It was awkward, of course. I knew Janet was planning to spend the weekend deciding whether to call for an independent prosecutor for the fundraising scandal. To some it would seem a mighty cynical invitation. Everyone knows that she doesn’t have much of a family to go to, and that she’s kind of a workaholic, and that if I phrased it right it would be almost impossible for her to decline. But I also knew that an evening spent with the Gores is not soon forgotten –of course, the conversation is zesty (topsoil erosion; auto emissions; Dick Gephardt’s alleged history of clinical depression) and the food terrific, but what I thought might really help Janet in her decision is if she could see me among my loved ones, maybe then it would be easier to see why it was so necessary for me to raise $43,000 from some Buddhist nuns.
But my family was warned: It was just a simple family gathering. And Janet was just an ordinary guest, like one of the kids’ college friends who lives too far to return home for Thanksgiving.
“It’s so wonderful to have you in our home,” Tipper said warmly.
“It’s nice to be here,” Janet answered. “But, you know, under the circumstances, I’m not sure it’s really appropriate. Maybe I should — ”
Tipper waved her hands frantically in my direction. “Al! Al!” she cried. “Don’t you want to show Janet some pictures of your dead sister?”
“Um, I guess,” I answered. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood. Also, I was pretty sure Janet had seen the pictures; I show them to all new Cabinet members as a routine “Get-to-know-Al” type thing.
“Janet,” Tipper cried gaily, “you really must see how beautiful she was, to get a sense of the tragedy of her death. Not that you have to be beautiful or anything for your death to be a tragedy. I’m sure it’s just as sad when someone plain dies — oh, I don’t mean ‘plain,’ really — maybe just ‘tall’ — well, I don’t mean that either — Al, where is that photo album?”
Time for me to step in. “Janet,” I said, “I think what Tipper meant is that we all appreciate what you and your people at Justice are doing to regulate the tobacco industry. If only you had been around when my sister started smoking . . .” I gave Janet’s shoulder a little squeeze. When my hand stopped throbbing, it was time for dinner.
Dinner was uneventful, except for Sarah mentioning to Janet that in a recent survey, she was the “second-most-admired woman in America.”
I rolled my eyes. The family was laying it on a bit thick. They meant well, Rusty, but my idea wasn’t to put on a big display. And it was clear that Janet was uncomfortable.
“Tipper, a wonderful meal. I’m sorry to rush off, but I have some briefs to read and an FBI report . . . ” She looked a me nervously, then stood up.
Suddenly, Little Al burst into tears. “What’s wrong, son?” I asked. “Are you still in pain from your serious, and to me life-transforming, car accident?”
He shook his head. Tears streaming down his face. Nose running. Squinched-up mouth: “Please, tall lady, please don’t take my daddy away.”
An awkward moment. Janet coughed nervously.
“I had a lovely time. Good night.” She started for the door. But Little Al was faster. Falling to his knees, he clasped his arms around her shins.
“Please, giant woman. Don’t send Daddy to jail!”
It was quite a sight, Rusty. Little Al attached to the Attorney General. Tipper trying to pry him off. And both of them being dragged across the hardwood floors by a Janet Reno intent on leaving.
Say what you like about her, Rusty. She’s the physically strongest AG in recent times. Only Bobby Kennedy could’ve licked her, I think, and then only because he wouldn’t have fought fair.
Tipper finally disentangled Little Al from Janet’s legs. We apologized profusely. “This is what it’s like having family,” Tipper said, adding quickly, “Not that not having a family is a bad thing.”
Janet looked around awkwardly, then leaned toward me. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m not going to request a special prosecutor.”
Little Al looked up at her, eyes shining. “God bless you, big lady,” he said.
She smiled gamely, ducked her head, and walked out the door. Tip and I were arm in arm as we watched her giant frame disappear into the mist.
“It’ll be a merry Christmas this year,” I said.
“It certainly was,” Tip replied. “I like getting my presents early.”
Yes, the holidays are a magical time, Rusty. Sometimes, though, they just need a little push.