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The Hugotown Hug
OBI DIRECTOR C. Harry Hayes was clearly angry with me, his best friend in the government of Oklahoma. He took me right into the Electronic Surveillance Control and Service Room, which stood behind a locked, unmarked and mostly unknown gray door in the rear of his headquarters on 36th Street. We took seats in the back behind a console of tape machines and telephones and lights and buttons. OBI special agent Wilson (Smitty) Smith was seated in front of it.
"You really ought to quit taping everything you do," I said to C. as we sat down, trying to be friendly. "Look what taping did to Nixon."
"I'm not taping conversations about hush money and women's parts in wringers," he said. Matter-of-factly. Not very friendly. "It's like dialing nine-one-one for a fire truck. Everybody who calls here gets recorded."
He nodded to Smitty. In stereo came the recorded voices of C. and another man I did not recognize. They were talking on the telephone.
"This is your friendly spook," said the other man. "How's law enforcement's famous one-eared man?" There was a twang there. Arkansas, I figured. Maybe Louisiana. There was also age and smarts that he must have picked up somewhere else. Plus some mischief.
C. said: "What's up, Colley?"
"What's up is your last good ear, I'm afraid," said the other man.
" 'Mmmm' is right. You remember our lost friend down in the lower east quadrant of your beloved Sooner State?"
" 'Mmmm uh.' Well, I just hung up from talking to him. He was concerned, C. Seems as though an unusual man was down there watching things yesterday. He was afraid this unusual man might know more than he should know and that if he knew more, then maybe some of his own old, old friends might also know more than they should know. I asked him to describe the car and the man. He's an old pro, as you know, C. He had a name for the man, and for cross-checking he had the license number, the make and model of the car. The ID was especially easy because the unusual man was one-eyed. The name he gave me was of a somewhat prominent one-eyed man who is a state officeholder in your state who is also the husband of a prominent businesswoman who franchises drive-thru grocery stores. I also remembered that this somewhat prominent one-eyed man is a close buddy of law enforcement's somewhat famous one-eared man, C.Harry Hayes. And then, lo and behold, the license check came back with the same name.
"Yeah, 'Mmmmm.' One more lo and behold. My friend said that same unusual somewhat prominent one-eyed man showed up at his Rotary Club but ran like a goosed virgin when he saw him."
"What's going on, C.?"
"Nothing to worry about, I'm sure. Probably has to do with the wife's business connection..."
" 'Nothing to worry about, I'm sure.' Well, fine. But just the same, I'm catching a five-fifteen Braniff from Love Field. Arrives Oke City at six-oh-five. Flight two twenty-three. I'd appreciate your meeting me. We'll have a good dinner. You might want to invite your somewhat prominent friend."
" 'Sure thing.' Speaking of sure things, C. If you have blown this little deal, do you know what I am going to do to you?"
There was a pause for an answer that did not come.
The other man continued: "Well. My grandmother on my father's side in Camden, Arkansas, had a most exciting way to kill chickens for dinner. She grabbed them by the head and twirled them around and around in the air until the head was separated from the rest of the chicken. The bottom part of the chicken ran around in circles in the backyard before finally quieting down and dying. It was an awful thing to watch."
"My mother on my side in Durant, Oklahoma, still does it that way."
"Good. You know all about it, then. Good. Because if you and your somewhat prominent one-eyed friend have fouled up our supersensitive situation I may find it necessary to grab you by that one remaining good ear of yours and twirl you around and around in the air until it comes off in my hand."
"I'll see you at the airport at six-oh-five," C. said. "I'll be the naked man carrying a copy of The Daily Oklahoman under my left arm. Ask the directions to the National Motorcoach Hall of Fame. I will give the password 'Psycho.' You countersign with 'Spook.' "
"Mmmmm," said the other man.
Special Agent Smith switched off the tape. And left the room.
I, the somewhat prominent one-eyed state officeholder, asked C., law enforcement's somewhat famous one-eared man, to tell me exactly who this man Colley was.
"He's exactly CIA, Mack," C. replied. "He works out of an office across from the post office in Dallas."
"Mmmmm," I replied.
"Why did you go to Utoka, Mack?"
"Relax, C.," I replied. "I just wanted to see for myself what a real Russian spy looked like."
I ended up seeing for myself a lot more than just a Russian spy.
