The Fatcats Club:
“Ask and Tell”
Above the Oval Office, in the president’s private residence, is his real office, the one that’s not a stop on the tour, the one where most of the real work gets done. One of the president’s personal assistants led Lieutenant Daniel Choi down the corridor and rapped on the door. From inside the office a voice called “Come in!”
The assistant opened the door and showed Lt. Choi in. Sitting on a leather couch, dressed in a t-shirt and light cotton trousers, a pair of Birkenstock sandals on his sockless feet, was Barack Obama, the President of the United States. He folded the day’s edition of the Chicago Sun-Times he’d been reading and tossed it aside. “Welcome, Dan. Thank you for coming,” he said, standing and offering his hand.
Lt. Choi squared his shoulders and saluted the president. Barack grinned and waved him off. “Thank you, Lieutenant, but that’s not necessary.” They shook hands and Barack offered him a seat on the couch.
“Sorry,” Dan said as he sat down. “We’re trained to do that.”
“No sweat.” Barack took a seat on the opposite end of the couch, crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands in his lap. “So. I got your letter.”
Dan nodded. “Are you going to help me?”
“I am,” Barack said, “but you have to understand that this is a very complicated issue.”
“That’s not how I see it, sir,” Dan said. “To me, it couldn’t be simpler.”
“I understand. But unfortunately, and as unfair as it may be, I can’t act based solely on the interests of exemplary servicemen like yourself. Just because you and I know what the right thing to do is, that doesn’t—” Barack was interrupted by the opening notes of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” He pulled his smartphone from the front pocket of his trousers.
“That the famous presidential BlackBerry?” Dan asked, grinning at one corner of his mouth.
“Yeah,” said Barack. “It’s the vice president. He was supposed to join us today, but he’s running behind.” He punched a button with his thumb and held the phone to his ear. “Joe? Where you at, man? . . . Okay, okay, okay — hang on. Just — just come on up, all right? Yeah, I’m in the upstairs office. . . . He’s already here. Just come up, okay? . . . Okay.” He hung up and slipped the BlackBerry back into his pocket. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Dan.
“He really wanted to be here.”
“Okay. I look forward to meeting him.”
“Well, he was calling from the parking lot, so . . .”
The two of them sat there a few seconds without saying anything. Dan sighed and drummed his hands on his thighs. “Did you want to keep talking about this now, or . . . ?”
“We might as well wait for him to get here.”
“Yeah, okay.” Dan stretched his arms over his head and cracked his knuckles. “That’s a really cool ring tone.”
“Thanks, I know.”
Another second went by and Barack dug his BlackBerry back out. “Hey, while we’re waiting . . .” He punched something up on the phone and handed it to Dan. “Check this out, a buddy of mine emailed this to me. It’s a guy trying to play this crazy hard hack of Super Mario Bros. with his running commentary playing over it.”
Dan watched a few seconds of the video. “Ha! ‘Fuck! The little hole!’” He handed the phone back to Barack. “That’s pretty funny.”
“Yeah.” Barack punched up something else. “Here, check out this one.”
Dan leaned over to look at the phone. “No kidding, is that you with Queen Elizabeth?”
“Yep, and that’s Prince Philip next to Michelle,” Barack said, pointing. “You can’t see, but he has his hand on her ass.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yep.” Barack thumbed through the next few images. “There I am with Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel . . . ooh, there’s me with Leonard Nimoy.”
“He’s a good dude. Very laid back.”
“Yeah. And always taking pictures of naked women.”
“I’d heard that.”
“To the point where it’s getting to be pathological, I think, though,” Barack said, putting his phone away. “Like, when I met him I’m pretty sure he was working up to asking my assistant if he could shoot her. I made up an excuse and we left before he had the chance.”
There was a knock at the door. “Come on in,” Barack yelled.
Joe Biden, the Vice President of the United States, shaking his head, holding up both hands, breezed into the office. “Barack, man, I tried to be here on time, but you would not believe the day I have had.”
