IF YOU’VE SEEN ONE LINCOLN Bedroom, you’ve seen ’em all.
Yes, those news reports are true. I did spend a night at the White House as a guest of President and Mrs. Bush. It’s not true that I slept in the Lincoln Bedroom, but I did visit the place, and I hung out there long enough to bounce on the bed and soak up what residual ambience remained after Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, and half of Hollywood had done their best to suck out some of its soul.
Kinkster, you’re probably asking, how in the hell did you get to the White House in the first place? By limo, of course—by special White House limo, blue as the deep blue sea. It picked me up just in the nick of time in front of Washington’s posh Willard Hotel, where I’d been waiting with my friend, Jimmie “Ratso” Silman, the little Lebanese boy in my band. The doormen at the Willard were obviously ignorant of my talents, and the situation was not helped by the fact that Ratso and I were wearing large black cowboy hats and that Ratso, who looks a bit like Saddam Hussein in a jovial mood, kept shouting, “Kinky’s goin’ to the White House! Kinky’s goin’ to the White House!”
In the end, of course, Ratso was vindicated, and I was quickly whisked over to a large portico of the White House where many news photographers had gathered to watch the president depart by helicopter for a speech in Virginia. I was escorted inside and deposited at one end of a huge, ornately furnished empty corridor that wasn’t empty for long, because the president, accompanied by several aides, soon appeared at the other end, rushing toward me. He gave me a big hug, then hurried for the helicopter, shouting over his shoulder, “I’ll be back soon. Make yourself at home.”
In a flash he was gone, and I was standing alone in the White House with my busted valise. Before long a friendly hostess came up and escorted me down the hallway. “Your room is on the third floor in the family compound,” she said. “You’re right across the hall from the solarium, where you can smoke your cigars. Hughie used to smoke there.”
“Hughie?” I said.
“Hughie Rodham,” she said. “Hillary’s brother.”
Some of the romance of getting to smoke a cigar in the White House is knowing that you’re following in the smoke rings of great men. Maybe you’re puffing peacefully away in the very chair where Thomas Jefferson once stoked a stogie. Or Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain, or Winston Churchill. Somehow Hughie Rodham wasn’t quite the historical predecessor I was hoping for.
After dropping off my stuff, I took a stroll through the solarium and exited a side door onto the balcony. I found a chair, lit a cigar, and looked over the foreboding landscape of the nation’s capital. The time and place was not lost upon me. It was December 7, 2001, Pearl Harbor Day, and the whole country was waiting for the other terrorist shoe to drop, and I was sitting on a balcony at the White House, what could well be the prime target of the enemy. I glanced up at the roof and saw two ninjalike figures, dressed entirely in black, creeping along the roof with automatic weapons. “I hope they’re ours,” I said to the Washington Monument. “Stand tall,” the monument replied.
By the time I got back to my room, a tray of rather coochi-poochi-boomalini hors d’oeuvres had been placed on the table and a beautiful hand-blown Christmas tree ornament in the shape of the White House and signed by President and Mrs. Bush was nestled in gift-wrapping on my bed. As a proud Red Sea pedestrian, I normally don’t have a lot of uses for Christmas tree ornaments. I figured I’d either have to hang it or hang myself, and at the moment, I was leaning toward the latter. I hadn’t seen a human being in quite a while now, and the somewhat disturbing notion crossed my mind that if the president didn’t come back soon, I might have to become an Alexander Haig impersonator and take over the government.
Several hours later my fears were assuaged as I joined the president and a group of about forty family members and friends in the State Dining Room for dinner. I found myself seated at Laura Bush’s right. Politically speaking, I’m not sure if I’m to the right of Laura Bush, but she’s a woman who definitely has her own ideas. I took a chance and asked her if she’d headline a benefit in Austin for the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch. I told her that I’d already asked Willie Nelson, who’d said yes and then backed out (Willie will say yes to anything that’s more than two weeks away). I mentioned that I’d also approached Lyle Lovett but that was just before Lyle had been approached by a large, angry bull. “So I’m your third choice,” the first lady said thoughtfully. “Okay, I’ll do it.” Thanks to her, the event was a big financial pleasure.
After dinner, the president asked me to read a few of my columns from this magazine, which I did, working without a microphone, walking around between the tables like a slightly ill mariachi. It was a heady experience for a young cowboy who hadn’t actively supported a political candidate since Ralph Yarborough went to Jesus. Friendship, it seems, can sometimes transcend politics. I must admit that I now feel close to the Bush family in the same way that I feel close to the Willie Nelson family and the Charles Manson family. (Maybe I’m just a lonely guy looking for a family.)
What I remember most vividly about that night was smoking cigars with the president on the Truman Balcony and talking about baseball—specifically, his throwing out the first pitch at the World Series. With the excitement of being on the field at Yankee Stadium and the threat of a terrorist attack, how, I wanted to know, had he managed to toss a perfect strike? None of that bothered him, he said. What was on his mind was something that Derek Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, had told him before the game: “Whatever you do, don’t bounce the ball on the way to the plate. They don’t care who you are—they’ll boo you. “