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Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2005, or, I Cover the White House Part 3

Finally someone official showed up to escort the press over to the OEB for the Pardon and we all filed outside again, into the sunshine, wind and cold. And we stood in the driveway and waited some more, so I drew a little bit of the OEB.


Then the all-clear was sounded and our minder led us down the drive and into the loading dock entrance to the OEB. As we squeezed in between the trucks parked there one of the reporters called out "This way you scum! The front door's too good for the likes of you!" and everybody snickered, even me, who was better dressed and unused to such rough treatment. We were led down an endless series of high-ceiling hallways to a bank of elevators with, if I remember correctly, actual uniformed elevator operators. Eventually we made it to the third floor, down another back hall, and into a medium-sized auditorium. This was filled at the back by dozens of cameras and lights hung everywhere. Just as we were filing in, a mass of grade-school children were also entering and I got swept up with them and suddenly found myself sitting in their midst, about 6 rows back. It took me a moment to realize I was in the wrong place, as the rest of the press was all lined up in the back and on the sides, but I was too well dressed to be mistaken for an actual reporter. So I scrunched down and pulled out my sketchbook, and became invisible again.


In front of me was a stage with a door on the left of the back wall, a podium with the presidential seal, some flags and a table covered with handsome blue cloth at about center stage. Busy people kept coming and going onstage, all of them talking into cellphones and peering into the bright lights. Behind me, members of the working press were aiming their cameras and talking into celphones. The kids around me were all shuffling off their coats and chatting and bouncing in their seats. Talking to those around me, I found out they were all from Clarksville Elementary School, and they'd been invited to the ceremony after their school raised more than $17,000 for the Red Cross for Hurricane Katrina relief. They were all pretty excited by the show biz dazzle of the executive branch in full photo op mode.


Pretty soon they got restless and started wondering when something was going to happen and where was the president, anyway? Their teachers, all sitting on the aisle, were telling them to settle down, he'd be out soon, and I told the kids near me to watch the people on stage because it looked like something was about to happen. I don't remember who showed up first, the president or the turkey. But I do remember that just before either of them arrived a few last people with cellphones carefully straightened the rug onstage. Then the door at the back of the stage was opened and President Bush, a turkey, and several turkey wranglers stepped onstage and everyone's attention and camera was focused on them. The turkey wranglers were from the National Turkey Federation, and they carried a large white tom, whose name was Marshmallow, to the table, and he sat there looking unfazed. Bush went to the podium to make his remarks and grant the pardon.


I noticed that Dick Cheney was also onstage, standing in back. He was pink-faced and avuncular and had that little half-smile going on, looking not at all like a war profiteer. I pointed him out to the kids near me.

But they were enchanted by the turkey and kept sitting up higher in their seats to get a better look.

President Bush began his remarks by noting how seriously he took this pardon, and how it confered a measure of responsibility on the two birds. Previously the spared turkeys had been sent to Frying Pan Park, but this year Marshmallow and his back up, Yam, who was in a truck on the South Lawn, would be sent to Disneyland to be the Grand Marshalls in their Thanksgiving Parade. All the kids said Ooooh. Then Bush thanked everyone for being there; the turkey people, and the kids from Clarksville. All the kids cheered. I noticed that Mrs. Bush had stepped into the auditorium by a side door and I pointed out to the kids near me. One asked, what's her name? And all I could think of was Wally (see part 1). I knew that was wrong and I didn't say Wally because I thought that hard-nosed cop might somehow hear and come and haul me away.

When Bush finished everybody applauded and he invited the kids up to meet Marshmallow. I thought about going, but I didn't; my journalistic ethics precluded me from gladhanding the Nation's Turkey. Then it was over, the P and VP exited with a mass of people on cellphones, and the press was ushered out into the back hall. One thing I noticed as we left was the handsome blue cloth covered table was covered in turkey poop, and so was about half the neatly arranged rug. This time the press walked down the stairs and on the way down I chatted with another reporter, a guy in a suit, tie and overcoat like mine. He was from a suburban Virginia paper and he'd never had this kind of glamour assignment either, and consequently overdressed too.

On the walk back to the Post I wrote the cartoon in my head, more or less. When I got there I drew it in about 4 or 5 hours (working away from my studio always takes a psychic adjustment as I'm easily distracted). This what I drew.



4 comments:

Jeanie W said...

You can read this sentence with "a turkey" as an appositive:

"Then the door at the back of the stage was opened and President Bush, a turkey, and several turkey wranglers stepped onstage..."

If you remove the "but" from this sentence, someone else becomes the turkey:

"But they were enchanted by the turkey and kept sitting up higher in their seats to get a better look."

Stacy Curtis said...

Great story, Richard!
I can't imagine someone who does so much illustration work and a daily comic strip would have time for so much writing, but I've completely enjoyed following this experience on your blog! I'm glad you worked the turkey poop into your cartoon. Awesome!

Mike Rhode said...

Hah! Excellent!

paul bowman said...

Most perfect part of this whole sublime 3-part thing, to my mind, is your somehow ending up sitting in the middle of a bunch of elementary school kids in that setting. 'Wrong place' for the press, maybe -- but surely the cosmic rightness of the moment isn't lost on anybody reading here.