When the Bushes arrived for coffee Saturday morning, Bill Clinton was still nursing a paper cut on his finger. He had sliced it during a packing frenzy in the wee hours of Friday, and his friend Harry Thomason had tried to close the cut with Super Glue. Sorting his stuff through the night--an usher said the White House felt like a 7-Eleven all week--Clinton told a story about every gewgaw he was piling into boxes marked LIBRARY, CHAPPAQUA and WASHINGTON.
After a week of rolling parties for everyone from the Cabinet to the cleaning crew, parties so emotional that even Ironman John Podesta puddled up, it came down to saying goodbye to the household staff, which was rumored to have resented the Clintons since Day One. But everyone cried, even Hillary. She hugged one steward so long they segued into a waltz. Clinton gave them all his usual body slam. Another steward said, "I'm really going to miss you, but I hear the next people go to bed at nine."
As the Bushes moved into the Blue Room for coffee, the awkwardness that usually attends these rituals was missing. Bush and Clinton have little in common--not intellectual curiosity, not ideology, not attention span. But in December, when George W. Bush with his sports-jock patter made his first postelection visit to Clinton with his rock-star genes, they just clicked. The new guy had no questions about Third World debt. He wanted to know what made the place tick and how you mainline yourself into the nation's bloodstream. Clinton told Bush he was lucky to know already where the light switches were and to have hired people who had been there before. Bush asked Clinton what he thought about Bush's calling him "the Shadow" during the campaign. Had it spooked Gore? Must have, Clinton said; he didn't ask me to appear with him, did he? Pretty smart, hey? Bush laughed, scrunching his shoulders.
The Shadow developed nearly as much affinity for Bush in two hours as he had for Al Gore in eight years. Clinton later told friends, "Bush really connects. It's a mistake to underestimate him." And after seeing Clinton in May, at St. Patrick's Cathedral for John Cardinal O'Connor's funeral--Clinton reaching across four mourners to grasp Bush's hand during the Sign of Peace--Bush said, "I don't always respect the guy, but you gotta like him." Maybe they see the scamp in each other. At the Inaugural Day coffee, it was as if old friends were back in town. When Chelsea seemed teary amid the hubbub, Bush put an arm around her shoulders.