procedure when he is done with his day's jogging is to pitch a game or two of
horseshoes. His interest in the sport began a few years ago, when a court was
installed at Kennebunkport to provide a diversion for the Secret Service and
other members of his entourage. Bush tried it and was entranced:
"Heaven!" He has joined the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association,
which has a membership of 15,000—all of whom are surely stirred by the prospect
of their sport ranking high in the athletic hierarchy at the White House.
The Bushes have
not yet decided where to put the Presidential horseshoe court. Barbara Bush
feels that sizing up the Rose Garden now would be like measuring for drapes
before the Reagans have moved out of the White House. When they decide, the
President-elect intends to bring some of the country's best horseshoe pitchers
to the White House for exhibitions. He undoubtedly will team up with the best
of them to take on all comers.
Bush is in awe of
horseshoe champions, just as he is of any athlete who performs extremely well.
He describes a horseshoe exhibition he once saw in which the pit and the stake
were hidden from the throwers by a high partition: "Clunk! Clunk! That's
all you heard. Didn't faze these guys a bit. They don't even have to see the
At the moment
three horseshoe pits are at Bush's service—one at the Vice-President's
residence in Washington, and two in Kennebunkport—and they are focal points of
social activity. An annual event in Kennebunkport over the past seven years has
been a get-together of those in the area who are responsible for the
President-elect's well-being—the Coast Guard, personnel from Otis Air Base on
Cape Cod, the Secret Service and so forth. On these occasions, with more than
300 guests milling about on Walker Point, the day is highlighted by competition
on the tennis and horseshoe courts between the Agent Busters and Bush
start with a parade. The Bush clan carries various flags brought back from
international travels in somewhat haphazard fashion up the driveway, to the
beating of pails and tin pans. The Bush Whackers do not march in the parade.
"We observe," says Secret Service agent Tom Clark, who heads the
Whacker team. His squad members are from the midnight detail; those on duty
during the festivities keep their backs to the goings-on, staring into the sea
roses or out at the water for unfriendlies. But they can tell from the needling
and the shouts of encouragement—most of it from the Agent Busters—how things
are going. The competition is stiff. Over the years the Agent Busters have held
the edge. As Clark says of the President-elect, "He's a good loser, but
he's a much better winner."
The results of
all Bush family competitions are passed on to a mysterious organization known
as the Ranking Committee. The Bushes talk a great deal about the Ranking
Committee—a mystical, fictitious family body with what Jonathan Bush describes
as "enormous power." No one is quite sure who is in charge of the
Ranking Committee, and its findings are rarely divulged, because hardly anyone
in the family will admit that someone is better than someone else. Yet all
matches reported to the Ranking Committee are considered upsets by the victors,
which tends to confuse matters.
For all his
competitiveness the President-elect seems to take little interest in its
tangible rewards. His mounted bone-fish (TEN POUNDS, EIGHT OUNCES, reads the
plaque under it) has a little rubber bathtub shark riding its back, tossed up
there by a grandchild. The closest thing to a trophy case in the Bush household
is a cluttered shelf in a dormitorylike room on the third floor of the
Washington residence. The jumble includes 22 autographed baseballs, one of
which was signed by Joe DiMaggio, who added the comment, "You make the
office look great." There also is a football autographed by Roger Staubach,
who wrote, "Thanks for giving a darn about friends"; a Keith
Hernandez-model first baseman's mitt; a Chicago Cubs pennant; a 1988 Dodgers
World Series baseball cap; an NASL soccer ball; two hard hats (Brookfield Fire
Dept.); and a blood-red Arkansas Razorback novelty hat.
President-elect tried it on, the hog's snout poking out over his forehead, and
then put it back on the shelf and started talking about throwing out ceremonial
first balls. One of his most embarrassing moments occurred in Houston two years
ago, when he bounced a baseball halfway to the Astros' catcher. "You tend
to forget the distance," Bush said, not mentioning the fact that his motion
had been hampered by a bullet-proof vest. "It's a question of raising your
sights. You learn. Next time it's going to be right on target."
He stepped over a
sleeping bag and looked out the window at the panorama of the city. Through the
trees he could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol.
Did he think his
duties in the White House would curtail his athletic activities?