WEST POINT, N.Y. — On Tuesday, I set off on a quest to hear the president tell cadets why we needed 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan.
But, thanks to the Japanese-straightened blond hair and red sari of State Dinner-crasher Michaele Salahi, I ended up playing in a hippie drum circle.
“Those shenanigans,” said a gentle giant Secret Service officer, “just made your life a whole lot harder.”
Having received an e-mail from the White House Media Affairs (“Thanks for your RSVP to cover President Obama’s Speech”), I arrived at West Point Military Academy at 5 p.m., with the last call for media personnel specified for 6. I was turned away by the Secret Service, and unable to watch Obama deliver his address.
I left campus after lunch, venturing on both New Haven and Hudson Valley lines. The cab from Peekskill to West Point was manned by former Marine Anthony McDonough. The radio in the car played a glowing interview about the book “Red Hot Lies,” an exposure of the global warming “scam.” He told me that after his service he worked in “private protection,” and had a picture with John McCain to show for it. As we passed through the bomb-sniffing dogs and pat downs, he remarked, “I’m glad I didn’t carry today.”
As I jogged across the miles-wide campus and approached Eisenhower Hall, I was stopped by the Secret Service and asked to show identification. What followed was 20 minutes of arguing the relative merits of Tom Brady and Philip Rivers and the questioning of my decision to eat five-hour-old sushi. Philip Weiss, a writer for New York Magazine, was also pulled aside. We talked about the uterus-perforating Dalkon Shield IUD and coins from the age of Emperor Constantine.
But our bonding was stifled after getting the final word from their superiors that it was time for us to leave the premises.
After getting sent out, I was pepped up by an older veteran at a bar and made a second attempt at entering. I finally came across a member of the military police, who told me that there was no hope — it was past 7, the media were supposed to be in by 6 and Obama was to speak at 8. I came across another Secret Service officer, who told me that once an MP tells you to leave, you leave.
I hitchhiked a ride from a man who introduced himself as Kee, and when I told him my plight, he said, “I don’t care about world politics. It’s none of my business if it doesn’t affect me and mine.”
I ended up outside Thayer Gate, where about 200 protesters were gathered against the war’s expansion. The average age was probably over 50, the crowd filled with Vietnam-era protesters looking for a rush of the past. “30,000 more, what the hell for” they chanted to local policemen and military police. In my low state, I wandered over to the drum circle where the lone man dancing had a small child on his shoulders.
Later I watched six protesters sit down in the road who, in the words of policeman Peter Miller, “wanted to be arrested.”
When I asked another policeman if this was a fun break in routine, he responded that “you don’t want excited people with pistols, you want calm people with pistols.”
Watching the speech for the first time the next day, I noticed that the Secret Serviceman who initially told me to leave was the same one accompanying Obama through the crowd of camera-wielding cadets.
I was almost excited. Seeing Obama address the nation would have been more exciting.