It's the doll, he says, that finally sends him over the
edge. But that's at the end. Here's the beginning.
Although I can't make out the face in the darkness of the
underground parking lot where we've agreed to meet, the voice is clear
and vaguely familiar.
"Splash of coffee?" he asks, getting what might be a thermos
and two heirloom china cups out of what could be a briefcase.
"Don't mind if I do," I say, trying to remember where I've
heard "splash of coffee" before. "I didn't catch your name when you
"I'm anonymous," he says. "Call me 41. My shrink says I
need to talk to some columnist that no one reads."
"Talk about what?" I say, sensing a story.
"It's the president," he says. "He's driving me nuts."
"Nobody's going to stop the presses over that," I say in my
hardened reporter voice. "He's driving half the country nuts."
"Yes," he says, "but I'm in the half that's not supposed to
be driven nuts. I'm a Republican. My daddy was a Republican. My
boys are Republicans. That may be part of what's driving me nuts."
"Hah?" I say.
"It's that aircraft carrier thing," he says. "You remember,
when the jet lands on the USS Abraham Lincoln and the president gets
out wearing that naval aviator flight uniform. The one with the
straps that make him look like he's carrying some extra socks in his
"A stroke of PR genius," I say. "Got him on TV looking like
a military hero. So what's your problem with that?"
"That's it," he says. "Made him look like a military hero.
And lots of people think he was piloting the plane when it landed."
"Wasn't he?" I say, my keen reportorial interest piqued.
"Look," he says, "I flew planes in WWII. Landed on and took
off from carriers. Ever done that? You think just any boob off the
street can do it?"
"But the president isn't just any boob off the street," I
say. "He was a pilot during the Vietnam War."
"For the Texas Air National Guard," he says. "His job, when
he wasn't bugging out, was to intercept North Korea's non-existent
bombers headed for Houston."
I think about that for a while.
"But," I say, "does anyone really believe the Admirals would
let a mere president land a plane on their aircraft carrier?"
"Some talk like they think so," he says. "You know what that
Tom DeLay guy said last month at a meeting of College Republicans?"
"What?" I say, my inner investigative reporter taking over.
"Tom DeLay," he says, "told them to 'close your eyes and try
to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet.' They all knew which
Navy jet he was talking aboutand he clearly implied that the
president, in contrast to Ted Kennedy, was able to land a jet on a
The Truth, Mainly
"Cool," I say, "but why are you so touchy about it?"
"I know about landing planes on carriers," he says. "And
believe me, the president doesn't know diddly squat about it. And he
had the gall to wear that codpiece uniform! Gag me with a spoon!"
"Well," I say, "as a seasoned reporter, I can report that
people do funny things when they're president."
"Tell me about it," he says. "But what really pushes me
over the edge is that damn doll. Goes on the market Sep. 15 for
$39.99. Saw an internet ad."
"A doll?" I say, narrowing my eyes the way Woodward and
"A GI Joe kind of thing," he says, "in a naval flyer's
uniform, like he's just flown some heroic mission. The ad calls it
'the latest issue in its Elite Force series of authentic military
a recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during
his historic Aircraft Carrier landing on May 1, 2003.'"
Caught up in the enormity of my potential scoop, I say
"And I have this recurring nightmare," he says, choking up,
"where I'm at a reunion banquet with my WWII outfit and at every place
setting, there's one of these Commander-in-Chief dolls and everybody's
laughing and I'm barfing. I got a history of barfing at formal
"And how do you feel about that?" I say. Damned if I know
There's a long silence before he speaks again.
"Thanks for letting me get this off my chest," he says. "My
shrink was right. I feel better now. Gotta go. The jet's waiting to
take me back to Kennebunkport."
He gives me the last splash of coffee and we part company.
Driving home from the underground parking lot, I feel
journalistic curiosity kicking in again. Where have I heard that
voice before? I don't have a story until I can figure that
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail