As Janet's World collides, gently, with that of General Powell, a substantive query arises

Janet's world

February 18, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

Because I am a humor columnist with an abundance of je ne sais quoi, which is French for "that certain something which could well be nothing," I often have the opportunity to hobnob with world opinion leaders.

Actually, I had the opportunity to have my photograph taken with one world opinion leader -- Gen. Colin Powell. It was a few months ago at a private dinner before he spoke at the Meyerhoff. Come to think of it, the invitation was not expressly made to me per se -- rather it was to my husband, who has a real job that rarely involves humor. And let me elucidate further by pointing out that it wasn't only me who had the opportunity to be photographed -- it was everyone who was invited to the dinner.

So you can see that here in Janet's World we are highly esteemed in the community, insofar as it concerns being a spouse of someone invited to meet General Powell.

Not everyone hobnobbed, however. And I have proof of the hobnobbing, in the photograph taken of General Powell and me. Oh yes -- and the guy who was invited, my husband.

It was the typical staged handshake shot -- or at least it was supposed to be. But in our happy little trio, you have General Powell extending his hand, my husband reaching out to shake it, and me, well -- gesticulating oddly as I am hobnobbing.

I don't really know what possessed me to chat it up with General Powell, but I guess I've always been a nondifferentiating talker. This means I will chat it up with you whether you are slicing my luncheon meat order or, say, being crowned. I do not really alter my personality to suit a particular audience, though I might adjust my vocabulary.

So I apparently felt compelled to regale General Powell with a little witticism just as the photographer was trying to place us in some sort of order and snap a quick shot. Here's how it went:

Photographer: "Come on over here -- let's see, let's put you -- yes, you -- in the middle here."

Me to General Powell as photographer shoots: "Well, you know what my grandmother would say: `A rose between two thorns.' "

General Powell might have been a bit confused by this charming little je ne sais quoi, but he cleverly remained diplomatic and moved on to pose with the next couple.

In case I have not painted a vivid enough image here, you can view the photo on my Web site:

During the dinner, we had the opportunity to ask General Powell questions. This completely transformed the flavor of the delectable cut of beef on my plate into a Dr. Scholl's arch pad, as my heart pounded and my mouth became dry, and I wondered if I could get through my question without my voice cracking, or my eyes welling up.

You see, the morning of that dinner, I had been out for a pull by my dog, and a friend of mine stopped her car when she saw me. She told me she had just learned that her beloved 19-year-old nephew had been killed in Iraq.

I will never again read the casualty reports in the same casual way.

Of course, I was thinking of my child when I cried with her. This is because about a year ago, during a public school field trip to Annapolis, my 12-year-old watched the Naval Academy's noon parade and announced: "That's where I'm going to go to college."

Somehow that morning, in that suburban neighborhood with my tears and my friend's grief and my dog running down the street because he chewed through his leash -- well, I lost something. I lost my unwavering faith in our country's selection and management of military missions.

And this is my question, General Powell, as a mother of three: Can you help me find it? Because I need it, for my son.

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