Lyndon always used to call me Sarey, and I always used to call him Beej.
At least, if I am being entirely honest, I always called him Beej to his face. When it was just Bird and me, then all bets were off, particularly if Bird had been on the gimlets, and we used to refer to him as “Ol’ One Gallon”, “the Senator from Texarcana” or, once Bird was well under the sauce, “Old Fuckface”. Christ, that woman could drink. Drink and scheme. She was a good hater too. She was like the entire George W. Bush administration without the Jesus. She was one of my dearest friends.
I quite liked Beej. He always reminded me of a big, dumb hound that just wanted to be loved, and maybe have his balls scratched very now and then.
The two of them fought just like a cat and a coonhound too, even though they loved each other madly. On their honeymoon, they had four blazing rows (although Bird always said the first one didn’t count because she hadn’t pegged anything at Beej’s head). By the time they arrived home, they’d both gotten the taste for make up sex, and it had all spiraled horribly from there, until, like some fucked-up and almost-extinct North African swallows with tails so long they can’t find their own cloaca with a map, they just ended up fighting all the time and forgot about the fucking entirely.
I’d turned Beej down in ’60 when he asked me to help him with his “campaign”, on the basis that I was much more likely to get stoned and/or laid hanging around with Jack Kennedy. Jack always had the cutest groupies and the best painkillers, and the whole bit between then and Dallas is, mercifully, a bit of a blur.
In mid ’64, I ran into Beej in a dive bar outside Houston. He had been stood up by an assassin-for-hire he had arranged to meet with the aim of engaging said assassin to rub out Barry Goldwater. He bought me a beer and caught me up on the Sixties. Someone had been sending him beefcake postcards with the eyes scratched out and holes stabbed into the mesh posing pouches, signed “Hubert”. Beej had convinced himself the perpetrator was either Bobby Kennedy or Goldwater, decided to do something about it and had plumped for snuffing the Pisstream from Phoenix first, on the basis that (as he put it) “I hate that fuck anyway”.
Anyway, I convinced him that it might be better if he let me handle it. As I pointed out, if I could get Jack Kennedy through 16 primaries, three years as president, one funeral and the fucking Warren Commission without anyone finding out about his missing leg, tracking down who sent some porno to the White House was going to be a doddle.
A few days later I was back in the White House again, as LBJ’s Special Investigator. I had drinks with Bird the first afternoon. I told her that she needed to donate her little stash of Bruce of Los Angeles pics to Goodwill and move onto tormenting Beej some other way. Then we got tanked on some very nice rum I’d picked up the month before in Havana, and later that night Beej got luckier than he’d gotten since about November 8, 1960.
That calmed him down for a couple of days, but then Goldwater made some offhand remark to Kissinger at a togas and tarts party at Bohemian Grove (Barry was a toga, Henry a quite well-endowed tart) about LBJ being a corncob-pipe pussy, which got back to Beej through the usual sources.
Beej sent Barry a telegram telling him he was (so far as I recall) “a wore out, brokedown, molly mule, sat at a trough an’ stuffin itself, packed to the bunghole with corn, wind and mulepucky”.
From that point it was on like grease on a piglet.
I don’t remember exactly when the nuclear bomb got installed onto Air Force One. Bomb, singular. Certainly not more than one, as I have seen bandied about.
I’d heard rumours something odd was going on. Then again, something odd was always going on. I put out some feelers, made some calls to a few flyboys of my acquaintance. Then I was called away to Cuba for a few weeks. Castro was playing up. He’d found out that Chernenko (also one of ours, at least at that point, and a pain in the arse to keep in line) had wangled a dozen cases of French bubbly out of his handler, and now Fidel was demanding equal dibs. Don’t talk to me about inconvenience until you’ve gone through Cuban customs with a half dozen bottles of Besserat de Bellefon 1932 stuffed up your skirt.
Anyway, a week later I arrived back at Dulles, about midnight, having had no sleep for two days, to be met by a brace of White House muscle, whisked off in a car and wheeled onto Air Force One. Beej gave me a big hug and told me I smelled like a drunk hog in a bearskin rug – he was entirely correct, although in my defence that’s what Havana smelled like in 1964. He patted me on the back and said, “It’s good to see you, Sarey. We’re off to fuck up Phoenix,” burped royally and then he was gone, back (presumably) to the airborne Presidential Throne where he did most of his actual thinking.
