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Bubba Takes Manhattan


To be fair to Ms. Mason, I had not asked where Clinton would be living. I had asked whether he'd be spending any time on the Upper West Side. "Not the Upper West Side," she says emphatically. "Who's on the Upper West Side?"

"I think he'll probably come down to either the Village or SoHo or Chelsea," says Ed Koch, who lives a block from Washington Square Park.

Downtown? But isn't that where you-know-who lives?

"Please," says Koch. "There's seven and a half million people here. He doesn't have to worry about bumping into Monica."

The truth is, every district in New York will be the Clinton district. One could easily imagine the president out-Koching Ed Koch -- popping out of coat-check alcoves and gym lockers, startling people and demanding to know how he's doing. Charlie Rangel, the Democratic congressman from Lenox Avenue, expects to see Clinton in Harlem for jazz. Kathie Berlin, a publicist and old friend of Clinton's, envisions him spending a lot of time in Broadway theaters ("He can hum all the old standards") and in the Garden for Knicks games. (Eight years ago, just before a White House screening of Sleepless in Seattle, Berlin remembers Clinton's standing up, looking around the room, and declaring, "For those of you who'd prefer to watch the Bulls game, come with me!") Sosnik, his former aide, suspects he'll show up in places even farther-flung -- like Brooklyn. And Queens. "One of the refrains I often heard from the president," he says, "is that he spent too much time in the borough of Manhattan."

He'll certainly be dining at every restaurant -- not just for the food but for the human contact. Patroon. Nobu. Pastis. "In February, Mr. Clinton did a fund-raiser here," says Julian Niccolini, co-owner of The Four Seasons. "At the end of the evening, he went to the dishwashing room and shook hands with everyone. Can you believe he did that? He's not even running anymore!"

It won't be a free-for-all. The Secret Service, those gray-suited stoics in comic-book shades with fusilli wire dangling from their ears, will still cling to him like tape. As late as 1984, a full decade after his resignation, Nixon still had 26 agents assigned to his detail, according to his final chief of staff. They didn't all work the same shift, obviously. But whenever he went out, even for a simple stroll down Madison Avenue, he was accompanied by at least four -- two behind, one at his side, and one out in front.

His book deal "is certainly going to hit $10 million," says agent Joni Evans. "But it'll have to be about 25 to 50 percent personal."

At the Grill Room of The Four Seasons, at least, Clinton can tuck them away at the bar. "He will probably eat at the center booth," muses Niccolini. "Many people sit there. Michael Korda, Edgar Bronfman, Richard Holbrooke, Diane Sawyer . . ." Not to mention Vernon Jordan, Clinton's closest pal in New York.

Given his expanded dining horizons, the president should probably join a gym. Sure, he jogs, and nothing could be finer than a morning run around the Central Park reservoir. But there are more people to schmooze with, to beguile, and -- let's be frank -- to inspect at Equinox. If he joins the Reebok Sports Club on the Upper West Side, he can work out with Pinch Sulzberger at 6:30 every morning. If he joins Crunch, he can hire the trainer Monica fired. Not that we're suggesting he has a weight problem. But he has to do something: New York does not easily forgive its celebrities for thickening. As it is, he's just twenty pounds away from being the Post's new Portly Pepperpot.

I check with Sirio at Le Cirque to see if his food is big enough for Clinton. "What? He has already been here several times." So which table does the president get? "This is very tacky, people talking about tables," Sirio grumbles. "Mr. Nixon never insisted on a table. Politicians are more or less the same. They sit in a corner and wait for someone to talk to them."

Hillary Clinton, the person perhaps best equipped to speak about what the president likes to do in New York, will not return my phone calls. So I am forced to do the next best thing. I call Stockard Channing, who plays the president's wife on The West Wing.

She likes Clinton, but she has serious questions about his Manhattan bona fides. "No offense," she says, "but I don't consider living in Chappaqua 'living in New York City.' Until he goes by that co-op board or looks for a rental apartment, he's just not a real New Yorker."

