What Congress needs is a good cigar

Continuing an end-of-year tradition, contributor Tom Squitieri is visited by a familiar face with whom he discusses the events of the past year. Previous installments are available here and here.

I had just found a much better word for the transition in another op-ed and was already leapfrogging to write a “wow” finish when I heard from outside my window “oh-oo-oor, oh-oo-oor, oh-oo-oor.” There on the ledge — as if it were summer — was Coco and some friends, my pigeon buddies. Their feathers buffeted the wind and they stared at me, as if inviting me to soar with them through the holiday-brightened streets.

So transfixed was I that I did not hear the steps approaching. It was the smell that caused me to turn from Coco and crew and see my guest.

There in my office doorway stood the Old Geezer, Borsalino hat atop his head and a fine-looking, fine-smelling Cuban cigar glowing in his right hand.

He just smiled, pleased that he caught me by surprise.

“Hello, Old Geezer. You actually found the office again, I see,” I said.

{mosads}He took a puff from the cigar and directed the exhale toward my face. I kept waiting for the smoke detectors to go off.

“I know my way to places like this,” the Old Geezer said. “Much like that holiday eve newsroom feeling. Not of dread or anticipation, but of reflection, reality and renewal. They call to me.”

Another puff. More smoke elixir for me.

“Well, Old Geezer, perhaps you should bring some cigars to Capitol Hill. Maybe a return to the smoke-filled rooms of yore is what Congress needs to start finding ways to work together and remember to serve the people once in a while,” I said.

My spiel continued. “This Congress could not even pass a farm bill — always one of the most bipartisan measures — and dealt with only 297 measures, the second-lowest mark in recorded history. And the arrow is pointing to that trend continuing.”

The Old Geezer let the ashes fall on the floor. “Remember, Tomaso, never flick the ashes from the cigar. Let them fall off themselves,” he said. “Do you remember when I taught you that?”

“I do, and I remember much more. I just showed my son how to pour wine, like you taught me.”

The Old Geezer smiled and took another puff. “Ah, were it only that easy, to bring back the smoke-filled rooms and cure this mess. This city and these folks are so off track it make take some hookahs and a magic mixture in those pipes — not cigars — to get Congress thinking right.”

Coco cooed softly on the ledge.

“Or maybe Puff the Magic Dragon,” I said.

The Old Geezer snorted.

“It took 50 years for the folks to let you buy those legally. Half a century. Think of what could have been accomplished in half a century,” I said.

“You tell me: what would have made a difference in Washington?”

I paused for a moment and looked at Coco. She cocked her head and looked back.

“I would have liked to see President Levin,” I said.

The Old Geezer’s eyebrows rose.

“I had first met Carl Levin when we both arrived in Washington. Actually, I first met his voice, since he was on the phone from Moscow. He did a press conference with a speakerphone on a chair and he enjoyed the funny story I wrote. He had a great sense of humor, as when a story on the most handsome members of the Senate came out and did not include him; I asked him about it and he noted that ‘my wife thinks I am.’

“But his sense of humor went with an unwavering determination to ferret out corporate wrongdoing and ethical failures and those who were ripping of Americans. As many have said, he was perhaps the best friend Americans had in the Senate. He was so honest that when he sent an aide to the Senate carpentry shop with a photo to be framed, he insisted on paying. He helped strengthen education, the environment, intelligence and defense. He enjoyed a combination of trust, affection, integrity, hard work, intellect, good manners and bipartisan admiration that few figures in either modern party can match.

“Now he is gone — and not to the White House.”

The Old Geezer listened as the cigar embers glowed. More smoke in my face.

“Maybe we should change the way we see and do things, to make sure a Levin can get to the White House,” the Old Geezer said. “You are trying to knock the ashes off. When you do that, the cigar burns too quickly and too poorly. That is what they are doing on Capitol Hill, knocking the ashes off. They need to let things burn slowly, let the ashes fall, and find maximum benefits in what they hold in their hands.

“The government did manage to stay open,” he said. “Maybe self-preservation will prod them into action. A bunch of them are up for reelection in 2016. And we will have the presidential posturing start soon next year. Can you imagine the fun — Warren against Webb, Paul again Rubio and all the rest? And Stephen Colbert is in the National Portrait Gallery just a few years after he shocked the important folks with his brilliant performance at the Nerd Prom.”

More embers fell.

“And as for you, how bad a year is it when you actually saw coyotes trotting by as you walked your dogs,” he said. “Why, you even went to West Africa and did not catch Ebola. You closed a bar without getting arrested. You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face, and show the world all the love in your heart.”

Another puff.

“I can’t believe you know that song, Old Geezer,” said.

“There is a news bulletin — you were surprised by what I know. Again.”

“So Tomaso, are you being wise or weary?”

“Wise, I hope,” I said with a smile.

The Old Geezer’s eyes twinkled. “Prove it. Tell me something wise.”

I paused. “Okay, how about — a fog of cigar smoke is always better than the fog of war.”

“Not bad, Tomaso, maybe with another half century you will be ready,” he said. “Okay, time to put a bow on the year with some memory makers at the Press Club. So let’s go get Diamond and Chuck and Sol and Bobby, and Luke and George. And that Adam chap, the younger smarter, much better version of you. Of course, dial in the Flash. Maybe even Larry will be here from Massachusetts.”

I grabbed my Borsalino and headed to the elevator. The Old Geezer waved me forward, then turned back to the ledge and looked at Coco.

“Oorhh,” Coco shrieked. “I know,” said the Old Geezer. “And thanks. Sometimes the flight is a little too windy in this snow globe. Happy New Year.”

At first I thought it was Coco cooing, but then it was clear it was other words from outside: “A blessed, healthy, smart 2015. And peace would be nice.”

The Old Geezer silently joined me in the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. He stood stoically for a moment, then took a deep draw, and let the smoke fill the elevator.

“For the next rider,” he said.

We hit the streets and looked up. Coco and her friends were still on the ledge and the lights in my office for some reason kept burning, the automatic off not engaging. Then we turned to walk to the Press Club.

“Pigeons are messengers,” the Old Geezer said. “Remember that, Tomaso.”

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at Washington and Jefferson College.

Tags Carl Levin

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