THE GUY DOWN at the 7-Eleven said he knew how we could wrap up this Persian Gulf war in about 24 hours -- no muss, no fuss.
"We start using them FAEs," he said. "Fuel-air explosives. Take out everything -- buildings, tanks, bunkers, you name it -- within a square mile."
"Let me have one of those chili dogs," I said. "Just onions on it."
"Matter of fact," he said, "you can rig them FAEs so you have a killing field 10 miles wide. Iraq'd quit on the spot."
"Take out for a Big Gulp, too," I said. "And one of these Slim Jims."
Hurrying out to the parking lot, I was struck by one consuming thought. Clearly, it was only a matter of time before the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be calling this particular convenience store and asking for my friend behind the counter.
"Franklin," the Joint Chiefs would say, "you're too valuable to waste ringing up Slurpees and straightening the magazine rack and dusting off the 'Test Your Blood Pressure' machine. Why not come work for us?
"We need a guy who knows his way around sophisticated high-tech weaponry: A-10 Warthogs, AGM-65 Maverick missiles, the new precision-guided Tomahawks. Say, while I have you on the phone, how do you set the gyroscope on those new-fangled FAE things, anyway?"
At the shoe store, talk of ending the war was similarly impassioned.
It's not easy shopping for shoes during a war. Oh, don't get me wrong, there are plenty of shoes around. But it's hard getting the sales clerk to concentrate on a pair of tan loafers when he's using his shoehorn to demonstrate the target angle an F-16 takes on a bombing run.
"I say we send a hit team in to get Saddam," the clerk was saying now, glancing about nervously and lowering his voice, apparently in case any Iraqi agents had infiltrated the mall. "Five six swarthy guys who can mingle with the general population. And the minute they see this SOB -- boom! -- they ice 'im. War'd be over five minutes later."
I said: "Do you, um, have this in a size 10? The 9 1/2's are a little tight."
"Hell," he said, "you could use mortars, grenades, Uzis, even poison if you got close enough. There's a presidential order that says we can't take out a foreign leader. But we'll work around that."
It's strange, the CIA spends millions on recruiting potential employees from Ivy League college campuses, law schools, Army Ranger programs and the like.
And here is this young fellow at Thom McAn's who's seemingly well-versed in covert operations, surveillance work, small arms and explosives training, urban disruption tactics, you name it.
And -- this is the part that kills me -- NOBODY FROM THE CIA EVEN BOTHERS TO LOOK HIM UP!
Even though he's only working at the shoe store from 10 to 6, has his nights free (until softball season) and has a Toyota 4x4 which he'd be perfectly willing to drive to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Certainly, his plan to silence Saddam Hussein seemed feasible enough, although one assumes there are not signs all over downtown Baghdad announcing: WELCOME POTENTIAL ASSASSINS! SADDAM HUSSEIN: THREE BUNKERS OVER, MAKE A LEFT. ENJOY OUR CITY! -- Baghdad Chamber of Commerce.
But once they get past that little problem -- and that other matter of those 750 or so armor-wearing bodyguards who tend to follow Saddam around -- sure, he'd be a sitting duck. No question.
Of course, in order to make the "hit," they'd have to have Saddam's schedule down pat. I would assume the round-the-clock bombing of Baghdad has thrown a crimp into his window-shopping and museum-browsing -- not to mention his impromptu street-corner harangues on the godless Western infidels.
At the supermarket deli counter, though, the conversation had gone far beyond dropping Saddam (literally or figuratively) into the Euphrates River with a pair of cement overshoes.
"Low-yield tactical nuclear weapons," said the man working the meat slicer. "Nothing too heavy -- one kiloton is all I'm talking about."
"Pound of Virginia baked ham," I said.
"Or those enhanced radiation bombs," he said. "The troops would be home in a week."
"Half a pound of provolone," I said.
It occurred to me that I had an appointment later with my insurance agent, apparently an expert of some note on airborne radar-evasion devices.
Although the Pentagon was probably trying to get through to him, too.