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Yellow Rose of Manhattan

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There are few office environments that can impress Ann Richards at this point in her life, and that includes the conference room we're in now, even though its southern windows provide a spellbinding view of the city's spires and Central Park. Richards doesn't care. She can't see past all the tchotchkes lining the windowsill.

"Goodness," she says. "Look at this clutter. He should put it all in a closet."

African statue heads, glass bowls, artifacts, Buddhas: Personally, I think they're lovely, but then again, these tchotchkes belong to Bill Clinton, and it's his Harlem conference room we're admiring, so I'm not exactly thinking with rainwater clarity.

Richards turns to the aide who's been walking us around. "All this stuff," she declares. Stuff comes out in two syllables: stu-uff. "I don't like stuff. Doesn't he have somewhere to send it?"

The aide starts to explain.

"Thank God the University of Texas was willing to take my stuff as archive," Richards continues. "So now I have a place to send it. I don't want to see it."

We walk into the main foyer. "Who is this right here?" asks Richards, staring at a photo near the entrance to Clinton's office.

"Oh, you like that?" We whip around. It's the president, trim and cheerful in a blue suit and cherry-red shirt. "Paul McCartney." He gives Richards an audible smack on the cheek. "Hi, baby."

"How are you, darlin'?"

"That's McCartney -- that's Madison Square Garden when we did the benefit for the police and firemen. And this is the fiftieth anniversary of NATO . . . " He spends the next five minutes guiding us through his personal photo gallery: of soldiers in Haiti, of John F. Kennedy in West Virginia, of Miles Davis in the boxing ring, staring insolently at the camera.

"Oh, wow," Richards says as she admires them, one at a time. "Wow, wow." Then she shakes her head, looks abruptly at Clinton, and gives him a gentle nudge on the arm. "Okay. C'mon. Let's eat."

Clinton grins. "I've been workin' on the Middle East all day. I'm sorry to keep you waiting." He leads us through an open door. "Welcome to my office."

It's stunning, with the same spectacular view as the conference room.

"Here -- you guys sit where you have the view," says Clinton. He takes a seat at a fully dressed table, and we flank him on his left and right. Within minutes, the food arrives: collard greens, pecan-breaded chicken, dirty rice, a festive salad. "Oooooh, bless your heaaaart," sings Richards. "I asked if we could have some greens." Clinton explains it's from Bayou, a Cajun joint on Lenox Avenue.

Richards nods, then picks up her fork. "Listen," she begins. "I have to ask you something before you start talkin'. "

Clinton raises his eyebrows.

"I want to know about the Reynolds Foundation in Arkansas."

He tilts his head. "The Reynolds Foundation . . . the Reynolds family that owns all the newspapers?"

"I don't know." Richards shrugs. "All I know is Baylor" -- her alma mater -- "is going to build a big science center, and they're looking for foundation money."

Clinton nods. "Did you see the picture of the two Roosevelts out there? The editor of the Reynolds newspaper gave me that."

"Great," says Richards.

"I'll figure out how to get you into them."

"Great," she repeats.

Then the two of them launch into freewheeling and furious conversation. It's dominated mostly by the president, but Richards doesn't seem to care. They discuss books, Texas politics, the Civil War. Somewhere along the way, there's a fifteen-minute disquisition on land mines, which Richards deftly transforms into a discussion about Lady Di. ("I think she would have worked through that phase she was in," says Clinton, "in that damn car.")


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