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THE JAUNDICED EYE

It's Time for: Where Are They Now?

November 01, 1998|Bruce McCall | Bruce McCall is a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He is author of a memoir "Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Canada."

NEW YORK — This week we pull two once-prominent world political figures briefly back into fame's spotlight to catch up with their recent doings.

Longtime sometime Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, now 67, is thriving in his new life far from the tension and tumult of high office. Loss of the power to speak a comprehensible sentence apparently hasn't slowed the happy if not semidelirious warrior down one whit. "He's really into his hobbies nowadays," burbles an official nurse-spokesman, "seeing how fast he can get from his Kremlin flat to the Kremlin happy hour on his hands and knees, sport-napping on conference tables, submitting that four-year-old head cold to the Guinness Book of World Records." And a recent step-up in travel has added yet another hobby to the Yeltsin repertoire: eating welcoming bouquets. Another nurse-spokesman confides that Yeltsin plans a sentimental visit to the Russian Duma, scene of past battles, "Any day now, if--and it's a big if--there still is one!"

A once-ubiquitous presence in Washington and the Clinton White House, two-term U.S. Vice President Al Gore, 50, mysteriously vanished from his position right behind and sometimes beside the president and first lady earlier this year. But not to worry. His sudden obscurity turns out to be a matter of amazing coincidence--and urgent necessity.

Much as he'd like to "be there for that fellow from, what, Missouri? Oklahoma?" in these trying presidential times, the environmentally gung-ho veep suddenly remembered, just hours in advance of release of the Starr report, that trees are this nation's primary source of shade--"not only for our children but also for their children's children," as he stated in a note slipped under the Oval Office door. As a result, he is now too busy out there in the wilderness, far from reporters and subpoenas, as he personally counts every tree in America within a thousand miles of the beleaguered chief executive.

Not that the possible 2000 Democratic presidential candidate could shed light on the Monica S. Lewinsky affair or anything else that transpired in the White House over the past few years. "When that fir tree fell on my head in Idaho last month," he explains, "the doctors said I was lucky to get away with just a bump and a complete case of amnesia."

Nor can Gore be questioned by reporters as to whether past lavish praise of the president might undercut his future credibility as a candidate. "He'd love to oblige," a spokesperson says, "but darn it, then he'd lose his place and have to start counting the trees all over again."

On a sad note, Gore's vast collection of photo-ops showing him in the company of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton was recently destroyed in an office shredder mishap, but, luckily, his favorite official picture survived intact. "It shows Tipper and me, without a cigar in my hand, on the 25th anniversary of my having not touched another living female," he beams, "standing in front of an American flag, with all the doors in my office wide open and the late Mother Teresa handing me a scroll in recognition of perfect Sunday School attendance while my kids are baking cookies. And, happily, we have 62 million prints lying around the house somewhere."

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