Not talking about “W” here, but his dad – George Herbert Walker. Number 41. The guy who’s now 88 years old and, sadly, uses a wheelchair and a walker. I’m told he has some degenerative muscle affliction with a name I can neither pronounce nor spell.
Regardless, he’s the president who won’t leave me alone. Let me explain.
All the Bushes were, and are, devotees of a little Southwest Florida paradise named Boca Grande where I had a second home for many years. (Which is why my first two novels, Boca Moon and Boca News, were set there). When Bush 41 was the prez, he usually visited the island resort in the winter, the time of year I rented my house to an Ohio couple as an antidote to their bouts of January teeth chattering.
But one time George H.W. came to Boca Grande when my wife and I were there and he would not leave me alone. And still won’t!
It wasn’t because we encouraged him. On the contrary, we decided we would do everything in our power to avoid the poor man and give him and Barbara some peace. We figured it wouldn’t be too difficult, mainly owing to the army of secret service we expected.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
It began when we arrived “on island” (that’s what the Boca Granders say) and retrieved our 22 foot back country fishing boat from the high and dry marina. We followed our ritual: my wife drove the car to our dock and waited for me while I idled the boat down the bayou with our jet black cockapoo perched elegantly on the bow like a Phoenician figurehead, occasionally barking at a brown pelican.
My route took me under the bridge which the famous old Gasparilla Inn uses to get to their golf course. As I drew closer to the bridge I noticed a man in a golf cart stopped at the top of bridge watching me. I did a double take because the man looked rather like the president but I dismissed the thought as there was absolutely no one else around (read: bruisers in dark suits wearing hearing aids).
As I crept closer to the bridge, barely moving at idle speed, I felt my throat go a little dry as I realized that, in fact, the leader of the free world and I were staring at each other. I slipped the boat into neutral, and since I was moving against the tide, came to a virtual stop, never breaking eye contact.
“That’s the weirdest looking boat I’ve ever seen in my life,” said POTUS, with a large, Dana Carvey-like grin.
Now, you may think I had just been insulted. Indeed, I had not. It was actually a high compliment from the president, who, like me, is a fanatical angler and knows a leading edge back country “fishing machine” when he sees one. And that’s what that boat was. One of the first of its kind, it had a mostly flat bottom, a tunnel drive, a jack plate, a center console tower, and gunwales just high enough to trip over. It was designed to run in 8” deep back country water and sneak up on redfish and snook.
George Bush knew all that, and he knew I knew he knew it. Consequently, he also knew he was on very safe ground telling a constituent his boat was “weird”.
“Thank you, Mr. President,” I got out after a couple of gulps.
A brief conversation ensued, mostly about my boat, but it touched on a wonderful chap named Capt. Phil O’Bannon (www.obannonscharter.com), the president’s longtime local fishing guide, and the fact that I also used Phil for tarpon fishing with fly rod in the Gulf waters off the Boca Grande beaches.
“Well, gotta go,” he suddenly said with another grin and a wave over his shoulder. I had read accounts of Bush’s record golf rounds – not the scores, but their short duration. Maybe that’s why there were no secret service around – who could draw a bead on this dragonfly of a man who would light here and there for moments at a time?
He never asked my name and I thought that would be that.
But once again I was wrong because the next day on the way out fishing I pulled into the Inn Marina for fuel and there was the throng. The hearing aid guys were there this time along with a small crowd of islanders. The president was boarding Capt. Phil O’Bannon’s flats skiff to go snook fishing. Once again, I had eye contact with POTUS.
“There’s that boat again,” he said with jocularity, this time even more Carvey-like.
Well, that would surely be it, I thought.
Nope. On Sunday my wife and I took our usual seats down front in the little Episcopal church on the island. Hadn’t been sitting there two minutes when guess who sat right beside us. Yep. There was one suit wearing a hearing aid sitting right behind us. During the offering, Barbara leaned toward POTUS and, in almost a stage whisper, said, “Do you have any money?” whereupon, the president began groping in each pocket, wearing a panicked expression. Finally, Barbara solved it by reaching in her purse.
After the service, he turned to me. I said, “Good morning, Mr. President.”
He studied me for an instant and I saw something register in his eyes. He stuck out his hand and I took it and he said, “You’re the guy with the weird boat.”
I beamed with delight and opened my mouth to say something else. I wasn’t sure what, but my thoughts were yes, we were available for cocktails that evening, and yes, I could accompany him fishing the next day. But, while my mouth was still open, he uttered a quick “nice to see you again”, turned on his heel, and left, shaking hands with other parishioners on the way out.
Some years later when I became a novelist, I sent him a signed copy of my first book, Boca Moon, which was set in his – and my – beloved Boca Grande. In my note, I reminded him of my “weird boat” and received a lovely note of thanks – one of his trademarks.
So, why do I say he still won’t leave me alone?
Because I gave a copy of the second book in my “Boca” series, Boca News, to my friend, former congressman Lou Frey (The Frey Report – www.loufreyinstitute.org). Lou is a good friend of H.W. and I suggested he give the former president his copy and tell him about my new book, Catch a Falling Knife, which is coming out any day now. I thought Bush might be particularly interested in it because it’s about an attack on one of our container ship ports.
“Lou, please tell that fellow with the weird boat that I want a copy of that new book!”
According to Lou, that’s what George Bush said.
I plan to send him one. Maybe then he’ll leave me alone.
Frank is the author of Catch a Falling Knife, visit www.CatchaFallingKnifeNovel.com