When you are sitting next to a president, Chapter 4
It was an exclusive executive party in Orlando, Fl. An early spring had sprung, and big, puffy clouds scooted overhead. The brick courtyard stretched in back of the five-star hotel; French doors spilled participants onto a manicured garden. High top tables with tiny tea candles and long white cloths dotted the patio, and a portable bar was pushed to one corner.
This party was both casual and exclusive. Carefully crafted by the sponsor to create a relaxed atmosphere where every guest attending had a “C” in their title. These were the right kind of people. Every attendee was a political conservative. I’m sure you’ve heard about the $10,000 per plate luncheons to have a meal with a politician? This was one, and I was the photographer. Next year, the guest of honor would run for President of the United States. However, we were months before Iowa. .
My camera weighed heavy in my hand.
The guest of honor arrived. I walked forward, stuck out my hand, and said:
“Hi, Mr. Governor. I’m Mike Gatty, your photographer. We have about 30 folks to get through today, so if we could get started?”
Jeb Bush, the former Governor of Florida, rocked back on his heels.
He eyeballed me from polished shoes to bleached blonde mohawk. He looked at my suit. He eyed my camera.
“You’re the democrat!” He declared, smugly.
I was a little taken aback. “Sir, I’m a democrat. I’m not sure I’d say I’m THE democrat.”
“Don’t play coy with me, young man,” Jeb Bush said. He paused again. And winked at me. “My brother told me about you.”
With that, my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t help it. I’m never at a loss for words, but I was then.
I couldn’t speak. My throat was stuck.
I cleared it. I recovered.
“Well, Sir, let’s get started with the CEO of…” and I motioned for the first waiting executive to come forward.
After I wrapped the shoot, my client stepped forward.
“Exactly what did Bush mean when he said, ‘my brother told me about you?'” He asked, followed by, “And you’re a democrat!?”
Of course, Jeb Bush meant George W. Bush, the former President, when he talked about “my brother”. He had no other brother. So, clearly, they’d had a conversation surrounding photographers — and he’d mentioned the crazy, mohawked man that declared to the entire room “I’m a democrat!” when Bush asked, “which of my family did you like the best?”.
Here is how I envision that conversation. This is completely in my mind. Every other part of this story is true, and happened just as I’ve described. But this next part I’m guessing. Educated guessing, but guessing. Still, I think you’ll agree: it’s pretty obvious.
The Jeb Bush luncheon was held in late February, very early March. I’d photographed George W. Bush right before Thanksgiving. With that timing in mind, their discussion must have happened over the holidays. Accepted fact #1.
Bush Sr., Barbara, Laura, Jeb and W are sitting around an ornate holiday feast. A tuxedoed server stands quietly to the side, ready to refill water, or wine, or booze. There’s an uncomfortable pause as the turkey is passed around. Awkward family silence everyone can identify with: not knowing what to talk about with a family that isn’t really close and only sees each other a few times a year.
The uncomfortable silence grows, and W clears his throat, looking for something to say.
“(Cough) Well, I had an interesting day the other day. This crazy photographer — dressed with this blonde Mohawk (he demonstrates a mohawk by cupping his hands over his head) — declared in front of me that he was a democrat. Can you imagine? I didn’t know what to say to the little brat, but I laughed. He’d basically said he’s met all of you. (W looks around the table, at each listening face) So I, naturally, asked him who he liked the best? And do you know what that bastard said?” W. pauses for effect. He looks again at his father, the former president, who he has always tried to impress. He moves his gaze to his mother, the former first lady and dominatrix of the family. Then to his wife, Laura, who was sober for the holiday dinner. And finally, to Jeb, the older brother, who should have been president instead of W, but through a quirk of fate, wasn’t. And, as fate would have it — never would be. A man named Donald Trump would ruin those hopes, calling him, “Low Energy Jeb”. His campaign would crash and burn. W would privately like that, though he’d never admit it.
W yanks himself back to the story. His family waits patiently. W’s stories were always a little rambling.
“That bastard basically said, ‘I’M A DEMOCRAT!’ after I asked who he liked best, insinuating,” W pauses again to let that sink in, “insinuating he didn’t like ANY of you! Can you imagine?”
Laura looks horrified. Who couldn’t like Laura Bush? After all, she was famous for her cowboy cookies. The rest of the table is amused. They’re not really surprised the photographer didn’t like Laura. She can be haughty with the hired help. It is known. Accepted fact #2. They all thought (except Laura), “It’s about time a photographer didn’t have a stick up his ass.”
Then the family finishes their meal, and moves onto pumpkin pie. With ice cream. They all forget about the crazy democrat photographer until Jeb runs into him at the fundraising luncheon. Then, the gear clicks slowly in his brain. A bolt of energy, and recognition, hits the governor.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. In my mind, I’ll always be the democrat discussed at the Bush’s Christmas Dinner.
Coincidentally, a few weeks later, I received a hand painted coffee mug from Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein. She is known for painting the mugs, and hands them out to staffers as gifts. I don’t know why she sent me a mug. It’s a mystery! But, and this is just a guess? Maybe she was at the holiday dinner, too?
Matthew, myself and my mom have photographed President Trump. But that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say: it took us six months to get paid.
Disclaimers: I have embellished the dinner for creative purposes. I have no evidence Laura Bush was sober for this or any other family dinner. Laura’s cowboy cookies are not anatomically correct. I checked.