Acronyms are the rage these days, spawned first by the convoluted terminology assigned to the ever-growing aspects of technology, and then by the out-of-control desire by online texters to truncate basic words to 1, 2, or 3 letters to save time.
The above acronym is useful, pragmatic and goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, who coined it. Potus is Latin for ‘eagle’, and coincidentally stands for ‘President of the United States’. Jefferson, a Latin aficionado, used it in reference to his political foe John Adams. In theory, that would make it an anacronym, which simply means an older acronym that most people can’t remember what it stands for.
2012 – Oval Office, The White House
Late Saturday Night, March 3rd
The President sits at his desk and pulls his computer terminal and keyboard closer to him. He leans in and begins typing.
He has been keeping an informal diary for months now, unbeknownst to just about everybody but the First Lady.
Tonight’s entry begins thusly:
“Michele and the girls are asleep, and the pathetic joke that has become ‘me time’ begins now. It has been a long, arduous Saturday. The requisite bullshit ceremonial stuff involving a fourth grade class from here in D.C. that presented me with a banner proclaiming me the first “Africane Americane President”. Clearly we need to designate some money to that school for a spelling class. Then there were some heartfelt photo ops at Walter Reed; very sobering, usually depressing, and an activity I insist always be on a Saturday morning, because that night is my only true emotional recovery time.
This afternoon was one briefing after another, with only the last one, ending ten minutes ago, to do with a domestic issue here at home. All others were ‘foreign affairs related’. Three words that tend to bore this president, if truth be told. Syria, Yemen, Iran, Iraq. The Arabs will fuck up a POTUS’s calendar, as those countries are so flammable that shit can and usually does happen every day, throwing the tight schedule laid in my lap each morning into disarray.
And now North Korea, with that dwarf pudgy-fuck 29-year-old pedophile-looking punk now holding the reins, is going to be trouble, I promise you. This clown is going to make Kim Jong Il look like Churchill.
Sunday, tomorrow, is the only scheduled day off for me. I always laugh when I type that or read it. I never get enough free hours strung together for nine holes of golf, let alone the entire day off.
Thank god for morning hoops. This morning’s session was particularly cool. I hit the first three jumpers of the game, felt the SS guy guarding me was playing soft, and told him so. From then on, he was in my grill, forcing me to go right, which this left hander doesn’t like to do. I adjusted and started driving to the hoop, drawing the double team, and dishing off for layup after layup. We won convincingly. The SS guy and I slapped hands out of respect as we walked off the court.
Starting my day that way, and I try to do so no matter where in the world I am, helps me immensely. It gets me in a competitive mood, which is key. Most people don’t realize that virtually every minute the POTUS spends on work is based on a platform of competition, in one form or another. There are no free lunches. Everything is a negotiation, needing a handshake, a steely eyed glare or a simple “I’m counting on you”. Compromise is the one constant in my job, and eternal vigilance can indeed be the price of freedom, as the famed abolitionist Wendell Phillips once said. If I have to give an inch, then it is essential the other guy gives AT LEAST that much. It is my only real negotiating rule, but one I won’t budge from. If one reads or hears about me only in the media, they are usually surprised about what a hard-assed ball buster I am when it comes to making a point, or negotiating a settlement. I think that surprise works in my favor, which is one reason I don’t waste time disputing the inaccurate image portrayed in the media. My media image may relax foes initially, but reality shocks them forward into the here and now quickly enough.”
My porter, or steward, or even better, concierge is an elderly black man from Chicago. A man we used to refer to back in the Windy City as an “old school Negro”. He is in his late 70s, still agile, spry and sharp as a diamond cutter’s tool.
At exactly 11:00pm, he opens the small side door into the Oval Office and wheels in the presidential drink cart, as it is known. We have been doing this since I got into office. I enjoy the old man’s company and, as he has served cocktails to 6 previous Commander’s in Chief, he is not intimidated by me or the office. It makes for some lively conversations.
“Good evening Hasty.”
I pressed save and rocked back in my chair and hooked my ankles over each other on the desk, lacing my fingers behind my head.
