Saturday, September 27, 2008


By Jim Heffernan
September 27, 2008

In their brief analysis following Friday night’s McCain-Obama debate, ABC-TV’s assembled commentators laughed incredulously when anchor Charlie Gibson remarked that he had seen every presidential debate since they began.

It seemed incredible even to his colleagues that someone active in journalism today could have seen the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, when the modern era of presidential candidate debating on television began. I’m not that active in journalism anymore, but I, too, remember the 1960 debate as though it were, well, 48 years ago.

Of course there was the Lincoln-Douglas debate some 100 years before that. Gibson missed that one, and so did I, but only by a century.

He didn’t say so, but it’s safe to assume Gibson watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate on television. I listened to it on radio.

I was out with a few of my hot-rodding buddies (I was 20, but would turn 21 soon enough to vote for Kennedy) on the night of the debate. We were hanging around a West Duluth gas station, kicking tires and debating Chevys vs. Fords (or maybe Oldsmobiles vs. Pontiacs), not tuned into the election at all. But somebody in the group remembered the debate and, in the drive of the closed filling station, turned it on a car radio, opened the car’s doors and we all gathered around and listened, cracking wise at every opportunity.

I remember the salient issue of that debate: Whether the United States should defend Quemoy and Matsu. Yes, Quemoy and Matsu, a couple of small Islands off the coast of “Red” China controlled by Taiwan, where Chiang Kai-shek had sequestered his nationalist followers after Mao’s communist hordes drove them from the mainland.

Back and forth Kennedy and Nixon went over Quemoy and Matsu (Nixon taking the hard line for defending them), and none of us assembled at that filling station had ever heard of them. Neither had most Americans, but the communist threat was a big political issue in the 1960s and eventually led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Since I was listening on the radio, I didn’t see the demeanor of the two candidates, and only learned later that Nixon needed a shave and appeared to be sweating while Kennedy looked calm, cool and clean-shaven, As everyone knows, Nixon lost the election by a whisker. And the rest is history.

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) after the election and in the 48 years since, nobody has mentioned Quemoy and Matsu and Americans are as clueless today as they were then about where they are and what their significance might be, or was, or something.

I bring this up now because I suppose that, like ABC’s Charlie Gibson, by hook or crook I have seen just about every televised presidential debate, and I can state without equivocation that no candidate in need of a shave (since Nixon) has ever participated. There has been some sweating.

But I’ve learned over all these years that most of the big issues discussed on the debates don’t amount to a hill of beans (thank you, Rick Blaine) once the election has been held and a new president takes over the following January.

Who remembers what Al Gore and George W. Bush went back and forth about eight years ago, but everyone recalls an event a short time later that changed the course of our history. That would be Sept. 11, 2001.

Using “tactical” nuclear weapons (whatever they are) in Vietnam was a big issue when Barry Goldwater faced Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Goldwater’s advocacy for nuking the Viet Cong even scared many of his fellow Republicans.

Will anything “debated” between John McCain and Barack Obama this election season have an effect on future American policy or an impact on history? Perish the thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


by Jim Heffernan

So, a Duluth man has been accused of impersonating a lawyer. A lawyer! Oh, the horror!

Can anyone imagine how this upsets the legal/judicial system? How dare he. And right here in squeaky-clean Duluth. It’s like a whole bunch of Wall Street investment banks going bankrupt, upsetting the financial system as we have known it.

Still, it did remind me of my life as an impersonator, and, frankly, I’m not proud of it. But if confession is good for the soul, I might as well fess up right now during this local impersonation crisis in the legal community.

I started my career as an impersonator early when, as a teenager, I took a job in a drug store (pharmacy) as a clerk. I was given a gray smock on the first day and sent out into the store to wait on customers. I didn’t know a thing about drug stores or drugs or Desert Flower cosmetics for women, but I bluffed my way through it. I did get tripped up when I couldn’t remember where the store kept the Alka Seltzer, but all in all I carried it off pretty well.

