The Washington Post ran a piece the other day about the fanatical competitiveness of the Bush clan. Now, this is a topic I know a wee bit about. Back in the Eighties my son Kelly and I watched George H.W. Bush throw the mother of all tantrums in the House Members Gym on Capitol Hill.
The sight of the Vice President of the United States having a meltdown during a pick-up game of paddle ball isn’t, uh, something one is likely to forget.
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. During the Reagan years, when Kelly played prep basketball, we’d slip into the Member’s Gym on Saturday mornings for one-on-one scrimmages, tips on turning a dribble into a quick pull-up jumper, and lessons on taking the guesswork out of foul shots. At the end of every workout, when we were pooped, I would use those near-game conditions to have Kelly shoot 100 free throws.
Early one Saturday, Kelly told me in the locker room that he had forgotten his sneakers at home. Sigh! Luckily, three things make this gym distinct. Once a congressman, you have lifetime access if you pay your dues (you even keep your locker); two, Bush is an ex-congressman, and, three, if you need something, custom dictates that you just borrow it from someone else so long as you put it back. Lockers were not secured because everyone trusted each other (at least back then!).
In the empty gym, we went around to find a fit. After repeated disappointments, we arrived at a locker stenciled, “Geo. H.W. Bush”. What the hell, I thought, everyone’s equal here. I reached in and pulled out a pair of white high tops, size 10 1/2 to 11.
As Kelly laced up I flirted with the idea that I might have learned something the KGB didn’t know about the man One Heartbeat Away From the Presidency. But Kelly was waving me to the court and there we spent the next two hours in a spirited workout. Afterward, we discussed what happened on the court as Kelly showered and dressed and I prepared for a steam bath. Then–crash!–double doors at the front and rear entrances to the gym flew open, and six men in dark suits and earpieces fanned out across the facility, poking into nooks, crannies, even the sauna.
“You don’t want to miss what’s coming next,” I told Kelly. Sure enough, within minutes the Veep and three of his former congressional colleagues strode in and made for the locker room.
I had one foot in the steam room when I heard Bush shout out in that familiar nasal voice.
“Eeeeew!” cried the to-be leader of the Free World. “My shoes are warm!” I cut short my steam bath and spotted Kelly in a green chair at court side, watching the Veep and his pals play a doubles match. I guess that Bush decided real men can handle warm shoes. I dressed quickly to get near Kelly in case more trouble erupted.
It did. One of the Veep’s volleys landed so close to out-of-bounds that a furious argument erupted with my 16-year-old son positioned directly at the line.
“In!” Bush screamed.
“Out!” shouted Rep. Sonny Montgomery a Mississippi Dixiecrat.
The argument escalated until the Vice President of the United States spun around to glare at Kelly. “Kid!” he roared. “In or out?”
“Out,” Kelly said coolly, without hesitation. He could have been hanging out at our neighborhood park. What happened next left me slack-jawed. Glowering at my son, the Vice President jumped until his knees almost struck his chin. With clinched fists and a carmine face, he let out a blood-curdling “Noooooooooooo!” His pals doubled-up with laughter.
That day taught me several things about Kelly.
He isn’t easily intimidated.
And he can more than fill big shoes.
[For the Washington Post article click here.]