Pillow Talk

“Awake?”

“Mmm …. “

“Is he going to win?”

“I already told you.”

“I know, but …. Promise?”

“Promise.”

“The polls don’t say that …. “

“What have I told you about polls … ?”

“I know, I know. O.K. Well, what does Dick say?”

“He says it’s a lock, and if he were here now, he’d tell you to relax and get some sleep. We both have to be up early. And I can already hear the birds.”

“A lot can happen in a week.”

“Nothing that will swing the vote that far; he’s been great recently, finally focused, engaged, slugging back—I’m telling you, it’s as good as over.”

“You said that about Gore.”

“True. But he dug his own grave.”

“Cocksucker. I saw his daughter’s novel downstairs—you’re actually reading it?”

“Just started it; not as bad as everyone says. She just needs some pointers.”

“So … Dick said not to worry?”

“Yes, you know him—he’s read all the polls, studies them, stays up nights, obsessed …. And he says, Nader or no Nader, we can all relax—the election is in the bag.”

“I’m still worried about the turnout in the minority communities, the inner cities …. We could really be fucked.”

“Listen, I have my moments of doubt, of fear, of cold prickly sweat—but I feel this one in my bones. We’ve got nothing—zero—to worry about.”

“Oh, I wish I could believe you, I wish I could just fuckin’ fall asleep with that security.”

“Relax. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”

“And I’m so damned sick of living in fucking Chappaqua.”

“Four more years, baby, just four more years—I promise. It’s in the bag. Now get some sleep.”

Tennis Match-up: Advantage, Bush

At the U.S. Open last month, a reporter asked Newt Gingrich who would win in a tennis match between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Mr. Kerry would win—and handily, said Mr. Gingrich. “I suspect Kerry just plays more tennis, given his upbringing. I just don’t see George Bush as a tennis player.”

In a campaign that has bulged with the candidates’ competing jock credentials, Mr. Gingrich’s implication is that tennis is a sissified, effete pastime—something for when the wind is too flat over Nantucket Harbor for wind surfing. In other words, the opposite of the President’s demonstrated penchant for red-state hobbies like wood-splitting and brush-cutting. Mr. Gingrich is not the first member of the Republican brass to scoff at tennis. The President’s father, George H.W. Bush—who struggled mightily to establish his manly bona fides with the American electorate—complained in a 1974 letter to his children that his then boss, President Richard M. Nixon, had “an enormous hang-up” over what Nixon viewed as the endemic “privilege and softness, in a tea-sipping, martini-drinking, tennis-playing sense,” of Ivy League types like the elder Bush. (Nixon once tried to have the White House tennis court demolished to punish a disloyal, tennis-loving member of his cabinet.)

Mr. Gingrich, however, was mistaken about George W. Bush’s tennis roots. The Bush family has a distinguished lineage: The President’s grandmother was a USTA junior singles champion; his great uncle, Joseph Wear, won a bronze medal in men’s doubles in the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis and went on to captain the 1928 and 1935 Davis Cup teams, whose roster included Don Budge. The young George H.W. Bush was the team’s ballboy.

But Mr. Gingrich is not the only American voter to have a hard time envisioning the commander in chief sporting tennis whites.

Asked about Mr. Bush’s tennis game recently, his spokesman, Mark Mackinnon, declared: “I’ve never known the man to play tennis.” Indeed, the President has been reticent on the subject: His autobiography, A Charge to Keep (1999), includes 15 references to football, three references to basketball and one reference to horseshoes, but nothing about tennis.

But the game has an odd way of creeping up around the periphery of Bush scandals: In the latest round of scrutiny over what Mr. Bush has called his “nomadic years,” testimony from paramours and pals did not establish whether he showed up for his National Guard drills, but it did make clear that the future President played a heck of a lot of tennis. One such remembrance, from a woman Mr. Bush dated during his stint in Alabama, described the backseat of Bush’s Oldsmobile, circa 1972, as “littered with tennis shoes, tennis racquets and wrappers.” And when word of Mr. Bush’s 1976 D.U.I. arrest near Kennebunkport surfaced in the weeks before the 2000 election, it turned out that one of the passengers in the car that Labor Day weekend had been the mustached Aussie tennis star, John Newcombe.

All reports indicate that the President was no slouch with a racket.

“George had good strokes,” said Joe O’Neill of Midland, Tex. Mr. O’Neill and Mr. Bush won the Midland Racquet Club Men’s Over-Thirty Doubles Championship in 1978. “The President got to the net quickly—he was not a laid-back, hang-out-in-the-back-court kind of guy,” said Mr. O’Neill, to whom W. gave the nickname “Spider” for his long-limbed net play.

But what Mr. O’Neill remembered most about the President’s game was the never-ending flow of court talk. “Serve, volley and chatter—George was always needling, getting in your face,” he said. “If he liked you, the needle came out even further.”

