Harold James Hoey has worked in the White House since the second inauguration of President Ronald Reagan back in January of 1984. President Reagan had greeted Harold just once as part of the new staff that Reagan had hired for his second term. Harold was an African American, and he was one of thirteen new African American employees on the White House staff. Since that time, Harold is the only remaining African American holdover from the original Reagan thirteen.
Harold had a simple but important job. He was on the night staff and worked the several floors that formed the basement and sub-basement to the executive complex. There were three sub-basements under the White House, one of which was connected to a corridor that led under the White House lawn to the Old Executive Office Building. The corridor was under constant surveillance and had four Marine guards at each of the two entrances, one at the White House and the other at the Executive Office Building. Harold James Hoey was not permitted to enter the White House in any manner except for the underground corridor. This was not always true. Reagan had permitted Harold Hoey and the new staff at the time to enter the White House like kings through the same entrance as international dignitaries and Congressional guests. This practice continued until the Summer of 2000 when Vice President Dick Cheney changed the White House access protocol. Instead of entering the White House like royalty, Harold now entered it like a rat in a sewer. But he did not complain. Harold James Hoey, who was 42 years old at the time he was hired by Reagan, was now 65 years old, and he feared that any complaints uttered would certainly get him layed off into forced retirement.
Indeed, Harold’s job description had slowly changed over the years. Originally, Harold was responsible for organizing and cleaning the three sub-basement floors and monitoring the various rooms and hallways for the specific purpose of making certain things looked neat. If there was something out of place, it was Harold’s job to either make it right or report it, certainly if there was anything odd about it he had to report it, like when a red Lands End backpack was left ominously in the middle of Corridor D. It would not have been so ominous, but the initials embroidered on the backpack were “DTH.” Harold knew that if you remove the vowels from the word “death” you get “dth.” So he called up to one of the Marine stations and the bomb squad arrived in four minutes. It was filled with a pocket dictionary, a paperback James Patterson Alex Cross mystery novel, a cell phone and a Filofax. The “DTH” were the initials of David Theodore Howard, the son of Thomas Howard, a White House staff member. Thomas Howard was reading the Patterson paperback. No bomb. A false alarm. Those were the exciting days. But no longer. Because Harold James Hoey was no assigned to one task and one task only: to clean up and wash the dirty dishes of all White House meals. Most of these dishes accumulated thoughout the day, and they made their way down to the kitchen that was on first, that is the highest, sub-basement floor. The sub-basement kitchen was one of three in the White House, but it was the kitchen that contained the wine cellar and the walk-in refrigerator/freezer. This is where Harold James Hoey at 2:30 in the morning on Thursday, October 11, 2007 met George W. Bush.
Bush arrived in a pale blue terry cloth bathrobe and walking in fire-engine red plastic Crocs with a small American flag pegged into one of the holes in the head of his left Croc. Harold was washing dishes in the large aluminum sink that was on an island in the middle of the kitchen. The sink was hung from a butcher block counter. Harold did not recognize the President at first. he thought it was a homeless person that had wandered into the kitchen, as impossible as that would be.
“Hi. What’s your name?” asked George W. Bush.
“Oh. Oh, jeez. Sorry. Hello, sir. I didn’t recognize you…in your…” said Harold, not being able to finish the sentence.
“So do you have one?” asked the President.
“Have what, sir?” asked Harold.
“Oh. Jeez. I’m sorry. It’s Harold. Harold James Hoey,” said Harold.
“Well, Harold, you got any Pinot Grigio?” asked the President.
“Ahhh…well, yeah, I guess so. I am not usually in charge of the liquor, sir,” said Harold.
“It’s in there, right,” the President said as he pointed to the stainless steel door of the walk-in refrigerator.
“No, sir. The beer would be in there. The wine is in the wine cellar, which is there,” said Harold, referencing a wood door at the end of the kitchen.
“There’s a security camera in the wine cellar. Twenty four hour fee. I don;t want to be caught on that camera. So could you grab me a bottle of Pinot Grigio? For me, Harold,” said the President.
“Well, sure, but you know there’s a key to it, and Mr. Anderson has the key,” said Harold.
“Damn. Damn all this security. They have to lock up the wine, don;t they. Bastards,” said the President.
“You want a beer, sir? The refrigerator is not locked,” said Harold.
“No. I am on the wagon when it comes to beer. Don’t touch it anymore,” said the President.
“OK,” said Harold.
“When does Anderson start?” asked the President.
“That would be at six, sir. Six AM,” said Harold.
“You here most nights, there, Harold?” asked the President.
“Yes, sir. I have the night shift ‘cept for Friday and Saturday,” said Harold.
“Good. We are going to become friends, Harold. “I’ll see to it you get a key. A key to the wine cellar. Got it,” said the President.
“OK. OK, sir,” said Harold.
