The author Lauren Young (in brown hair and glasses on the right) has a chat with W. (Photo courtesy Lauren Young)
In the spring of 2001, I was summoned to our nation’s capital to meet with George Walker Bush, the 43rd president of the United States. I had written a cover story about the president’s tax plan for SmartMoney magazine, which is now, sadly, defunct. According to the White House press officer who set up the meeting, the president wanted to talk to me – and a select group of other personal finance journalists – about his blueprint to stimulate the American economy by lowering taxes.
Based in New York, I got the necessary approval from my boss to make the trek to DC, contingent on one key detail: I needed to get George Bush’s autograph on the magazine cover. And not with a wussy ballpoint pen. My editor-in-chief wanted the John Hancock-ing done with the permanent ink of a black Sharpie.
He was half-joking, naturally. But I did not want to mess around with this assignment.
The morning of my big rendezvous with Bush, I found the drug store closest to the White House and bought myself a fresh Sharpie. The President’s meeting, which took place in the Roosevelt Room, lasted about an hour.
I honestly don’t remember much of what W. said anymore, but I do remember thinking that that he was smarter and a lot more handsome in person –he had great cheekbones and piercing cornflower blue eyes. I also recall the cadre of White House press ladies standing behind Bush, all dressed like Easter eggs in pastel blue, green and yellow skirt suits.
Also seated at the table was Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary (you can see the top of his head in the middle left of this photo). Next to the president is Andrew Card, his chief of staff (top left). The other folks in the photo include Amy Feldman of Money magazine and Knight Kiplinger, the editor of Kiplinger. You can’t see CNBC’s Jim Cramer in this photo, but I can still hear his distinctive voice all these years later. Those guys at the very far end of the room were secret service agents.
Bush’s eyes are locked with mine in this picture, which was provided by the White House. I’ve got a stack of magazines in front of me and a very serious look on my face, which clearly says: Please sign these magazines so I don’t get fired.
As the meeting wrapped up, Bush stood and continued to answer questions from the reporters in the room. He waved to me to slide the magazines over to him. I followed the Commander-in-Chief’s command, with the Sharpie right on top of the stack. But the President ignored my Sharpie.
W reached into his breast pocket and whipped out his own SHARPIE. He pushed mine back and started signing the magazine covers, sliding them back to me one-by-one.
Bush maintained his presidential game face, signing as he chatted away to other journalists about taxes and making America great.
But I looked at Fleischer in disbelief: “The President has his own Sharpie?” Fleischer nodded enthusiastically.
Like Bush and other luminaries such as Johnny Carson, I’m a lifelong Sharpie enthusiast, too. As a child at an overnight summer camp, we used Sharpies to emblazon our names on anything and everything around the bunk – the walls, the cubbies, the bedposts. My affinity for Sharpies continues to grow as I age. I am the proud owner of a rainbow collection of Sharpies, all purchased at Costco. When I moved several weeks ago, I stocked up on the thick black markers to label my boxes. And just last week, we made a sign for our five-year-old neighbor who lives directly across the street. I used a red Sharpie for impact as I held it up to the window: “Good Night,” it read.
Not to get too political here, but it should be noted that I’m part of the liberal media establishment. And, so far, the notoriously conservative Bush is the only president I have ever met, although I have been in the same room as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Yet while we may have different viewpoints, W and I share a permanent love affair with Sharpies. Apparently, he gives personalized Sharpies as gifts.
Which begs the question: Where is my Bush Sharpie?