Ever have one of those surreal experiences that you know was real but it still flips you out because there were famous people involved and a silly set of circumstances that could only take place in a dream ... but the whole thing actually happened?
I was in New York City at a Talkers Magazine convention. Talkers is the talk-radio industry bible, and every once in a while the most prominent yammerers in the world gather to yap at one another.
I was at the opening-night cocktail party of the two-day affair, and the yappers were yapping up a storm. I'm guessing around 200 people were sucking down wine and beer and yapping about how wonderful it is to yap and get paid for it.
Then the whole thing got real freakin' bizarre. Al Franken, comedian and talk host on the lefty Air America network, was due to receive the Freedom of Speech Award. Last year Hannity and Colmes of Fox News got it. I think Hannity got it for the freedom to make sure Colmes doesn't speak.
Anyway, Michael Harrison, the godfather of Talkers, presented Al with the award, and Franken got up there and started speaking. He started by critiquing an article written by right-wing talker Rusty Humphries about when Humphries did his radio show live from Iraq. The upshot was Humphries is a clown and doesn't understand shit and this war is a horrible damn thing and all like that.
Whether you love Franken or hate him, he was talking about our young men and women dying, and I felt compelled to pay attention. But the great majority of the people in the room did not. The murmur grew louder and the space immediately around Franken's podium grew larger, as people moved toward the back of the room to resume yapping.
I started to get pissed off. Sure, Al may have picked the wrong event for what began as a comedic effort but turned into a serious discussion of the war. This was billed as a cocktail party, not a seminar on Iraq. But it was his award, and it was his speech, and it was his problem if no one was listening.
But then the damnedest thing happened. Talkers Magazine chief Harrison leaped onto the dais and told Al to shut up. He publicly rebuked Al, who he claimed had promised to keep the speech short. Al pointed out people may have differing opinions on what's short. Harrison told him this speech was over.
I was already angry, especially when I saw some joker with a Fox News radio nametag roll his eyes and walk away early in the speech, as if only right-wingers have a right to vent their perception of this disaster of a war.
So Al began asking the crowd, "Should I finish or not?" Catcalls from the peanut gallery were inconclusive. Then it got more surreal. Watergate burglar and current talk host G. Gordon Liddy, who's established a friendship with his ideological polar opposite Franken, got up on stage and demanded that Al be allowed to finish.
In fairness, I don't think Harrison was trying to censor Al. He was just worried about his party, which seemed to be hurtling downward into the "bummer" category. But it was still the height of rudeness to give a guy an award and then try to shut him up mid-acceptance speech. So Harrison declared the speech over, despite Liddy's plea.
That's when your lunatic Pittsburgh correspondent intervened.
"What is this: the Freedom of Speech Award or the Shut-the-Fuck-Up Award?" I bellowed, giving Harrison what the temper-tantrum-prone members of my family call "the full McIntire." Harrison retreated. Even Franken was momentarily taken aback. Then Al took control, saying, "I will finish, and I will finish by talking about my visit to Walter Reed Hospital."
Franken's jaw quivered as he recounted the heartbreak of seeing the maimed and seriously wounded young Americans. "Good, you right-wing yammering bastards," I thought, "feel guilty." But I doubt very much that they did. As I surveyed the crowd afterward, most could only yap in amazement that Al had ruined the party. As Harrison reminded Franken during his interruption, these people "know all about Iraq." And, I thought to myself, why should you give a speech to a room full of know-it-alls?