What a thrill to meet one's critics for lunch, especially if they're charming, mysterious, and you donít have to pick up the bill.
Some months back a finely worded letter was published in these pages regarding a column of mine on Iran; while magnanimously allowing that I was entitled to my political leanings, the writer pointedly questioned my grasp of the facts and general sanity.
Since I too have often been concerned for the latter I was not without empathy for this scribe, Mr. John McEnroe, noted lawyer and father of the tennis great.
Soon thereafter, that mover and shaker in Democratic circles and counsel to the mighty, Mr. John Connorton, let me know that Mr. McEnroe would welcome an opportunity to make my acquaintance. Whereupon Mr. Ray O'Hanlon, our inestimable editor, offered to attend as my second, and a date was set for lunch at Rosie O'Grady's midtown saloon.
Mr. McEnroe, no doubt aware of the value of a grand entrance, appeared wearing a ten-gallon hat that would have not looked out of fashion at the OK Corral.
He eyed me speculatively from behind shades. I must admit I'm often nervous in the company of lawyers, especially with the clock ticking. Thus, much of the early banter went over my head as I wrestled with the cost of a consultation with these two legal titans. An hour of their combined time could surely cost as much as an evening with a top-class courtesan.
Mr. O'Hanlon was in top form as he recounted the Echo's covert strategy in endorsing Senator Obama in the last presidential election; until Mr. Connorton inquired innocently enough who the Echo might favor this coming November.
As the smile drained from Mr. OíHanlonís face, I ventured to suggest that the Echo's readership was not as conservative as was generally imagined and that many nuns, radical and otherwise, were avid readers of my column.
To which Mr. McEnroe baldly stated that he would vote for anyone but Barack Obama Ė with a toss of his leonine head he seemed to suggest that even a commie, such as I, would be preferable.
I voiced my concern that a Romney presidency could be fraught with peril since this economic genius had stated that on no account would he have bailed out the American car industry. Such inaction, I postulated, could have wiped out the states of Michigan and Ohio.
Mr. McEnroe gazed at me in steely silence until I began to wonder if he was familiar with the areas in question or merely employing a lawyerly stratagem.
I forget his precise answer, engaged as I was in calculating that sixty seconds of this eyeballing could cost a client eight or more dollars.
Ever the provocateur, Mr. Connorton tossed in the occasional acerbic aside to keep the discourse lively, and after he had polished off a giant Turkey Club murmured that a good dessert had healed many political wounds.
As they tucked in with gusto to Rosie's concoctions I marveled at these three gentlemen and their lack of any cholesterol problems and wondered how many bowls of oatmeal I'd need to consume to counter my own whipped cream transgression.
Buoyed by this sugar rush Mr. McEnroe was tossing off jokes, salty and otherwise, when Mr. Connorton confided that the bill had already been settled and he must hasten to "a board meeting". All three of us smiled knowingly and watched this éminence grise glide off, no doubt to sort out the Secret Service's brothel problems or the transfer of Madam Clinton from State to the Vice-Presidency.
There was nothing for it - I girded my loins and inquired just what I had written about Iran that had so upset Mr. McEnroe, to which he breezily replied Ė "Everything. It was all wrong!"
Thereupon, Mr. McEnroe strode off into the sunset, his ten-gallon hat cocked jauntily while Mr. O'Hanlon comforted himself with the thought that he had five months grace before hazarding a presidential endorsement.
I, however, had been struck by an epiphany - with a free lunch a month, I could silence five critics before November while lessening my living expenses. Does anyone know Your Man From Pearl River's phone number?