WASHINGTON - Riding in a cab recently, I listened as the dispatcher gave directions: "That's P Street, as in pneumonia."
The dispatcher is a regular comedian, my driver explained. "Sometimes he says 'K Street, as in Knowledge,' just to make sure everyone's awake."
Maybe that's what Sen. John F. Kerry had in mind when, attempting to float a new slogan, he told a Pennsylvania audience that "W stands for Wrong." He was talking about the war in Iraq as "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Later, while campaigning in Racine, W.Va., Kerry told mineworkers at a Labor Day picnic that "W stands for wrong - wrong choices, wrong judgment, wrong priorities, wrong direction for our country."
Or maybe knot. Maybe Kerry is tone-deaf after all and can't get anything wright these days. Whereas the cab dispatcher was making a joke, Kerry seems intent on becoming one.
His implosion is painful to watch. We've all had days like the month Kerry is enduring. You know, those days when you dig a small hole with an ill-placed comment and pretty soon you're watching sunrise over Beijing.
Kerry is having a Groundhog Day of ineptitude. "W stands for wrong" is rubbing the cat's fur backward, a punch line without a joke. As slogans go, it fails the catchy test. The man who doesn't fall down, meanwhile, can't seem to get up.
Each episode of Kerry's follies has the feel of panic in the wake of the cue-card-perfect Republican convention and polls that show George W. Bush bouncing to a strong lead. The latest figures from a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll show Bush leading Kerry 52 percent to 45 percent among likely voters.
In other unfortunate blurtings, Kerry has managed to insult or alienate not only America's allies but many of the voters he might have hoped to attract. On a campaign stop during the Labor Day weekend, Kerry referred to coalition forces as "the phoniest thing I ever heard."
While true that the United States has footed most of the war bill and suffered the most casualties, why would Kerry go to the trouble of insulting those nations that have stood by the United States during wartime? Is this the diplomacy of nuance?
As Vice President Dick Cheney noted, "Demeaning our allies is an interesting approach for someone seeking the office of the presidency."
In yet another wrong turn, Kerry followed Bush's convention speech with a sleep-inducing harangue - quite a trick - that likely alienated another voting bloc when he blasted Cheney for his Vietnam deferments.
Reminding folks of his own war record, apparently in the belief that this audience had only just arrived from another galaxy, Kerry noted that he was a highly decorated veteran while Cheney received five deferments.
Though both statements are true, Cheney was among thousands who sought and received deferments for education, family or other commitments - all legal and considered honorable at the time.
Today those other deferred fellows are considerably older and probably feeling a little grumpy at the implication that they were less than patriotic. For decades Americans have tacitly agreed to an attitude of amnesty toward those who chose paths other than military service.
Kerry's decision to impugn all those people now seems a near-fatal miscalculation. Yet, characteristic of the entitled class to which he belongs, Kerry seeks to blame others, especially his campaign managers, for his flagging popularity.
In the past few days he has turned to his party's godfather, Bill Clinton, and his apparatchiks, campaign advisers James Carville and Paul Begala. Talk about heaping insult atop injury: No sooner does Kerry escape the shadow of Clinton's autobiographical oeuvre-in-one, "My Life," than the former president seizes the kliegs with chest pains.
Doling advice from his hospital bed, in between interviews with Larry King, Clinton urged Kerry to drop the Vietnam gig. The rest of the world would like to respectfully add that he also abandon windsurfing and lose the sporting wardrobe.
Given today's climate, in which girlie-men are juxtaposed against child-butchering terrorists, Kerry's daily checklist might include the question: What would Hemingway do?
Even so, with less than two months left until the election, new political directions may come too late. If being commander in chief is partly defined by one's strategic abilities in the heat of battle, Kerry would seem to have disqualified himself.
He is, alas, the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, while W, it seems, stands for "winner."