Not many folks realize that from time to time, President Bush goes into public as just "regular folk", kind of like the Prince in The Prince and The Pauper
book. Naturally he goes incognito. One of those occasions was the day after Thanksgiving, known to American shoppers as "Black Friday". If it never occurred to you, the President has a lot of gifts to buy before Christmas.
This year, President Bush arranged for me, his lowly intern, to take him shopping at a Baltimore mall, popular with African Americans who would least be likely to recognize him. I picked up the President at the airport at four in the morning. He had just flown in from Crawford where most folks thought he was spending all Thanksgiving weekend.
He hopped into my 1998 Corolla and we were off, followed by 12 Secret Service agents in three black Buicks. The President wasn't recognizable at all since he was dressed like a Hasidic Jew with a long black beard, dangling sideburns, a big black hat that wasn't a Stetson and a long black silk coat. Only the cowboy boots seemed out of place.
"I swear, Mr. President, even your mother wouldn't recognize you," I said as I drove quickly on the near-empty roads.
"I think she would," the Presdent said. "This is the outfit she wore on Halloween last year."
By the time we got to the mall, there was already quite a line-up at Wal-Mart. "Do we have to get in line?" the President asked.
I said that we could ask the Secret Service to butt in for us but folks might get suspicious of federal agents using their authority to get a religious Jew to the front of the line for Christmas shopping. He agreed, so we got into line with a lot of folks, mostly dark-skinned who looked at us kind of strange.
When the Secret Service agents, who I suppose might be mistaken for policemen, got out of their cars and started approaching the line, a lot of folks for some reason decided to step out of line and leave. So we moved up a lot quicker than we expected.
When the doors to Wal-Mart opened at six, the President and I were in the first wave to make it into the store. Unfortunately, the 12 Secret Service agents were being held back since the store had reached its limit. I'm not sure exactly what happened but I did see two elderly Wal-Mart greeters lying on the floor and the agents were soon surrounding us.
"Where do you want to start?" I asked the President.
"I reckon I ought to get Laura's present first," he replied.
"What kind of gift were you thinking of?" I asked.
"Something frilly. Something sexy. Some kind of lingerie to get a man interested, if you know what I mean. Ever since she made those nasty remarks about me at that Correspondents' Dinner—'asleep at nine every night'—I figure I better get back in the saddle, if you know what I mean."
I could feel my face burning red. The President continued,"But it's been hard to get excited about Laura since she goes to bed in these nightgowns that look like they're made of horse blankets. Do you think Wal-Mart's got a good lingerie department?"
"Maybe we should save that particular gift for later," I said. "I think there's a store in the mall that might specialize in that kind of item."
"But will the prices be as good as Wal-Mart's?" the President asked.
"Sir, I doubt it." So we went to the Wal-Mart Ladies' Department where the President, dressed like a Hasidic Jew, elbowed his way past what looked like the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys and into a discount bin of see-through nighties.
"At this price," he shouted, "I'm getting two!"
"Okay," the President said enthusiastically. "Now for the Twins. I need something hip for them. Something really fashionable."
"This may not be the store..." I started to say but the President said, "I didn't fly all the way up from Crawford just to miss out on the great deals. Find me something hip and priced real good."
We fought our way through the throngs. The Secret Service made some effort to clear a path for us, pushing and punching a few shoppers. "Oy vey," the President said from time to time to maintain the illusion.
"How about those?" the President said pointing to a rack of Daisy Mae blouses, made in China for about a quarter a piece. "They look kind of pretty, Oy vey."
He grabbed two blouses, both red.
"Don't you think Jenna and Barb might want different colors?"
"Heck no, they're twins" the President replied. "They love dressing up alike."
"Now I need something for that old bat of a mother. I don't supposed they sell enema kits here, do they?" He waved a secret service agent over and asked him to check the pharmacy for enema kits. "Get the one with the widest hose, even if it costs more."
"What about your father?" I asked.
"Don't worry about him. He's starting to get forgetful. I'll just tell him that I just gave him whatever sweater he happens to be wearing. That'll make him happy."
For some reason, the shopping spree with the President of the United States wasn't turning out to be as much fun as I had expected.
To make a long story short, I left the mall carrying a small shopping bag with the President's gifts while the President pushed a shopping cart holding a 50 inch plasma screen TV he'd bought for himself that we put into my trunk and bungeed closed. I guess it was a successful shopping trip because the President seemed very happy. He was singing something that went "If I was a rich man" and he offered to buy me knish for lunch, whatever that is.