Later, during that same period of my life, I took a similar position in a music store, impersonating someone who knew something about recordings and also record players. I just plunked myself down behind the counter and took on all comers, ringing up sales of Elvis albums. I even sold a portable stereo once to a guy who was so drunk he couldn’t tell I was impersonating a hi-fi expert. (“Sir, the sound comes out of both sides at once, you see.”)

Throughout all this, I impersonated a college student. Oh, I was enrolled, but I didn’t know the first thing about what a college student was actually supposed to do, particularly study. I walked around the campus in cardigan sweaters carrying books and smoking cigarettes looking like a college student, but little did anyone suspect that my head was in the clouds, not in the classroom. Later on they gave me a bachelor’s degree but I got married anyway.

My other impersonations, in chronological order, were as a clerk on a railroad, a soldier and finally a journalist. My main occupation – “lifetime occupation” – was “newspaperman” which became known as “journalist” after the press finally got rid of President Nixon.

I suppose I became a “journeyman” journalist after a while, but early on I spent months impersonating a journalist, calling people up late at night and asking them if a house on their block was on fire. That’s how we journalists used to cover fires. I’m sure the people we called thought they were talking to a real journalist but at the time I was an impersonator. There were several of us and we wore neckties to disguise our total ignorance of serious journalistic practice (it used to be serious, honest). Never underestimate the power of a necktie.

I impersonated a soldier (“American fighting man”) for six years, most of it on the home front as a “weekend warrior.” Some weekend warrior. Oh, I wore the uniform and looked like a soldier, but I wasn’t really into it because at the same time I was busy impersonating a licensed journalist. (Being a licensed journalist meant you had a driver’s license.)

Lately I’ve been impersonating a senior citizen. Hey, big discounts for McDonald’s coffee. Never underestimate the power of thinning gray hair.

Oh, the horror.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pickpockets Thwarted as GOP Pares Down...

By Jim Heffernan

Here’s some of the news unfit to print….

ST. PAUL -- Republican Party leaders were not the only ones scrambling Monday as Hurricane Gustav blew their national convention’s schedule apart. Pickpockets from throughout the United States had converged on St. Paul and Minneapolis hoping to ply their trade among eager convention-goers, only to be thwarted by a hurricane 1,000 miles away.
Willy “Stickyfingers” Sutton, spokesman for the National Federation of Pickpockets, Cutpurses, Swindlers and Con Persons (NFPCSCP), expressed frustration that members were unlikely to garner anywhere near the “take” with convention activity drastically curtailed.
“We were all set to go. We had our people stationed both inside and outside the Excel Energy Center and in the lobbies of every major hotel in St. Paul and Minneapolis, even those Frenchy-sounding ones,” said Sutton. “Now they’ll be standing around convention venues twiddling their thumbs with no targets with fat wallets. It’s disgusting.”
Sutton did express concern for people in the path of Hurricane Gustav. “We’ve got some of our best pickpockets in New Orleans where they serve the tourists,” he said, adding, “it’s been tough enough since Hurricane Katrina, and now this.”
Meanwhile, both Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, declined specific comment on the plight of NFPCSCP members. “I’m reaching out to all Americans at this time, but right now our concern is with all of our friends along the Gulf Coast of the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, like me,” McCain asserted.
Asked by reporters if her concern extended to NFPCSCP members, Gov. Palin said she is concerned for all Americans, “all human life whether it be an embryonic stem cell or a pickpocket in a jail cell.”
For his part, Sutton, criticized President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney for canceling Monday appearances at the St. Paul gathering of their party. “We can double our take at a presidential appearance,” he said. “Three years ago the president ignored Katrina, and now he ignores us. We’re entrepreneurs operating in a market economy. He should remember that.”
Asked how his organization did at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Sutton said, “Not well. The Democrats are all pickpockets.”
Film at 10.