President Bush was a goofy mood moments before Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
The president joined his mom and his wife by the side door of the mansion on Walker’s Point, but he had come out prematurely. First lady Laura Bush walked up to him and started fiddling with the buttons on his blue Oxford-cloth shirt–seems he had forgotten to button one.
“Buttons,” he said to the laughing press corps.
The exchange that followed, when he walked over to the gaggle of reporters waiting on the driveway, was hilarious:
“Welcome. Is everybody having a nice day here?” the president asked.
“Yes. The lobsters are good,” one reporter called back.
“They are good.”
“How was the fishing today, sir?” another reporter asked.
“Lousy. Was that you, Chuck, the other day?” Bush asked funky photographer Charles Ommanney. “No wonder we didn’t catch any fish. They took a look at you and [laughter] headed out.”
After a lull, Mark Knoller of CBS Radio filled the silence by asking: “You sure you won’t come back here a little more often?” All the reporters–many of whom have done dozens of trips to Crawford, Texas–laughed.
“That’s what I figured,” Bush said. “Well, the guy is counting the days in Crawford, you know.”
The resident statistician called back: “I’m counting your days here, too–35. Nine trips.”
After some baseball small talk and Putin’s arrival, former President George H.W. Bush got in on the act: “Where did these guys all come from? When I left, there was nobody here,” he said to laughter.
Maine No Chance
The former president is really enjoying his autumn years.
On the press conference day, the elder Bush walked onto his Maine mansion’s lawn wearing pink pants, a sporty windbreaker, and big wraparound glasses. He held court with the gaggle of reporters for a few moments, telling the story of the morning fishing trip with Putin–the only one to catch a fish that day.
“He’s a really good caster, bait-casting,” 41 said, instructing reporters, “Make sure you put that down: bait-casting is hard.”
A reporter asked what was the fastest he ever went in his cigarette boat, Fidelity III. “Seventy miles per hour–three passengers, half a tank of gas. That’s important. Put that down.”
Bush Sr. said Putin and his wife had been very kind when he and former first lady Barbara Bush visited Russia, and that he had invited the Russian president to drop by anytime.
But when another reporter yelled out a question–“Did you sit on official meetings?”–41 said with a big smile, “Hey, I’m not doing a darn press conference here!”
The former president and first lady have a nice place. Really nice.
As you drive through the big gates, and past the Secret Service booth, there is a sign on brick gatepost that says, “Slow: Children on Golf Carts.” A driveway winds behind the house, along the ocean, past the tennis court, and up to the main house. There’s a five-bedroom house nearby called “The Bungalow.”
On the lawn stand two white, life-size plastic bovines (a bull, and a calf) covered with painted handprints. They were arrayed around Houston at one point, just as D.C. has its colorful elephants and donkeys.
Before Putin arrived, Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin took some shots of the posing first ladies, flanking Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Putin arrived in a Mercedes limo with Russian plates, wearing an exquisitely tailored, cognac-colored suit and no tie. He shook hands with Bush and presented a large and loud bouquet of flowers to the first lady, whom he kissed on both cheeks. An aide gave him another bouquet; he handed those to Barbara and kissed her on both cheeks.
But by then, Bush had had enough of the press.
“OK, it’s been real. Thanks for coming.” White House officials quickly shooed the media away.
Buzzing about the seaside town of Kennebunkport this week was this tale:
A Russian man attempted to pass off a phony $100 bill at the New Hampshire State Liquor store in Portsmouth on Thursday, according to the store manager, who said a cashier discovered the bill was bogus.
Store manager Mike Smith said the man, accompanied by four other Russian men, attempted to purchase two bottles of Scotch whisky with the bum bill. The cashier used a special pen to mark the bill to test its authenticity.
“It turned a color that it’s not supposed to, and when he saw that, he grabbed the bill back and left,” Smith told a reporter.
Portsmouth police received a call from the liquor store that the man and his friends were on foot, headed to the nearby Holiday Inn. Police responded to the scene. A dispatch message on the police scanner said diplomatic immunity might be involved.
But Police Lt. Dante Puopolo said that diplomatic immunity was not invoked because police did not make any arrests.
“We have no evidence of any kind,” he said. “We don’t have the $100 bill.”
However, he said there are currently Russians staying in town who are entitled to diplomatic immunity, he said. “Their version of the Secret Service are staying here in Portsmouth,” he said.