JAMES BRADY;GOOD TIMES IN AMERICA

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What a great month to be an American.

First we got that flyboy out of Bosnia, the one eating ants and drinking rain-water and ducking the Serbs.

Then two of our elected officials, the President and the Speaker, actually got together in New Hampshire at a gathering of old folks, and behaved with civility.

And then here in New York the Daily News reported that one of our last icons of free enterprise, Leona Helmsley, "used her household help to perform community service work she was required to do herself after being released from federal prison for tax evasion."

If all three of these items of news don't absolutely delight you, then you are H.L. Mencken.

First, not because of its cosmic importance but its sheer gall, the Leona matter.

There's so much about Mrs. Helmsley that is wonderful, you don't know where to begin. Her community service involved work for an Arizona hospital. Leona was supposed to wrap hundreds of packages, gifts to be distributed to hospital volunteers. And for whatever reason, they allowed her to do the wrapping at home (the Helmsleys have a big place in Arizona).

But according to the newspaper, maids, handymen and other employees of the Helmsleys would sit around the dining room table "like field hands shucking peas," except that in this instance they were wrapping gifts. Some 700 gift boxes were wrapped and several thousand envelopes stuffed.

Not a one by Herself, says the Daily News.

This is absolutely splendid. And it recalls an unconfirmed report during the time Leona was still in jail up there in Connecticut. There's apparently a rule inmates must do their own chores and can't pay other cons to do them. But Leona found a slavey, another female inmate, and reportedly paid her off with five cigarettes a day to clean Leona's cell or room or whatever it was and do other tidying up.

This worked out fine until Leona discovered another inmate who would do the job for three butts and she fired the first!

Then we had President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich up in New Hampshire. I caught some of the event on C-Span that Sunday and read a lot about it the next day in the papers, and I've got to say that while it may not have been the Lincoln-Douglas debates, it was a hell of a lot better than what we've been getting out of our political palookas in recent years.

No one expects Gingrich and Clinton to agree on much, but more significant to me than their areas of common cause was the manner in which the two men met, sat down, chatted, disagreed, took and answered questions from the old folks, grinned at one another and in so many small but decent ways, behaved like two intelligent and mature human beings.

What next? A soft word from Pat Buchanan?

I think most of us are absolutely fed up with the nasty, shrill, mean-spirited hurling of insults and argumentums ad hominem that pass for political debate in this country in recent elections that the cordial disagreements of Gingrich and Clinton came as something of a delight. Even if The New York Times thought it artificial and some Dems complained Clinton got taken and the more rabid right wingers called Newt soft on Bill.

Finally, that marvelous rescue from Bosnia.

I don't know about you but I got about as big a thrill out of that as out of anything in years. It wasn't quite Lindbergh landing at le Bourget but it was pretty close. Everything about it was good, and young Captain O'Grady was right out of central casting. And any time you've got the Marines in there in the nick of time, how could it be anything but great?

There's been so much wrong with our Bosnian policy (pause here for derisive laughter) that whenever anything goes right it's cause to celebrate. The Serbs and the Muslims (never mind the Croats) have been burning and pillaging and cutting one another's throats for a thousand years dating all the way back to the Turkish siege of Vienna, and nothing this country or the Brits or the French (or even Captain O'Grady) can do is going to help very much.

The Balkans are a terrible place where we don't belong and we ought to get our guys and the U.N. people as well the hell out of there. But right now, I prefer to think, not about Bosnian quagmires but about that marvelous kid hiding behind cows and munching on the old ants and lapping up the rainwater.

And I absolutely loved that description of him when the Marine choppers landed and the riflemen hit the ground and here came O'Grady sprinting out of the woods, pistol in hand.

By God! that was an entrance. And I wouldn't want to have been a Serbian getting in the kid's way.

The morning I wrote this I passed Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where Norman Vincent Peale used to preach and which refers to itself (in a sign outside the doors) as "America's Hometown Church." But there on the doorstep one of America's homeless, wrapped in a gray blanket, slept full-length. And nothing wonderful that also happened this month of June was going to eliminate that.

Once in America, Dickensian rascals like Leona Helmsley got their comeuppance, great men like the Speaker and the President sat down in courteous discourse over bourbon and a cigar, and gallant young warriors like Captain O'Grady evaded the bad guys and came out whole as the Seventh Cavalry or the Marines rode in to the rescue.

Maybe it's unreal but this month all these good things somehow happened again and you can't take that away from me.

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