First Look: George W. Bush's Memoir

Just be glad I didn't go with Molly Bloom's soliloquyGood news, history fans: George W. Bush’s Decision Points comes out on November 9th, a week after the midterm elections. The former president “will write about political and personal challenges and discuss his handling of events including the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, as well as his embracing of his faith amid his effort to quit drinking… [Bush will] focus on 14 critical decisions in his life and share his reflections on subjects including the closely fought 2000 Presidential election and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

We’ve managed to score an early excerpt. It’s pretty exciting, because it tells the story of his momentous decision to run for president and the process that brought it about. Enjoy!

Chapter 3: National Cathedral

This bald man, an old friend of my dad’s, he was on his way to spend the night. He had some business in Austin. He called my dad from his office. Arrangements were made. He would come by private car, a three-hour trip, and my dad would meet him at the mansion. He hadn’t seen him since they had worked together in DC six years ago. But he and the bald man had kept in touch. I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit. He was no one I knew. And his being bald bothered me. My idea of baldness came from the movies. In the movies, the bald were always trying too hard, like they wanted to make up for their lack of hair. My friend Karl was that way. At any rate, a bald man in my house was not something I looked forward to.

“What am I going to do with a bald man?” I asked my dad from the other room. He was drinking Scotch in the kitchen, making plans to go skydiving. Dad’s pretty spry, for an old guy.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” said Dad.

“Maybe I could take him hunting,” I said.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Dad. “He has something important he wants to talk to you about anyway.”

“I don’t know what I’d have to say to a bald man.” I pouted a little, I’ll admit it.

“Just do what I say, damn it,” said Dad, banging his hand on the table. “How many times do I need to tell you that? If it weren’t for me, you’d be another drunk with a couple of failed businesses on his hands.”

It was just like Dad to bring up a real sore spot like that. I could see him getting tense. I knew if I didn’t agree he’d start making fun of me for not becoming Commissioner of Baseball. Sometimes when he had a few too many he’d start in on me, calling me “Mr. Commissioner” in some kind of fancy-pants sissy way that Roger Ailes was never really able to beat out of him. I didn’t understand it, but then, like Dad tells me all the time, Jeb’s the one who got the brains. Anyway, I turned down the television and got real quiet for a minute.

Then a guard brought the bald man in. Just amazing. He and Dad hugged. This bald man, feature this, he wearing a pacemaker on the outside! On the outside! Too much, I say. The bald man reached into his briefcase and pulled out a blank pad of paper, the kind you’d give a kid to draw on. My dad brought him into the living room. I turned off the TV. I finished my soda, rinsed the glass, dried my hands. Then I went to the door.

My dad said, “Georgie, you remember Dick.” He was beaming. He had this bald man by his coat sleeve.

“Yes, sir,” I said, although I didn’t really. Maybe he had hair the last time I met him. Who knows?

“Hey there, Georgie boy,” the bald man grunted and tried to make an expression that I think he thought was a smile. “Your dad tells me you’re doing some fine things here.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said. That was definitely strange. Usually the only thing Dad said about my work was that I had the best job in the world because you could be as stupid as a Quayle and still not manage to fuck it up. I’m not sure what he had been telling the bald man, but I was happy to take the credit.

“You two don’t mind, I’m gonna skedaddle,” said Dad. “Ticker okay, Dick?”

“Had a small attack on the drive over,” grunted the bald man, “so I should be able to last a good three hours before the next one. You leave us be, we’ll be fine.”

Dad left. The bald man went over and turned the TV back on. He turned it up a little loud, if you ask me, but he was the guest, so I didn’t say anything.

“Ya got any booze in this place?” grunted the bald man.

“I don’t drink myself-”

“I don’t give a shit what you do or don’t do,” the bald man interrupted. Then he got quiet for a minute. “Sorry,” he grunted. “Don’t mean to get off on the wrong foot. It’s good that you don’t drink. It’ll be a plus for us.”

He looked around the room. Except for the noise from the TV it was totally quiet. Finally he spotted the Scotch.

“Mind if I have a rip?” he asked.

“Be my guest,” I said. “Glasses are-”

He was already drinking straight from the bottle.

“Come sit by me on the couch,” he said. We sat in front of the TV.

Something about the church and the Middle Ages was on the TV. Not your run-of-the-mill TV fare. I wanted to watch something else, maybe the funny videos show. I turned to the other channels. But there was nothing on them, either. So I turned back to the first channel and apologized.

“Georgie, it’s all right,” the bald man grunted. “It’s fine with me. Whatever you want to watch is okay. I’m always learning something. Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn something tonight. I mean, I probably already know everything there is to know, but sometimes you get surprised.”

