Read my hips. Seriously.
They were a dead giveaway, all twisted and jangling and nerve-racked. Somebody on the other side of the net had obviously noticed their deteriorating condition before striking the historic lob that drifted malevolently on high, back somewhere between the service and baselines, where I would have a difficult time crushing one of my spectacular overheads anywhere within the confines of the state of Maine.
I say historic because when I drifted back, set up perfectly, swung and...missed the ball completely, it was the single most embarrassing moment in the history of my life. The worst part was, I couldn't blame my whiff on the blazing sun, the soft ocean breezes, the Laykold hard-court surface or, especially, the footsteps behind me, which belonged to my partner, who also happens to be the leader of the free world. "Shake it off. Tough shot. Let's go," said George Herbert Walker Bush.
"That's easy for you to say, POTUS," I said. "If you don't blow the service return on set point a few minutes ago, we're out of here, and I don't get the chance to humiliate myself."
I didn't say that out loud, of course, my partner being my newest close personal friend, not to mention the President. POTUS, by the way, is the acronym for President of the United States, a term used only by close personal friends such as myself; Sig Rogich, POTUS's "image adviser"; and Jenna Bush, 9, one of POTUS's 4,000 or so adorable grandchildren. For some strange reason, I remembered POTUS's marvelously cryptic remark about "the celebration thing" in honor of his 67th birthday on June 12, which was "Nice cards. Nice cake. Not bad."
Suddenly, I felt at ease again. In keeping with the cryptic thing, I guess "easy" is as good a word as any to define the atmosphere pervading the several hours the President spent sharing his vacation with me over two days last week in Kennebunkport. Bush knows how to lay back, relax and do the easy thing all right, but he also knows how to keep everybody else relaxed and feelin' easy, which is probably more important for a guy who has had to put up with the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mikhail Gorbachev, Kevin Costner and, ahem, me, over the last month, in addition to preserving the peace, avoiding the teller windows at B.C.C.I. and saving the planet from the Democrats.
By now all Americans surely know how enthralled the 41st president is with sports. Soccer at Andover. Baseball at Yale. Jogging along the Potomac. Bone-fishing off the Florida Keys. Golf. Tennis. Horseshoes. ("We finally got Schwarzenegger over to the White House for some 'shoes," POTUS told me when I was at the White House last year, lining up our vacation together. "He fired a few line drives, real Exocet missiles, and almost broke the pool house. But we hooked him. The guy went out and built a pit by his own house!") Swimming. Ping-Pong. Wallyball (indoor volleyball on a racquetball court). Even tiddledywinks, for god's sake.
The man's enthusiasm, vigor and absorption with sports, especially while at Kennebunkport, boggles the minds of his staff members. They get exhausted thinking about his nonstop activity. "He's playing singles," one staffer says, "while we're drinking doubles." In short, to coin a phrase, POTUS knows sports.
The Bush family can even make a sport out of fruit gathering, as Barbara Bush did last Thursday, about the same time I was fanning that overhead into my eternal hell. "Where were you?" I asked, fairly crushed she hadn't seen my one or two good shots.
"Took the grandchildren to pick blueberries," POTUS's wife said. "Whoever filled their bucket first was the champion. Millie went, too. Oh, it was grand fun."