A REAL ACE

Ken Hoffman's favorite memories of his legendary tennis partner President George H.W. Bush

President Bush poses with Hoffman's young son after the tennis "incident." Photo by Ken Hoffman

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Mr. President, would you take a photo with my little boy?

“Absolutely, bring him over here,” former President George H.W. Bush said. “You need any help? You okay?”

Earlier that morning, I had played a doubles match at a charity event at Lakeside Country Club in Houston. It was Indian tennis great Vijay Amritraj and me against Chris Evert and Chuck Norris at Norris’ "Kick Drugs Out of America" fundraiser in 1999.

During the match, I heard a rumble go through the crowd. President Bush and his wife, Barbara, were being seated in the first row. They had brought Ranger the dog with them. Millie, their best-selling author dog, had passed on, and Ranger was their new pooch.

It was one of those moments when I wanted to call timeout and phone everybody I’ve ever known and tell them, "I can’t talk now, I’m playing tennis against Chuck Norris and Chris Evert. And President Bush is in the front row. Gotta go."

With the score tied, 3-3, Chris Evert was serving. She had been mocking me the whole match for staying behind the baseline and refusing to come to the net. She was wearing a microphone, and the crowd was enjoying her ridiculing me. “C’mon Miss Hoffman, get your butt to the net like a man!” After being the “Ice Maiden” her whole career, suddenly she was Shecky Evert. Amritraj, my partner, a Wimbledon doubles champion, ordered me to move forward.

I should have stuck to my guns, stuck behind the baseline. As Evert went into her service motion, Amritraj warned me to “stay alive up there.” I didn’t hear him clearly and turned my head to say, “Huh?”

Evert served as hard as she could and the ball hit me right in … how should I say this? How about my crotch area? 

Guys, you know how that feels. I crumbled to both knees. I couldn’t breathe. The crowd exploded in laughter. I was in pain, the wind knocked out of me. I was embarrassed or humiliated, whichever one is worse. I noticed Evert running toward me. I swear there were tears in her eyes. She was laughing that hard. “Are you going to write about this?” Evert said.

Presidential assist
I felt someone help me up from behind. The person said, “If you do, say ‘groin,’ it sounds nicer.”

It was former President Bush. I said, in a weak, high pitched gasp, “It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

After I was taken to the first aid tent, I limped back to the tennis court and played another match, this time with President Bush as my doubles partner. After the match, I asked President Bush to take a photo with my son, Andrew, who was 3 years old.

Andrew is a Gladney Center kid. President Bush was a Gladney grandparent.

Andrew sat next to the former leader of the free world, and I took a photo. I used a $4.99 disposable camera from Walgreen’s.  I took the film to the pharmacy to be developed that day. I’m not a photo ace. There have been times when I’ve heard, “Sorry, none of your photos came out. No charge.”

Please, not this time.

Picture-perfect
The photo could not have been more perfect. It’s President Bush, holding a camera and his tennis racket in one hand, my boy with the other. Best photo I’ve ever taken — sweetest photo anybody’s ever taken.

The next day, I called President Bush’s office on Memorial Drive. I told his secretary, “I don’t know if President Bush signs autographs, but I took a picture of him with my son yesterday. Tell him I’m the guy who got hit in the groin by Chris Evert. He’ll know who I am.” She said, “I’ll ask him. Bring the photos by.”

The next day, my phone rang. It was President Bush’s secretary. “Mr. Bush has signed your photo and he would like you to come by and get them. Can you come over now?”

What’s the speed limit on Memorial?

Ken, meet 41
I was given the once over by the Secret Service and walked into President Bush’s outer office. His secretary said, “He’s waiting for you. Just go inside.” President Bush motioned for me to sit down. He asked, “How are you feeling?” He was laughing, too. I was happy that my pain brought such joy to the president and Chris Evert.

“I’m fine, thank you for asking.”

President Bush said that he enjoyed my newspaper column. Wait, a former president of the United States reads my column? Then he said that Mrs. Bush reads my column in the morning, too. Is this a hidden camera show and the president is pranking me? 

Mr. Bush handed me the photo with my son. He wrote on it, “To Andrew Hoffman, have a wonderful life, big guy — love, George Bush.”

Wow! He wrote “love!” He called my baby “big guy! He also autographed another photo, one of him and me after our doubles match. He wrote, “Thanks for carrying a heavy load.”

The 41st president of the United States and I talked for about 45 minutes. I told him that I was at the Berlin Wall the day it came down. He was president at the time. We talked about other events during his presidency. After a while, he gave me a tour of his office. We walked into a small snack room where two young women were talking over coffee. He introduced them as his “interns.”

I asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to say ‘interns'? You might want to use a different word.” This was only a couple of years after President Clinton’s scandal with his intern Monica Lewinsky.

From the White House to blue humor
President Bush laughed and said, “I still call them interns. We’re close … but no cigar.”

Great line! The president works blue! As the president said goodbye, he reached in his desk drawer. He said, “I wrote a note to you." (Twitter hadn't been invented yet.) I acted cool and put the note in my pocket. The moment the elevator door closed, I tore open the envelope. The note read:

Dear Ken,

Chrissie seemed pleased that she drilled you. I sent her your column. Here are the photos.

Sincerely, George Bush.

Netting a lasting relationship

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ART BY JESUS RODRIGUEZ

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

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Next Wednesday marks the debut of X-Men #1. Hickman has done an amazing job changing everything but keeping it familiar and this is a great time to be a fan of Marvel's mighty mutants. Like in sports, the NBA is better when the Lakers and the Celtics are good, Marvel is better when the X-Men are good. They've struggled in the last few years to find a nice rhythm and this is such a great moment for this stable of characters. Here's hoping this leads to a many great things as this initial line up is incredibly intriguing.

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Batman and Wonder Woman both recently had animated releases. Batman: Hush, the storyline made famous for Jim Lee's return to monthly art and to mainstream comics after being in an executive role for the past few years and Wonder Woman: Bloodlines based on a storyline from the comics written by Gail Simone. Gail was a blogger made good, who after a few years of writing a popular pop culture blog (*ahem*) was hired to try her hand at comic books, she is now one of the most prolific writers in modern books and is getting a lot of credit for the plot of the upcoming Birds of Prey movie. Hush was a big deal at its time and is getting strong reviews but as comic fans watch it they are commenting on the lack of solid storytelling, but what's funny to me is that I'm not sure that isn't all that different from the pretty comics with a lack of storytelling. Wonder Woman has lower reviews but is from a much better story, interesting to me.

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NOT THAT YOU ASKED

So earlier I wrote I was in the running for a new secret gig. I got it. It's weird and unconventional but it's an opening for a reoccurring project with these guys if it works and I'm excited. Everyone stay tuned, just saw the cover for the second issue of Another Day at the Office and it's great.

Feel free to check out my brand new comic book Another Day at the Office or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where some proceeds help people struggling with cancer or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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