My friend Barney from New Jersey feigns interest in New Mexico as an excuse to telephone. In reality, he’s either making fun of me or promoting his own agenda. He’s been doing it for years.
“You still writing that two-bit column?” he asked.
I said yes, and, furthermore, Barney well knows I am writing the column, so please get to the point.
“How come you haven’t written that your governor spent $97,000 on entertaining at the mansion last year?” he wanted to know. “Are you not outraged?”
Barney was referring to Bill Richardson’s expense account that provides for a lively social schedule as he and Barbara host a revolving door of people going in and out of the mansion.
I told Barney I am not outraged, just a little embarrassed that even a two-bit columnist couldn’t get a single drink out of a $100,000 entertainment budget. I told him I wanted to complain to Billy Sparks, the governor’s press guy, but Billy won’t return my calls.
“But here’s the thing, Barney,” I said, “with what is going on with the Katrina tragedy, how can you even think about such dumb stuff?”
There is a slight pause while Barney digests this thought and gets ready to deliver the question that prompted him to call in the first place.
“So, what are you wearing on Fridays?” he asked. It was a loaded question, but I was not quick enough to avoid the trap.
“Cutoffs, sandals and a raggedy old shirt, pretty much the same as I wear on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Why?”
“No red?” he barked.
No red, no red, no red, no red, no red. My mind was spinning. Where was he going with this? Barney ended the suspense.
“Those of us who support the troops are wearing red on Fridays,” he said.
Oh. I get it. If I don’t wear red on Fridays, I don’t support the troops in Iraq. And I am probably not a very good American. Certainly not a properly patriotic one. I could feel myself getting mad. Barney caught me at a bad time.
“You know, you Red Friday guys are really saying we all need to jump on your bandwagon to support the war,” I told Barney. “But here’s the deal. There are just a whole lot of us who support and appreciate the troops but who think the war was a huge mistake from the gitgo.
“And we think we should not get out of Iraq, but we should take the advice of smart people like John McCain who advise the only course now is to commit more resources and to develop a plan to win this thing once and for all.”
Warming up to the subject, I told Barney, “This idea that criticizing the war is somehow synonymous with undermining the troops is a bunch of bull. We’re for the troops. We just believe if we are going to stay there we need to figure out a way to win.”
Dead silence. Then, “Good heavens. I was just asking a fashion question. Why are you so uptight?”
I admitted I am a little overwrought these days, and I apologized for the outburst. But I couldn’t let it go. “By the way,” I asked, “are you wearing blue on Tuesdays?”
“Blue?” he wondered.
“Yeah, blue on Tuesdays,” I said. “For all the people whose hopes have been shattered in Louisiana. Certainly if we can afford billions to pursue freedom in Iraq we can afford billions to bail out our own countrymen. Or can we afford both?”
Barney hung up.
Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist who is getting grouchy. Contact him at: email@example.com