BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
He was so angry he called twice.
The first time my voicemail recorded him at 6:54 a.m. At that time, I am debating whether I really need to iron the back and sleeves of my blouse as long as I don't take off my jacket all day. I am finishing a second cup of coffee and wondering whether the world will be trying to sneak into town on Columbia Parkway or Reading Road this morning. I am not answering my phone.
"Hey, Laura, how can you call this Monica Lewinsky a kid? I'm a World War II veteran, and I was fighting for this country when I was 17. I saw guys dying at 17. Would you call us kids, too?"
Well, yes, sir, I would. And I'm sorry that you were asked to do this at any age, grateful that you were up to the task and profoundly thankful that you are around to give me hell.
That's what I would have said.
A crushing tale
Another man called two minutes later. "I am 65 years old and the father of eight daughters. If any of my daughters did what Monica Lewinsky did, I would crush them. They wouldn't be welcome in my home. Her age does not matter; she is a chippie."
Later in the day, hopped up on caffeine and a little overheated because I cannot remove my suit jacket, I have the opportunity to debate many other readers. To me, a perplexing number of them were furious at a paragraph in which I wrote, "Didn't the president notice that she was a kid?"
A female caller said, "She created this situation. She was not a victim."
I didn't mean to suggest that Monica Lewinsky was innocent, just that she was immature. And I'm not saying that we old fogies who graduated the same year as Bill Clinton are smarter than the kids who are writing software programs that make our computers sing, dance and pay the bills.
I am saying we are wiser, with more life experiences. I am saying that blowing out 18 candles on a cake doesn't magically propel us into adulthood. I am saying that age and responsibility are complicated. Especially now.
As a country, we are going to have to figure out why so many of our children are behaving so violently. A study released this spring by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore says about one-fifth of all people arrested for violent crime in 1996 were kids under 18. And surely we want to know why we are producing so many young adults who behave disgracefully. Perhaps they need something we haven't been providing. Role models? Discipline? More time to be a kid? The old soldier called again at 10:29 p.m., after apparently brooding all day. "She's old enough to vote, to drink, to smoke and to have any kind of sex she wants to."
With all respect, sir, just because a group of legislators decides somebody can legally drive a car, buy a drink and smoke a cigarette doesn't mean the legally liberated young person has sense enough not to try to do all three at once.
By the way, not only do I admire your service to your country but I envy you your stamina. You seem to require very little sleep and sound as though you have more energy than many men half your age. Or women. Which just goes to show that chronological age isn't everything. I wish we had spoken. I really do, because I think my generation is just beginning to know you. We are seeing that it's not as easy to run the show as we thought. We are even learning more about the war you fought for us, which makes subsequent wars seem even less heroic than we suspected.
If you don't mind, I'd like to pass along a thought from J.B. Priestley: "Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teen-agers it deserves." Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail lpulferenquirer.com or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7FM) and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org