“What should the most powerful man in the world have to drink tonight, my good man?”
“Perhaps I should call Mr. Putin and ask him, Suh.”
Hasty hesitated, and then looked right at me as he reached his right hand over toward the red phone on the corner of my desk and said, “He’s #1,
I laughed. It was classic Hasty. His irreverence was a breath of fresh air from all the ass kissing the POTUS must endure daily.
“Ok,” I said, still chuckling. “What then, does the leader of the free world want to have to drink this evening?”
“Mr. Chavez isn’t in Venezuela this evening, but you can try his cell. I hear he drinks whiskey.”
I laughed again. “Well then. What does the best hoops-playing world leader want to drink tonight?”
“Suh, I didn’t know Mr. Castro played basketball, but I DO know he likes rum.”
“Alright Hasty. This one you can’t dodge. Which world leader AND head of the next Great 8 Summit, who also happens to be married to the best looking first lady ever, wants a martini ASAP?”
“Mr. President, I do believe Mr. Sarkozy prefers Gimlets, but he is in his suite in Paris as we speak. He is #4 on the red phone. And his wife will be flattered that you think so.”
I laughed so hard I couldn’t stop for a moment. Finally I was able to sputter, “Michele is going to kick your ass for that.”
“Indeed she will, Suh. Will that be gin or vodka?”
“Gin. Boodles. Very dry, up with a twist. Two onions.”
Hasty nodded and went about slowly making the drink.
As was our custom, he made one for himself. We always shared the first drink together. After that, I was usually on my own.
We touched glass rims and he took his customary seat in front of my desk.
We sipped in silence for a moment, nodding in unison at the acknowledgement of just the right amount of vermouth.
“Suh, I do appreciate you allowing me to mess with you some. It is a far change from Mr. Bush, if you don’t mind me sayin’.”
I nodded, resisting the obvious wise-ass alcoholic remark towards the former president.
“I heard W had a good sense of humor though, didn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t know, Suh. He didn’t seem to like havin’ me ‘round.”
“Really? Who was most interesting to serve, Hasty, out of your six?”
“’Side’s present company?”
“You’ve got the job, Hasty. Too late to kiss my ass.”
He grinned and nodded.
“I’d have to break them down, Suh. ‘Interesting’ is too vague a category. They was all interesting.”
I nodded and rotated my left hand, forefinger extended toward him, to continue.
He took a sip and put his glass on the edge of my desk, where I’d placed a coaster with the presidential seal on it. Everything in this office was emblazoned with that damn
seal. I was already sick of seeing it.
“Well, I’ll go back in order. Mr. W used my services very sparingly. An occasional late night glass of iced tea, and then to bed. Wasn’t no need for me, really.”
I nodded and sipped my drink. Hasty had his own deliberate pace.
“Mr. Clinton like his drink, Suh. Very much so. But very rarely when he was working. And he was a night owl, Suh. I ended up becoming a permanent member of the graveyard shift for him. He liked his drinks made, but then he’d want me to leave, so’s he could work the phones, I suspect. He had a button installed under his desk that let me know when he was ready for another one. He was a good man. Treated me fairly. I think he knew how to treat a black man.”
“I like Bill. We talk a couple of times a week. Go on, Hasty.”
The 52” plasma HD TV on the opposite wall silently showed the Lakers-Warriors game from the west coast as it went into the second overtime. I kept one eye on it. Kobe deserves even my attention.
Hasty continued. “Mr. Bush Senior was also a good man. He liked to drink with other folk. Kept his staff late sometimes for hours, drinkin’ and analyzin’. Everybody ‘cept Mr. Quayle. The President never let him join in on those cocktail hours.”
I wouldn’t drink with Quayle, either, I thought.
“Now Mr. Reagan, he liked to drink from just after dinner till Ms. Nancy dragged him to bed, usually around 10pm. He and Senior Bush would drink a lot of scotch. I liked both of them; though Ms. Nancy could drop a stink bomb on a party faster than you could say ‘Prohibition’.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard some stories from the staff about her reign of terror. She was a ball buster.”
