Tuesdays With Franklin
The sun had just risen over the Pearly Gates when RN threaded his way through the already crowded dining room. As always, the silver was gleaming and the glasses were sparkling and the napery…….everyone wondered how they managed to fold the starched linen napkins, standing in the center of the thin-gold-ringed white porcelain plates, to look exactly like angels, including wings and haloes.
After stopping to shake several hands and even slap a few backs, RN finally arrived at the regular table to find FDR already waiting and not looking entirely pleased.
“I’m sorry, Franklin,” RN said, “but you of all people know what it’s like. And you know how it is. You can’t stop to chat with Millard Tydings and not say hello to John Tower. And you know how Wilt Chamberlain gets wound up if you even mention March Madness.”
“It’s not that, Dick,” FDR said. “It’s this.” He pointed disdainfully to the discreetly engraved card that was prominently displayed in the center of the table —- and, now that RN thought about it, in the center of every table in the vast room.
“What is it, Franklin?” he asked with genuine concern.
“Read it and weep,” FDR replied tersely, his usually cheerful voice inflected with an indignation that is hardly ever heard in heaven.
“As you’ll see, Dick, it’s about the luncheon menu. Apparently someone has somehow brought pressure to bear and from now on the only thing served will be cottage cheese and pineapple. Imagine that! Only cottage cheese and pineapple for lunch, Dick! Every day! It’s almost as great an outrage as when Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk ganged up and forced us to go smokeless” — and he punctuated each word with a sharp stab of his empty cigarette holder. “Who would do a thing like that? Who could want to eat cottage cheese every day?”
RN busied himself opening the angelic-folded napkin and carefully studying the menu he already knew perfectly well by heart.
“You know, Franklin,” he ventured somewhat sheepishly, “cottage cheese is very healthy and can also be very tasty with just some ketchup on it.”
“Harumph,” was all FDR had to say to that.
“Well, Franklin,” RN said heartily, “at least we’ll always have the Eggs Benedict at breakfast.”
“The only Benedict I can think about right now is the Benedict Arnold who has imposed cottage cheese and pineapple on us,” FDR replied testily.
RN thought about mentioning the George Burns and Gracie Allen routine in which Gracie talked about her gangster cousin “Eggs” Benedict (and he made a mental note to remind Pat that they owed George and Gracie a dinner), but he decided that politics would be a better way to change the subject.
“What do you think, Franklin,” he asked, “of all this infighting that could tear your party apart even as it seems to be poised on the brink of victory? Did you see that piece in the Post about Ickes and Penn?”
“Ickes!” FDR exclaimed. “Ickes! I knew his old man. One of the smartest and brightest people I ever came across. Brilliant. And honest as the day was long. And, as I’m sure you know Dick, he started out as my token Republican.”
For a moment FDR’s fine face was wreathed in a smile and he seemed lost in contemplation. “Of course he was a hard man to get along with. No Mr. Congeniality trophies burdening his mantel. And, Good Lord” — FDR’s chin tilted respectfully upward— “that man had a mouth on him that would make a stevedore blush.” After a moment he added, “Or an angel weep.”
“Like father like son it would seem,” RN observed.
FDR was eyeing the engraved card again, so RN asked, “How is Eleanor these days?”
“I hardly ever get to see her,” FDR replied. “Ever since Hillary Clinton started channeling her, the poor woman has had no rest. Just when she finally gets a moment to herself and can sit down with a nice cup of tea and put her feet up and open a good book…….suddenly she’s being invoked again and expected to give advice and dispense comfort and generally sort things out and who knows what else. I tell you, the woman has the patience of a saint.”
FDR and RN both waved to Joan of Arc who had, apparently, decided to try the buffet and, plate piled high, was on her way back from the long table laden with silver chaffing dishes and life-size ice sculptures of angels.
“You know, Franklin,” RN said, “the other night Pat and I were watching the Will Ferrell Festival on that new Celestial Cable channel. I think the film was called Talladega Nights, and the opening was a full-screen quotation attributed to Eleanor. It read:
‘America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.”
—–Eleanor Roosevelt, 1936.’
Can that possibly be an accurate quote?”
FDR laughed heartily. “When they wrote that, of course, they thought they were making it up and they meant it as a joke. But, in fact, that’s exactly what she said to me, although it was much earlier than ’36. It was right after she returned from her first aeroplane trip as First Lady. Of course, she had been spending some time around Harold Ickes at that point.”
The sun was well above the horizon now and the shimmering light in the big dining room had turned from pearlescent to crystalline.
“You know what I’ve been thinking, Dick?” FDR said.
“I’ve been thinking I could ask Edgar Hoover to do some checking around to see if he could find out who is responsible for this lamentable cottage cheese caper.”
RN sighed and studied the sprightly sprigs of parsley that were garnishing his perfect Eggs Benedict.