Barack waved his arm back and forth in an attempt to cut him off. “Joe, it’s okay, just have a—”
“First of all,” Joe began, sitting down on the edge of the president’s desk, “I go out to the observatory this morning to bring those guys some coffee and crullers, like I do every morning, and here I find those yo-yos with the guts all pulled outta the telescope!”
“The telescope,” Barack said, lifting an eyebrow.
“Right. They had it all taken apart, pieces laying all over the floor, you could hardly take a step! I said to ‘em, ‘Guys, what the heck are you doing?’ Well, it turns out they had taken everything apart the night before to clean it and forgot where everything went. They’d been at it all night, trying to put it back together, with no luck! So I said, ‘Fellas, you know I’m right across the way, all you had to do was ask!’ And there I was the next hour and a half helping those jokers put that humongous telescope back together. Then—”
“You locked yourself in the bunker again.” Barack leaned forward and clasped his hands between his knees. “Didn’t you?”
Joe chuckled, looking to Dan, then back to Barack. “What are you talking about?”
“The biggest telescope they have at the Naval Observatory in Washington is a 26-inch refractor. It’s just a big ol’ sixty-foot tube moved around by a crank. It’s not like that one they’ve got in Wisconsin, or that giant reflector they’ve got out at Palomar.” Barack raised his hands to his lips and sighed as he stared calmly at Joe. “You locked yourself in the bunker again, didn’t you?”
Joe groaned and stood up from the desk, turning his back to the rest of the room and crossing his arms. “Oh, well they make that door damn hard to get open!”
Barack walked over and put his hand on Joe’s back, rubbing him gently. “What did I say I wanted you to do from now on?”
“I dunno.” Joe kicked his toe against the bottom of the desk.
“Didn’t I tell you to just leave the door unlatched from now on when you go down there to play spaceship?”
Joe sighed and mumbled something inaudible. On the couch, Dan leaned forward and tried to hear.
“What?” Barack asked, leaning an ear closer to Joe.
“I said sometimes the door’s still too heavy, okay?!”
Barack turned Joe around and led him over to a plush leather chair situated facing the couch. “Well, let’s not get all worked up. Let’s just sit down over here. Look, Lt. Choi came here to visit with us!”
Dan waved. The vice president returned the gesture with a petulant flap of his hand.
Barack sat back down on the couch. “We were just about to discuss Dan’s discharge from the Army National Guard, and what we might do about it.”
“Anything you could do to help me would be very appreciated, Mr. Vice President,” Dan said, showing Joe a kindly smile.
Joe grunted and folded his arms. “You don’t want my help.”
“No,” Dan said, glancing momentarily at Barack, who nodded subtly, “I do. I do need your help. That’s . . . why I specifically asked that I be able to meet with you, too.”
“Absolutely, Mr. Vice President,” Dan said. “I know I face an uphill battle here. I want to have a renowned leader of the gay rights movement like yourself in my corner.”
Joe’s eyes opened a bit wider, and he sat up straighter in his chair. “Renowned?”
“You know it! I was with a bunch of people from the Human Rights Campaign last year when Barack announced you as his running mate, and we were all just ecstatic, let me tell you.”
“We were thrilled, yeah, because some of us were nervous he was going to pick Hillary and—”
Barack let out a sharp laugh all of a sudden, immediately covering his mouth with his hand.
“—and we were much happier to have a champion like you on the ticket,” said Dan.
“Well, Dan, let me tell you this,” Joe said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs, “as long as I’m here, you will have an advocate in the Obama-Biden administration.”
“Obama,” Barack said.
“The Obama administration.”
Joe nodded. “Right.” He turned back to Dan. “The first thing I want you to know is that we seek to do away with all legal distinctions between people due to sexual preference, so that there will be no legal difference whatsoever between gays and straights, whether we’re talking about marriages, or health benefits, or adoptions, or military service. No legal difference. What that means is, if you and your boyfriend want to adopt a child — are you the woman in your relationship, by the way?”
