Columns » Bob Lancaster

Presidential end around

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This year, as every year on President's Day, JFK got up the south lawn touch-football game. It's one of those if-you-schedule-it-they-will-come deals, and they do come, all 42 of them last Monday, George W. (Jersey No. 1) to George W. (Jersey No. 43). Some game notes follow. Clinton (No. 42) is always late, already a tradition -- sometimes the game is almost over by the time he makes the scene, and even then he and Harding (No. 29) have to cruise the sidelines prospecting for pep-squad skank and casing the jailbait pom-poni till the zeebs threaten to hit them with five for delay. Shepherding up the players and getting them focused on ball is at least half the challenge at Camelot Field on the big day. Carter (No. 39) up in the stands selling peanuts, and Taft (No. 27), McKinley (No. 25), and Cleveland (Nos. 22 and 24) buying and eating them all. Even the bags and hulls. "Why don't you run back down to Plains, little feller, and haul us up a wagon load?" Grant (No. 18) wandering solitary and morose down by the shirts' runway tunnel (yes, this game admits of grandstands and tunnels and other atmospherics), trying to dodge Betty Ford, who's determined to get him into her rehab joint, or, as he construes it, Hell. "It's the pain, ma'am," he tells her. " In my day and time busthead's near about the only remedy, and a mighty poor one at that," but this obviously doesn't register on Mrs. F. Her frozen smile almost hides the fugitive notion that a real gent in this tableau would make the polite gesture of tilting the flask in her direction, as if to say, "Snort?" Coolidge (No. 30) is asleep there on the bench, not from drinking or pre-game overexertion but merely from habit, and, with the hatbrim shielding, but for the apnea no one would ever know. Ford (No. 38), you might have surmised, doesn't have the upstairs light on either, but with him it's not sleep. I don't think it is. He goes around trying to get the other presidents to butt (unhelmeted) heads with him, or, when they tell him to get lost or beat it, to bump chests, the newest thing in on-field exuberance. Somehow Ford missed the whole high-five epoch, and the low-five one too. He never did figure out what they were trying to tell him about Poland. He's got a special end-zone celebration planned if he ever scores a TD, unlikely inasmuch as centers rarely put points on the board. What he envisions is an end-zone fumble, but you know Ol' 38. He'd require someone to call time and point out the loose ball to him, and allow him to commence his pounce before live action resumed, as the announcers say. Even then, it would surely squirt away. Or he'd try to…what?… punt? They laugh at Ford, not with him, but he's become the heart and soul of this P.D. game. Before him, the thing had a quality of being a twit outing for New England fancy-boys, like a polo set or croquet round-robin. After he came, it developed into the big All-American wallow where you get hamstrings and strawberries and have your bell rung, where you pile on (yes, even in touch) and do flea-flickers and have to stretcher and van off the dried-up and hyper-extended oldtimers like Tippecanoe (No. 9) and the Gipper Too (No. 40) who haven't quite figured out yet how fleeting the razzmatazz even here in the interactive football Twilight Zone. That's a Prez Day game that we can all get into, just light years better than when you had the likes of Richard Goodwin and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. squealing around out there dropping easy passes and protesting as too brutal even the sissiest of downfield blocking attempts. No wonder the Bay of Pigs turned out like it did. Ford is at the extreme from Kennedy (No. 35) in that sense, and from Wilson (No. 28) and J.Q. Adams (No. 6) in another - they being the only two prezzes who, though putting in appearances, have steadfastly refused to suit up for this game, or to participate in the festivities, thinking it beneath their dignity, or some such damned thing. Wilson even threatened to make Freedom From Football the Fifth Freedom if they didn't get out of his face about it. LBJ (No. 36) said, "Wilson won't play because that stick up his ass chafes him when he runs." A pity Freud didn't come along sooner so J.Q. Adams could've used the game to get in some Oedipal licks against his shrimp daddy (No. 2). A good clothesline or heavy-duty chuck by his bookish boy might've done Pap some good too, all ahuff out there, wanting to hoose off under the Alien and Sedish anybody who expressed doubt about his ability to run the ball. Needed taking down a peg or two, except after two pegs wouldn't have been anything left but the haughty. And speaking of diminution, tiny Madison (No.4), fallen upon by those Gilded Age Republican hippopotami after an option sweep, is reduced to a greasy spot - never before known to have happened to a haint. What's next for the spot? Just left there for Bush the Younger (No. 43) to come out evenings and laugh at and toe derisively with a Texican boot? Maybe cover it finally with one of those Gilley mechano bulls. I wish I could tell you what Nixon was doing out there, the little birds still tweeting in circles around his head. And Hoover (No. 31) still doesn't know the snap count, or when he's supposed to pull, or who he's supposed to block, or anything else; still and forever can't bring himself either to pooty or get off the pot. Old Hickory's gleeful crackbacks leave poor Fillmore (No. 13) doddering like a weevil. Shirts 18, Skins 6, and trust FDR (No. 32) on this one: a score of unshirted presidents without their manzeers is a sight that will live in infamy.

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