Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Good Old Days of the Secret Service

Amid a furor about misbehaving morons in Colombia, a citizen who once worked closely with the Secret Service is moved to share his fondness for those who protect Presidents and their families, including the time I was almost shot by them in a restaurant that serves drinks with tiny umbrellas on top.

In 1966, with her father in the White House, Lynda Bird Johnson came to work for me at McCalls, bringing with her agents who were only too happy to spend their time in an office populated mostly by young women.

One night I went to dinner at Trader Vic's in Manhattan with our company's chairman of the board. As we were being seated, the maitre d' whispered, "The President's daughter is going to be at the next table."

Lynda had told me that afternoon about having dinner with the son of a campaign contributor. As they went past, I called her name softly, and she stopped, apparently happy to see a familiar face. I got up and we hugged.

Later, on the way out, the head of her Secret Service detail rose from a stool at the bar where he and another agent had been sitting, screened by a beaded curtain. He was shaking his head.

"I was pretty sure it was you," he said, "but this other guy is new to the detail and he's never seen you. When someone got up and grabbed Lynda Bird, he was ready to react."

My dinner companion was thrilled. "You mean," he whispered, "we could have been plugged?"

The Secret Service man was still shaking his head. "When somebody makes a move, we don't have time for questions," he said.

During Lynda Bird’s tenure at the office, I had the same reaction as Dr. Benjamin Spock, the baby doctor who ran for president several years later, when he qualified for protection and was surrounded by three shifts of eight agents each.

“It was enjoyable to have lots of company,” he recalled. “They were a cheerful, witty group of men.”

The irony was that Dr. Spock had been unsuccessfully charged with treason by the LBJ Administration before he ran for the White House himself.

Now, as the new ugly uproar once again shows, presidential politics does make strange bedfellows.

My parting memory of those Secret Service men is their driving me to the airport after I visited the Johnsons in Texas. We were zipping along at over 90 mph, and I was enjoying the thrill of knowing that no one would give us a speeding ticket.

But that feeling of immunity has its dark side, too.

Update: Right on cue, a celebrity moron, rocker Ted Nugent, shows up to underscore what the Secret Service has to do in this era, investigate threats like his on an NRA video:

"If Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. If you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil America hated administration, I don't even know what you're made out of."

Forget the foreign sluts, fellas, and pay more attention to the domestic nuts.

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