When President Ronald Reagan's trio of top advisers walked into his hospital room yesterday morning for their daily briefing, the president quipped: "What's the matter, can't you guys find anything else to do?"
White House counselor Edwin Meese laughed as he recounted the story last night at the Mayflower Hotel during a fund-raiser for freshman Rep. William Lowery (R-Calif.).
Meese said the aides talked with the president about the situation in Poland, which appears to have calmed down, "but we're still watching it very carefully, and we also talked about his economic recovery program, which the president is very concerned about."
Meese, one of Lowery's constituents in southern California, was the guest of honor at the fund-raiser aimed at clearing up the congressman's campaign deficit.
Lyn Nofziger, special assistant to the president for political affairs, walked into the fund-raiser waving a lit cigar that he used to punctuate one one-liner after another.
"I haven't seen the president since Monday, but he seems to be getting along fine without me," Nofziger quipped. "I don't know how things are going, but it's a good thing. If I did know I'd probably be back at the White House worrying."
When a fellow staffer came up to him, Nofziger, who fielded hundreds of questions from reporters in the hours after the assassination attempt, said, "Don't interrupt me. It's so seldom that reporters want to interview me."
But it's Nofziger reputation as a funny man that has people asking if he is actually writing some of Reagan's jokes. Nofziger says no. "The president writes his own quips. I can't visualize how I could have run up several fights at the hospital, told the president what to say immediately before surgery and raced back down to the waiting press."
He says Reagan's good humor has helped win him popular support. "I think there is a great national feeling of empathy -- not because he got shot, but because of his reaction to it."
Nofziger went through the receiving line, kissed Ursula Meese and was about to shake Ed Meese's hand when Meese joked, "Don't kiss me or we're liable to end up featured in the series on gays [in government] in The Washington Star."
Along with Lowery and his wife Katie, Meese greeted a crowd that included three Cabinet members (Secretaries of HUD, Samuel Pierce; Commerce, Malcolm Baldrige; and Education, Terrel Bell), several congressmen (including House Minority Leader Robert Michel of Illinois), assistant to the president for legislative affairs Max Friedersdorf, and loads of lobbyists.
While they all swirled around him, Lowery said his new congressional life is "schizophrenic because there's so much to learn and yet legislation on the Hill moves at a snail's pace." His Washington-California life style is "like a yo-yo," he said. "I've been here 11 weeks, and we've spent eight weekends back home so far. I'm always waking up at the wrong time."