Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2000; 8:30 AM


It is minutes before the debate. Sen. JohnMcCain has just arrived and is closeted with aides in a cramped dressing room with no sink or toilet, but, incongruously, a huge shower stall.

I knock on the door and say I need to ask the candidate one question.

The candidate is busy, says the security man.

Just one question?

No, he growls, poking me in the belly.

Just then, McCain bursts from behind him, brushes past me and into another room. I follow, and suddenly, startlingly, we are alone.

"Senator, what's the funniest thing about running for president?"

The Republican from Arizona ponders this. The funniest thing, he decides, is the petty tyranny of some of the people who run the debates. He mentions one woman at a public TV station.

"I called her Nurse Ratched," he says. Arbitrarily, she herded two McCain staffers into separate rooms. When one of them, Mike Murphy, asked her to reconsider, she refused. Inventing furiously, Murphy said, "But he has my asthma medicine and I'm beginning to feel some pressure in my lungs!"

"The funniest part," McCain says, "is that Nurse Ratched didn't budge."

The senator heads off for the debate. I get to talking with one of his aides, and we agree McCain actually was wrong about the funniest part of running for president. The funniest part of running for president is that the abnormal becomes so normal--the absurd becomes so commonplace--that the senator did not seem to think it even worthy of mention, as an item of humor, that he had just conducted an entire interview standing at a urinal in a men's room.

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