White House down and dusted

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By Anthony Deyal

Ronald Reagan, actor and US president, spent his early life living above a variety store in the Illinois town of Tampico so when he made it to the White House and heard the hundreds of noisy tourists downstairs, he said to his wife Nancy, “Honey, I’m still living above the store.” He saw himself as a prisoner and complained, “More than once during the eight years I lived there, I stood at a window looking out across the big lawn of the While House, through its black fence and the people strolling along Pennsylvania Avenue and found myself envying their freedom. I’d say to myself, ‘You know, I can’t even walk down to the drugstore and look over the magazine rack anymore.’ Will I ever be able to do it again?”

Even though Jackie Kennedy said the White House made her feel “like a moth banging on the windowpane”, Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) claimed “It’s not the kind of place you would pick to live in” and Harry Truman referred to it as, “The great White Prison”,  only one president, Grover Cleveland, plagued by the endless flow of tourists and worried about the safety of his baby daughter, Ruth, dared to take the drastic step of not living in the White House during his presidency. Truman and his wife Bess seemed to have eventually settled down because, as one story goes, Truman said to the White House usher, J.B. West, “We have a little problem. It’s the president’s bed. Do you think you can get it fixed today?” It seemed that two of the slats on the bed had broken during the night before when Truman returned from a long summer holiday in Missouri and evidently the President was very happy to see her.

It does not seem to have been the case when Donald Trump staged what CCN called “a reckless departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre … before posing for a mask-less photo-op on the White House balcony.” The New York Times said that the White House then went into “full-blown chaos, even by the standards of havoc of the Trump era.” In fact, the number of confirmed COVID cases at the White House amounted to fourteen.

Is that the worst thing that has happened in the White House? During president Jimmy Carter’s term in office, singer Willie Nelson, was not on the road again but on the rooftop, with a beer in one hand and a huge Austin Torpedo spliff in the other, while taking in the sights of Washington. He claimed, “I guess the roof of the White House is the safest place I can think of to smoke dope.”

Actually, Willie didn’t know that an even safer place existed during the John F. Kennedy (JFK) era – the president’s bedroom. According to “Great American Anecdotes”, in July 1962 Jackie Kennedy’s friend and JFK’s lover, Mary Meyer, brought along a “small box with six joints” and after they shared one, JFK laughed and revealed they were having a White House conference on narcotics in a few weeks. They smoked two more joints and Kennedy closed his eyes, refusing a fourth joint because, “Suppose the Russians drop a bomb?”

In the “Dark Side of Camelot” writer Seymour Hersh claimed that Kennedy frequently used the Secret Service to help him smuggle women into the White House and some of them were often prostitutes supplied by organised crime figures. Boston Globe writer, Wyatt Redd, confirmed, “Kennedy famously complained that if he didn’t have sex at least once a day, he would start getting headaches. He seems to have taken that very seriously, with a long string of extra-marital affairs that spanned over the three years he was in office. The women JFK was involved with ranged from movie stars like Marilyn Monroe to young White House interns and even women who may have been closely linked to the Mafia”.

One of them, Judith Campbell Exner, admitted to being a courier between mobster Sam Giancana and JFK in their plans to assassinate Fidel Castro. JFK’s womanising was so bad that one day Mrs Kennedy handed her husband a pair of panties found in the presidential bed saying, “Here, find out who owns these. They’re not my size.” She even pointed to a White House staffer and said, to a French photographer in his native language, “And this is a young lady who is supposed to be sleeping with my husband.” An intern, Mimi Alford, wrote about a relationship with JFK that was similar to Monica Lewinsky’s with Clinton but not blown up to the same extent.

How does Kennedy’s behaviour compare with Richard Nixon’s obsession to “bump off” Washington columnist, Jack Anderson? Or Lyndon B. Johnson giving interviews while seated on the toilet? A biography, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”, claimed, “LBJ wasn’t remotely shy about his bodily functions—or his private parts. If the need to pee hit him, he’d whip out his member—which he affectionately dubbed Jumbo”— and let loose right then and there…” Grover Cleveland married his adopted daughter, George W. Bush insisted on travelling with his favourite pillow, and Barack Obama was known to crave cigarettes at times of tension.

All this led James O’Shea of Irish Central to write, “In that context, Donald Trump going to bed early with a cheeseburger for company, watching three television sets and shouting back at the screen seems like pretty normal behaviour.”

This is why, when I think of American presidents, my favourite is the taciturn Calvin Coolidge after whom “The Coolidge Effect” is named and who might have been JFK’s model as well. It is essentially that the sexual activity of both males and females increases when they are introduced to a new and receptive partner. He and his wife were being shown around separately on a Government farm and on passing the chicken run, Mrs Coolidge asked one of the staff how many times a day the rooster mounted the hens. “Dozens of times,” she was told. “Please tell that to the president when he passes by here,” she said.

The president turned up to see the chickens, and the hapless worker passed on Mrs Coolidge’s message. “Tell me,” replied the president, “does the rooster choose the same hen each time?” “Oh no,” the guide answered, “A different one every time.” “Please tell that to Mrs Coolidge,” advised the president.

*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “How do Mexicans feel about Donald Trump’s wall?” Angry but they will soon get over it.

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