MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass. -- Maybe Bill Clinton can relax after all.
On the first day of what White House officials have promised would be an 11-day vacation on this idyllic island of summer homes, the president stunned his own aides by skipping a golf game to . . . well, to sleep late.
"He just wanted to relax," said Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary. "He slept in, went for a walk around the grounds this morning again and spent most of the morning reading the newspaper out on the porch."
For his early afternoon entertainment, the president topped himself:
He took a nap.
Usually, White House aides would kill to avoid the image being projected around the world of the president lying in the sea air like a big lazy cat.
The recurrent nightmare of White House staff assigned to presidential vacations is of Edwin W. Meese III, who accompanied Ronald Reagan to his ranch above Santa Barbara in 1981.
When Navy fliers downed Libyan jets in a dogfight that became an international incident, it was the middle of the night on the West Coast, and Mr. Meese let the boss sleep.
Neither Mr. Meese nor Mr. Reagan ever completely lived down the reputations they earned over this incident -- Mr. Meese for having little sense how events would look to the public and Mr. Reagan for being, well, not exactly the most intense guy in the free world.
Mr. Reagan would go on during his presidency to sleep in Cabinet meetings, in front of the pope, and in front of the television in the White House residence where he often took an afternoon nap. He ended up incorporating self-deprecating jokes about his proclivity to doze off into his standard campaign speech.
Mr. Clinton's reputation is so much in the opposite direction that aides actually groaned as they reported that the president made a single business call from Martha's Vineyard -- to Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa.
Yesterday, the president first emerged from his compound about 6 p.m. Mr. Clinton is staying in the guest house at the estate owned by Robert S. McNamara, the former defense secretary and one-time World Bank president, who left the place to the Clintons.
"He [the president] loves the sense of privacy," said Ms. Myers. "He really is relaxed."
The president did not leave a birthday party thrown for him the night before until 1 a.m. The party included a toast from host Vernon Jordan, a second toast from Hillary Rodham Clinton and a third, "very, sweet" toast from daughter Chelsea.
As he has consistently when he takes a break from work, the president seemed to spend a great deal of time with his daughter.
Ms. Myers said that last week in Arkansas, the president was overjoyed that he finally persuaded Chelsea to water ski. "He was proud," Ms. Myers said. "That was a very big deal to him."
Ms. Myers also said the president has brought along a blue leather satchel to the Vineyard with 10 books in it, and that he hoped to read them all.
"I think they planned to keep this very loose and unscheduled," she said. "I think they'll wake up every morning and decide, based on the weather and how they feel, what they want to do -- just like a normal vacation."