Ever since the clintons moved to Chappaqua, the town has become a tourist destination, a carnival. John Vize, the affable New Castle police lieutenant in charge of potus detail, says his officers were at one point clocking 100 cars per hour on Old House Lane, the tiny cul-de-sac the Clintons now call home. Protesters have held candlelight vigils there to protest violence in East Timor. Once, Vize's men had to shoo away a few dozen curiosity-seekers from Japan, all disgorged by a giant tour bus. "They were running all over the lawn, cameras a-blazing," he sighs. "One person climbed a tree. It was ridiculous."

Kathy Sloane, the Realtor who found the house, says the search was a nerve-racking experience, and it wasn't just because her clients were the Clintons and the First Lady was in a hurry. The president, as it turned out, was an unruly charge. "I never knew whether he was looking at the house or not," she says. "He seemed to spend the entire time in the kitchen, drinking coffee and talking to the owners." The day Clinton visited his future home, she adds, he was on the grounds for only a few minutes before slipping out the back door, wandering into the adjoining yards, and chatting up his new neighbors. Before leaving, he dragged all of them onto the front lawn for a group photo. With their dogs.

My father was stunned when he first heard the news. "Chappaqua?" he sputtered. "But . . . why? That's not where Masters of the Universe go to retire." He's right, my father. The real big shots in Westchester -- Glenn Close, Nelson Peltz, Christopher Reeve, Carl Icahn, Robert Rubin, Ralph Lauren, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon -- live on sheltered, multi-acred estates in Bedford and Pound Ridge, about twenty minutes away.

Chappaqua, on the other hand, is a town filled with hardworking doctors and lawyers and bankers, affluent but not extravagant, and almost entirely devoid of what the president's critics might call distinguishing characteristics. There are no movie theaters, and there's only one bookstore. My folks finally left two years ago, when they looked around and realized they were the only ones on their block without swing sets and a pram.

The president's new block is perhaps the most surprising of all. You'd think that for $1.7 million, he would have found some secluded place at the end of a country lane -- it's possible in Chappaqua. But Clinton didn't. Old House Lane is a resolutely unregal address, a short spur off Route 117, and its homes are unattractive, overgrown, and piled on top of one another. If you're curious, you can drive to the end of the cul-de-sac and see the president's new white house yourself, so long as the Clintons aren't there, and so long as you don't mind a few exasperated stares from the Secret Service, which always keeps its blue sedans parked at the foot of the driveway. It's nice enough. But not $1.7 million-nice. It looks nothing like the home of a former president. More like the home of a suburban dentist.

No matter. "I think that house will be full all the time," says Berlin, who first met Clinton at the Kentucky Derby in 1980. "At the Arkansas governor's mansion -- which, by the way, was smaller than the worst apartment in New York -- they spent all their time in the kitchen, because it had a counter and great seats and Hillary's a great chili-maker. And I think here, they'll do the same. That's where visitors will congregate. They love to entertain, but their entertaining style is very informal."

The natives are excited. They talk about running into him on the golf course of the Whippoorwill Country Club. (Though if Winged Foot in Mamaroneck accepts him, they'll understand.) Wendy Egan, a waitress at the Chappaqua Restaurant and Café, says people still quiz her about what Clinton had when he came into the restaurant for brunch on February 25 (decaf coffee, dry bagel, ham-bacon-and-sausage omelette) and specifically request to sit in the same booth. "I have customers handing me their phone numbers," she says, "telling me, 'Call me when he next comes in.' " She rolls her eyes. "Did you know that people stake him out? When they know he's in town, they stand at the top of the hill with their cell phones."

Of course, I was staking him out too, at Starbucks, on that torrential Sunday morning this July. He eventually made his way over to my table, planted his hands on the shoulders of me and my friend, and stared at our Sunday crossword, which at the time was 90 percent blank. "Um, we just started," my friend told him feebly.

"It's a good one today," he said.

We looked at him helplessly. "I get mine on Thursday," he explained. He continued inspecting our answers. He looked as if he were about to give us a clue.

Quick, I thought. This might be your only chance. "What's the first thing you're going to do as a New Yorker?" I blurted out.

He seemed startled. "What?" He was still staring at our puzzle. "Oh." He pointed in the general direction of his house. "I'll probably go up there and sleep for a week."

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