We didn’t say anything for a time. He was leaning forward with his head turned at me, his right ear aimed in the direction of the set. Very disconcerting. Now and then his eyelids drooped and then they snapped open again. Now and then he put his fingers on his pacemaker and massaged it, like he was about to have a heart attack. He grunted a lot and was sweating the whole time.

After a while the news came on. I usually flip it right off, but the bald man seemed interested. There was a picture of the place where the bad president from Arkansas who beat my dad lived.

“You see that man, Georgie?” asked the bald man.

“Hate him,” I said.

“He’s done some very bad things to this country,” nodded the bald man. “Made us a laughingstock. Things keep up the way they do, and his ozone buddy there takes over after, all of us-I mean you, and me, and your dad, and people like us-are fucked.”

He spat out the word “fucked,” but not in a way that sounded like it was the first time he had ever used it.

“What are your future plans, boy?” asked the bald man.

“Well, on Wednesday I’m cutting the ribbon at a hospital in Amarillo,” I said. “Then Friday we’re honoring the inventor of the chicken-fried bacon platter down in-”

“Fuck that shit,” grunted the bald man. “I mean large scale. You do think large scale, don’t you, Georgie?”

“Well, I’ve got two more years of this,” I said. “I thought after that maybe I’d… well, if Bud Selig’ll let me, I thought about taking another shot at being baseball commissioner. It’s all I ever wanted to do.”

He nodded at me. At first I thought I had finally found someone I could tell all my deep secrets to, but I looked in his eyes and saw the same kind of disgust my dad had whenever I suggested some new investment or idea. I quieted down real quick.

He sighed. Even his sighs sounded like grunts.

“Tell you what,” he grunted. “You got a pen around here?”

There was one on the desk. I brought it over.

“Okay, you’re gonna draw something.” He tossed the pad of paper on the floor and moved his hand in a way that told me he wanted me to crouch over it and start sketching. The bald man got down from the couch and sat next to me on the carpet.

He ran his fingers over the paper. He went up and down the sides of the paper. The edges, even the edges. He fingered the corners.

“All right,” he grunted. “All right, let’s do her.”

He grabbed my hand, the hand with the pen. He closed his hand over my hand. “Go ahead, Georgie, draw,” he grunted. “Draw. You’ll see. I’ll follow along with you. It’ll be okay. Just begin now like I’m telling you. You’ll see. Draw,” the bald man said.

So I began. First I drew a box that looked like a house. It could have been the house my mom and dad used to live in. Then I put a roof on it. At either end of the roof, I drew columns. Crazy.

“Swell,” he grunted. “Terrific. You’re doing fine,” he said. “Never thought anything like this could happen in your lifetime, did you, Georgie? Well, it’s a strange life, we all know that. Go on now. Keep it up.”

I put in windows with arches. I drew an east wing and a west wing. I hung great doors. I couldn’t stop. The TV station went off the air. I put down the pen and closed and opened my fingers. The bald man looked over the paper. He moved the tips of the fingers over the paper, all over what I had drawn, and he nodded.

“Doing fine,” the bald man grunted.

I took up the pen again, and he found my hand. I kept at it. I’m no artist. But I kept drawing just the same.

My wife Laura came in and saw us on the floor. She said, “What are you doing? Tell me, I want to know.”

I didn’t answer her.

The bald man said, “We’re drawing a great house. Me and him are working on it. Press hard,” he said to me. “That’s right. That’s good,” he grunted. “Sure. You got it, Georgie. I can tell. You didn’t think you could. But you can, can’t you? You’re cooking with gas now. You know what I’m saying? We’re going to really have us something here in a minute. How’s the old arm?” he said. “Here’s what I want you to do now. Draw yourself in front of that house.”

My wife said, “What’s going on? George, what are you doing? What’s going on?”

“It’s all right,” he grunted to her. “Close your eyes now,” the bald man grunted to me.

I did it. I closed them just like he said.

“Are they closed?” he grunted. “Don’t fuck around with me.”

“They’re closed,” I said.

“Keep them that way,” he grunted. He said, “Don’t stop now. Draw.”

So we kept on with it. His fingers rode my fingers as my hand went over the paper. It was like nothing else in my life up to now. I made my hips look a little thinner than they usually do, but I drew myself in that house.

Then he said, “I think that’s it. I think you got it,” he grunted. “Take a look. What do you think?”

But I had my eyes closed. I thought I’d keep them that way for a little longer. I thought it was something I ought to do.

“Well?” he said. “Are you looking?”

My eyes were still closed. It was a picture of a big white house. I lived in it. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.

“It’s really something,” I said.