I was 19 when I was offered a summer internship at the White House. Almost immediately, I got a call from Dave Powers. Dave was known as "the first friend" and had the president's ear. His other parts, I would later tease, were public domain. Dave asked if I'd like to go swimming at lunch time. "Swimming?!! You've got to be kidding. It takes three hours to straighten my hair."
"Well, maybe you would just stop by?" I was curious, and what could it hurt? When I got to the pool, Dave looked delighted to see me. "We have bathing suits," he offered. A girl whose mother had her putting down paper on toilet seats doesn't wear a communal bathing suit. I pretended to be considering it while bending over and testing the water with my hand. I gestured that it was too cold for me.
Then I noticed Jack reaching for the pool thermometer and signaling to somebody. "Now maybe you'll join me for a swim?" he called out, heading towards me.
Right, in a suit that Evelyn Lincoln wears when she swims laps! I used the excuse we all used back then. "I have my friend, Mr. President."
"Jack," he said. "Another time?"
Persistence is a good quality if you want to be president, but it gets annoying when someone keeps pestering you about the same thing. Jack only wanted me to go schlepping around the White House to see the parts they don't show on the public tour. I'd seen enough of Jackie's television special to know that they'd done what dogs do to mark their territory, pissing on all the old smells and furniture that was good enough for the Roosevelts, Eisenhowers and Trumans. Jack finally wore me down, and I agreed to see the family quarters. He pointed out the wallpaper panels from the American Revolution in the new private dining room, showed me the oval room and the Cabinet Room. I drew the line at going into Mrs. Kenney's bedroom. Maybe she'd left some of those Chanel suits on the bed or, worse, the floor? I wouldn't have wanted her poking around my dorm room while I was out riding which, of course, I didn't do because you can fall off and get hurt. Jack was particularly proud of a trophy swordfish he'd mounted on the wall of Roosevelt's "Fish Room."
"My family gets fish in a store from a guy named Murray. I didn't know you could get it yourself and save on the middle man." Jack laughed. "We don't eat swordfish. It doesn't have scales so it's not kosher." I liked making him laugh. "We also don't mount our food on the wall."
There was something so sweet and boyish about Jack, who was so eager for my approval. After looking at more wallpaper and antiques, I blurted out, "You don't think it's a bit much?" I was immediately sorry and tried to soften what I'd said, but knew there was only one thing that would undo the damage. That night I let him go past second base. We went all the way in the Situation Room. I wondered if that's how it got the name.
I'm not one to put up with nonsense. "A grown man doesn't play with rubber ducks," I told him the first time we took a bath together. "Okay, so there's a Cold War. That doesn't mean you can play with rubber ducks. Put them back in John-John's bathroom." The ducks were history. I did a little futzing with the staples in the private kitchen, making sure there would always be diet soda and horseradish for me in the fridge, way in the back where it wouldn't be noticed.
Relationships require compromise so I finally agreed to get into the White House pool with Jack and Dave. I brought my own bathing suit. The temperature was a comfortable 92, adjusted to make me happy. "What did you say?" was my response to something Jack had just said, which happened a lot because I never got used to his ridiculous Boston accent.
"Dave looks upset," he enunciated clearly. "Why don't you take care of him?"
"He's probably worried about the Cuban Missile Crisis. That's your job, not mine."
I didn't think of it as an affair, but whatever it was might have gone on longer if not for the waiting thing. That became an issue. "I don't like feeling I'm on call. I'm always having to make myself available and then I wait... until you're done writing papers, doing research, talking on the phone to someone more important than I am, having manicures," he summoned up the courage to complain.
Am I sorry? Nah.If not for Jack, I wouldn't have gotten an A in American History or a book deal!