The Pitch for Tripp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 1999; Page C1
In times of national crisis, a good citizen must take a stand. And so when we heard yesterday that Linda Tripp had established a legal defense fund and was soliciting donations by mail, we scrounged up a coffee can, cut a slit in the plastic top, and hit the streets on Linda's behalf.
The slit was plenty wide, the better to accommodate thick wads of twenties.
We knew this might not be the easiest task. First, there was the unpleasant spectacle unfolding that day in the United States Senate, a spasm of national humiliation for which, one might uncharitably argue, Ms. Tripp was responsible. Second, there was the matter of her widely reported $90,000-a-year Pentagon sinecure. Third, what with the weather, the streets were Himalayan.
But we weren't asking for all that much. Since Linda's chief fund-raiser sent 20,000 letters out in the hope of raising $80,000, we told passersby that $4 was the "recommended donation."
Our quest began at an ATM machine on 15th Street NW and ended two hours later when we were thrown out of the McPherson Square Metro station by a uniformed city employee who heard our pitch, made a face like he'd accidentally eaten a raw chicken neck, and threatened to have us arrested for soliciting on public property.
His was one of the kinder reactions.
Some others: "Are you kidding?" "Don't make me throw up." "Not on your life." "Good luck!" "Please go away." And: "I should take money out of that can!"
New York City investment banker Mark Hayes and his friend Allison Gleason politely inquired why Linda deserved charity.
We hadn't thought our pitch through that far. Fund-raising is hard.
"Um, because she has tested the Constitution and ah, ah‚. . ."
" . . . And because she did her duty as a citizen?" Gleason prompted, helpfully.
"Yes!" we said. This was looking good. "Also," we said, "her legal expenses are mounting frightfully!"
"She should have thought of that before she opened up her big, fat mouth," Gleason said.
Tom Cassidy, 45, from Arlington, said Tripp deserves the trouble she's in. "I'll give her no support whatsoever, but I'd like to go on rec ord that I'm glad she'll be employing lawyers because we're good people and we need jobs."
The bottom line, we told Bronagh Mullin, of the District, is that Linda is strapped for cash. Won't she help?
"She screwed her friend," said Mullin. "That's the bottom line."
Computer engineer Greg Day, 43, pleads poverty. He just gave a dollar to a bum, he says, and only has a few cents left. He does feel some sympathy for Tripp, he says. "She did a public service. A wrong was exposed."
So how about coughing up some coins, Greg?
"I can't," he says. "I need to buy soda and pretzels."
Sensing our disappointment, he muses, "I could stop at the cash machine and get some bucks. But frankly I think I'd give it to the bum before I gave it to Linda."
Linda needs the money, too, we say. She is one of us, and reaching out to us for help!
He surveys the coins in his hands. Ninety-one cents.
"Now I have 90 cents," he says, pressing a penny into the slot.
Here is a man dressed in an American flag windbreaker. He is walking with the assistance of a cane that, on closer inspection, appears to be a seven iron. We shake our "Alms for Linda" can at him. The penny rattles.
He listens impatiently. He hasn't much time, he says. He is running for president of the United States, and has appointments to keep.
Wow. A presidential candidate, right here in the Metro station! Robert Lee Sanders, 47, shows us his photocopied campaign material: It features a picture of him in the Navy, and a picture of him as a Boy Scout. He is running as an Independent, under the registered slogan "Robert 2000."
He has a female running mate, Robert says, proudly.
Who, we ask.
He is running with Nancy Kassebaum?
"She hasn't agreed yet."
Well, what about Linda? Can he spare her some cash?
"No," he says. "I won't donate anything to Linda Tripp because she hasn't donated anything to my campaign."
Finally, at the Metro, a small, intense woman listened to our pitch, nodding silently. Linda needs funds, we said, to defend herself against persecution by the monied elite who have been threatened by her honesty and public-spiritedness. (We were getting better at this.) The woman reached into her purse, extracted a $1 bill, and put it in the can.
"Thank you," we said.
"Por nada," she said.
Er, do you speak English? we asked.
No. Not splendidly.
Her name is Barbara Conch. She is 36, a nursing assistant in Alexandria. She arrived here not long ago from Cuba.
Did she know who Linda Tripp was?
No, not really.
We consulted our conscience.
The can felt very, very light.
We kept her buck.
So we're back at the office, cold and wet. We had put the arm on 40 people. We mailed Linda her cash.
Alas, all we got was $1.01, and a lot of abuse. People treated us like we were the lowest form of life on Earth.
At last, we knew what Linda must feel like.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company