George Bush kissed Geraldine Ferraro goodbye yesterday. It was a pucker heard 'round the lobby of the Old Executive Office Building.
"That was fun," the vice president said. "We'll have to do it again."
He was talking about the lunch, not the smooch.
"We had a lovely lunch," Ferraro agreed later. "It was very light -- both the food and the conversation."
The last time they got together, at the vice-presidential debate in October, Ferraro told Bush to stop patronizing her. This time they broke bread together in the vice president's office, chatted about their kids, commiserated about their tax problems and compared tans.
He called her "Geraldine." She managed not to call him anything. And, like true politicians, they exchanged autographed pictures.
"Let's debate," Bush scribbled on a framed photo of the two of them sharing the stage in Philadelphia. "Better still, let's not debate. Let's be friends."
"To Vice President Bush, with admiration and respect -- truly," Ferraro wrote on hers.
Bush had extended the luncheon invitation on election night, when Walter Mondale's running mate phoned up to congratulate him on the Reagan-Bush victory. At Ferraro's suggestion, he also invited Rep. Lynn Martin (R-Ill.), who played Ferraro during Bush's debate rehearsals, and Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, who played Bush for Ferraro. At noon they all arrived in a White House car and met Bush in his second-floor sanctum.
"I'd have preferred to be the host today, but under the circumstances I'll take what I can get," Ferraro said, before sitting down to a meal of beef consomme', salad, salmon steak, lyonnaise potatoes, asparagus spears and a nut fudge brownie with ice cream. There were also white wine and coffee.
"It's a free lunch," Bush chimed in -- to general laughter from the pool reporters and photographers who'd been herded in for a photo opportunity.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch," someone added, before the room was cleared of onlookers.
Around a table set with place mats and a floral arrangement, the lunchers wielded silver implements bearing the presidential seal and ate off white presidential china with cobalt blue borders and gold rims.
They were served from the White House mess by Domingo Quicho, the vice president's steward -- "the man who cleans up Bush's office," as Mondale once called him. That was in his first debate with Ronald Reagan, as the Democratic nominee argued that, because of loopholes favoring the rich, Bush was paying lower taxes than his staffers.
A few days before the vice presidential debate, Barbara Bush hit back, referring to Ferraro as "that $4 million I can't say it but it rhymes with rich." She promptly apologized, but there followed another flap when her husband assessed his debate performance in what he called "athletic" terminology.
Yesterday, all that was wine out of the bottle.
Bush admired Ferraro's tan, acquired on a vacation in St. Croix, and lamented his own pallor. Martin told Ferraro that her husband, John Zaccaro, was "a marvelously handsome man." Bush showed everyone the signatures carved into his desk drawer by famous vice presidents -- starting with Harry Truman's and ending with his own.
"We talked a little bit about what I planned to do in the future," said Ferraro, who is closing her Washington office next week. "And I was just talking about making a lot of money, which I'm going to do, and writing a book, because I've got to pay off accountants' fees. And he still has an action that's pending before the Internal Revenue Service," she added, referring to Bush's dispute with the IRS over the sale of his house in Houston.
Bush, recalling that Barnett had said he prepared for the role of surrogate vice president by reading "The Preppie Handbook" and wearing multicolored watchbands, saw that he was wearing just a plain leather watchband yesterday. So Bush took off his own multicolored watchband, carefully separated it from the watch, and made Barnett a present of it.
"It was great to see Vice President Bush close up," Barnett said later. "After all, Congresswoman Ferraro might ask me to play him again for her in future years."
An hour after lunch began, Bush escorted his guests to the lobby, kissed Ferraro goodbye -- and left her to face the cameras set up outside at the bottom of the stairs.
"This is very important news, I know," Ferraro told the assembled scribes and shutterbugs, apparently amused by all the hoopla.
"What do you miss most about the campaign?" someone asked.
"What do I miss? All of you," she said. "And if you believe that one, I'll tell you another story." Then she turned on her heel and fled back up the stairs -- an erstwhile candidate in search of a graceful exit.