Clearing up the President's brush-clearing
Washington in August is a town where nothing seems to be happening except a concerted attempt to conceal that nothing is happening. If you are a confused Russian adolescent with a taste for the Rolling Stones, August is your month to say, ''Hi, Mick'' - in big headlines, on the front page.
In August everybody in Washington who is anybody has been on vacation, including the President, who announced he would relax by cutting brush and building a fence.
A low-profile vacation, you might say, even as vacations go. But you are not the White House press corps, a body with a collective genius for the ultimate speculation and the stretched-out nuance - taking August as a special challenge and always working on the assumption: If the President does it, it's got to be important.m
We were not there - having a few twigs to clear away on our own ranch - but this is how we imagine the White House press corps might have brought its investigative powers to bear, digging into the Big Story of the President's therapeutic yard chores.
PRESS CORPS: Which project is the President giving priority to - clearing brush or building the fence?
WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The President will make a day-to-day judgment on this. It'll depend partly on the weather. On a hot day he may just clear a little brush and forget the fence. Let's say his plans are not set in concrete, and he's staying right on top of the weather forecasts.
PRESS CORPS: What sort of a tool does the President use for clearing brush?
SPOKESMAN: The President swings your perfectly standard scythe - the kind American pioneers cleared the land with long before the Russians adopted it as their symbol. The only unusual thing about the President's scythe is that he applies a little pine tar to the handle - but no further up than maybe six inches. As you may know, he favors an overlapping grip.
PRESS CORPS: Are there any endangered species in the area where the President will clear brush?
SPOKESMAN: The President is in constant touch with the Sierra Club on this question. The President cares about the everyday problems of ordinary animals, struggling to make a living. He would clear no brush - no matter how unsightly it might be - if it provides a habitat for anym species.
PRESS CORPS: Why is the President building a fence just at this time? Is he trying to enhance his rugged outdoorsman image in the face of the candidacy of John Glenn?
SPOKESMAN: As you know, fence-building is a routine vacation maneuver with the President. No political significance should be attached to the current project.
PRESS CORPS: Is the fence a boundary fence? If so, has the President consulted with his neighbors?
SPOKESMAN: I have no information on where the fence is being built. But in the case of all boundary fences, it is the President's normal policy to discuss his intentions with neighbors ahead of time.
PRESS CORPS: Is it true that the President uses an imported Japanese post-digger?
SPOKESMAN: Not to my knowledge.
PRESS CORPS: If, for any reason, the President should be unable to clear brush or build his fence, would he expect the Vice-President to take over if he were visiting the ranch at the time?
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Bush, as you know, prefers to jog. But I can have an answer on this and the Japanese post-digger question at the next briefing. At that time, too, I'll have some background for you on our military instructors in Honduras, late developments in Lebanon, the new unemployment figures, and . . .
VOICE FROM THE PRESS CORPS: OK. But just be sure you find out whether the fence is red or white cedar . . .
SECOND VOICE: And exactly how long the President spends clearing brush when the temperature drops below 80 . . .
THIRD VOICE: And don't forget to check what color shirt he's wearing!