Tuesdays With Franklin
The friends seemed uncharacteristically preoccupied as they idly chatted before ordering their usual Eggs Benedict. When the plates appeared —literally— on the table, even though the sight was familiar it was impossible not to admire the artistry involved. The shiny white porcelain provided the ideal frame for the perfectly porous English muffins supporting their tantalizing towers of ham and eggs and hollandaise. The parsley garnish was unnecessary but exactly right; almost, somehow, inevitable.
FDR finally broke the companionable silence. “You know, Dick, I saw you at Ron’s twenty-seventh anniversary party on Sunday,” he said. “It’s terrible to contemplate how close that fool Hinckley almost came to succeeding. I remember watching it from up here, and I was just appalled.”
“I watched it on the TV in my office down at Federal Plaza in New York,” RN said. “Ron was very lucky. But then Ron was very tough. Much tougher than they gave him credit for. Poor Jim Brady — what a remarkable man he is. And that brave Tim McCarthy.”
“I would have joined you,” FDR said, “but it was very crowded and I got talking to Zach Taylor and Jerry Ford.”
“Yes,” RN agreed, “it was a good turnout. We were all there as usual.”
“Well, almost anybody can join Chowder and Marching or Alfalfa or the Gridiron, but the Bang! You Missed! Club is a very small but very select group. After all, not that many presidents have survived assassination attempts,” FDR said.
“And far better to be a Bang! You Missed! member than the alternative,” RN added. “Harry Truman and I were at your cousin Theodore’s table.”
“I know, and to tell you the truth that’s one reason I put off joining you. I know cousin Theodore’s narrow escape was incredibly dramatic, but — “
“Oh yes,” RN agreed, “he showed us the folded speech and the steel glass case — just like last year.”
“—yes, and the year before that,” FDR sighed. “It’s a great story, and he tells it very well indeed, and even though you know that it turns out well he has you on the edge of your seat. Especially the first twenty or thirty times you hear it….”
RN laughed knowingly. “I guess I’m just newer to it,” he said.
“I was at Andy Jackson’s table,” FDR continued, “and you should hear him talk about the way he thrashed that loser Lawrence who couldn’t even carry it off with two pistols at point blank range. That yarn is every bit as ripping as cousin Theodore’s.”
“As is the story of your providential escape in Miami,” RN prompted.
“Well, I don’t like to talk about that too much because of what happened to poor Mayor Cermak. And my would-be assassin —Signor Zangara— was just too pathetic. ‘I don’t like no peoples’ was his explanation. Well, I don’t like all that many peoples myself, but I wouldn’t dream of shooting them. Well, dream of it perhaps. But I would never do it.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” RN said. “My would-be assassins were complete nutters too. Berk or Byck or whatever his name was. A total nut case, but he killed a policeman and one of the pilots before he killed himself. Naturally, of course, they made a move about him. And a Broadway musical if you can believe it! And the man who was after me in New Orleans the year before was also crazy, but the Secret Service were able to head him off at the pass so nobody really knows about that one. And Bremer — he was just a pathetic…..nerd,” RN said, trying out a new word in his vocabulary. “‘Completely barmy,’ as Winston put it.”
“I thought Winston’s toast this year was particularly well done,” FDR said.
“Oh yes, Jack was so smart to propose Winston for an honorary Bang! You Missed! membership. After all, Jack made him an honorary citizen back in ’63, so there’s no reason not to pile on the honors. After all, anyone who had the wit and the grace to say ‘Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result’ understands exactly how the Bang! You Missed! members feel. I was just sorry that he got cornered by Warren Harding and I didn’t get a chance to spend much time with him.”
FDR placed his knife and fork properly aligned across his plate. “This year I’m thinking of proposing Groucho for honorary membership,” he said.
“Oh yes —- the ‘any club’ quip. Well, we hear it enough so we might as well invite him. Besides he’s such superb company.”
FDR neatly folded his napkin and placed it on the table.
“Have you seen today’s Washington Post yet, Dick?” he asked casually.
“Not yet, Franklin. That’s a dubious pleasure I usually postpone until after I’ve had some breakfast and some coffee. Is there anything interesting in it?”
FDR laughed heartily. “Nothing more interesting than you usually find in the Post,” he said. “Although there was one thing that made me think of you. Apparently through examining old credit card receipts a couple of young reporters have been able to find the CVS store in downtown Washington where you apparently purchased the surgical gloves that were used in the Watergate break-in.”
Without skipping a beat RN replied, “That’s odd because there was something in The New York Times today that brought you to mind, Franklin. Apparently they have opened some old State Department archives and the researchers found a telegram dated December 6th informing you of an impending attack on Pearl Harbor.”
After a short silence FDR sighed. “Well Dick,” he said, “it seems that what we have here is yet another year’s proof that April Fools aren’t much more fun up here than they were down there.”
“That’s the way it seems, Franklin,” RN concurred. “But another good try, my friend.”
The sun was well above the Pearly Gates —which are catercorner to the entrance to the breakfast room— when the two old friends shook hands and turned to go their separate ways.
“Oh, Dick, I was wrong,” FDR called over his shoulder, “that story wasn’t in the Washington Post — it was in the Washington Times! See you next week.”
RN smiled as he set out for home, his feet melting into the fleecy sun-warmed young clouds.