- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 15, 2002

NEW ORLEANS President Bush yesterday told a salty tale with a twist.
Sporting a fresh, half-dollar-size scrape on the left side of his face, the president recounted to a thirsty press corps exactly how he suffered the injury.
"I hit the deck," a laughing Mr. Bush said as he boarded a helicopter en route to Andrews Air Force Base for a trip to the Midwest. "I didn't realize what happened until I looked in the mirror and my glasses cut my side of my face."
The president passed out briefly about two or three seconds, his doctor said on Sunday while watching an NFL football game and munching on a pretzel. At 55 and in exceptional health his resting heart rate is close to that of world-class bicyclist Greg LeMonde the most powerful man in the world said he had learned yet another lesson.
"My mother always said, 'When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow.' Listen to your mother," he said.
At an event later in Aurora, Mo., a deadpan Mr. Bush told several thousand supporters he didn't know exactly what happened.
"So there I was, sitting in the residency at the White House, watching a football game, eating a pretzel, and the next thing I know is Barney the Scottish terrier is wondering what the heck happened," he said to laughter.
While the president displayed good-natured, self-deprecating bemusement at his own plight, theories abounded aboard the press charter following Mr. Bush: The president suffered a heart attack, one said; another speculated the president was drunk, even though he gave up alcohol 15 years ago.
Others, however, thought the president's version was believable unlike some past presidents' tales. "If this were [former President Bill] Clinton, you'd think Hillary had thrown a lamp at him," one CBS correspondent said.
One press member even tried to register the Internet domain name "PretzelGate.com" only to find it already taken.
At least two hairy suspects were cleared yesterday by presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer. On Sunday, Mr. Fleischer said, the president passed out and his dogs, Barney and Spot, "were looking at him funny" when he "came to."
Asked if the dogs were "in the clear," the spokesman said: "Dogs are innocent." On the other hand, he also said Mr. Bush did not undergo a CAT scan, setting off more puns.
Mr. Bush's physician, Dr. Richard J. Tubb, said there is no conspiracy: The president began coughing while eating a pretzel at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, stimulating a nerve that slowed his heart rate and caused him to lose consciousness briefly.
Often called the common faint, this type of event can affect medical students who see a lot of blood for the first time. It also can be caused by pain or fear or even straining to blow a trumpet.
Mr. Bush kept his sense of humor throughout the day. Aboard Air Force One, the president known to some White House correspondents as POTUS (President of the United States) sent a present to reporters: a giant bag of pretzels.
The New York Times correspondent took charge of the bag, which quickly became a photo attraction among the press corps. Written on the plastic was this message: "From POTUS chew slowly."

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