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Big George At 80
A different look at life.


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William F. Buckley Jr.

If you need a tonic, buy, borrow, or steal the current issue of Forbes FYI, because you will find there an article by George H. W. Bush. (That’s the one who is not now President.) It is published with the title “Executive Privilege,” and what it does is tell you what it’s like to be 80. Well yes, to be 80 if you are an ex-president. That means you have certain amenities in life not available to all of us. For instance, stepping out of the car one day he reached for the handle, but didn’t quite make it. A firm grip steadied him, courtesy of the United States Secret Service.

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Mr. Bush has a buoyant way of mentioning joys gone by without exactly repining. He just tells you. “I can no longer fly-fish off the rocks at our house in Kennebunkport. I used to love to go out there and cast chartreuse Clousers at big striped bass or even tiny pollock.” So? He can’t do that any more, but he can luxuriate in salt water. The only unforgivable part of his life is a twin 225-horsepower Mercury OptiMax outboard. “I love that boat.” He comes into the harbor and makes a sharp turn. “Kids love this. This boat makes me feel young and very happy.”

Of course there are annoyances, one of them being that he is not as speedy in playing tennis as he once was. And he is shrewd enough to know that some of the serves sent to him aren’t as fast as that Mercury OptiMax. The balls aren’t aimed at vulnerable parts of his body. “No more real tennis, but I sure miss it.”

Surely there is a complaint in this octogenarian, beyond the promise he gave to his wife that he would not jump out of a plane in a parachute again after his 80th birthday jump? Well, there is the matter of his hearing. That declines at that age, but he has a hearing aid, and it helps when, say, “I am watching a rental from Blockbuster.” But there is a disadvantage he can’t cope with: “. . . it kills when you are at a cocktail party or even in the office.” And there are distortions. “The other day, eating out, I was coasting along pretty well when someone crumpled up some paper a few tables away. It sounded like a low-yield nuke had just gone off.” So what do you do about that? Barbara has an approach. “You have the darn thing—just use it.”

Moreover, there are certain things you don’t miss not hearing. “Life is simpler if I don’t have to stop in when summoned to that messy room where they hang out to give my views on Madonna, P. Diddy, or Eminem. I have no views on those people. I am happily disconnected from hip-hop, dirty-talking screen performers, and science fiction. I love my grandchildren, all of them. But I no longer want to get their views on Hollywood celebrities or even hear how much they enjoyed the Dave Matthews concert way the hell up near the Canadian border.”

His good nature prevails, as it did when he reigned in the White House. But he does have what some would call an obsession, others a mere tic.

Like, the kids using the word “like” all the time. “My beloved teenagers can’t say a sentence without saying, ‘like.’

“Like, ‘Hi, Grandpa, are you like going out in the boat, and if you do will you like take me with you?’” Mr. Bush has an endearing solution for this: “Why don’t their teachers tell them to cease and desist?”

There is nothing here at all about foreign policy or domestic policy or politics, and only a single reference to the White House. Life has hard knocks even for ex-presidents. But the perspective of George H. W. Bush is okay. “In the Navy we young pilots all prayed for CAVU: Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited. But, you see, at 80, that is where my life is now. Thanks to my family and my friends, my life is CAVU.” And his life, as described in this article, lights up the lives of others.



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