture of me and Hillary in the front of there in the big book. Put the thing in the stockphoto stockpile up in Chappaqua. Man, I miss those days. We had a little beachhouse there up in Guilford. Used to read Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez looking out on the coast. Sometimes Jordan and me —”
(As much as George adored Bill, the man could talk one’s ear off.)
“No, it wasn’t about the gym, Bill. It was about some experiment they were doing, though they didn’t tell us that at the time. Bill, they had us each form a place in line and then call us into a photo room and —”
“Oh, that whole thing?” (God, he was so quick!) “Not my class. We were too late and liberated for that! But I heard about it at Georgetown. You think they’d let that effort fly at Georgetown?! That’s what Catholic high school is for, George! Lawd almighty, the Jesuits woulda had a field day. But Hillary had one done at Wellesley, let me tell you. You know, they were supposed to be doing it to check spinal curvature, and she was of course straight and narrow, but this was all before she got all Wellesley on everybody.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“You haven’t seen her cervical spine, have you? Her haircuts tend to obscure that little crane of the neck, but it’s left quite an impression over the years. Hell, if you believe Joe Klein, I invented those rumors.”
“I don’t believe anything Klein reports about anything, not after 43. But what scares me, Bill, is I believe I might have a… fantasy about someone taking another photo of me, with the passage of time. For comparison’s sake.”
“Huh.” Bill gave one of those over-the-reading-specs pensive looks he does.
“Would you be willing to see? I see your assistant has an Instagram on his phone.”
“Aw, George, you know I don’t swing that way. I’ve seen a lot of dicks swinging free in my day, as you might guess, but this other angle ain’t me. I can’t tell you I’m not flattered, but I just don’t think of you that way. I’m sorry.”
“Oh.” One of those times when Yankee reserve worked for him so well. “I apologize for being so forward, Bill. Yet I thought with — you and Stephanopoulos always used to seem so —”
“You wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake, him included.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not usually so… improper.”
“Oh, hell, why don’t you just show me? A man’s gotta do one crazy thing before he leaves this place for good, right?”
“I assume so.”
“I will, Bill.”
“Atwater would skin you alive for this. You could lose your entire base.”
“It is what it is.” Though he still had an athlete’s build, his joints had gotten creaky with age, and Bill helped him wing back his arms to remove the shirt.
“No, let me finish.” With that his pants were off faster than a Perot monologue, and like Perot, he had brought the goods for a real slideshow.
Bill wouldn’t have pegged him for a manscaper, but the base of his shaft was clean as his record.
“Hoo-ey, that is some shit! Did you pick up that habit over in China?”
“Oh, no. Barbara.” He hunched down. “Here, check my spine.”
George had thrown a lot of curveballs on the day, but there wasn’t a damn curve on him now, not a curve down his whole back to his preternaturally tight elder states-ass. Every part of his posture was upright. For posterity, he convinced himself. The family dynasty.
“Mr. George,” Bill breathed, “I think your reputation’ll hold up just fine.”