By Ray O’Hanlon
Congratulations on your election. The other fella must be only roaring. What was your first thought when the anchors called it? Will the airlines put my frequent-flyer miles in cold storage? Where’s the White House kitchen? Are there really aliens from outer space? Are the Brits descended from Martian invaders? All will be answered in due course, Mr. President-elect, but, in the meantime, I just wanted to tell you that you’ll never forget the moment you first walk through that White House front door.
I know this from firsthand experience. It was May of 1995 and your predecessor had finally figured out the way to the kitchen. He was also going mad on Ireland, even letting Gerry Adams into the White House, though by which door I can’t quite remember. Anyway, there was this big Washington trade conference on Ireland linked to all the peace efforts in the wee North, a place with which I, and 44 million other Irish Americans, expect you will become familiar with over the next four years.
Everybody who was anybody had turned up for the conference. The climax of it all was to be a big reception on the South Lawn of the White House. Yours truly was among the world famous (joke) journalists invited to this splendid event, which was to be attended by both traditions in Northern Ireland, the Brits, the Paddys and a lot of Americans wondering at the irony of being invited to their own president’s house because of troubles in a faraway land.
Anyway, your correspondent turned up at the Pennsylvania Avenue gate with a few old pals from the newspaper business back in the auld sod. Little did they know, but this was to be the day when the Irish Press, founded with American dollars, you know, was to sink into oblivion and become an even bigger story in Ireland than the one it was trying to cover in Washington. A funny world, isn’t it?
Excuse me, I digress. Being in possession of a U.S. press ID, I was allowed in the gate. The pals from Ireland were told to get lost and show up at another gate on the other side of 1600. Sorry lads, said I, see you on the sward. Anyway, I begin to walk up that winding driveway we all know so well to the big front door under the hanging light and behind all those pillars. I am somewhat burdened by a plastic document container obtained from some wee North government agency that is full to the brim with brochures, documents and a few miniatures of alcoholic beverage supplied to those who had endured, sorry, attended, the conference.
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Anyway, it must have been the D.C. heat and the bag expanding, but before you could say Bailey’s on ice, the case popped open and all the stuff inside fell onto the driveway. Merciful Lord, but thankfully none of the bottles broke. There was I scratching the ground trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, thinking that the Secret Service must surely have me in their crosshairs. This was the day after some poor eejit got into the grounds with a gun, so I reckoned the trigger fingers would be extra itchy. I was almost tempted to knock back a miniature of Irish whiskey to soothe the nerves, but common sense got the better of me.
With everything back in the bag, I looked around in anticipation of a regiment of Green Berets. But there was not a sinner in sight. I was all on my own. What to do? Well, I straightened myself up and pondered my next move. There was the West Wing, and over there the East Wing. And in the middle was the main door. Go for the main door, I thought. They might think I’m selling religion and hold their fire. I had to admit that I did look rather neat in my best summer suit. So off I went, striding up to the front door through which many of the heroes and some of the real eejits of history have made their grand entrances. Still not a soul in sight. Was I dreaming? After all, I could have lost my reason between the front gate and here and turned into a madman. Shouldn’t someone be watching me? That’s a funny sort of paranoia I know, but I was desperate to say hi to anyone, even Socks the cat.
Only a few yards to the front door now. Hello, anybody home? Nobody? Only a few feet to go. Well, I do enjoy my own company I suppose. And then, he came into view. No, not Socks, but this guy in a uniform. Secret Service or Marines, I can’t quite remember. But I do remember his size. He must have been 7 feet tall. This is it, I thought. Clapped in irons and off to the White House dungeon. Wonder if they have a VCR. But no. Yer man, whose head must be in a snow cloud between December and March, snapped to attention, saluted and opened the door for me. Suffice it to say, I was gobsmacked. Responding brilliantly, however, I nodded solemnly and marched through the door. For one split second, "Hail to the Chief" ringing in my ears, I was president of the United States.
Then I saw Dick Spring and Paddy Mayhew in the foyer and reality came back with a thump. Still, it was nice while it lasted. The day after that was something else. Bubba sure knew how to have a good time and he would probably tell that the Irish parties at the White House during his two terms were by far the best. That’s if the two of you are on talking terms, of course. I think he’s a bit sore at having to leave the place, designed by an Irishman, as you probably know. Or maybe you don’t. But now you do.
Anyway, well done again on your election. Pity about all the promises during the campaign. You’re going to have a fierce time of it trying to make people forget. But here’s a fair warning: The Irish will not let you forget what you promised with regard to the wee sod.
Oh, before I go. If you spot Mr. 7 Feet Tall as you walk in that door for your first time as commander-in-chief, tell him that former President Inside File says howya!