How I Became a Fly On the Wall at the Bush Family Thanksgiving 2000.
By Zelda Morgan
I am a mural artist, and I like to eat, too. In September 2000, I received a phone call from an artist friend of mine in Texas, Virginia Brown. She said her sister needed a kidney transplant and that she was the only match. She was working on a job that needed to be finished before Dec. 18, and would I be able to complete it for her while she donated a kidney?
I needed some work and, yes, I'd be more than happy to help her and her family out in this medical emergency. "Of course."
Virginia lowered her voice and said, "This is an unusual job."
"How bad can it be?," I asked. "Their money's green, right?"
"It's for the former President of the United States, George Bush, Sr."
I was stunned. I started shaking. Virginia knew what she was laying on me. She knew I was thinking about her sister with a lousy kidney. She knew I was putting myself through an imaginary security clearance and dreading every minute of it.
"Don't worry," she said. "I passed it. If I can pass the security clearance, you can too."
"No way. You passed it?" I had gone to school with this girl in the seventies. I had known her well over the last seven years. If she passed the clearance, it would surely be a cakewalk for me. I started wondering about our national security. Was it all it was cracked up to be? Are they letting people like us in on things of national importance?
"Yes, I passed it. It's not that bad. I'll send you the plans on the mural, with the plane tickets and a check for 50 percent of the job. You wont regret this. The money is very green. They're medieval about it, though. They want to be patrons. They put you up in the guesthouse and buy your brushes for you. They've been very nice to me, top of the line. Good, sable brushes."
It was too late to back out. I was scheduled to arrive two days following the election, when things would calm down for them.
On Thursday, Nov. 9, I walked into the Dallas Airport and found a sign with my name, MORGAN. I nodded at the driver and shook his hand.
"Hello Ms. Morgan, welcome to Texas. I'm Dave Baker, I work for the Bushes, and I'll be your direct contact for anything you need -- supplies, personal needs. And I issue the checks for the house staff. I assume you received everything. You'll need to have your SS credentials ready to show when we get to the ranch."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Baker. Thank you. I think I'm all set." My luggage arrived and we were on our way.
We entered the ranch gates and my Secret Service ID was checked. Dave Baker showed no ID. The road from the gate was four miles to the main house. Dave asked, "You don't buy that story about the kidney and Virginia's sister do you?"
I looked straight ahead as if I could turn the car around if I got lined up with its direction. If I can truly align myself with this vehicle, I can change its course, I can turn it around with my thoughts. My head was spinning. I would take control of the car if I found I could move it at all.
'Did I buy that story...? Did I? Hell yes, I bought the story. I wanted the money. I opted for the gig. Yes, the kidney was what kept me from turning the job down when I found out who it was for. That kidney story, Virginia. What a gem! Oh, but the timing is so rotten. This turns out to be the closest election in U.S history, and I'm with the family that's involved in a huge way. This is now a crisis. This family has to be going nuts. And Virginia may have lied to me!'
Dave Baker had a slight snicker going on as we parked the car and gathered my luggage. He told me to take it easy for the rest of the day and that my dinner would arrive around 6. I settled into my little guesthouse quite nicely. It was going to be my refuge for the next few weeks.
In the morning, Dave called and said I should report to the main house to meet everyone. Breakfast was waiting.
Babs Bush, in person, was the biggest surprise. She actually is very cute and acts younger than Poppy. That's a wig she wears in public to look matronly. Her real hair is in a bob and more blonde than gray. She wore a knit, slacks set in teal, and she has a stunning figure. Poppy is just like we expect him to be, simple and drunk most of the time. I saw him sneaking scotch in his orange juice twice at that first sitting.
After breakfast, Babs showed me the partially finished mural, and I began assessing my plan of action. I was grateful to finally be doing the work after all the preliminary stuff that was so unusual in my life. I would be working in a long hall. It was on the first floor of the house, and the only three doors in the hall led to Poppy's office, the family room and Marvin's bedroom. The door to Marvin's room usually was closed and smelled like marijuana. Poppy's office door was always open, and there was no door on the family room entrance.