”Yes Suh, she was.”
“You got two left, Hasty. Take your time. First, care to join me for another one?”
“Yes Suh, I would. Thank you kindly.”
I handed him my glass and he studiously made us two more martinis. My phone that wasn’t red buzzed on the left hand side of my desk. I leaned forward to read the window that would tell me who was calling. It was the kitchen. I picked it up.
“This is the President.”
”Yes sir. This is the kitchen. Just checking in to see if you would like any late night snacks sent up, sir.”
I put the phone against my chest. “You hungry, Hasty?”
He nodded. “I could eat some, yes Suh.”
I returned the phone to my ear. “Bring up a variety of snacks, nothing too heavy. Some hot and cold hors d’oeuvres will be fine. Thank you.”
Hasty handed me my drink. Again we touched glass rims and he retook his seat.
“I believe you were about to get to Mr. Carter, Hasty.”
“Yes Suh, I was. And that man would surprise you. His wife would sip her vodka all evening, but Mr. Carter liked his bourbon, and he like a lot of it. Most people don’t even realize he drank.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“And finally, Mr. Ford. But I can’t talk about drinkin’ at that time without bringin’ in Miss Betty. She did insist on joining the gentlemen when they drank.”
We exchanged looks, but I remained silent.
“She was a good lady, but sad. Real sad. She was not cut out for this office. Neither was her husband, you ask me. They kinda fell into it. And they would drink every night, up till bedtime. I sometimes had to help her on into their suite down the hall.”
This is better than watching E, I thought.
The Warriors just went ahead by one on a top of the key jumper by Monta Ellis. Now Kobe was backing Ellis down, dribbling and bobbing and weaving. I put my palm up to Hasty and pointed toward the screen. We watched as the clock wound down, and with two seconds left, Kobe whirled and sank a fade-away 16 footer to win the game. I sighed and clicked the remote. The screen went dark.
“Thank you Hasty.”
“Suh, if I may. I wasn’t privy to Mr. Nixon personally, but I know on real good authority he was drunk every night the last two years he was in here.”
I nodded. “That doesn’t surprise me. There have always been rumors.”
“They’re all true, Suh.”
“What do you hear about me?”
“About you, Suh?”
“Yeah, you know. What’s the scuttlebutt?”
He grinned. “It really depends on who you ask. I know most of the staff loves Miss Michelle and the girls. They never take on airs. They keep it real.”
“Most of the staff never really deals with you, Suh. The one’s that do, they know better than to talk any shit about you’s to me. Excuse my language.”
I waved at him. “This is all off the record, Hasty. Profanity in the Oval Office is practically required.”
The food arrived, wheeled in by a young Latino whom I’d only seen once or twice. His name tag hung from his breast pocket.
He nodded, bowed and left through the same door.
I came around the desk and made myself a plate consisting of three warm and three cold delicacies. When I was finished, Hasty did the same.
He got up and assembled another drink for both of us. Performing this unrequested task reflected the effects of his second martini. I said nothing as I handed him my glass.
“Suh,” he said, using an eye dropper to add vermouth. “Do you think you’ll get re-elected?”
“Absolutely. Have you seen the GOP debates? If I lose, I’d never be able to face my buddies on the basketball court.”
He handed me my drink.
“What did you think I would say to a question like that?”
”Just what you said, to be honest, Suh. Just wanted to hear it, is all.”
“And when I do, watch out.” I could feel my third martini course through me.
“I’ll defang the Patriot Act; I’ll push very hard for ALL the states to make gay marriage legal; I’ll defend our health care system, until someone comes up with a better one. Jobs are heading in the right direction. Things are getting better. I said from the beginning it would take time. And it has. But things ARE improving.”
Hasty nodded. “Your confidence is inspiring, Suh.”
I raised my glass and he leaned over and tipped his toward mine. Our eyes met as our glasses touched.
No words needed to be said.
Hasty got it.
I only wish more did.
© Copyright 2016 Bill Rayburn. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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