“I've Got This Thing Simplified”

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“It was all quiet, nothing stirring. And then the first thing he saw was that New England nose sticking out through the door. And then little CaI tiptoeing into the corridor to press that button.”

The President leaned back, laughing. He continued to chuckle.

I told him that he would have to send me away when it was time.

“In three minutes some of the Cabinet are coming in to see me before I go away. It’s quite casual. I don’t work so hard any more.”

I told him I had seen his “old friend” Colonel McCormick in Chicago. He laughed and shook his head as though despairingly.

“You know I had a dream the other night. I dreamed that it was at a press conference … just like today. Someone said that Hearst was dead. I said, ‘Well, that must have been very recent.’ They said, yes, it was a flash that had just come in ten minutes before. Is there any comment? The question was put again. I said, ‘De mortuis nil nisi bonum.’ I would say nothing more.”

I stayed about ten minutes after that. Finally I apologized and left, expressing the wish for a good holiday, sun and rest. I went out through the door that goes into Grace Tully’s office.

Throughout this interview the President spoke in a firm voice without hesitation. His face was sallow but he appeared in good health. Around his eyes were innumerable fine lines; they added to the appearance of puffiness about his eyes. Otherwise his face was little marked. His hair was thin, a thin, straggling gray. He wore a double-breasted coat of very soft flannel. While I was there he smoked two and perhaps three cigarettes. He was quite deaf. Several times I had to repeat what I had said.

I had an impression of the man’s curious aloneness. (Steve had spoken about what a “prisoner” he was in the White House.) It was so quiet in the room you could hear the faint purring tick of the electric clock on his desk. The innumerable animals marched in a triple row almost up to the blotting pad. I knew the impression he wanted to give was of a man detached, serene, confident; able to accept another term in the White House or put it aside. How much of this was the actor—the consummate actor—and how much the real man I certainly could not tell.