Even in the wake of a razor-close election, Poppy is pretty much ignored around the house all day. Babs rules the roost, while he's kept in his office all day playing solitaire on his computer, listening to Lee Greenwood tapes and swilling scotch. With all the madness I watch on the news each night, the house is noticeably void of any post-election activity. For example, Babs spends her days planning the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.
One day, Poppy came to his office door and stood way too close to my wet paint, "D'ya know anyshing about shese damn machines?"
"Oh, you mean your computer?"
"Yeah, I have the damnedest time figuratively shis shing out," he slurred.
"Sure, Poppy, I'd be glad to help you out in a minute. I'll be right there."
After just a couple days, it had become very easy to talk to Poppy. Any intimidation was in my own mind, and it quickly dissolved with reality. He was drunk out his gourd and forgot everything you said, so why sweat it?
Poppy needed me to help him open his AOL account.
The next day, Babs came to his office door. "Poppy, we have to work out the seating arrangements for Thursday."
"What is Shursday?"
"Thanksgiving," she said.
"Shit me anywhere you want 'shept next to that Katherine Harrish woman. Her face looks sho much like a turkey carcus, I might carve her instead." With this he roared. Grabbing his sides, he doubled over and giggled himself onto the floor. I had seen a picture of Katherine Harris myself, and I loved hearing this from a Republican.
Babs walked away from Poppy's office in a huff. She sat down in the family room and mulled over her seating arrangement. She put Dubya on Poppy's left at the table. He would have to look at the boil then.
The next day was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The grocery and liquor store made deliveries, and the silver was polished. I saw a lovely, silver tray with an engraving: "To my mentor and friend, Prescott. From Adolph." No political emblems or logos to fuss it up, just a gift between two pals.
That morning just before lunch, Marvin's door opened. Smoke billowed out of the room and caught my attention. There Marvin stood, sucking on a bong that extended to his knees. "Want a hit?" he gasped, holding in his breath.
I declined. Marvin turned around and closed the door, still sucking on the enormous bong.
Painting is an escape for me. Normally, I can tune the entire universe out and become part of the painting. I was having trouble concentrating in this house. I am used to many interruptions. In this case, however; my entire knowledge of the political system was being interrupted and unraveled. Babs, a dish in real life, playing matron to the public lens. Marvin, not really living in wedded bliss and working for an oil company; but sitting in his parents' house all day, smoking his brains out and watching Court TV. Poppy, tweaking out on scotch and waxing stupid all day ... no real surprise there.
I thought about Virginia and her sister's "diseased kidney." Could I top that?
My work day ended, and I retired to my guesthouse for the evening. About 9 that night I heard helicopters hovering overhead. It was Dubya! He was arriving in a car, but the helicopters were chartered by The National Inquirer and Hard Copy. I put my lipstick on and stuck my head out the door, smiling and waving at the photographers.
Laura was sitting at the breakfast table the next morning. I introduced myself and she smiled. She said, "Dubya will be down in a minute." She smiled. I smiled back and ate my breakfast. I thought it best not to mention the helicopters from the night before. That could be an everyday occurrence for these folks.
Dubya showed up for breakfast long after Babs and Poppy appeared. Dubya grabbed Poppy's orange juice and started to take a sip. Just holding the glass to his lips, taking a sniff, he winked at Poppy. Poppy took the glass out of Dubya's hands and said, "Not 'til after the inaugural." Everyone in the room laughed, but I could swear I heard the Mexican maid mutter under her breath, "You mean coup, don't you?."
I hurried through breakfast and rushed to get back to my painting for the day. I was going home that night for the holiday, and I could use the break. Later, Jeb, and his family showed up "just in time for lunch," as the Mexican maid put it.
Jeb's wife, Columba, was wearing a lovely French sweater and smelled wonderful. Poppy called her "Columblood."
