What Could Happen
P.S. Because of the tremendous need to change the fundamental direction of our nation, I have asked Guy to inform me of your response to my letter.
—postscript to a fund-raising letter sent out to Republicans by Vice President George Bush
NORM RAYMOND FOLDED the letter and replaced it with some difficulty in its august envelope. Covering one corner, in navy blue, was the familiar cocksure national bird and under it the words “The Vice President.” That eagle—he wanted to love it as an American ought to, but it was so darned . . . its stomach all striped like the Union Pacific Railway sign, its one claw grasping darts and in the other something trailing and ambiguous, possibly a bunch of lilies, which he knew Nancy liked so much. “Lilies in crystal vases—that’s what Nancy Reagan will bring to the White House,” one of her rich friends had been quoted as saying. And why not? She was undoubtedly the most powerful woman in Washington, so what was so surprising about it? It was the New Elegance—Betsy Bloomingdale, Buddy Ebsen, the Walter Annenberg estate, of which he had seen so many aerial views.
Ill at ease and almost disoriented in his no-iron synthetics, Norm put the letter aside and went out to the kitchen to get himself a snack. As he did so, he thought long and hard about that letter. He would like to contribute something to the patriotic war chest. And as a widower with grown children he should be able to. But he was having a tough time this month. Still, he didn’t care to think about being called to account for that fact to Mr. Bush, or to Mr. Bush’s friend Guy! And then, what mightn’t they do? As an ex-executive, Mr. Bush might naturally turn to his—Norm’s—supervisor, Edward Peeley. Flattered, Peeley would undoubtedly fall at Mr. Bush’s feet. Mr. Bush might promise an easing of certain regulations and invite him somewhere for eighteen holes. Kimberly Peeley, of whom her father was so proud, might next be seen at the White House Easter Egg Hunt, and then Peeley would be given a token job at the CIA—in the mail room, but at twice his present salary. Or Guy might find him a spot on the War Chest Committee. In the meantime, Peeley would have turned over to them every scrap of information about Norm himself, including what his salary was. But how can I fight it? he wondered. It’s politics as usual, the name of the game. Who knows? Perhaps they would call him one night around 3 A.M. and say, “Are you with us, Raymond? Or against us?”
But wasn’t it mad to suppose that Mr. Bush would really go after him? Norm was not one of your Exxon chiefs, or your highly visible Bob Hopes. He was a faithful, if undistinguished, Republican. (As a youngster he had favored Hoover—even embracing the trickle-down concept.) Yet, he did begin to understand the administration’s strategy, now that he thought it over. Undistinguished but faithful Republicans like himself, quietly living out the American dream, might, when mobilized, constitute a fabulous resource—might make the crucial difference when the ‘82 elections came along. And it was only natural that they should want to keep tabs on their real supporters! The administration had the “Glitter and Grace,” sure, and the “New Elegance.” But would these really suffice to prevent liberal activist groups from watering down or overturning key initiatives, before they had a chance to take effect? He would give, and generously, next month!
Two weeks after the arrival of Mr. Bush’s letter, it came—in an ivory vellum suggestive of majesty, a private but all-American majesty. No return address. Norm just held it in his hand and gazed at it, and received a sensation of indefinable promise. He opened it and drew the little bit of tissue away and read:
Mr. and Mrs. Walter Annenberg, the publishing moguls, request the pleasure of the company of
Mr. Norm Raymond
at a select gala at their estate, the Annenberg Estate on April 12
Norm smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. By George, they would have the pleasure of his company, and he would work his fingers to the bone for them, out of gratitude.
During these first minutes of triumph, Norm’s habitual anxiety and diffidence melted away. He jumped up and called his daughters to tell them the news, and then he set about packing his bag. He put in his best summer suit and his white shoes, and as he did so, he murmured, “We built it, it’s ours.”
