Bushed on Broadway
Laura Bush and I went to see the musical Enron together before it closed on Broadway. Well, that’s an exaggeration. To begin with, I’m not sure Enron is exactly a musical, which is what the woman next to me was grumbling about. “Not a musical, not a comedy, not a drama,” she said. “That’s why it’s closing so soon. It’s not in a category.” Also, as long as I’m leveling, I should be clear that I was palling around with Laura Bush’s newly published autobiography, Spoken from the Heart, and not Laura herself. It’s a very attractive book, with a photo of smiling Laura on the cover. Since my husband and I are living temporarily in Manhattan, I’d had the bright idea to schlep it around the city so people would engage me in heated conversations and maybe try to beat me up or something. New Yorkers might be tolerant about the avant-garde, the outrageous, the Naked Cowboy in Times Square—but wouldn’t they perform the metaphorical heave-ho when it came to the memories of our most recent First Lady? After all, Manhattan had voted overwhelmingly for John Kerry in 2004 (82 percent to Bush’s 17 percent). I expected to spend the next few days fending off attacks and feverishly taking notes.
Boy, was I wrong.
I lingered outside our neighborhood Barnes & Noble the morning the book was released. In the display windows, you could find posters and stacks of Sarah Silverman’s The Bedwetter and Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang, but no evidence of Laura’s book.
“It’s in the bestseller section,” the information clerk said pleasantly. “It’s not flying off the shelf, but people are usually interested in a former First Lady.”
I bought the book. The sales clerk didn’t comment. I walked outside. It was sunny and gorgeous—a beautiful day for a fight. I peeled off the bestseller sticker so the cover wasn’t obscured. I went to the drugstore and placed the book face-up on the counter while I bought cough drops. “Don’t forget your book,” the clerk said.
I went to the dermatologist, still carrying the book. The dermatologist frowned, like she was trying to remember something. “I haven’t heard anything about the Bushes in ages,” she said. “Are they still big in Texas?”
“In some neighborhoods,” I said.
I took the bus home, with a bandage on my forehead and the book prominently displayed on my lap. Neither got any attention. I was beginning to understand how Kitty Genovese must have felt.
I took the book to a dinner with some academics. A book editor stared at the cover and said, “I wouldn’t have admitted this when W was president—but I always liked Laura. She seemed like a good, decent person.”
An Israeli filmmaker at the dinner told me she had taped both the Bushes in her latest documentary. “Laura was nice, but she didn’t like to be filmed from behind,” the filmmaker said. “Do you know why?”
“Vanity,” I said. “We’re all concerned about our big butts in front of a camera.”
She nodded sagely. The plight of menopausal women and their expanding posteriors extends beyond politics, national boundaries and oceans. We are sisters; we keep our backsides to the wall.
The night wore on, the days wore on, and I got a little tired of dragging around town with a hardback book and sacrificing my shoulder to art. But I took Laura to Enron, thinking—surely!—this would be a highly opinionated audience.
So Laura and I sat and watched a funny, well-produced play that had been a hit in London. Enron might have only lasted on Broadway for a couple of weeks, but the story of Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling and Andy Fastow was fast-moving and entertaining. Fastow’s dark genius creations—shell companies called “raptors” that took Enron’s massive debt off its books and kept its stock price soaring—were portrayed as red-eyed, jagged-toothed monsters, prowling the corporate netherworld and gorging on debt.
“You know what?” a man said as everybody left the theater. “Nobody’s interested in Enron any longer after Bernie Madoff. It’s just not a big story now.”
There you go. Enron and the Bush administration were yesterday’s stories, musty and barely remembered. Manhattan in 2010 is so tolerant of Enron and Laura Bush, they might as well be invisible. Well, fine. Maybe, I thought—and not for the first time—it was time for my husband and me to come home to Texas.