He clicked his fingers and did a samba step every time he saw her. She came into the hallway to look at the mural. I liked her instantly. We chatted . Poppy changed his Lee Greenwood tape to Gloria Estefan and danced out into the hallway, spilling his scotch on my wet paint. The scotch splashed everywhere, and the wet paint dribbled down into my worst nightmare. I stood back in shock as Columba screamed in Spanish. (I can't repeat it in Spanish but I could tell by her tone what she said: "Poppy you stupid, old, shriveled old, crazy, old motherfucker.")
Barbara came into the room and saw what had happened. She looked at Poppy and it was thermal nuclear meltdown. He shriveled into a heap in the corner.
"Zelda, why don't you take a break?" Babs said, and I was on my way out the door.
In 20 minutes, Babs was knocking on my guesthouse door ready to handle damage control. I invited her in.
"That section took you a few days," she began. "I was hoping we could get this done before December. I was wondering if you would consider working through the holiday, and I'll increase your pay 50 percent."
Babs was the key to this family's success. No question in my mind who held the reins around there. She knew how to drive a hard bargain, and she had the barrels of cash to back it up.
"So, I understand you are having a family Thanksgiving here tomorrow. Are you sure I wont be in the way if I'm working?"
"No, no, not at all. I promise to keep Poppy away. It will be fine."
I called home and left a message that I would remain in Texas for Thanksgiving. I returned to the house and the messed up mural and worked the rest of the day.
Thanksgiving breakfast was quiet. They all slept in. I was alone working when Neil and Sharon showed up. Neil headed straight for Marvin's room; Sharon, for the liquor cabinet. Sharon soon came down the hall with a pitcher of Martinis in her hand. I stood in front of my wet paint like a Pinkerton guard. She went into Marvin's room, too.
The house was strangely quiet that morning. I wondered 'where's Dubya?' Every night I see the entire nation frantic in their determination of a president. Yet all of these people, who are so directly involved, are calm and nonplused by the ordeal. It's like there is no question in their minds. THEY ALREADY KNOW.
Around noon, things started to pick up. Poppy was being held under wraps in the dining room by Babs and Columba. They were teaching him how to set the table to keep him occupied. Marvin, Neil and Jeb were in Marvin's bedroom, playing The Doors on the stereo. Dubya was on the phone in Poppy's office, with the door closed. I could hear the phone ringing and Dubya answer, but then Jim Morrison would wail away and drown out the conversation. Laura was sitting alone in the family room, smiling at the television, which wasn't on.
As I was painting away, they began their Thanksgiving dinner around 2 p.m. Poppy, at the head of the table, announced that they had been stood up by Katherine Harris. Everyone booed. Poppy began carving the turkey. Babs started passing around the side dishes. There was no prayer, I noted, just the tinkling of glass, various slopping sounds and a plethora of grunts.
Just when I began thinking "This is no dinner with the Kennedys', Poppy brings up politics. "Dubya," he says, "so what are your plans now?"
"I cover my ass, sir?" responded Dubya. Still guessing.
Poppy replied, "Well, my little Mini-Me, this is what you'll have to do. You are gonna have to take the cow by the horns, yer gonna hafta...." And he looked Dubya in the face to give his son the best political advice he could muster. But instead he said, "Jaysus H. Christ, Dubya, I'm trying to eat here. Will ya cover that damn thing up fer chrissakes."
Poppy, at that point, was just coming out of his drunken stupor in time to be staring -- head to head, as it were -- at Dubya's boil.
Babs chimed in, "Dubya, I hope you have what it takes to do this."
I thought to myself, 'Babs, you go, girl'
"Mommy, I can do this, I can delegate." Dubya's favorite political philosophy came though in a pinch.
Babs took command of the table. In a reverent and stern tone, she said, "So, Dubya, you're saying the meat can be rotten as long as the side dishes are good?"
I won't name names, but three of them were holding forks full of white turkey meat at their lips. They stopped and put their forks down on their plates. This meal was over.
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