Down the back of the plane, the usual hangers-on were already making inroads into a three gallon jug of Beej’s hooch. Jesus, that stuff. He called it Texas White Lightning, vintage about five minutes ago, and he made it in his own still which was stashed in a storeroom off the Executive Office Building bowling alley. The jugs had to be opened outside in the Rose Garden, ever since one exploded at dinner and wiped out about half of the Truman china. It made your ears tingle, and tasted like an axe to the face. You couldn’t get hooch like that at the White House again until January ’93.
Rusk and Bob McNamara were yet again taking poor old Marv Watson for next month’s booze money (and, apparently, his socks) at seven-card strip, although they were having a bit of a hard time of it because Helen Thomas was in her normal spot, displaying the true spirit of a free press – on the table, one shoe on with her knickers twirling around one ankle with each high-kick, singing something rude. Beej tended to keep the Corp off the plane, but Helen always got a jersey ever since she beat him in a chillidog eating competition at Camp David in ’62, and then burped so loud three secret service agents came running with a pair of pants in case Beej had shat himself.
George Reedy, who’d only had the Press Secretary job for a few months, seemed to be the only one who wasn’t enjoying himself. He sat there, head slumped on his hands, staring at his drink, seemingly a little concerned about his ability to sell the atomic devastation of even a minor US city like Phoenix as a good-news story at the next day’s presser. I tried to reassure him, but he was inconsolable, so (after I’d rolled a big fat one of Havana’s finest) I grabbed the half-empty jug and climbed up on the table with Helen.
Forty minutes out from Phoenix, I could feel the plane start to descend very slowly as Beej came in for a drink and a bit of a dance. Twenty minutes out, Jimmy Cross came to fetch us. He sat himself back down in the pilot’s seat, and the rest of us all crammed in around him – Beej, Bob, Deano, Helen, Marv, George and me, all drunk as lords, all stuffed into the cockpit of Air Force One to watch Phoenix burn.
We saw the lights of Phoenix coming up, getting closer as the plane got lower. “Bring us in close,” said Beej, “I want to see that the tiles on that fucker’s roof.” Closer, and it felt like I could see cars and little houses flashing below us and the bulk of Camelback looming ahead of us.
“Go,” said Beej, and Jimmy pressed the button. There was a solid, satisfying clunk from the back of the plane, and then Jimmy started to take her up. I looked at him, and I swear that fucker held my eye for five whole seconds, and he didn’t wink until a second before the flash.
Beej whooped like a quarterback at a chicken ranch, grabbed a pair of goggles and ran towards the back of the plane as the controls seemed, at least, to jerk in Jimmy’s hands and the plane rocked in the air. I went back to Beej to watch the fireball. He seemed oddly sad. “It wasn’t a very big explosion,” he said, so I explained to him that it was just a little nuke, but big enough to do the job and, after he’d make a dick joke, we stood in the window and watched the flames fall swiftly behind us.
It was a big explosion, sure enough – the kind of thing you’d see if you happened to be flying by in a dangerously low-flying plane as someone set off a round dozen of the US Army’s finest thermite charges and a shit ton of smoke flares right in the middle of a 500 foot wide scale model of Phoenix and its surroundings, just like the one the entire staff of Luke Air Force Base spent several weeks building out of painted chipboard and sand, somewhere deep in the Sonoran Desert.
For the rest of his life, Beej was convinced that Barry Goldwater had escaped by the skin of his balls from the smoking, radioactive pile that was Phoenix, Arizona, and that Barry wasn’t man enough to call Beej out about it.
Still, he must have seen something in Barry – a little bit of the Barry who later said that good Christians ought to kick Jerry Falwell in the nuts – because the last time I saw him Beej said to me, “I’m glad that fucker Goldwater survived, Sarey, even if it was just so I could kick his ass”. Then he smiled, give Bird a kiss, and we wandered off to dinner.
– For Ron Capshaw, and for Helen with love.