Reached in Sydney, John Newcombe, the former tennis star, agreed. “George liked to go with the chatter—see if he couldn’t rattle his opponent,” Mr. Newcombe said with a soft Outback twang. “George was flashier with his shots than his dad. George H.W. played the percentages; George W. liked to go for the big shot.”

Mr. Newcombe put the President, in his playing days, at about a 4.0 on the USTA ability scale, far above your average weekend swatter. So what happened to the President’s tennis game—which, by this rating, would be perhaps his strongest athletic suit, comparatively superior even to his 3:44-hour marathon best and high-80’s golf game?

“I really don’t think he’s played since he’s been up there in Washington,” said Mr. O’Neill, who is still in close touch with Mr. Bush. A former West Wing staffer whose cubicle had a good view of the White House court corroborated this account. He described a vocal tennis lobby within the administration, including White House court regulars John Ashcroft and Condoleezza Rice (also an habitué of the British Embassy’s grass courts). But, he said, “I never once saw the President play.”

Mr. O’Neill and the former West Wing staffer said Mr. Bush probably just has too much on his plate.

“Tennis is a family sport for the Bushes, like touch football for the Kennedys,” said Mr. O’Neill. “If the President wanted to play tennis, he would.”

John Kerry, for his part, is reportedly also skilled between the baselines. The Kerry campaign, perhaps gun-shy after defending the candidate’s fondness for wind surfing, was reticent; Mr. Kerry’s brother, Cameron, said through a spokesman, “I have not played tennis with John in years,” and refused further comment. The court ace of Democratic tennis players, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana (a 5.0 USTA ranking!), was out playing tennis the afternoon when his office was called for comment, but he later declared through a spokesman that “he had nothing to say on the subject.”

Though the sport hasn’t cropped up in either candidate’s Sports Illustrated or ESPN profile, a case could be made that tennis would make for the best-matched, highest-level athletic contest between the two men. After Nov. 2, a tie breaker might be in order. Mixed doubles, anyone?

—Field Maloney

The Inquiring Reporter

I.R.: What’s your opinion of the Geneva Conventions?

George W. Bush, Crawford, Tex.: “Never been. Never want to go, either. Neil—my brother Neil—says the best conventions are in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Says Geneva is boring—the girls look like bankers, and they want a gosh-darned deposit before they’ll show up in your hotel room.”

Dick Cheney, Dallas, Tex.: “With all due respect, my experience has been very different from the President’s brother’s. I’ve made some excellent connections in Geneva, not only with business people and political leaders from Western Europe, but also Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Yes, I know the leash is uncomfortable, Mr. President, and we can take it off as soon as the reporter leaves.”

Karl Rove, Austin, Tex.: “Geneva, Helvetica, Century—yes, we’ve been fairly conventional. We’re aware of that. Look out for our next buys, though, and you’ll see some really eye-grabbing fonts. And the photos—well, let’s just say that if you haven’t seen John Kerry in a beard and turban, you haven’t lived.”

Donald Evans, Midland, Tex.: “Since the whole thrust of our trade policy is to create a level playing field, we naturally oppose any convention that would, in the name of ‘authenticity,’ privilege one nation’s product over another’s, whether it be Geneva gin, sparkling wine from the Champagne district of France, or what have you.”

Condoleezza Rice, Palo Alto, Calif.: “As you know, my academic background is as a specialist in the Soviet Union, but also as a Europeanist, so I’m very familiar with Switzerland and its history, geography and political structure—which, by the way, involves cantons. It’s untrue, and I would add it is the height of arrogance, to suggest that I had never heard the word ‘Geneva’ until Mr. Clarke briefed me on it.”

Jenna Bush, Austin, Tex.: “Is that where we held the Republican convention? I knew it was a foreign city, because I could see from the limo that there were people actually walking on the—what do you call those cement strips on the side of the road? Whatever. And a lot of them did look, you know, foreign.”

James Inhofe, Oklahoma City, Okla.: “Unless my intern here is much mistaken, Geneva was the birthplace of John ‘Jock’ Rousseau, the ideological father of the Reign of Terror. Now, which would you rather see in our military prisons: a little harmless horsing around, or the guillotine?”

Paul Wolfowitz, Chevy Chase, Md.: “If you study the works of Plato, as I did in Chicago with Leo Strauss—though the notion that that has any bearing on my approach to U.S. foreign policy is absurd—if you read Plato, you’ll find cynics like Callicles and Thrasymachus claiming that right and wrong are a matter of convention, or nomos, to use the Greek term, while Socrates argues that they are grounded in nature, or physis. To put the matter succinctly, a government that is guided by natural law—that is to say, by objective, eternal standards of morality—should not be shackled by mere … hey, I’m not done yet!”

Donald Rumsfeld, Washington, D.C.: “Let me share with you some wisdom from the coach of our wrestling team back at Princeton. Half-nelson, double-front-head-chancery, triple-Geneva—call them what you will, they’re just tools. If it works for you, use it. If it doesn’t, out it goes.”

—Evan Eisenberg