How many presidents can you name? The diner I go to, and for years, sit and write in, has place-mats with all the presidents on them, and the lobby wall has all pictures of all the former commanders in chiefs in frames that go up to the ceiling. The owner is a man who immigrated from Greece way back when. As a naturalized citizen, he became enamored with the notion and the idea of a president. A citizen, not royalty or a theocrat being elected by the governed. Tom liked me because I pointed to two presidents on the mat and said, “I talked to him and him.”
Those brushes with history started a trend in all but one of my books to have my heroes directly working for the President. As thrillers and action-adventure go, it’s a pretty decent point of ignition to get the heat of a story going.
The origin of my fascination with the presidency goes back to when I was 12 years old and Lyndon Banes Johnson’s air force one flew right over my head as it was landing at Stewart AFB in upstate New York. Three years later, as an intern, I would talk to LBJ, albeit briefly, when I answered the phone at NBC News Headquarters one night, near midnight. It went like this:
“Desk assistant Tom Avitabile. How…”
“Is your boss there, son?”
“No, but I can get him, who’s calling?”
“You tell your boss the president of the United States is on the phone.”
I thought it was a prank, but I called my boss. He asked, “Tom this is very important, what line is he on?”
We had one of those like hundred glass button phones on the news manager’s desk back then in 1967. I read out the letters that were next to the blinking light on hold. “P-O-T..” I never got to U-S. As he hung up, ran upstairs, and took the call. I later found out it was a line to the White House labeled, POTUS, for President of the United States. He was using his power to persuade NBC to not run a story critical of the Vietnam War at that time. I was impressed with that notion of POWER.
Also, before the release of my 2nd book, the Hammer of God, I had a ten-minute conversation with President Bill Clinton on Global Thermal Nuclear War. I was afraid some of the nasty things in the book, which only a sitting President would know, could be catastrophic if revealed in a novel. He assured me that they weren’t, so I published the book, and since we are all still here, I guess he was right.
Here’s the after leaf from that novel:
Here’s the unit patch of the group that reports only to the Commander and Chief in my novels:
By the way, Tom makes a fabulous Moussaka and always has a table for me to sit at for hours on end.