Like most homeowners, I have a lot of ideas about what neighbors should do to fix up their houses. In that spirit, I worked up a few suggestions for what President-elect Bill Clinton could do to spruce up the 200-year-old house he and his family will be moving into.
Granted, the White House is not right next door to me. But I do drive by from time to time. And I have thought of a few ways to improve the look of the place.
If I met the new White House occupant at some cocktail party, I imagine the conversation would go something like this:
"I like the color of your house. But let me tell you how it could look better. You should paint your curlicues a different color.
"I am talking about the ornate decorations that sit atop the columns. I think they are called capitals. I've got some at my place too. They are smaller and not as well turned out as the ones at your house. But they are in the same curlicue tradition.
"When these flourishes are painted the same color as the house, nobody notices them. But if you highlight them with discrete dabs of a tasteful color, BINGO! You've got an architectural highlight.
"And let me tell you, Mr. President-elect, as one old house dweller to another, because you are going to have to put up with historic plumbing, you might as well play up the old house architecture.
"I have been meaning to do something tasteful with my curlicues for some time now. I just haven't screwed up the nerve to 'D clamber up that ladder. But a fella like you, with your chief executive status, can just order the curlicues highlighted, and it will be done.
"Next, lose the horseshoe pit. If a guy moves in from Arkansas and starts pitching horseshoes on the South Lawn, the neighbors will start telling 'Lil' Abner' jokes. George Bush could get away with pitching horseshoes, but he was a member of the East Coast Establishment.
"You've got a swimming pool and putting green and a tennis court to play with. But those sports have been claimed by previous presidents.
"What I would do, if I were you, would be to put up a hoop. Every American home should have one, especially one as classy as yours. Besides, setting up a basketball goal doesn't require much more than erecting a basket over a hard surface. You could pave over the horseshoe pit. Or you could stick baskets on the end of the tennis court, issue a presidential order to take down the tennis net, and run a full court game.
"Over the years, I have helped erect a few basketball goals. And I must say that on the whole, I have done a lousy job. The hoop I helped put up in my brother's driveway was too high. All my shots fell short of it. And a makeshift goal I hung off the back porch of my house was too low. It was so low that you could stuff the ball in the hoop without jumping. It was great fun while it lasted. But somebody, probably one of my kids, stuffed once too often and the whole contraption came down. So put a hoop up, but hire somebody to do it.
"Another landscape suggestion: Bring back the treehouse. Kids love a treehouse. It's a great place to hang out and play the kind of music that Tipper Gore might not approve of. My kids are constantly begging me to build them a treehouse. I have an excuse. I don't have a tree strong enough to hold one. You, however, have that silver atlas cedar in your back yard, the one the Carter kid, Amy, used.
"A treehouse could give your daughter, Chelsea, a hideaway. And who knows, a few years' budget battles from now, you might find it comforting as well.
"Now, about the garden. Plant one. There already are a few things edible growing in the South Lawn. There are some herbs, for instance, in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden up near the house.
"But with all the room you have, you could plant yourself enough tomatoes to keep the entire executive branch in tomato sauce for two fiscal quarters.
"If you feel up to it you could put in some beans, corn, and -- just to tweak ole Ross Perot for his cracks about Arkansas -- plant a watermelon patch.
"So that's it, Mr. President-elect. Welcome to this neck of the woods. And speaking of trees, there is one more thing, the leaves.
"There never seem to be any leaves littering the White House lawn. It doesn't look natural. And it makes the rest of us, with our leaf-covered lawns, look lazy.
So just to get you off on the right foot, I'm sending you two trash bags full of leaves from my backyard. Scatter them at will.