Dan waited a moment to be sure he’d heard the vice president correctly. “Am I the woman?”
“Metaphorically speaking,” Joe said. “I only ask because you look a little slight of build.”
“No, I’m not the woman. It doesn’t work that way.”
Joe’s eyes narrowed. “I’ve heard people talk about ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms,’ and I just assumed—”
“That’s not really the same thing as one being the ‘man’ and one being the ‘woman.’ That’s more of an expression of preference in sexual—”
“At-tat-tat!” Joe yelled, waving his hands. “Don’t need the details, don’t need the details. The point is, what happened to you was wrong and we’re going to fix it. Right, Mr. President?”
Barack sighed and nodded. “Yes, Joe.” He glanced at his watch. “It’s getting late. Shouldn’t you go work on your acorn project?”
Joe shrugged. “I guess so.” He stood up and held out his hand. Barack reached over the back of the couch and produced an aluminum bucket which he passed to Joe. “Don’t be back too late.”
“Okay!” Joe called over his shoulder as he ran out the door.
Dan scratched the back of his neck. “What was all that . . .”
“I’ve been sending him out to collect acorns from under the oak trees around here whenever I need to get rid of him,” Barack said. “I promised him when he had enough, we’d try to catch him a pet squirrel.”
“How many acorns has he found?”
Barack shrugged. “I have no idea. Whenever he comes back with a bucketful I just have someone from my staff take them and dump them out in the yard.”
“Why do you keep the bucket here?”
“He came back with it stuck on his head the day after the one time I let him take it home with him.”
“And he really locked himself in the bunker under the Vice Presidential residence?”
“Yes,” Barack said with obvious irritation in his voice. “I specifically asked those Navy guys not to show that to him.”
Dan looked at Barack quietly for a moment. “Why did you pick him to be V.P., anyway?”
“Assassination insurance.” Sam Cooke sang out again from Barack’s pocket. “Just a moment, Dan.” He dug out the BlackBerry again and held it to his ear. “Yo. . . . Oh, great. . . . How long do I have before he gets here? . . . Perfect. Okay. Bye.” Barack put his phone away and stood. “I hate to cut this short, Dan, but I have to get a shower and a change of clothes. Magic Johnson’s coming over to watch the playoffs with me. How cool is that?”
Dan got up from the couch and offered Barack his hand. “I appreciate the time, Mr. President.”
Barack shook his hand, and laid his other hand on Dan’s shoulder. “Be patient, Lieutenant. These things take time.”
“As the commander-in-chief, you could end the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy with an executive order any time you want,” Dan said.
“But doing it through legislation will carry a lot more weight in the long run.”
“No reason you can’t do both.”
Barack patted him on the back and began to lead him to the door. “We’ll work on it, Lieutenant. I promise you that.”
Dan stopped and put his hand against the door before Barack could open it. “Don’t fire me, Mr. President.”
Barack sighed and looked at the floor. “I can only do what I can do, Dan.”
Dan nodded. “Is this all the longer it took?”
Dan shook his head and opened the door. “You’ve only been here four months.” He stepped into the corridor, stood at attention and snapped off a farewell salute. The president returned the salute, and Dan spun about on his heel and walked off down the corridor.
Barack waited until Dan had rounded the corner, then stepped into the hallway himself and closed the office door behind him. On his way to the master bedroom his BlackBerry went off again. He pulled it out and answered it. “Hello? . . . Hello, Joe. I can barely hear you. Where are you?” Barack listened, and sighed, closing his eyes and rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. “Just relax. Put the phone down, get one hand on either side and just push straight up like we did last time, okay?”
The president didn’t linger on the phone to see if it worked. He hung up and went to shower and change. He put the BlackBerry in a drawer next to his bed and left it there the rest of the night.