* * *
It began two weeks earlier, with my commencement address at Oklahoma Southeastern State College in Hugotown. Buffalo Joe Hayman, our governor, had originally been scheduled to make the speech but he faked the flu so he could send me in his place. The reason was Miss Country Music of America and the Free World, Nita Pickens of Perkins Corner, Oklahoma. She was a graduate of OSSC, and Buffalo Joe discovered she was going to be honored as the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year at the commencement ceremonies. Unfortunately, Nita Pickens had come back to Oklahoma from Nashville and New York or wherever the year before to support Buffalo Joe's opponent in the Democratic primary. The opponent, a long-hair in his twenties, was her brother-in-law, and he got less than twenty percent of the vote. But that didn't matter to Joe. He was a man of postelection principles and he was a man who repeated himself for emphasis. He said to me: "A politician who lets bygones be bygones ends up being gone himself, Mack. Gone himself. A politician who holds no grudges ends up holding no office. No office at all. A politician who doesn't remember his enemies ends up with nothing much else to remember. Do you understand, Mack?" Joe was famous for his sayings.
The commencement was outside, in the center of the football field where the Oklahoma Southeastern Bobcats played their games. There was a stage for us dignitaries and a thousand or so folding chairs for the 182 graduates and their families and friends. It was a glorious Oklahoma May day, the kind Nita Pickens once described in a song as having the sun as bright as a new Pontiac, the air as sweet as Hilton Hotel soap.
Nita was first. She was bright and sweet, as well as short, red-headed, jumpy nervous and about twenty-seven years old. The president of OSSC and the chairman of the alumni association bestowed upon her the Distinguished Alumnus Award, which was a wooden plaque in the shape of a bobcat head with an engraved piece of gold tacked in the middle. They said she was the youngest person ever to receive the award.
"Thank you, friends and fellow Bobcats," Nita Pickens of Perkins Corner said into the microphone. I heard the sound of a chord being struck on a piano. I saw her begin to snap her fingers and move her butt from side to side. And then came that renowned and admired country voice of hers singing "Hugotown Hug," the song that had catapulted her and her college town to the top of the C&W charts and to fame and stardom.
"I'm a lonesome honey from Hugotown
Who wants her Hugotown Hug tonight.
The Hugotown Hug, oh, the Hugotown Hug,
No hug hurts like the Hugotown Hug.
"I'm a crying baby from Hugotown
Who needs a Hugotown Hug tonight.
The Hugotown Hug, oh, the Hugotown Hug,
No hug squeezes like the Hugotown Hug."
The tune was a cross between the fifties favorite "Lovesick Blues" and "Jesus Loves Me." And we all knew it by heart. The president of Oklahoma Southeastern and I and everyone else on that field jumped to their feet and clapped and sang along. The Hugotown News-Herald later called it a historic occasion.
And I had to follow this historic occasion with my speech. I was introduced as an inspiration to all young people. Someone who had stood with Governor Hayman and the Oklahoma legislature in keeping OSSC fully funded and accredited. Someone who loved Oklahoma as much as a native in spite of having been born in Kansas. Someone who recognized and loved a Bobcat when he saw one. Someone who had overcome physical harm and maiming to rise to the top of our Sooner government, to a position that was literally a heartbeat away from the very top. Someone who was known for his provocative and entertaining speeches a la Will Rogers.
I stood up to a small round of applause. Being the lieutenant governor of Oklahoma meant tremendous rewards and awards. But being recognized and known by the ordinary Sooner citizen was not one of them. When the CIA man on that tape called me somewhat prominent he was giving me all the breaks. I was not la Will Rogers or la anything like that. Lieutenant governors are seldom seen, heard or recognized. That is not a complaint. I was honored to be what Joe Hayman called the Second Man of Oklahoma. My story was a true up-from-nowhere story. I had wandered from Kansas to Adabel, Oklahoma, as a young man and through several strokes of luck got elected county commissioner. I came to the attention of some people in the high reaches of the state Democratic Party who chose me for the ticket. I was chosen on an emergency basis after two earlier selectees had to step aside for personal reasons. One had not filed income tax returns for several years; the other had impregnated a constituent other than his wife. I loved being lieutenant governor. But it meant, as now, gazing out on a crowd of people with confused looks of disappointment on their faces. Who is this guy? The lieutenant governor of what? Where's the governor? Wasn't he supposed to be here? Who is this guy? What's he got to say? Who is this guy? Where's the governor?
I really was a pretty fair public speaker. Not because of anything other than having inherited a deep-well voice from my dad and thinking long and hard about what I was going to say before I said it. Commencement addresses were the hardest. People don't come to a kid's graduation - their kid's or somebody else's - to hear the speaker. Nobody cares what is said no matter who says it. With a gun to my head I could not have told anybody what my high school and junior college commencement speakers even looked like, much less what they said.