President George Bush turned and walked out of the kitchen. Harold shook his head to make certain he was not dreaming. And then he returned to washing the pile of dishes.
Harold James Hoey sat in a stainless steel chair with stainless steel armrests. His head slumped forward, a dish towel in his right hand, and he was snoring. It was 3:34 AM on the morning of Wednesday, October 24. As always, Harold was alone in the sub-basement kitchen of the White House. He had cleaned all the Presidential dinnerware and Presidential plates. He had noticed that the White House chef the evening before had made duck with orange sauce. Harold knew that President Bush liked duck, and this was a frequent menu item notwithstanding Laura’s instructions to remove as much of the fat from the duck as possible.
Harold woke and felt the crick in his neck and the sting in his throat, a result of the slumped head and the dry snoring. He cleared his eyes. It was President George Bush. He was holding in his right hand two keys on a chrome key ring.
“I got them,” said President Bush.
Harold stood; slowly, since that is really the only way Harold could move these days.
“Got what, sir,” said Harold with dish towel still in hand.
“The keys to the wine cellar. Got them from Peterson. Had him make me a set,” said Bush.
The President tossed Harold the keys, who dropped the dish towel to catch the keys which were thrown a bit too fast for Harold’s taste.
“Go get me a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. Dry. Very dry,” said the President. “I’ll just grab a glass and sit here at the counter.”
Bush sat on a wooden stool at the center island butcher block counter that contained the large stainless steel sink.
Harold walked to the end of the room where the wooden door to the walk-in refrigerator stood like a prison door. The keys were Medeco, and the wood door indeed had two dead bolt locks. Why two Harold had no idea. He had seen Mr. Anderson open the door and remove wine and bottles of vodka, but he had never been inside himself. The keys went in like butter, and the bolts turned smoothly. He then pulled the large horizontal wood handle toward him which was at waist hight and the door opened. A rush of cold air hit Harold in the face. A series of three light bulbs automatically went on as Harold entered the refrigerator. There were two wine racks on either side of the room, running the length to the end about twelve feet. On the far wall was a portrait of what appeared to Harold to be Ulysses S. Grant. There were hundreds of bottles of wine. Harold fingered a few of them, but there were just too many to try to find a dry Pinot Grigio. In fact, he wouldn’t necessarily know a Pinot Grigio from a Chardonney.
Bush stood at the refrigerator door.
“Well, sir, I just wouldn’t know…I am not sure where to start looking,” said Harold.
“Hey, look at that. Is that Grant? Watching over the White House booze. That’s funny,” said Bush as he grabbed two bottles off the rack. “Here we go. Two Chardonneys. And they are dry. Dry enough. Let’s close this up and have ourselves a drink,” said the President as he walked out of the refrigerator.
Harold followed President Bush out, closed the heavy wood door and locked the dead bolts. By the time Harold walked back to the kitchen center island, President Bush has already had one of the bottles open with a full glass of wine in a glass tumbler. Harold noticed that the President was not sipping but gulping. And in one quickk clip, Mr. Bush was already pouring himself a second glass.
“Want some, there, Harold?” asked Bush.
“No, sir,” said Harold.
“Hey, I’m the President. You got to drink when I ask you to,” said Bush.
Harold did not know what to say. He had had a rule all his life: one never drinks on the job…never. His father taught him that by drinking himself to death. And so Harold made sure to keep his work very far from drink.
“Just kidding, Harold,” said Bush as he downed another glass. “You got those keys?” asked Bush.
“Yes, sir,” said Harold as he placed the refrigerator keys on the butcher block next to the President.
Harold noticed that the bottle of Chardonney that the President had opened was almost empty.
“You know I don’t regret a thing. Not a thing. I’m President. You can’t get any higher than that. You can’t have more success than that. I am at the top, there, Harold. The tippy top. Yeah, OK, yeah I made a few mistakes. But everyone makes…yeah, everyone everyone. I’m not the only one, Harold. I mean I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t raped a woman. I have never hit my wife. Never. Never would do that.
The President stood, more slowly and uncertainly than Harold did when he got up from his stainless steel chair.
“You finish the bottle. And put the other one back in the…hey, you here tomorrow night, Harold?” asked the President.
“Yes, sir,” said Harold.
“Good. Good. You’re a good man. You started with Reagan, right?”
“Yes, sir,” said Harold.
“He was a good man too. He was a good man. You’re a good man. And, hey, yeah, I ‘m a good man. I’m headin’ up. Upstairs. Got a day tomorrow, you know. Got a day,” said President Bush as he walked down the corridor that led to the stairwell to the upper levels of the White House.
Harold stood for a moment. He grabbed the nearly empty bottle of Chardonney, poured out the remaining wine into the sink and through the bottle in the recycle bin. He then washed the President’s tumbler. Afterall, that was his job. That was Harold James Hoey’s job, to wash the President’s ’s dirty dinnerware.