Charlie Bridge is taking a walk on Saddam Hussein.
"I don't want to watch that goof," Charlie says.
He's in American Joe's Bar on the corner of Foster and Luzerne avenues in Highlandtown about two minutes before the Iraqi president comes on TV last night with his message to the American people.
"I know what he's going to say," Charlie says. "He's going to say we're wrong. He's going to say the whole world's wrong and he's going to say he's right."
American Joe's is a big easy bar that reminds you of Cheers, only there aren't many women around. It may be the only bar in America that can claim to have named a state senator: American Joe Miedusiewski. His father's the original American Joe.
Stanley Sadowski, a knobby guy who's been behind the bar something over 20 years, grumbles something about opinions.
"I got an opinion," says Charlie.
"You got it, Charlie," says Jerry Reaney, a structural engineer who helped build the Seagirt Terminal. "This is America. You got an opinion, you got a right to say it."
Charlie's opinion is that this guy Saddam is a real maniac.
"We gotta stop him. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it."
He suggests the Gadhafi solution.
"We shut that guy up in Libya," Charlie says. "We dropped a bomb on him and he shut up. That's what we ought to do with this guy."
Jerry Reaney's got a similar idea. The U.S. Customs Service shouldn't have impounded Saddam's $300,000 bulletproof Caddy.
"They ought to have put a bomb in it and sent it back to him, that's what they ought to have done."
Charlie Bridge finishes his beer, puts on his jacket, lights his cigar and checks out.
"I'll be back to to watch the Orioles," he says. "I love the Orioles."
Peter Jennings comes on the big screen TV and tells us what Saddam's going to say, which is roughly the same thing Charlie said. Saddam comes on with some garbled translation. He looks like some used-car guy in a homemade video.
Jennings comes back, Saddam comes back and the whole thing is repeated, a couple minutes total. You went to the men's room, you missed the whole show.
"I think he's a goof," says Herbert Simms, pretty much summing up the consensus in American Joe's, although this feeling is more often expressed in terms of intimate anatomical parts unmentionable in the columns of this chaste newspaper.
Simms, who is 62, wears a trucker's cap that proclaims him an "American Veteran and Proud of It." He was in both World War II and Korea. He got a Purple Heart and a couple of other things in Korea.
"I hate to see anybody go over there," Simms says, mildly. "You can't play in that sand. That's next to hell.
"But," he reflects, "I guess that's what you go in the service for."
Charles Beaty, a 58-year-old printer, dismisses Saddam as crazy and says that anybody who believes what he says is crazy, too.
"The man hasn't told the truth since he was born," Beaty says. "I think he's a hardhead.
"Any man uses poison gas on his own people and loses a quarter-million of his people in the war with Iran and then wants to do it all over again, he can't be too swift.
"If we don't stop him now, God knows what he would do."
Sitting at a table at the back of the room is a burly guy named Barry Mullaney, who works in a chemical plant and says he has a son-in-law in the Army at Fort Bragg. His daughter and son-in-law have just had a son who is Barry's second grandchild.
"I hate to see him go over there," Mullaney says. "I'm biting my fingernails. If he has to go, he'll serve his country and I'll bring my daughter and grandson home."
Mullaney sees Saddam as the Hitler of the '90s.
"Only a lot more cunning," he says. "This guy doesn't have any morals and he's really intelligent. That makes for a very scary dude. He ain't hitting on all the cylinders."
So now the Orioles are on the screen and things are going very badly indeed at Yankee Stadium and Charlie's back and his opinion now is that nobody knows how to get the Orioles to hit for power. And that's pretty much the consensus at American Joe's, too.