Burt Prelutsky

The next incident took place quite recently. The WGA hosted a reunion lunch for all the “MASH” writers. There were two large tables filled with us old duffs. Over coffee, one of the fellows at my table announced that he had recently canceled his subscription to the L.A. Times. That grabbed my attention, and I said, “Really, Gene? I always thought you were a liberal.”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

“Well, I’m a conservative, so it would make sense for me to cancel that rag. But why did you?”

“Because the Times has gotten too damn conservative!”

Two interesting things then took place. First my jaw hit the floor. Next, the writer who had been seated between us for the entire lunch turned to glower at me, and said, “You’re really a conservative?”

As soon as I admitted I was, he got up and walked away so quickly, you might have thought I’d acknowledged being a leper.

But his glower was nothing compared to the sneer I was getting from Gene. “How can you be a conservative?”

I wasn’t sure if what confused him the most was how I could possibly be a conservative if I was Jewish or a humorist or a former “MASH” writer or simply dare to be in his immediate proximity. But all I said was, “It’s easy. I think conservatives are right and liberals are wrong.”

“Wrong about what?”

“Well, Iraq, for one thing. I believe we were right to invade, to topple Saddam Hussein, and to stick around and make certain the bad guys don’t win. I’m sure even you wouldn’t want to see Al Qaeda using Iraqi oil revenue to fund worldwide terrorism.”

“And how long do you think we should stay there?”

“As long as it takes. For crying out loud, we still have troops in Korea 55 years later. Heck, it’s been over 60 years since the end of World War II and we still maintain a military presence in Germany and Japan. What’s the big rush to get out of Iraq?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve lost 4,000 soldiers over there!”

“Nobody regrets that more than I do, but I’ll remind you that we used to lose that many in a single battle. The difference is that in those days, we didn’t have a bunch of people like you insisting that our soldiers had died for no good reason. The fact is, the men and women we conservatives call heroes, people like you and John Kerry call saps.”

With that, he pointed his finger in my face and announced, with eyes blazing and spittle flying in my direction, “You’re George Bush!”

“And you, Gene, are an idiot.”

“Don’t you dare call me an idiot! I didn’t call you names.”

“Of course you did. When you call me George Bush, we both know that’s your idea of the ultimate obscenity. Compared to that, calling you an idiot is almost a compliment.”

What made Gene’s outrage over my lack of decorum so amusing is that I knew something that he didn’t know I knew. Back in 2001, you see, shortly after the presidential inauguration, a friend of mine and his wife were invited to a Hollywood cocktail party. By the time they arrived, most of the other guests had gathered in the living room. As the two of them entered, one of the guests proudly announced, “Well, I, personally, don’t know a single a--hole who voted for George Bush.” At which point, my friend said, “Well, you do now.”

The fellow who felt entitled to make that public announcement in a room with ladies and maybe even a few conservatives present was none other than Gene.