Hanging out on Martha’s Vineyard with Barack & Michelle

As all six of my regular readers know, I live on Martha’s Vineyard, where, among other things, I’m a volunteer firefighter. So today, on facebook, I put up a tweet about the Tisbury Firefighter’s Association Dinner last night.

Almost immediately I got a private message from my pen pal the Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, who distilled the hard-won wisdom of his decades in the journalistic trenches into two pithy sentences:

Be posting on Obama, bro!

that’s what the people want

Well that made me laugh. What the hell do I have to say about Obama? That my wife saw three helicopters flying over our house on the day the “First Family” arrived? That I know where Blue Heron Farm is, where Nancy’s is? Other than that I got nuttin, Honey, I wrote back to Mr. Beam. I suggested that maybe I should go interview Cindy Sheehan instead. But Beam was having none of it.

let me rpt: all obama, all the time.

Well, it’s not every day that a distinguished professional curmudgeon like Alex Beam swoops into my life to give me free wisdom bits, and upon reflection I realized that Beam was right: since I have been hanging out with Barack & Michelle I do have a story to tell, and The People not only want to hear it, The People have a Right to hear it. They are, after all, The People.

And so, below the fold, the true story of my recent time with Mr. & Mrs. President on the little bit of Paradise that I call home: Martha’s Vineyard.

It all started last Sunday morning. I had just come from the Steamship Authority Office, the one up at the airport, where I had found to my dismay but not much to my surprise that even though I had been nearly first in line, all of the “reserved for islanders” spots on all of Monday’s ferries had been given out, that there were no spots on Sunday’s ferries, and the first time I could get a car off the island would be Tuesday, 1:00 PM.

Now this was a problem, because I was supposed to drive my mother-in-law to Logan airport in Boston on Monday and continue from there drive my youngest daughter back to college (with all her stuff), and now because I had messed up the reservations, I wasn’t going to be able to transport either my daughter or mother-in-law, and I knew that as soon as I got home & told my wife that we couldn’t get a car off-island until Tuesday afternoon she was gonna kill me. I should have made the reservations months ago (or she should have, but that’s a different topic. . .)

So, I drove to South Beach in Edgartown to look at the waves from Hurricane Bill.

Well, the waves were magnificent. Since there was nobody out there in them it was hard to say how big they were, but I would have said maybe 12 feet Hawaiian, or 17 feet measured from the front, and curling left and right, surfable, terrifying, gorgeous. There was a small crowd on the beach admiring them.

I didn’t even notice the Secret Service guys until they each had me by one arm and were ever-so-smoothly, but ever-so-convincingly, guiding me towards a black SUV right there on the edge of the Katama grassy airstrip. Big, unsmiling, muscular blond guys in black suits, sunglasses, with curly things leading up to earpieces. I heard one guy say, “yes, Mister President, we have him.”

Normally the drive from Katama to Quansoo (where Blue Heron is) would take twenty minutes, but these guys were not exactly observing customary speed limits, if you catch my drift. I made a few noises about what the hell was going on and what about my rights and all of that, but they were in Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator mode (T2, when he’s a good guy), as silent as the grave. But I’m getting ahead of myself. About eight minutes later we were zipping down that little dirt road next to the old Campbell & Douglas Saddlery, and then I was being escorted, shall we say, out of the SUV and the next thing you know I’m standing face to face with Barrack Hussein Obama, President of the United States of America.

I said, “Hello, Mr. President. That was some extraordinary rendition your boys just performed on me there. What’s up? Why did you kidnap me?”

He says, “Hey, cool down, John. I need somebody to go surfing with me, and something tells me you’re just the guy.”

Well, that caught me even more by surprise than being kidnapped by the Secret Service. It’s been a long time since I was much of a surfer. I’m kind of ancient, actually, and I generally stick to waves four foot and under.

“Why me?”

“Hurricane Agnes, Long Beach Island, New Jersey. I’ve seen the tapes.”
“Tapes? What tapes?”
Obama and the Secret Service dudes exchanged knowing glances and just kind of smirked.
“You surf goofy foot. I surf goofy foot. I need somebody out there to keep me company & read the swell. You are a Martha’s Vineyard local, after all.”

This was getting ever more freaky. How did he know I surf goofy foot?

“Mr. President. . .

”Call me Barry“

”Barry, I don’t want to go surfing with you. That’s some scary shit out there. It’s too big for me. I can’t paddle out through that. I’ll drown.“

”Here’s your bathing suit,“ he said, tossing some knee-length baggy floral shorts at me. ”put it on“

”I don’t even have a board,“ I said.

”I picked one out just for you.“ When I saw it, I had to laugh. A wingnut. Perfect. He was laughing too.

