In honor of President Bush's last day in office, I'm going to tell my best (only) Bush story.
It was Summer, 2001. Steve was Mr. NPR reporter man and I was in grad school. Well, anyway, there was this big group of reporters from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan scheduled to come to town somewhere around late fall of the same year. Wanting to be cordial, the State Department (US) scheduled a dinner that was supposed to be a fun sort of cultural exchange thing. Because Steve was the only reporter they could think of who spoke Russian (in addition to his mission, he did a stint at CNN Moscow) he and I were invited. No biggie.
And then came Sept. 11.
Suddenly, the US was going to invade Afghanistan and they were looking for favorable treatment from the Uzbek and Kazakhstani's since they were right friggin next door and their land would be a fanTAStic place to launch fighter jets. Now, reporters tend to have a lot of influence over things like opinion. And we were going to dinner with, like, a TON of them.
"Great," I thought. "It's going to be WWIII and somehow, someway, it is going to be MY FAULT. Perfect!"
So, I was freaked. Freaked enough that I sat through most of the dinner just smiling and nodding under the guise of the language barrier. (I've gotta be freaked to keep my mouth shut. So, dude. I was freaked.)
Well, everything is placid enough. There's a rough kind of energy underpinning the evening. Every word seems to carry a connotation of importance, every discussion of cheese or grape juice the weight of foreign policy.
And people are getting drunker.
Now, these are former Soviets. They can handle their liquor. But I would be lying if I said I didn't notice the flush of red creeping from their necks to their faces, or notice the way that their voices got just a little bit louder and less cordial.
And suddenly, from the corner, the red-haired Russian translator from the US State Department yells out, "I want you all to know something!" She's holding her glass of scotch steadily on her knee. There is absolutely no quiver of ice against the sides of the glass. I'm impressed.
When she can tell that enough of the room is paying attention she says, "I want you all to know that I LOVE the president."
The room goes silent.
"I do!" she protests. "George W. Bush, God Bless Him, I LOVE THAT MAN!"
No one is moving anymore.
Crap, crap crap. I think. Here is the beginning of WWIII and I'm going to be right here watching. Because, well, foreigners (especially Europeans)... they don't really love our George Bush. Heck, let's be honest, except for my mom who calls him her "Bushie," with such affection that Steve and I feel compelled to set up our signed George Bush picture by her guest bed every time she visits, most *Americans* don't really love George Bush.
Since no one is talking, the red-headed translator decides to keep going. "Do you want to know why I love him? No? Well, I will tell you why I love him." [You need to read her voice with a Russian accent, by the way. Not only is it more accurate, it makes the story better.]
She takes a breath, looks as us and says, "It's because of the way he uses *words.*"
I think a few of the drunk guys laugh, but mostly we're just looking at the lady like, WTH?! Because of all of the reasons you might love Georgie Bush, the way he uses words... well, it's not really on the top of anyone's list.
"You see," she explains, "I'm a translator. I care about words. And with your *last* president [said with disdain and eyeball rolling, referring to dear Mr. Clinton, of course] everyone said, 'oh what an orator! oh how well he uses words!' Musor! [that means "garbage" in Russian] You see..."
She took a drink of her scotch.
"When you translate, you don't really translate *words,* you translate *meaning.* So Mr. Clinton would blahblabeddy blah blah blah all these pretty words! But they wouldn't *mean* anything! And I'd try to translate and, well, everyone would look at me like I was an idiot!"
She looked down at her scotch, preparing to take a final drink to make her point, and a slightly wicked smile curled up from the edges of the glass.
"But with your president now?" she said. "The man talks... And I translate... And, well... let's just say that no one looks at *me* like *I'm* the idiot."
God speed, Bushie. May your future be filled with much rest and Texas BBQ. Your picture will always have a place next to my Mom's guest bed.