Just when the crusty old guy seemed capable of making some sense, he went and suggested the anti-war protesters doing their thing across Front Street were "sponsored" or "financed" by the Democratic Party and declared them Communists.
And there was no talking him down from his conspiratorial ledge.
It was that kind of evening Saturday in front of the Federal Building, where a few dozen people against the U.S. invasion of Iraq continued to hold their noisy vigil. Since the large gathering Thursday night, they had set up a makeshift village of sorts-a "peacemaker refugee camp" as a banner read.
Copious bags of chips and bottles of water. Mounds of backpacks and blankets. Lots of signage. And drumming-sometimes impressively rhythmic, sometimes just an awful, wonderful racket.
A policeman said a few frustrated hotel patrons nearby called to complain about the cacophony, but the police, as of 10 p.m., had no intention of quelling the noise, which one officer said fell under the category of free speech.
Earlier in the evening, it hadn't been noisy at all. Not until a pro-war group across the street, where the crusty old guy briefly stood, began taunting the protesters. This other group of about 10 men, most of them young with military-style haircuts, let the peace demonstrators know what they thought of their opinions. Two of them waved American flags. Some of them held rather, uh, provocative signs: "Bush rules," "Fuck Iraq," "Die motherfucker" (with a crossed-out peace sign) and "Sadam sucks cock." The misspelling of the Iraqi president's name was a poignant message in itself.
They took turns with the bullhorn, lobbing insults-some profane-over to the pro-peace side. The peaceniks-they, too, mostly young-responded by flashing peace signs. One woman yelled, "Ugly Americans!" Another asked the pro-war side to tone down the language because there were kids present.
Over on the pro-war side of the street, the guy with the bullhorn shouted, "If you'd like me to tone it down, come and suck my cock." Similar insults kept flying, most indicating that, for the Saddam Hussein haters, oral stimulation of the penis was a bit of an obsession. Later, the most penis-obsessed one among them turned the bullhorn into a siren and placed it in front of his crotch and began thrusting and gyrating.
On the peace side, drumming began as a remedy to overwhelm the obscenity, which seemed to provoke the war side to get even more crass. "You've been here for five days," a pro-war young man hollered. "How does your ass smell?"
Then the cops stepped in to calm things down, growing to well over a dozen at the height of the conflict, and a small-scale police presence remained through the evening. They laid back, allowing the pounding of drums on one side and the sporadic verbal taunting on the other.
The rest of the evening turned into a behavioral psychologist's dream.
A young peace protester went over to engage one of the brighter invasion supporters. He did not prove to be a well-selected ambassador-he didn't express terribly keen insight and failed to impress his opponent, who threw his hands up and walked away. Both were just out of elementary school when a U.S.-led coalition pushed Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.
During the next two hours, various members of each tribe ventured across the street and intermingled. Three war supporters thought it would be hoot to go over and dance goofily to the drums and mockingly take each other's pictures on enemy ground. Five noodle-dancing young women from the anti-war side went over and space-danced beside the flag-wavers. Later, drummers and peace-sign holders diluted the waters on the pro-war side. Despite appearances, one young woman said it was not an attempt to provoke, but rather to do away with the us-against-them paradigm.
Suffice to say, no one was videotaping the scene for later use in training peace demonstrators or their war-supporting counterparts. Indeed, at one point, a smallish, disheveled, clearly drunken and rather pungent man grabbed hold of a bullhorn on the peace side and began yammering what sounded like gibberish. Of course, he was engaged by one of the boys on the war side, but the exchange went nowhere. A peace demonstrator thanked the drunken man for his efforts and politely regained control of the bullhorn.