Hah! Fooled you. I am writing today. Why, I don’t know; habit, perhaps. Can’t really do any serious work right now, because the child is shrieking and the dog is barking – she’s trying to teach him a new trick, and Jasper, being an old dog, will have none of it. So reading is out. I am not in the mood to sit and scan – believe me, it’s the most boring part of my life, akin to rearranging wood shavings into the molecular profile of lesser elements. I pulled back from the brink on the digitize-my-80s-TV-career project for a while, until I get a direct VHS-to-Digital input. (The camcorder doesn’t work; it requires that I record to digital tape and transfer it again.) I looked at the stack of VHS tapes – six stacks, ten tapes each – and said “well, hell no” and put them all in the storage closet. I feel better about that now. I’m 1069; the sign has been put away.

You have no idea what I meant by that, did you. Well. Once on the Tom Snyder TV show around 1977, Tom had a guest who wanted to change his name to a number. He chose 1069. He had a chart that buttressed his case, which he would eventually take to the North Dakota Supreme Court. (He didn’t win.) The chart made no sense on TV, and it was doubtful it made sense in any other medium either; it looked like the product of a madman attempting to prove that Bush is controlled by orbital lizards. “Let’s put it away, okay?” Snyder said.

“Okay,” said 1069. He put it behind his chair. “I feel better about that now.”

He came off as a quiet, decent, utterly sincere lunatic. That last part surprised me, because he certainly hadn’t been that peculiar when he was my high school social science teacher in Fargo two years before. Mike Dengler. One of the nicest teachers you could have. And now here he was squinting through the blue air (Snyder smoked throughout the TV show, I remember) explaining why he wanted to be called One Oh Six Nine. After that show, nothing; a stone down the well. There are a few web sites that mention his case, but no one seems to have known him. Well, I did, and he was a nice guy.

I suppose I could drag out a yearbook picture. But that would mean scanning.

It’s as cold as early October here, horribly unseasonable. Fifty-nine for a high. That’s usually the low. We stayed in all day – in the morning I rewrote my column, then I waited for copy desk to call and tell me I was free. They did not. So we hung around, painted, played Hello Kitty meets the My Little Ponies (my script: the Ponies all arrived back at Celebration Castle at 2 AM and wanted to PARTY, but the Kittys wanted to sleep. I went away for a few minutes, and overheard Gnat continuing the narrative. “It’s too early to boogie!” she said in a scolding tone. I’m glad she grasped that lesson. It is never too late to boogie, but sometimes it is too early to boogie. Premature boogieing has been the bane of many. You have to time it well.

Okay, now we get down to the Hat of Cambodia; politics follow. Bale if you wish, and we'll see you tomorrow. Or Monday. I hope it's the latter, because I really want to spend tomorrow night watching grainy black and white noir.

Still here? Okay. Switching to rambling unedited nut-coot mode . . . there.

Hugh Hewitt interviewed a shipmate of John Kerry’s on his show today; the transcript is here. Why this happens on a radio show and not in the Washington Post is a question I’ll let you decide. It’s not like these guys live in the Fortress of Solitude, accessible only by messages relayed by carrier pigeon.

It has to do with Christmas in Cambodia – the only aspect of the SwiftVets story I care to comment on, for reasons I think I stated before. If Kerry’s story is a lie, it’s significant, but not because we have a gotcha moment – gee, a politician reworked the truth to his advantage, big surprise. This is much larger than that. This is like Bush insisting that he flew an intercept mission with the Texas Air National Guard to repel Soviet bombers based in Cuba, and later stating that this event was “seared in his memory – seared” because it taught him the necessity of standing up against evil governments, such as the ones we face today. In other words, it would not only be a lie, but one that eroded the political persona he was relying upon in the election. Kerry has made Vietnam central to his campaign. If he’s making crap up, it matters. But the story of the CIA agent he ferried into the Heart of Darkness gives the gotcha a curious twist; as lawyers say on TV courtroom dramas, it goes to state of mind. What sort of man bedecked with genuine decorations feels compelled to manufacture a story like this one?

Via Ed and the PowerLine, this from the WaPo:

A close associate hints: There's a secret compartment in Kerry's briefcase. He carries the black attaché everywhere. Asked about it on several occasions, Kerry brushed it aside. Finally, trapped in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.

