In the breakfast nook with Barack and Michelle

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Over plates of Eggs Nova Scotia and a bowl of fresh-cut fruit, Barack and Michelle Obama trade sections of the morning papers in their hotel suite. The Manhattan skyline looms behind them.

The hotel television is tuned to MSNBC's "Morning Joe," but the sound is turned down. Meanwhile in the hall, several Secret Service agents take note of the couple's periodic laughter seeping through the door. They smile at each other, inspired by the sheer joie de vivre of America's most glamorous political couple engaging in their ritual of early-morning banter.

"'Renegade' and 'Renaissance' are ready to face the day," an agent whispers into his wireless mike.

"You're not going to believe this," Michelle says, handing the front section of the paper to her husband. "Your boy Bob Johnson just sent a note to the Congressional Black Caucus urging them to use their influence to get you to pick Hillary as your running mate."

"Bob Johnson," Barack Obama says, repeating the name and feigning a memory lapse. "You don't mean the billionaire founder of BET and the world's chief purveyor of racially stereotypical videos, do you? Not that Bob Johnson."

Michelle vigorously shakes her head.

"No way," Barack insists. "We can't be talking about the same person, because on the eve of the South Carolina primary, that Bob Johnson insinuated that I probably sold drugs in the 'hood as a teenager."

"Uh-huh," Michelle says, arching her eyebrows.

They laugh. "You know, I thought we were supposed to be cool after Hillary made him apologize," Barack says, scratching his chin.

"You were cool for a minute," Michelle says, "then he announced he agreed with Geraldine Ferraro that you wouldn't have gotten as far as you have politically if you were white and your name was Jerry Smith."

"Imagine," Barack says. "Being a black man in America with a name they make fun of every night on Fox News turned out to be a strategic asset. Who'd have thunk it?"

"Probably a third of the electorate still thinks you're a Muslim thanks to the idiots on conservative talk radio," Michelle says.

"They wouldn't think I was a Muslim if they could only see me tearing up this Canadian bacon," Barack says, talking with his mouth full.

"Good thing the girls are still sleeping. You're a mess, Barack."

The Democratic nominee points the remote at the TV just as Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist and Joe Scarborough cross-talk the wisdom of Hillary Clinton lobbying for the veep slot on the Obama ticket.

"Is Hillary really going to acknowledge this weekend that you're the nominee without getting something in return?" Michelle asks. "Remember the end of 'Carrie'? The bloody hand that reached out from beneath the rubble to grab Amy Irving's wrist as she kneeled? That's Hillary. Watch out for the bloody hand, Barack."

"Come on, 'Shell," Barack says with a laugh. "She knows I'm not stupid enough to make her my veep. This little kabuki dance is all about creating as soft a landing for her as possible. It isn't written in stone, but if I win this thing, she'll get an appointment to the Supreme Court at the first opportunity."

"You're way too Christian," Michelle says. "I'll never forget that the night you clinched the nomination, you called her. Not the other way around. You called her twice after her outrageous non-concession speech and got kicked to voice mail both times. She dissed you. Remember that."

"You know I can't hold a grudge for long, Michelle," Barack says with a smile. "I didn't stay mad at you for making me go to Trinity for 20 years, did I? You owe me big time. I wanted to bail back when Oprah got out, but noooooo!"

Michelle throws a mushed strawberry at her husband. "Is that what you're going to tell future biographers -- that Rev. Jeremiah Wright was somehow my fault?"

"I'm just saying that you're eager to vet everyone else in my life. You should have vetted him, too," he says with a mischievous laugh.

"You need to get your skinny ass back to church, Barack Obama. I don't care which one you pick."

"I'm going to find a nice Spirit-filled church in Appalachia and settle down. Those hard-working white people need to see I'm not the devil."

"Hope you're prepared to give up your broccoli frittatas and crab souffles, Barack. You're going to be eating a lot of grits and scrapple until Election Day."

"Hey, check this out, 'Shell," Barack says, turning up the sound on the TV again. "They're running images of our affectionate gesture while on stage Tuesday night. They're calling it 'the Obama Pound.' It's confusing the hell out of Pat Buchanan."

They chuckle. "This is a brand-new world for a lot of these uptight pundits," Michelle says. "What do the drums say, Barack?"

"When drums play, good. When drums stop, bad," he says, in an exaggerated voice mimicking the stereotypical jungle native from the movies.

They suddenly get very quiet.

"I can't believe we're here, Barack."

"I know. I wish I could smoke a cigarette to celebrate."

Michelle Obama gives him look to warn him it would be his last puff.


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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