By Brad Meltzer
MEMO TO THE NEW FIRST DAUGHTERS: TAKE THIS INSIDER’S ADVICE
To: 19 year-old-twins Jenna and Barbara Bush
From: Brad Meltzer, author of the new thriller The First Counsel
The election is finally over, your dad is president, and you’re officially part of the first family. So how can you ready yourself for the onslaught that comes with being the world’s most-watched kids? It’s a question I’ve spent the past three years trying to answer. Researching presidential daughters for my new novel, I interviewed tons of White House employees, toured the grounds extensively and spoke to a former first daughter. So how do you prepare yourself? You don’t. And that’s why I’ve put together these useful tips for life in the White House.
1. If privacy fails, don’t be afraid to sneak out.
You’re teenagers. You’re fun-loving. And every once in a while you’re not gonna want the Secret Service cramping your style. Have no fear: Secret passages really do exist in the White House. If you’re in the ground-floor corridor, find the door between the bronze busts of Churchill and Eisenhower. From there, cut through a storage room, come out by the florist and follow the hallway. When it dead-ends, make a sharp right. It’ll feel like you’re in a basement. At the end, you’ll see a steel door. The “Marilyn entrance,” they called it. Forget what they show in the movies. This is the real hidden tunnel. Follow it under the East Wing and it’ll dump you in the Treasury Building next door. Also, if you’re on the second floor and dying to get away, there’s a hidden door cut into the wall outside the Queens’ Bedroom. From there, you can take the staircase up to the third floor and spend the rest of the night enjoying the view from the solarium. Finally, if all else fails, pull a Susan Ford: Sneak out. Vamoose. That’s impossible, you say? Not for the daughter of Gerald Ford, who raced out in her own car when the Secret Service opened the White House gate to let in her mother and was gone faster than you can say “Grover Cleveland.”
2. Move your bedroom.
Chelsea Clinton was 12 when she moved into the White House. She was young and extremely well-protected. As a result, her bedroom was only a few steps down the hall from Mom and Dad on the second floor. Now, that may be fine for a 12-year-old, but do you really want to live that close to your parents and their cocktail receptions, and their friends who always are coming over to check out the Lincoln Bedroom? Lucky you, you can pack your bags and move to the third floor. Like Greg Brady moving to the attic, you’ll have your own groovy pad, with a music room, its own pantry (no need to walk to the ground floor kitchen for that late-night snack) and, best of all, a private solarium with a stunning view of the Washington Monument. Believe me (even if Chelsea didn’t do it), by the time you’re done putting your posters on the wall, it’ll make the Texas governor’s mansion look like a dorm room.
3. Know your perks and use them.
—There’s a basketball court, putting green, hot tub, tennis court and even a bowling alley (where Nixon used to bowl alone).
—In the West Wing, Friday is Oreo frozen yogurt day in the mess (better than Haagen-Dazs); every day, the first batch of fries comes out at 5 p.m. (better than Burger King).
—The first four seats in your private movie theater are convertible La-Z-Boy recliners, and if you want to see a movie before it’s released, the Motion Picture Association will deliver it free (better than Blockbuster).
—There are snipers on the roof who’ll shoot anyone you don’t like. (OK, not anyone. Well, maybe if you ask nice.)
—If there’s someone you want to meet, from Stevie Wonder to the Queen Mum, call the social secretary in the East Wing.
4. Watch what you say; everybody’s listening.
Want to hear a really bad pickup line? When Ford’s son Steve took a date into the Queens’ Bedroom, he supposedly looked deep into her eyes and said, “Prior to this night, five queens have slept in this bed. Tonight … a sixth.” Terrible, right? Maybe so, but from here on in, that’s what you have to look forward to. When Luci Johnson did the Watusi in the Solarium, the press called her “Watusi Luci.” Starting now, the nickname’s up to you. Make a mistake, say the wrong thing, read a book at a state dinner (remember Amy Carter?), that’s how you’ll go down in history. For that reason alone, play it careful, have fun—and avoid taking dates into the Queens’ Bedroom.
5. Travel the world.
You have Air Force One, the world’s biggest, baddest, Costco-size plane. Enjoy the ride. In the nose of the plane, there’s a private cabin with a pull-out sofa. Around the plane, all the furniture is bolted down. (Great for practical jokes: “Hey, Dad—bet you can’t lift this end table!”) Finally, on takeoff and landing, no one makes you wear a seat belt, and you can stand in the aisle if it makes you feel important (which is why most staffers do). P.S.: When no one’s looking, grab a plastic food tray and stand at the front of the plane. When it takes off, slide down the aisle on what is now the world’s most costly toboggan.
6. Love the media with a full, overflowing heart.
Want to know why Chelsea’s such a genius? Because she never, ever, ever, ever talked to the media. Think I’m kidding? America’s known her for eight years. Have you ever heard her voice? (OK, if you saw that one clip from the Olympics you’ve been watching too much TV.)
7. Be yourself.
For the next four years, the whole world will be watching. When other people mess up, it’s a mistake. When you mess up, it’s news. So what’s the good part? People love to talk about changing the world. Here’s your chance. You have the ear of the most powerful man in the world: your dad. If there’s a cause you want to support—or a wrong that needs to be righted—this is your moment. Build your rainbow. Dare to fail. And, all the while, never be afraid to laugh at yourself.
© Brad Meltzer