"Who told you?" he demanded as he reached inside. "My friends don't know about this."

The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading, the seams fraying.

"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia."

Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear: Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't complex after all; it was Kerry.

He smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."

They use this story to note that Kerry has dusted off the Secret Mission anecdote after dropping it in the bio. What struck me was the calculation here: an aide hints. Secret Compartment. The Intrepid Reporter Perseveres. Reluctantly, Kerry opens the briefcase, and explains the Origins of the Hat to the reporter. (You wonder if the Close Associate mentioned the Secret Compartment more than once. Ask him about it yet? No? Ask again, he’ll show you. He usually does.)

“He carries the black attaché everywhere.” He does? Anyone recall any shots of Kerry with the black attaché? Again, it sounds like something the reporter was told, not something the reporter observed. But here’s an interesting twist. Oh, perhaps it’s a matter of grammar and nothing more. The candidates for the of Democratic nomination filled out questionnaires, and one of the questions was “prized possessions.” Said Kerry:

"My lucky charms: My wedding band, dog tags and lucky hat from Vietnam and the Bible my friend Max Cleland gave me."

When I read this version, I saw the reply in a different light:

Kerry saw combat in Vietnam as a Navy gunboat captain sailing up rivers ringed with danger, came home a decorated veteran and joined the anti-war movement. He named his "lucky charms" as his most prized possession — his wedding ring, his dog tags and his camouflaged "lucky hat" from Vietnam — as well as a Bible given to him by fellow Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

His ring, his tags, his hat. This does not mean that the hat doesn’t have a CIA backstory. But it could mean that this was, indeed, his hat. Hence his attachment to it. I have an old KSTP cap that hangs in my closet to this day from my old stint on the station, but I’m not going to tell anyone that Stanley Hubbard gave it to me as we were driving to fix the Maplewood transformer at 3 AM.

If the secret illegal mission was the origin of the Lucky Hat, it’s a new revelation.

Again, I’m just speculating. Who knows. But the talismans of life are usually the items we’re dealt by chance or choice, items which gather significance by their banality, ordinary nature, and the fact that they were ours during a time that seared – seared! Itself into our memory. I’ve saved some keys. A T-shirt or two. My press badges, of course. If I’d served four harrowing months in Vietnam I surely would have kept my hat. Having just spent weeks sorting the detritus of my own banal existence, and finding myself gobsmacked over an item squirreled away 20 years ago, I can testify to the power of ordinary objects. I can even see why one would keep the hat close. I think it would be rather odd to carry it around all the time; I mean, my dad was in a war for four years, not four months, and his medals and memorabilia sat undisturbed in a drawer, because that was then and this was Fargo. But there’s nowt as queer as folk.

But. But. How did this work, exactly? Did the CIA agent take off his hat as he was hopping off the boat to wade into the jungle? Here, take this, think of me. Or here you go, pal, you lost your hat back there, take mine, I have another. Square this with the narrative: Kerry was bitter as he bobbed in Cambodia, shot at from all sides – so he takes this hat, this extra hat, this spook lid back to barracks, and now it replaces his own hat as the object that spells luck. That sums up his experience. That brings it all back. Not the hat he wore on the boat in combat, but the hat he got from a spook on an illegal mission – that’s the good luck object, that’s the prized possession.

Work for you?

Maybe; again, I'm just running fiction-writer debugging scripts. If I wrote a novel with a Vietnam vet, I'd use the CIA-hat detail as a sign the character probably spent the war filing reports in San Diego.

There are ads running right now in our market, Bush ads; they say that Kerry voted to cut the CIA budget after the first WTC attack. Perhaps someone thought that these ads could be blunted by suggesting that Kerry was Felix Leiter’s right-hand man. A simple humble hat that truly had personal meaning got a narrative upgrade.

Poor hat.

At least we know this: if Kerry wins, Gary Trudeau already has the floating presidential symbol he uses to cover his inability to draw actual people. If he dared. Which he won’t. Or can't. I think the former is cover for the latter. Does it matter? BUSH WAS AWOL! Oh look, the "Daily Show" is on. He's so smart! He must be. Just look at that suit.


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