The Truth, Mainly - 08/18/2003

Another interview in the dark
by Leon Satterfield

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 called."

"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 codpiece."

"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 about—and he clearly implied that the president, in contrast to Ted Kennedy, was able to land a jet on a carrier."

"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 Bernstein did.

"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 figures…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 nothing.

"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 banquets."

"And how do you feel about that?" I say. Damned if I know why.

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 out.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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