GOOD MORNING, ladies and gentleman of the press. I thank you for coming to Bagels-On-The-Bay at this early hour. In keeping with my well deserved reputation for brevity and candor. I announce my decision not to run for the presidency in 1996. I'll take your questions? Sarah?
Q.If I bought a dozen bagels here, you know, mixed -- a few sesame, three garlic, an onion -- would they throw in one extra for the same price?
A.The question is a bit removed from our purpose this morning, but in keeping with a long record of constituent service, my staff will check it out and get back to you. You have a follow-up?
Q.They give you a baker's dozen up at Debbie's in Broadway Market. If it made the difference, I'd settle for all plain.
A.Really Sarah, that is a statement, not a question. Please, let's get back on track. Sam?
Q.Your decision not to run is hardly a surprise to this hard-hitting investigative reporter. It was presaged by your failure to appear in Dallas and pander to Ross Perot like the others. But you'd have gone if your campaign wasn't bankrupt, isn't that true?
A.I'm glad for the opportunity to refute that vicious canard, but first, plain speaker that I am, I must point out that your hairpiece is awry. No, Sam, money is not the problem. Has anyone skimped on the coffee refills here today? You're on your third cup now, am I right?
Q.Now who's asking the questions?
Simpers, waggles and defers
A.It seems I should have amplified my opening statement. An unequivocal announcement a year before Election Day is unusual, but necessary. Perot has been mentioned, a man who coyly simpers, waggles his ears and defers his decision. Colin Powell? Only a soldierly silence masking who knows what thoughts. Bill Bradley? Excellent jump shot on the Knicks way back but hems and haws about running. My move to unclutter the field may impel these ditherers to act. You, sir. Would you like to be recognized?
Q.Hell, no. I'm six months back on my child support and been dodging ever since. I only came in for a cream cheese and nova on poppy, anyway.
A.I sense a bagel fixation here. Perhaps we should have assembled at Taco Bell's. Wolf?
Q.With all due respect, Sir, I wonder why anyone would wish to subject him or her self to the rigors of campaigning. Your comment?
A.All too true. You beg for money . . . fly unsafe planes to remote spots . . . factory gates at 6 a.m. . . . pat moo cows and mewling babies at state fairs . . . win the primaries, the nomination, the Big One next November and then you inherit the debt, congressional crazies. Bosnia, Iraq, China . . . you name it. And half the time, the people who hurt you most are on your own staff. Ask Bill Clinton. When I thought about all that, it wasn't a hard call. Dan?
Q.Are there any circumstances under which you'd change your mind?
A.Perhaps. The would-be First Lady and I were discussing the chance of emulating Alan Keyes in his Maryland U.S. Senate race. He liberated $8,500 a month from campaign funds and, purely as a matter of principle and patriotism, another look would then be prudent. You, ma'am?
Q.Ma'am? I'll give you, Ma'am. This is your sister Esther. What's with this not running? You got me to cough up plenty. When do I get my money back?
A.Please, Es. It was a lousy ten bucks and I spent it on 3x5 cards. When Ron was in the White House I learned that a president is naked without them. We'll talk about it later. A final question. Helen?
Q.But if you had won? What then?
A.Glad you asked. I'd ban Astroturf, TV laugh tracks, and OJ trial coverage; lock in the 55 limit forever; decree mandatory caning for tailgaters and red-light runners; make each major-league team play 20 day games a year; require singers to have the diction of Nat "King" Cole as a condition of employment; and refrain from killing all lawyers . . . but maim enough to alarm most.
All: Thank you, Mr. No-Fire-In-The-Belly.
Milton Bates is a Baltimore free lance.