By SANDRA SOBIERAJ
WASHINGTON – At 9,000 feet, Al Gore lay back on the rocks in the sun. On his mind: Machiavelli and chaos theory.
“You could see the wheels turning,” remembers Jim Frush, the climber who led Gore’s father-son expedition up 14,410-foot Mount Rainier two summers ago.
Forgetting – or ignoring – his lower-back pain, Gore let his thoughts race on aloud about the interrelation of chaos theory, environmentalism and spirituality.
Then, invoking Machiavelli, he refused to let one of the pros lighten his 60-pound pack and said he would push on with Albert III, then 17, to the summit only if each carried his own load.
“He didn’t believe the ends justified any means. He wanted to make the climb in good style,” said Frush.
In good style – a climber’s colloquialism that says as much about self pride as the desire for approval. Add discipline, a competitive one-ups-manship and a wonkish intellectualism (he researched the Rainier climb over eight months) and the offstage portrait of Gore pretty much resembles his public persona.
But it is not complete, say those close to him, without a dash of old-fashioned gallantry and everyman slobbery.
The good son who presents his mother with a flower corsage for family occasions big and small also bites his nails and, at least while camping, licks the dessert mixing bowl.
“It was instant pudding, pistachio, and the fluorescent green didn’t put Al off one bit,” recalled Frush. “But he did seem a little sheepish on the second night when he reached for the bowl again and went, ‘Well, uh, does anyone else want to lick the pot?’ “
Gore’s three daughters still coo over the 18-year-old memory of him carrying their mother up a long flight of stairs and into bed when she came home from the hospital with newborn Albert III.
“He’s very much a gentleman, you know, with me around the house,” said Tipper Gore, describing the two of them in matching easy chairs in the family room of the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential residence.
“I know he’s dog tired and he could be sitting down and doing something but will pop right up if I’ve got stuff in my lap and there’s something I need across the room.”
Mornings, he is the first one out of bed and down to breakfast in his robe. On Christmas mornings he’s been known to watch the clock from 5:30 to 6, eager to rouse everyone else and get started on presents.
Afternoons off, he shuffles around in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals. The crisply groomed Gore that America knows does not emerge until he’s ready to step out the door.
“Before that,” reported his wife, “he’s a general everyman slob.”
Who, apparently, makes everyman domestic mistakes.
As a practical-minded new homeowner in Tennessee’s farm country, Gore gift-wrapped a Weed Eater for the first birthday Tipper celebrated as Mrs. Gore. He still leans toward gadgetry when picking out gifts. Tipper Gore has the shrink-wrapped Palm Pilot and unused electronic Rolodex to prove it.
For their children, he rips gift ideas from a newspaper or magazine and hands them off to his wife, the better shopper in the family.
Gore has relished his own shopping for brother-in-law Frank Hunger who, ever since he emerged in tears from the children’s movie “Babe,” has been pelted with pig-themed birthday and Christmas gifts from a teasing Gore.
A “girl’s guy,” Gore helps with the dishes without being asked, sat through “The Piano” without complaint and has abided daughter Karenna’s yearslong boycott of the movie “Pretty Woman” for its happy hooker theme.
He asserts his “mark of manhood” in the family, as Tipper Gore put it, in hot pepper-eating contests with Hunger. Those who have vacationed with Gore on the slopes advise staying away from him when he is on skis: He can be reckless in his instinct to race.
Elsewhere, discipline guides his relaxation. If there’s talk of seeing a movie Saturday night, Gore has his nose in the newspaper first thing Saturday morning making a plan. If whims change through the day, Gore needs to be prodded off his plan. “We have to pile on,” Tipper Gore said with a laugh.
Few get to see Gore at ease this way. Unlike some schmoozing pols, free time is family time.
The only ballgames he regularly attends are his children’s school sports. Asked recently about his favorite indulgence, Gore said, “just water-skiing with the kids and floating or swimming.”
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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