Goodbye, Mr. President

updated 07/28/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/2003 01:00AM

As he wrapped up his final briefing at the White House on July 14, press secretary Ari Fleischer spotted his wife in the crowd. "Becki," he said, "I can't wait to see you at regular hours." After 2½ years of near constant spinning—through the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a war in Iraq, among other world-altering events—Fleischer, 42, is ready to speak for himself. He plans to open a consulting firm, and experts say he could pocket at least $20,000 per speech. Correspondent Macon Morehouse asks Fleischer 20 questions.

1. What will you miss least?

No more 5 a.m. alarm. I...am...not...a...morning...person!

2. And miss most?

Marine One chopper rides. You have a majestic view of the monuments, and you're one foot from the President. When we were flying over the South, he'd put on a good Texas accent and talk about the farmland down below.

3. Your greatest moment?

I came in one day in March 2001 and there was a note on my desk that said, "Ari, the President would like you to meet him on the South Lawn at 6 p.m. to play catch." I mean, c'mon, playing catch with the President! We were like kids at the town park.

4. What's the dumbest question a journalist ever asked you?

What the President would do if the Pope became a human shield in Baghdad. I think I ignored that one.

5. And your dumbest answer?

When asked if the government's estimate of the war was too low, I said that the cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less [implying that Saddam Hussein should be assassinated]. When I realized what I had said, I wished I'd had a silencer.

6. What's the most boring topic you've had to bone up on?

Agricultural issues. I'm from New York—I didn't understand much about the Farm Bill.

7. Have you ever just drawn a blank?

Before it was big news, I was asked about our policy toward Liberia. I couldn't remember.

8. What's the oddest request you've had from the President?

When a request is from the President, you're not allowed to call it odd.

9. Do you and he have a lot in common?

Our favorite foods are cheeseburgers and peanut butter. We're not complicated in our tastes.

10. What's the worst official meal you've had?

A fish concoction—at least I think it was fish. I won't name the country. We still have relations with them.

11. What's fun about going to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas?

The slower pace. I have time to jog.

12. What's not so fun about the ranch?

The unbearable heat and humidity in the summertime. Though the President loves it.

13. What famous person were you most thrilled to meet?

Yankees manager Joe Torre.

14. How about Hollywood celebs?

Hollywood doesn't have a habit of traipsing through the White House these days. I did meet Shannen Doherty at the White House Correspondents Dinner. She was fun.

15. Your favorite souvenir?

Joe Torre gave me a baseball signed by the Yankees after the 2001 World Series. And [Miami Dolphins owner] Wayne Huizenga gave me a helmet signed by Dan Marino.

16. What's the best gift George W. Bush bestowed on you?

My wife. I met her because we both worked at the White House.

17. Ever pilfered office supplies?

Air Force One notepads. Don't tell anyone!

18. What other dark secrets have you been hiding from the public?

I'm color-blind. When Becki and I were dating, she made a list of coordinated outfits for me. I used to call her in the morning and say, "I've only got this one shirt left—what can it go with?"

19. Do you get fan mail?

My favorite came from a Texas family that named their baby after me. They sent a photo. She looks like me. Bald.

20. Who would play you in the movie?

It would have been Telly Savalas, but he's dead now. Becki says Vin Diesel.

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