Jewish World Review May 17, 2006 / 19 Iyar, 5766

Paul Greenberg

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Letter from the asylum | Early voting has already begun here in Arkansas' primaries, and we've started running our editorial endorsements. Unfortunately, I may not be able to make the last of our many interviews with various candidates, but the arrangements here at Padded Comfort are quite nice.

Every precaution seems to have been taken to assure my safety and comfort since they found me wandering around downtown Little Rock and babbling something about how the state stands at a critical crossroads this year for the future lies ahead and how much your support would be appreciated now more than ever and . . . so forever on.

I'm dictating this column since we inmates — excuse me, guests — aren't allowed sharp instruments. I asked if I could use my laptop, but Dr. Tisdale explained gently that he couldn't risk my logging onto e-mail and opening all the political appeals waiting there for me — like a school of sharks.

All is quiet here, thanks to the padded walls. The food is good if you don't mind tapioca, soft-boiled eggs, Postum, and attendants slicing up your meat lest you start using the knife and fork for purposes other than eating. Any political remarks in the dining room and you take your meals alone.

Dr. Tisdale suggests warm baths and a nightly glass of port. They let me listen to Debussy, "Sheep May Safely Graze" or anything conducted by Sir Neville Marriner of the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields as long as it was recorded after his 75th birthday. "Bolero" and Beethoven are out.

As I told the doctors as soon as they removed the gag, I have these spells regularly. Specifically, twice every election year. Once in the spring when we interview all the candidates in the primaries — well, it seems like we interview them all — and then again in the fall, when we interview the survivors before the general election.

The candidates tend to speak in the plural ("we opposed that bill for good reasons"), and regularly burst into candor ("Candidly . . ." "Frankly . . . " "To be honest . . .") as opposed to — what? — their usual lack of candor?

They often want to speak off the record, on background, without attribution, or Just Between Us, but when told we don't do that, they proceed to say what they had in mind anyway, which is uniformly innocuous.

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A while back, one of the editorial writers suggested that we open the interviews to the public and invite everyone in who wanted to listen. I strenuously objected on the grounds that it would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

After lebenty-leben interviews with candidates have all mixed and mingled in what's left of my mind, their words keep going 'round and 'round up there like one of those awful pop songs you can't dislodge — no matter how hard you try.

Political jingles are even harder to erase. I'm still trying to wipe out the unforgettable chorus of a jingle that's been stuck somewhere in my synapses since a municipal election in New York City circa 1960. It comes back every election year. Maybe because it's the perfect example of an ethnically balanced ticket:

Lefkowitz, Fino and Gil-HOO-ly!

An ethnic triple dip. Like Neapolitan ice cream.

I've long since forgotten the rest of the words — and, please, kind reader, don't find them for me. Or I may remember them forever, too.

Messrs. Lefkowitz, Fino and Gilhooly lost, but their music, so to speak, still remains, and short-circuits my little gray cells from time to time, blanking out unimportant details like my name, address and phone number.

Just who Lefkowitz, Fino and Gilhooly were, I've long since forgotten if I ever knew, but they've moved into my mind like guests who came for dinner and are going to hang around for a lifetime. I imagine them up there, ties loosened, swigging bourbon, and leaning back with their feet on my neurons, always on call. There's no more chance of my forgetting them than Tinker to Evers to Chance, or Larry, Moe and Curly.

Dr. Tisdale tells me that's one of the symptoms of my problem — an adhesive affinity for assorted useless information. Long-ago political tickets, the names of comedy acts and infields . . . they all tend to come back during political interviews when I should be concentrating on the candidate's answers.

Happily, the answers don't vary all that much from office to office or even year to year. The candidates all seem to know the process, have been where the rubber meets the road, want to grow the economy, will incentivize the tax structure, are prepared for a paradigm shift, can stimulate job growth, consider education vitally important, will work hard to assure our children's future, want to make a difference, are running on their record, really appreciate how good Arkansas has been to them and want to give something back, work well with others, and are running on their own merits rather than trying to run down their worthless opponent . . . .

I could go on, if you're still with me, but Nurse Himmelfarb tells me I've got to avoid these flashbacks if I ever expect to get out of this straitjacket.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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