On our sixth day in Chattanooga, Dan called me from work to see if I would join him for lunch at Porkers, a restaurant about a mile from our house. Dan had noted three key details about Porkers during his solo visit to Chatt in mid-July, but only one stuck in my mind – exceptionally yummy barbecue. Therefore, I was game. I remembered the other, less flattering details after I got to the restaurant – a creepy, racist caricature of a black child eating watermelon and the fact that George W Bush had visited Porker’s while he was in office. The racist painting was it’s own reminder but it was the snapshots of GWB behind the cashier stand that refreshed that detail for me.
Those photos blew my mind. I actually thought the owners had hired a very convincing Bush impersonator to pose with staff members because those candid shots portrayed a man who looked relaxed and happy. The George W Bush I remembered looked more like this –
This photo depicts the occasion when President Bush awarded the National Medal of Arts to the late Louis Auchincloss, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. Note the awkward stance and the apish, dangling arms on our former leader. Remember when Bush bragged about not reading newspapers? I wonder how he felt about books. I also wonder if he had any idea who Auchincloss was. To be fair, most Americans don’t, but Bush might. Louis Auchincloss was both a chronicler and member of that privileged echelon of wealthy east coasters who rule the world, just like those Bushes. He went to prep school and then Yale, just like those Bushes. He also referred to them in a Financial Times interview as, "a big family of shits," so perhaps they weren't close. Nevertheless, there was a familiarity between the Auchinclosses and the Bushes. On some level, they were each others "people," but you would never know it from this photo.
But if I could just show you those Porker’s photos, you would know see that everyday Chattanoogans are Bush’s real people. And that's just one of the many reasons that being here feels so strange, but that isn't my point. The point is that I have never seen an image of GWB looking so thoroughly peaceful and content. This was the best one I could find online. You can see that he’s having a good time –
- It’s from the White House website, so of course it is quite becoming. It isn’t that the ones on the wall at Porker’s are unbecoming, but they’re way more goofy and fun-filled – Bush posing with a couple of waitresses, his arms chummily hanging over their shoulders, a giant grin on his face; a wide-eyed Bush gawking at a pile of ribs; Bush crouching behind a pair of confused-looking old people. These are the equivalent of your Facebook photos, frozen moments when you were at your best and having a funky good time. But, they’re not the kind of pictures you would post on your professional website or, if you’re a former U.S. President, include in your memoirs. So, sadly you’ll probably never see these pictures online or in a book. You’ll just have to come to Chattanooga to see what Bush looked like when he was happy.
It makes me wonder what other presidents look like when they are in their happiest, most fitting element. I imagine Obama talking sports with another brainy intellectual type and Bill Clinton lounging at a bordello crossed with a McDonald’s, if such a thing exists. All W needs is some sweet tea, a pulled pork platter and some friendly southerners who don’t make him feel like a dummy.