THE FLIGHT TO California was quick and pleasant, and Norm passed the time in re-reading everything he had on the administration. Then, if the gala should include a briefing, he would not disgrace himself. Among the things that interested him particularly was the fact that sure, the President was the President, and ditto the First Lady, but they were also the First Host and First Hostess of our land, and they had brought an almost European glitter to the White House. Also, that the First Hostess believed women had gone too far, yet was spunky in her own way, like when she was criticized, which was so beautiful. The First Host, moreover, had not been too high and mighty to “check out” his son and find him “100% male”! But Norm, for his part, felt it like a knife in his heart that his Chief’s son should be a dancer. Most important of all, though, Norm admired the President’s style of dealing with his enemies. No Democrat, however pessimistic, however hostile, could embitter the man or make him stoop to that level. How well Norm knew—and felt he understood—that aggrieved but kindly facial expression; it was more like a man who has thirty toddlers trying to crawl on him at once!
During the last fifteen minutes of the flight, Norm put Sani-White on his shoes and checked his appearance in a new traveling mirror. He knew he was handsome, but those days of taking it for granted were definitely over.
At the terminal, a good-looking young man in livery—could it be the Osmond boy?—approached him and greeted him by name. Norm reached inside his jacket for his invitation.
“Don’t bother!” said the boy with a smile, and they walked together to the curbside, where a silver-blue van marked “Annenberg” awaited them.
“Well, that’s everybody, I guess,” he said. Norm climbed into the second seat and they whirled away to Palm Springs in the blazing sunlight.
In spite of the dozens of aerial photos he had seen, Norm was thrilled and impressed by the splendors they passed once they had turned off Bob Hope Drive, past the barbed wire, onto the estate. But as a Republican, he did not begrudge the owners a thing—not one hole of the golf course, not one splinter of the 32,600-square-foot Mayanesque house.
“It’s a fine place,” he said to the driver.
“It sure is,” the boy replied with pride.
They pulled up before a charming guesthouse. And who was standing there, all in red, but the First Hostess! Norm scrambled down with his bag and hurried toward her along the flowerbordered walk, his hand outstretched, his knees trembling.
“How do you do, Mrs. ...”
“Hello, Mr. Raymond,” she said with great charm.
“I’m so proud to be invited here . . . and ...”
“We’re very glad you could make it. Let me show you your room,” she said.
It was a cozy bungalow—beautifully if not grandly furnished, and five or six times larger than Norm’s own home. Everywhere he saw photos from the Eisenhower years. He set his big bag down on a rack at the foot of the bed.
“I hope you didn’t trouble yourself too much about clothes,” said the First Hostess. “You’ll be wearing these tonight,” and she gestured toward a small red jacket with gold buttons. The shirt was already inside it. Next to the jacket was placed a red bellhop-style hat.
“And thank you for coming, Mr. Raymond.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to . . .” Norm expostulated, then realized she had gone. Well, as he perfectly well knew, as First Hostess she took pains to see to everything herself, menu and all, and she must have plenty to do. And as he knew from his reading, it was the first Host who “created the bonhomie.”
Norm explored his quarters and freshened up. He thought briefly of his daughters, and even, with a smile, of old Peeley—who was at that moment probably plugging away at his desk!
Then, at five o’clock precisely, a Mr. Dennis came in and asked Norm to follow him up to the house. “The gala will be out of doors,” he explained.
“Oh, very nice,” said Norm happily. He was satisfied with his appearance— the white shoes, the red jacket with the buttons. But the red hat he had decided not to wear if he could do so without offense.
“Your hat, Mr. Raymond,” said Mr. Dennis, pointing at the bed.
“Oh!” said Norm. He took up the hat and put it on, drawing the patent-leather band under his chin.
“I guess I just forgot it.”
“And this,” said Mr. Dennis. It was a white pin made of plastic with “Norm” printed on it. “You can put it over your pocket.”
“What a good idea,” said Norm. “This way I won’t be such a stranger.”
Mr. Dennis held the door for him and they walked out together.
