DALLAS -- The man from "Firing Line" asked me who I wanted to have on the show with me. I was going on "Firing Line" to discuss my new book. (Have I mentioned that I have written a new book? I mean, have I mentioned it this week?)
"There will be you and Bill Buckley, of course," the guy from the show said, "and we were thinking of adding a third person. Does anybody come to mind?"
Many names immediately came to mind. There are many excellent authors with books just coming out who would kill for a chance to be on a national show like "Firing Line." Some of these authors are personal friends of mine and have written very fine books.
Nope, can't think of anybody, I said. I think I may have the only book coming out this year. If anybody wants to buy a book in America in the next six months, they have to buy mine.
"Well, we have to come up with somebody," the guy said.
I could see his problem. I had been provided with a list of the people who had been on "Firing Line" in the past. They included: Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George Bush, Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher, Ferdinand Marcos, Shimon Peres, Muhammad Ali, Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Henry Kissinger, Edward Teller, Yehudi Menuhin and Groucho Marx.
OK, I told the guy from the show, I'd like Groucho Marx on with me.
"Groucho Marx is dead," he said.
If you're going to place ridiculous restrictions on my choice then we are never going to find anyone! I shouted.
"You must know some political writers," he said. "Somebody who could go on television and talk intelligently."
And, of course, I did. I knew many such people. Some of them were bright and witty and engaging and telegenic. In other words, exactly the kind of people I didn't want to be on the same set with.
I had gone through this kind of crisis once before. When I was in high school, I helped program all the classes for the school. This was before computers, and what we had to do was fill out a card for each kid and each class and match up the kids with the classes.
In other words, I could put kids in whatever classes I wanted to. My power was vast and ripe for abuse and, naturally, I abused it. But only for gym class.
I put all the worst kids in my gym class to make me look better. It wasn't that I was a bad athlete. At certain things -- basketball, tennis, the pommel horse, tumbling, etc. -- I was fine. But I couldn't climb the rope.
You were supposed to grab on to this huge rope and pull yourself up to the top of the gym, where, if you didn't faint from a lack of oxygen, you could then lower yourself back down.
What's the point? I would ask my gym teacher. You go up and then come back down to where you started. Why not just not climb up in the first place?
"If you don't climb a rope here, you will never be able to climb a rope later in life!" my gym teacher would scream at me.
I thought of the many career fields I was then considering -- cowboy, waiter, newspaper columnist -- and decided I would not need to climb a rope in any of them.
"Lemme put it simpler for you," my gym teacher said. "You don't climb the rope, you don't pass."
Which is when I decided that if I programmed the biggest dweebs in the school into my gym class, I would look good in comparison. And so I put all the geeks in with me. These were the kids who had trouble changing into their gym shorts.
At the end of the year, I still couldn't climb the rope. But my teacher passed me anyway. "You can't climb the rope, Simon," he said. "But you are the only kid in the class who can at least find the rope."
And at that moment I discovered a valuable lesson: By surrounding yourself by people dumber than yourself (assuming such people exist), you will look smarter. Most bosses learn this lesson early on. That is how they remain bosses.
So when it came time to come up with names for "Firing Line," naturally I began thinking of people who were dumber than me. I was still thinking when the guy from the show called me back.
"We are very, very excited," he said. "Michael Kinsley has agreed to go on with you."
Wait a second, I said. You don't mean Michael Kinsley of the New Republic, do you? The guy who writes the TRB column? The guy who co-hosts "Crossfire" on CNN? The guy who regularly appears on "Firing Line" to trade deft and witty jabs with Buckley? Tell me it's not him. Tell me it's the Michael Kinsley from East Potato, Utah, who writes the "Dots and Dashes" column for the Daily Potatoan.
"No, it's the first Michael Kinsley," the guy said. "He usually doesn't do an entire show, but he seemed eager to go on with you."
Of course he seemed eager. From his perspective, I was the dweeb in his gym class.
So I flew to Dallas and I taped the show. It was very interesting. It will air in a few weeks.
And you will have no trouble picking me out. Bill Buckley is seated on the left. Throughout the show he is charming, sage, and incisive. Michael Kinsley is seated on the right. He is droll, eloquent and perceptive.
Me, I'm seated in the middle. I sort of sound like I still can't climb the rope.