I talked about the need not to consider yourself well educated. Ever. To always keep reading and listening and have your mind open to new ideas. I said it was important not to get so wrapped up in making a living and going to the bank that you miss the sunsets and the roses, the smell of alfalfa and the laughter of babies, the grins of strangers and the cries of friends, the delight of a cheeseburger all the way and the crack of a bat against a well-thrown baseball.
I wrapped it up with these memorable words:
"As you search for your place in life I hereby advise you to take risks. Be willing to put your mind and your spirit, your time and your energy, your stomach and your emotions on the line.
"To search for a safe place is to search for an end to a rainbow that you will hate once you find it.
"Take charge of your own life. Create your own risks by setting your own standards, satisfying your own standards. Take charge.
"Congratulations to you all. It is unlikely that any of you will have occasion to remember either me or my commencement address. I don't blame you. But if by chance something does linger, I hope it's just that there was a one-eyed guy up here who kept saying, 'Risk. Risk. The way to happiness is to risk it.'
I got a good minute and a half of solid applause. Nita Pickens of Perkins Corner stood up and shook my right hand as I returned to my seat. "Nobody's ever said it better, Mr. Lieutenant Governor," she said. "I'm going to dedicate my next song to you. I'll call it, 'Risk It, 0 Baby of Mine.' "
The 182 graduates then came one by one in alphabetical order in their dark purple robes and caps to receive a diploma and a handshake from the president of OSSC. A Church of the Holy Road preacher from Davis gave the benediction, and the ceremonies were over.
We went from the stage in procession to the gym to return our own dark purple robes. Then we went back out into the sunshine for a reception.
"Your speech was Boomer Sooner," said the president as we moved to form a receiving line with Nita Pickens of Perkins Corner and a few others. "I have never heard a commencement speech so fine, so memorable, so important, so innovative, so special, so wrestling." Wrestling? You mean like two guys in tights on a mat? He was a sandyhaired man of fifty who wore glasses with tinted lenses and silver rims. Like he was a crop- duster pilot. Or insurance adjuster.
I know it is not fair to make general statements about kinds of people but I must say I had never met a college president who was completely normal. I don't know if they go into the job that way or the job itself turns them. Buffalo Joe also had some very funny, mostly obscene things to say about college presidents, particularly around budget submission time. I will not repeat them here.
The next fifty minutes were glorious. I smiled modestly and shook hands with graduates and their families and friends as they, each in their own glorious way, told me how wonderful my speech had been. Show me somebody who says he can't stand compliments for fifty minutes and I'll show you somebody who has never been paid compliments for fifty minutes. Or, in the words of Buffalo Joe: "There's no such thing as modesty, Mack. It's like a haircut. It doesn't exist. It does not exist."
The last person to go through the receiving line was a well-dressed young man who grabbed my right hand and looked right into my one good eye. He was dark-skinned and black-haired. Indian. Probably Choctaw. A third of the graduating class and the student body were Indians.
"That was a brilliant speech, Mr. Lieutenant Governor," he said. His English was perfect. I didn't remember him specifically from the line of graduates, but people look different in dark robes and graduate hats with tassels.
"Thank you," I said modestly.
"But it does not work," he said deadly seriously. Deadly seriously. "I have already tried your Risk It approach and it does not work."
The president, Nita Pickens of Perkins Corner and the others in the receiving line began to drift away. I wanted to drift away as well. I had a two-hour drive back to Oklahoma City. My son, Tommy Walt, said he had something of crucial private importance to discuss with me. I also wanted some of the fruit punch and cookies before I hit the road.
"I'm sorry to hear that," I said to the young Choctaw. "Very sorry."
"I want to put my mind and spirit, my time and energy, my stomach and emotions on the line. But they will not let me."
"Who won't let you?"
"The Central Intelligence Agency."
"The Central Intelligence Agency. I have trained myself to be a spy, an intelligence agent. I want to risk my life and my future for my country. I want to do what you said. But they won't let me."
"Well, I am sorry to hear that," I said, as if we were talking about the possibility of thundershowers in the five-day forecast. I was thinking, Why is there one of these guys in every crowd and why didn't I leave fifteen minutes earlier, but what I said was, "Come by my office if you're ever in Oklahoma City. I'll show you the capitol." It was one of my standard lieutenant governor's lines, and to my relief, it seemed to satisfy him.
"Thank you, sir," he said, and turned away.
I headed for the fruit punch and cookies.
And for very big trouble.
Excerpted from The Sooner Spy by Jim Lehrer. Copyright © 1990 by Jim Lehrer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.