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The final score was 6-2, 7-5. We played a few more games at the President's insistence—"Keep drop-shotting Marlin. He's done," the ever-avenging POTUS said of Fitzwater, who was seriously hurting in the 88° heat—but I don't believe anybody's heart, or limbs, were in it. We had won two games and they had won four when the President finally called a halt before the dogged Fitzwater might have passed out.
It was a Pyrrhic "Vic Damone"—Bush's pet code name for victory—as I would learn later. Fitzwater was so exhausted, he spent the rest of the afternoon in his hotel room.
"What time is it?" POTUS asked as he stalked briskly from the tennis court.
"It's Howdy Doody time," said a voice from courtside, which turned out to be that of the President's chief of staff, John Sununu. I am not making this up.
"No, it's horseshoes time," said the President, who led me on a forced march to the custom-made gooey clay pits behind the kitchen, and on the rim of a cliff, where half the Bushes in the western world and all the ships at sea had gathered to await my next disgrace. "God, I'm glad I don't have to play horseshoes," the yellow chicken Smith had mumbled. Actually, though, it was fun—if you enjoy going ringerless, virtually pointless and being embarrassed nearly to tears as the most powerful man on earth and the nation's First Family scream stuff at you such as, "Ugly shoe!" "Ugly pit!" and "Who is this guy? He's ridiculous!"
"I would try to encourage you," Barbara Bush said to me, "but you're showing me nothing. I just may have to join in the belittlement."
Well, an athlete can take just so much of this, as my leader might say, deep doo-doo. I played four games of the infernal contest of 'shoes. I finally got a presidential scalp—and almost a presidential dog scalp; Millie ducked just in time—when Mary Ann Chandler of the White House medical corps (O.K., O.K., she is the reigning White House tournament champion) and I beat George Bush of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and George P. Bush, 15, of Miami, 21-13.
Later that day POTUS would play another 18 holes of golf and fit in another speed-boating-and-fishing expedition, all before dark. But I was just about finished. "Don't worry about that overhead," the President told me. "You played well. I let you down. We'll get a rematch. I want those guys."
Sitting by the pool after horseshoes, I looked over at the President, who at that moment had a couple of his granddaughters hanging all over his head and neck. "I'm freezing," said Jenna. "Hi, Freezing," said George Bush. "Glad to meet you. I'm Gampy."
Ultimately, it was quite remarkable what this routine, nonstop sports vacation had done for this effervescently fit sportsman. As the day had worn on, the President had seemed to grow younger. From the side, I swear his face was the same one that adorned the $15 T-shirt on sale in a fashionable Kennebunkport boutique—the shirt with the picture of a young Navy fighter pilot, his leather helmet flaps unsnapped, his eyes sparkling full speed ahead. Yet that face was at least 45 years younger.