Sometimes you learn a new fact about someone you know, and instantly gain a perspective that explains everything.

Take Pee-wee Herman. You'd watch this alleged adult prancing around in his bow tie and white socks, looking like a badly drawn character from a 1952 Indonesian comic book, and you'd ask yourself: What gives? What is the deal with this schlemiel? Can anyone be that much of a loser? Then, illumination comes in the form of a solo performance in a darkened movie theater. Ladies and gentlemen, Misssster Pee-wee Herman! Thank you very much. Let's give him a hand, so to speak.

Or Lassie. You watch Lassie for years, and you love her daring and her intelligence, but there's something about her you can't quite put your finger on. Her courage at times seems almost excessive, almost ... foolhardy. Also, she is never content to just save Gramps from the mineshaft, she then has to gloat about it in this deep, throaty triumphant bark. And she drinks water from a bowl like a slob. Then one day you find out something that puts everything in a new perspective: Lassie was a boy! A male dog. Which would explain why you never saw a fire hydrant on the set.

Anyway, I read an item in the paper last week that did the same thing for me about Hillary Clinton.

No, Hillary is not a boy. (Not to my current knowledge, anyway.) But suddenly, she seems to make much more sense to me.

It was puzzling: Here is the most competent member of the Clinton administration, who is not even technically a member of the Clinton administration, a strikingly handsome woman of astounding talents and with an awesome resume, and yet she doesn't seem ever to be entirely satisfied with herself. She keeps changing. Her name. Her hairstyle. Her clothes designers. Her entire image! Remember the campaign? One week, she says she isn't some kind of stay-at-home wifey who stands by her man and bakes cookies. And the next week, she is literally baking cookies and handing them out to the press.

What gives, Hillary?

Then, last week, I was stunned to learn that in 1975 Hillary tried to enlist in the Marines. (Possibly she was looking for a few good men, as she was about to marry a man who was looking for a few good women.)

My first reaction was that it sounded like something that arose out of a drunken bar bet. You know, like when guys dare each other to do something stupid -- say, take off their trousers, pull their underpants over their head and whistle the theme to "Gilligan's Island" -- except this must have been a group of female lawyers. Imagine it. A bar scene. Hillary Rodham Clinton-to-be says, "Yeah, well, if you're so smart, I dare you to argue the pro-life position, that the state has the right to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term." And Camille O'Rourke-Lefkowitz responds, "Oh, yeah? Well, I dare you to shave your legs and join the Marines."

Hillary in the Marines? Hmmmmm.

Hillary reports that the recruiter looked at her, in her thick glasses, with her burgeoning crow's feet, and said, "You're too old, you can't see and you're a woman" -- proving almost anybody can pass a simple multiple-choice exam.

The recruiter also allegedly said, "Maybe the dogs would take you," apparently referring to the Army, where soldiers are called "dogfaces." But Hillary was new to Arkansas then, and may have misunderstood his dialect. He might have said, "Maybe the frogs would take you," implying Hillary should try the French Foreign Legion; or "Maybe the Hogs will take you," a reference to the University of Arkansas Razorbacks; or maybe instead of "the dogs would take you" he was saying "the dorks would take you," a reference to a possible career in the life insurance industry. Or he might have simply said, "You make my knees knock," and Hillary has chosen to repress that memory.

Note to copy desk: Have somebody call the White House and ascertain just how inebriated Hillary was at the time. When men enlist in the Marines, they're usually so drunk they attempt to sign the enlistment form with their tongues. Oh, and leave room for an insert when the White House assures us that Bill tried to enlist in the Marines also, and was turned down during the physical when he kept taking his pants off during the eyesight exam.

Anyway, then I got to thinking about it. Why did Hillary apply to the Marines? How does it jibe with her nearly neurotic compulsion to remake herself all the time?

When you think about the Marines, you think about what? The Look.

Marines look a certain way. They are steel-eyed guys wearing big goofy lace-up boots and absurd camouflage gear that looks like a garbage man's uniform that has been vomited on by owls. Their hair looks like it has been cut by scorpions. In the Marines, every day is a bad hair day. (Oh, you do get a cool sword.) Here is the thing: As a Marine, you always look the same. You are supposed to look the same. So you don't have to worry about your clothes, or your hair or anything. You're a Marine. You look like a wind-up doll. Any questions?

Anyway, that's my theory. Attempting to deal with her own insecurities, knowing that she faced a lifetime of personal grooming indecision, Hillary made a desperate bid for the kind of enforced structure only the Marines could provide.

They turned her down, and the rest, as they say, is history.