What the hell, I thought. It wasn’t like I could do anything to get out of it. If the President of the United States wanted me to surf Hurricane Bill with him, I guess I was going to surf Hurricane Bill with him. But I decided to tweak his nose just for fun.

”What if I refuse?“ I said. ”What are you going to do, waterboard me?

All of a sudden the smile vanished from his face and the stern Commander-in-Chief look came upon him.

“Do you know how furious the people all across this great land are? And how do you think they will respond when I tell them that you are the person who single-handedly destroyed the new economy?”

Why was he saying that? Oh, I remembered! That article I wrote for Salon years ago, in which I described another hurricane on Martha’s Vineyard. It was called “How I Destroyed the New Economy”.

“But that was a joke!” I said. “I didn’t really destroy the new economy! You know that!”

“Sure, I know that,” he said. “I’m smart. I’m the president. But The People are stupid, and they’ll believe whatever I tell them. Put on your suit. Grab your board.”

That was all I needed! To have the entire nation blaming me for the mess we’re in! I would be hanged in effigy at Town Hall meetings! What’s worse, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin would probably rush to my defense! I would become a total pariah! This was some serious shit!

So I grabbed the board, and right there in the field I stripped down and put on my new bathing suit and the next thing you know I can hear this helicopter approaching.

“I’m not strong enough to paddle out through that surf!” I hollered to Obama.

He just smiled and said, “don’t worry about it.”

Next thing you know we’re in this big ole Marine One helicopter and some serious-looking guys are a fixing the velcro connected to the surfboard leash around my right ankle.

“Left ankle!” Obama says, correcting them. “Left ankle. Dude’s a goofy foot.”

We zoom out over the ocean, the helicopter hovering about 100 yards out, the swells below rising up to almost touch the wheels.

“Cowboy up,” Obama says to me. “Cowabunga!” and all of a sudden I’m flying through the air tied to a wingnut surfboard by a twenty foot leash.

When I hit the water I didn’t even notice if it was cold. I was so terrified that it was just pure adrenaline in my veins. I swam a few strokes & got on the board, just as a giant swell came by, a moving mountain. I’ve never seen a wave half as big! And it was cresting! Offshore wind holding it up! God Almighty! It took about seven seconds to paddle up and over the thing, and as it passed beneath me I dropped like a stone, the spray falling on my back like a stream from a two-and-a-half-inch line.

“Jesus Christ!” I said.

“Peace be upon him”, came Obama’s response. “He is a prophet of Allah.”

I hadn’t seen him jump from the helicopter, but there he was, beaming like a kid on Christmas morning. Another giant wall of water was almost upon us.

“I can’t do this!” I said. I had never been so scared in my life. I started paddling up the face of the wave, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t break on top of me. It seemed a hundred feet tall.
“Would you rather be telling your wife you don’t have a ferry ticket for tomorrow?”
“You’ve got a point,” I said.
Again, I just made it over the crest. Again, a roller coaster drop as the wave passed. Again, the fire-hose of the spray from the break, which sounded, at my back, like a freight train passing.
“This is fun!” Obama laughed! “This is fun!”
“You’re nuts!” I said.
“Let that be our little secret.”
“Well, I hope I don’t starve to death before these waves die down. No way I’m surfing one of these things!”
“Oh, yes; yes you are,” he said and nodded up towards the helicopter still above us. I saw what clearly looked like a sniper’s rifle trained on me. I looked to my chest. A little red dot, right smack dab in the middle of it.
“Don’t worry, John,” he said. “You can do it. It will be just like Agnes. Remember your first ride then? You took off late, dropped almost in free-fall to the bottom, did a u-turn and rode straight up the face, bounced of the lip and got tubed? Did you ever have more fun in your life?”
How did he know that? How could he describe a wave I had ridden when he was nineteen years old? Unless. . . unless there really were tapes of me surfing in 1972. . . but that would mean. . . what, were there tapes of every thing? Was there universal surveillance of everything everybody in the country had done since Nixon times? I couldn’t think about it. Not with that red dot bouncing all over my chest.

“Aren’t you scared?” I asked him.

“Hey, I’m Hawaiian. Pipeline, Wiamea, Sunset. I’ve done them all.”
“Holy cow,” I said. “You really are Superman.”
“Yes,” he said.
And with that, I could feel his courage kind of suffusing into me. The fear melted away.
“OK then,” I said. “Let’s ride!”
Another giant wall of water was coming at us. I turned my board to face the beach. I could see Michelle standing there, a tiny brown figure in a flowing beach dress, with her hands on her hips. It wasn’t hard to tell she was furious too. I don’t suppose the idea of her husband drowning appealed to her very much. But such are the worries of the wahinis. A surfer has got to surf.

