A slave to a cushion and a prisoner of pain, Ed Gurney jokes about the mishap that caused his condition.
He was overseas in the Army in 1945 when a German sniper picked him as a target. The first shot missed. Then, leaping for safety, Gurney sailed into the second round. It plowed through his hip and nearly killed him.
"That S.O.B. couldn't hit the broad side of a barn," Gurney reports, his chuckles remarkably free of rancor. "If I'd stayed where I was," he says, as casually as if second-guessing a wrong step in a cow pasture, "he would've missed me again. Talk about bad luck!"
Gurney, the former Florida senator, has made wrong-place-at-the wrong-time his style. And now he faces a decision that may again land him in the same painful spot. For after weathering the embarrassment of criminal charges, months of trials and repeated pronouncements of his political last rites, Gurney, 63, is considering another congressional race - this time, a run for the House of Representatives.
A conservative Republican, he spent two decades in local, state and national offices. This year he marks three years as a private citizen. Soon he is expected to announce whether he'll be satisfied to stay that way. As he has for nearly three decades, Gurney lives in Winter Park, a storybook town near Orlando. Except for his cat Montozuma, he lives alone. He does his own yardwork, housecleaning, laundry, cooking. Types his own letters. Answers his own phone. And chews on a dilemma - to run or not to run. "I'm still ambivalent about it," he says. "One day I'm enthusiastic. Then again, I'm not."
Faint-hearted talk from a man who, four years ago, was taking on all comers from his seat on the Watergate Committee. Grilling Nixon turncosts like the President's just-fired counsel, John Dean. Scolding his colleagues for pressing too hard on other witnesses, like one-time Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans.
As for TV viewers who watched the weeks of gavel-to-gavel coverage, it didn't matter if they saw Gurney as Nixon's undercover man on the committee, or as a champion infiltrating a rogues' gallery - they knew he exuded the polish and the presence of a media hero.
But more was going on than met the TV eye. As he sat at the curved, felt-covered committee table, the TV audience couldn't see the cushion Gurney sat on, nor could the viewers share his constant pain.
They couldn't guess that Gurney's wife (who died recently) knew nothing of his new-found stardom, that she was a wasted (victim of a brain disease. They didn't know Gurney's son had killed himself five years before.
And no one could have prophested that in a year, in 1974, Gurney's fortunes would collapse, plopping him in the midst of a scandal, the wreckage of a jettisoned campaign for reelection, and a seven-count indictment from a federal grand jury.
In October 1976, his legal battles were resolved with acquittals on perjury, conspiracy and bribery charges in connection with an alleged influence-peddling scheme. Since then, Gurney has been raising funds to help pay a quarter-million dollars in legal debts. And he's been sifting through options on what to do next - "I wish I had a crystal ball," he says, nestling on a cushion on the living room sofa.
Gurney the senator was pictured as a cold, private man. Prep-school proper. Suspicious and resentful of scavenging journalists. Now, in short-sleeved shirt and slacks, playing host to a reporter, he is cordial and candid. His view of the press hasn't improved, nor is he anxious to be interviewed. But having consented, he is - well, charming.
As Gurney sees it, he was the fall guy for the Feds. "The Justice Department testified that they had investigated Watergate up and down, sideways and backward," Gurney says, spelling out his theory like Sherlock Holmes unravels mysteries.
"They gave the White House and everybody in it a totally clean bill. Now the Watergate Committee comes along. And it became obvious that the White House was in it up to its neck. So you go back to the Justice Department, and there can be only one of two things - one, they were totally negligent in what they did; or else maybe they were part of the coverup. It's got to be one or the other.
"And," he says, his smile hardly sweetening his soured wine, "when everybody is wondering what kind of a Justice Department we've got, along comes Gurney to bear. And what better victim could you get then the Republican conservative senator on the Watergate Committee, to try to redeem your reputation and your virtue?
"I think that had a heck of a lot to do with why I got indicted."
So according to Gurney's scenario - irony of ironies, the Nixon sympathizer gets nailed by Nixon henchmen. Wrong place at the wrong time. And a man who helped run the nation's business four years ago, now spends his days doing yardwork and writing thank-you letters.
The last of three mass mailouts has been sent to past supporters, conservatives and party loyalists, aimed at drawing contributions to help erase his debt.
About $100,000 remains to be collected for his legal fees, and though Gurney doesn't think outsiders will ante up enough, "Somehow," he vows, "I'll take care of it as the years ensue."
Meanwhile, he expects soon to decide on where his future lies; he wants to emerge from the doldrums and set sail toward a worthy destination.
It might be a return to law practice. It might be a book. Or Gurney may opt for the pursuit he likes best of all: He may decide to run for Congress again.
He'd face Democratic State Rep. Bill Nelson, who is young, attractive, wealthy and liberal . . . and running fast and furious, for weeks now.
Meanwhile Gurney, who originally promised an announcement by October, still stalls for time.
His campaign, if it happens, could prove rough for someone tainted by a brush with the law. Or maybe not, here in Florida's conservative Ninth District.
"The impression I get is totally different," claims Gurney, who by this time is standing, the pain from sitting is so great.
"One of the reasons the people want me to run is that I was unfairly done in," he says. "They think I ought to get back to where I should still be."