This charge of senility deserves a response

MIKE ROYKO

May 28, 1993|By MIKE ROYKO

Out of fear, I hesitate even typing the name Harry Thomason, or that of his wife, Linda. Every time I do so, I get a terrifying letter from their high-powered California lawyer, vowing to drag me to court and turn me into a penniless street person.

So I have learned not to mess around with these wealthy, big-time Hollywood TV producers, who also happen to be among the closest chums of President Rodham and her husband, Bill.

That's why I have not written one word about how the Thomasons and other Hollywood stars have practically become tenants at the White House.

Nor have I mentioned Thomason's possible link to the firing of the career White House travel staff. (It is said that he was miffed because an air charter service he owns didn't get any White House travel business.)

But I am forced to lift my moratorium on writing about the Thomasons, despite my lingering dread of their lawyer's outbursts.

That's because Thomason has publicly stated that I am senile.

He said it while appearing on "Crossfire," the CNN show where liberals and conservatives yammer at each other about the latest zaniness in Washington.

Thomason was on the show to defend the White House from criticism for giving briefings to, or receiving policy advice from, such deep thinkers as Richard Gere, Barbra Streisand, Sharon Stone, Billy Crystal, Liza Minnelli and other experts in domestic and foreign affairs.

And in praising his Hollywood pals as good family folk and fine patriots, Thomason said: "Just because we happen to work in Hollywood and my wife happens to be a writer, then Mike Royko thinks he can say in his column that we're the immoral friends of the president. Well, Mike Royko is senile, but . . ."

At that point, he was interrupted by one of the other participants. If you have seen "Crossfire," or other such shows, you know that the format requires that nobody ever complete a thought before being shouted at, hooted, jeered, or otherwise interrupted.

And he never did get to finish that intriguing sentence: "Mike Royko is senile, but . . ." As a result, I don't know what he was going to say after the "but . . ."

Obviously, I am curious. After all, the show is seen by millions. And many friends, relatives and readers called to tell me: "This man on TV just said you are senile."

To which I responded: "Hey? He said I'm virile? How the heck would he know? Have the nurses and attendants here been gossiping again?"

"No, no," one of my friends shouted. "He says you are senile."

"Oh, he likes to see my smile? Must not be mad at me anymore. Hah! That's a bad break for his lawyer. Won't get a fat fee for writing any more of those scary letters."

But Thelma, my regular attendant, turned up my hearing aid and I finally understood what they were all yelling at me about.

At first, I was so upset that I refused to gum my afternoon snack of saltine crackers and warm milk. But then Thelma said I'd be punished by having my bingo privileges taken away from me.

Not that it matters much because I usually doze off by the time the third bingo letter is called.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, this fellow Thomason, the big show-biz pal of President Elvis. See? The National Enquirer was right -- he's alive and in the White House.

So this Thomason said I had a senile butt. No, I remember, he said I was "senile, but . . ."

Well, at first I got mad. Then I dozed off again, woke up, took a walk, got lost, and the police found me wandering on an expressway singing, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary." And while I waited for Thelma to come and retrieve me, I gave it some thought.

Maybe I shouldn't have been insulted. For all I know, he might have tried to end the sentence on a friendly note. Such as:

"Mike Royko is senile, but when the mood strikes him, he can leap out of his wheelchair and do a rather spry Big Apple or even a fast jitterbug."

Or maybe: "Mike Royko is senile, but he doesn't drool very often and is not yet required to wear adult-size diapers."

So I phoned Thomason's office, hoping to ask him what he was going to say after "but."

One of his flunkies answered and said he wasn't there, so I left a message. But he didn't call back.

I can understand that. He's a busy young fellow (only 52, and I hear he has all of his own hair and teeth, the lucky scamp.)

I got the White House on the phone and asked the operator: "Any chance he's with Elvis, giving him advice on new haircut styles?"

The White House lady who answered the phone said she really didn't know.

So I asked: "Is his wife, Linda, around? Maybe she's giving President Rodham advice on hats or something."

But the phone lady didn't know that, either. They're a tight-lipped crowd.

So I said: "Then let me talk to Barbra Streisand. Try the Oval Office. I hear that's where she takes her calls. And if she's not available, let me leave a message with Richard Gere. Or one of the Muppets -- maybe that funny little Greek Muppet who has press conferences."

Then she cut me off. There's just no respect for senile geezers these days.

Well, maybe Thomason will come back on TV and finish that sentence and I'll know what he meant.

On the other hand, I'll probably doze off. Like I always do when I watch one of his wife's shows.

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