“Actually, I’m Jack Kemp,” said Mr. Dennis. “I do this sort of thing to help out, and I call myself ‘Mr. Dennis.’ No one is closer to the President than I am.”
“Oh, I know it, Mr. Kemp. Not in the Congress, anyway,” said Norm. “You have his ear, all right.”
Mr. Kemp set a pretty fast pace up the impeccable drive toward the Mayanesque house, but as they strode along, Norm was too excited to keep silent. “I’m with you totally on that tax business,” he said.
Mr. Kemp nodded, but no other words were exchanged between the two, as they were now very near the beautiful house and many guests had arrived. Norm saw three or four other men clad as he was, as well as a stout woman in a red ballet suit. Mr. Kemp abruptly left his side and before he knew where he was, Norm was standing in a cloud of perfume: eight glamorous, middle-aged blonde women stood before him as if in a pageant! He recognized them at once as the Big Eight—Nancy’s soulmates!— each one of whom was married to a millionaire ranch-investor or a “Here’s Boomer” producer! Each one of whom had a bow on her dress and, more important, shared with her Hostess the conviction that family life was a good thing. They smiled at him enigmatically.
“Here’s someone we haven’t met,” said the most beautiful one.
“Hello, ‘Norm’!” exclaimed another.
“How do you do!” said Norm, extending a hand and then withdrawing it as their attention was suddenly diverted by the exuberant behavior of a tall man wearing glasses. He was on his knees in a flower bed, tearing dahlias and hollyhocks up by the roots.
“Come and get ‘em, ladies!” he was shouting pleasantly.
“That Jim!” said one of the women. “You know, I asked him to get me a teeny franchise in Yellowstone. Oh, that reminds me, Nancy’s switched florists!”
“What? What are you going to do?”
“Confront her, of course.”
Norm was confused, and began to think about moving away quietly when he saw a tall, genial man approaching with an easy greatness. The ladies all turned happily to greet him, and Norm tried to compose himself for this meeting with the Chief.
“We were just meeting Norm,” said one of the ladies.
“Well, I hope you women didn’t go too far!” said the President.
“The outfit is darling,” said another.
“We built it, it’s ours,” said the President with bonhomie, extending a hand to Norm.
“How do you do, sir.”
“How do you do, Norm. Gosh, I’m glad you could make it out here. The First Lady and I appreciate your making the trip.”The President released Norm’s hand, and for a moment they stood in affable silence. Norm was alarmed to see traces of sadness suddenly appear on the President’s face.
“Norm,” he said, and a little tear actually appeared in the corner of his right eye. “There are people in this country of ours,” he began, almost sternly, then faltered.
“Welfare cheats?” said Norm emotionally. “Quitters?”
The President’s face relaxed. “Yes, Norm, and some others. ...” and again he had to pause emotionally, and ended by merely shaking his head.
Norm shook his head, too.
At that moment, though, Mr. Dennis appeared and touched the President’s arm, and whispered in his ear. He nodded and turned back to Norm. “Norm, thanks.”
“Minorities!” said Norm. The President nodded genially, then went away.
Terribly excited, Norm took a deep breath. He looked up with pleasure at the beautiful house and the pleasant, chatting people who had made him welcome. He decided then and there to go to the red-white-and-blue canopy where the bar was, but was stopped by another familiar-looking man (Ed Meese?) coming toward him with a loaded tray.
“I’m Ed Meese, Norm. Here’s the canapes. No eavesdropping—just circulate, try not to spill anything. Some of the outfits on these women are worth seven, eight thousand dollars apiece.”
The White House chief of staff! Norm was thinking. What was he talking about, though? “These women are going too far!" Norm exclaimed hastily.
This made Ed Meese mad. “Don’t you go too far, Norm,” he said severely. Then he handed Norm the tray and walked back into the crowd.
Terribly ill at ease, Norm sank down onto the grass, then suddenly stood up again, for it seemed to him the whole crowd was calling—“Hey, over here! More canapes!” □