Marty thinks Mike Brown is crazy. Marty is wrong, as usual. Mr. Brown is perfectly sane, quite savvy, actually. But - and here's a subtle distinction - I think the Bengals owner might be driving the rest of us to the loony bin. Including Marty.
Marty, my most energetic critic, has been leaving his spoor on my voicemail since I arrived at the Enquirer in 1995. He no longer thinks I'm merely "stupid, stupid, stupid." After much consideration, he has amended his opinion: "You are a stupid, stupid Communist."
He worries about my health: "Do you have PMS all the time? Or just on the days you write your stupid column?" I would have been pleased to set his mind at ease, to tell him that there is no known medical reason for my stupidity. But, as usual, he left a message with no last name and no telephone number.
For a while, I believed Marty and I were making headway. For instance, a year ago he said, "Those stories you did about Mike Brown were not as dumb as your usual dumb stuff." But I fear we are back to square one.
Marty thinks a column I wrote last Sunday misses the point. "By now, it doesn't matter how much money the (bleeping) stadium costs. The important thing is that the (really bleeping, face-reddening bleeping) Bengals can't win any football games. They're an embarrassment. And now they fire some poor guy just for saying so. Then they stick him with a big fine. And pretend it's because he can't kick a football. Gimme a break. Mike Brown must be nuts."
Speaking of which, I received a letter from my friend Bob, writing from his suite at the Institution for the Extremely Nervous.
"Have you noticed that in newscasts Mike Brown and Bob Bedinghaus are never seen together? Have you noticed that Mike and Bob are balding white guys with the same speech patterns and are never mistaken for Harrison Ford?
"Have you noticed both Mike and Bob are nice, churchgoing guys who do not fool around, are totally sincere and supremely inept? Have you ever wondered how two seemingly clueless guys could have so much power?
Bob (not Bedinghaus, but the one who hears voices inside his head) has three theories.
1. They are the same guy.
"I know this is hard to swallow," he writes, "but there is reason to believe the Hamilton County Republican Party kidnapped the real Mike Brown who is now in Ross, N.M., working at a drug rehab center. Meanwhile Bob the B. spends his day impersonating both a political figure and a sports figure."
2. They are visitors from another planet.
"Have you noticed how Bob the B. never expresses any emotion other than a bemused certitude that he is right? Have you noticed Mike Brown does the same? Do you notice how Bob the B. works hand in glove with the Bengals who - though seemingly incapable of winning a game against the Little Sisters of the Poor - strike a brilliant deal on the stadium? They must be super-intelligent aliens impersonating dumb earthlings."
3. They are virtual leaders.
"Both are computer-generated images, created after extensive market research into extracting the maximum amount of money from Hamilton County taxpayers. Personal appearances are holograms."
As I say, I am afraid that my friend Bob has lost touch with reality. He has become obsessed with football, Mr. Brown and the riverfront sports complex. As everyone knows, the football stadium is the cornerstone of prosperity for downtown. The football team has been vastly improved since that terrible punter was fired. And Mike Brown is just trying to field the best darn football team in the NFL.
Excuse me, I must go now. There's a man outside my office with a butterfly net.
Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 768-8393, or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, a collection of her most popular columns and commentaries, is available at (800) 852-9332.