I paddled only a few strokes before that wave grabbed me like King Kong grabbing Faye Wray. It threw me down to its base, it shot me up to its lip, it sucked me into its belly and I was in the green room, deep, deep, deep in a triple overhead tube where there isn’t even any oxygen, only pure zen energy. And suddenly I knew peace, an inner tranquility I’ve never felt before. I was living in the Obama Soul. And then I was ejected from the tube, safe on the wave’s shoulder, exhilarated, shaking with excitement and exhaustion and satori. Only then did I notice that Obama was surfing next to me. He had been with me the whole way, even in my moment of deepest peril.

He was hanging ten.

So, we surfed for another hour or so as the waves became gradually smaller and blown out as the wind shifted onshore. I want to tell you, that dude is some kind of surfer. He was doin’ old-school shit like hanging ten, side-slipping, riding backwards, skek-first, and doin’ all kinds of new style stuff I don’t even know what you call it, just ripping like a madman, going over the falls, three-sixtying, airplaning, just unbelievable.

“I guess we had better go in,” I said as the wind shifted South. Suddenly the surf had turned to crap, every wave nothing but soup.

“Yep,” he said. “I got some presidentin’ to do.”

So we caught one last ride in, and on the beach the Secret Service met us with towels and they took our boards. My arms felt like lead and I was dog tired, but it was a good tired. They showed me where the shower was; my clothes were there, washed, dried and folded. I cleaned up and followed the Secret Service guys into the vast living room of the main house of Blue Herron Farm.

Skip Gates was there in a Hugh Heffner style lounge coat, sipping champaign from a crystal flute; the bottle, a Veuve Cliquot 1988, was in his other hand. “This is what happens to a Black man in America!” he kept saying.

“Pay no attention to him,” said a soft woman’s voice beside me. “He gets like that when he’s tired.”

Those were the first words addressed to me by Michelle Obama. We chatted a little while. About what? Well, that’s a story for another time. Suffice it to say she was just delightful. And once her “Barry” had gotten in safely to shore, her anger had dissipated like the storm that blows itself out to sea leaving sunny skies behind.

For a few more short minutes the three of us stood there in the living room chatting like old friends, as Barack and I complimented each other on some of our more spectacular rides of the morning, — which was now rapidly approaching afternoon.

“Oh my gosh!” I said. “My car! My wife!”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Sundman” a voice said. It was one of the Aryans. “Your car is in the Steamship Parking lot in Falmouth. You told your wife you managed to get it onto a freight boat today. She’ll be expecting to meet you in the Our Market parking lot in about twenty minutes.”

“What do you mean that I told my wife. . . oh. . . you synthesized my voice. . ” That icky feeling was coming over me again.
Suddenly Obama was all business. “I’ve got presidentin’ to do,” he repeated.
And there I was again, in the back of the SUV, and within mere minutes, I was deposited in the Our Market lot.

I was of course warned to never share this story with anybody, even my wife. And indeed, at first I was a bit intimidated by Obama. But then I reflected: the man, for all his charms and superhuman talents, really is a politician with a penchant for making empty threats. He threatened to filibuster the FISA bill, then he voted for it. He threatened to bring Wall Street to heel, then put Summers & Geithner and Bernanke in charge. I’m hoping his threats against me will be just as empty. He’s no Cheney, is what I’m sayin’.

Now they say another tropical storm is coming in tomorrow.

I wonder if I’ll be called to wingnut duty once again.

P.S. At the Tisbury Firefighters’ Association dinner last night, the menu was: Meat, potatoes. For garnish: bread. For Desert: Hoodsie Cups. Engine 2 was in charge of food.

The minutes of last quarter’s meeting were read and approved. We had a treasurer’s report, which included updates from the Tisbury Street Fair, from which we netted approximately $9,604.00. We had reports from the scholarship, T-shirt, and Golf Outing committees. Next meeting in 3 months or so. I believe that it will be Engine 1’s turn to cook.


  1. In Fear and Loathing in Elko, Hunter got to hang out with Clarence Thomas and get whacked out in a cheap motel room. This is way, way better.

  2. Fun. Having read all your books and magazine articles, it makes me smile to have a little treat now and then.

  3. Does Mom know about this?

  4. Baba,

    Well, she’s read the first part of this, but I don’t know if she finished reading it.

    I rather think that she thinks it’s a “tall tale” and that I myself really drove the van down to the Steamship Terminal last Sunday morning and managed to get on a frieght boat, even though they had told me at the airport ticket office that there were no spots available.

    Both versions are equally plausible, if you ask me.

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