Oh, hi. I was just talking with Edmund Morris, who wrote the controversial new Ronald Reagan memoir, "Dutch." Everybody's going nuts because Morris put himself in the book as a "semi-fictional" character throughout Reagan's life. (Clearly, I admire the technique, being a semi-fictional kind of guy myself. You don't really think there's any such person as my friend Nancy, do you?)

Anyway, Morris was telling me about the time in 1825 when he was having dinner with Martin Van Buren. They were eating veal cheeks at Le Cirque, Morris and Van Buren, when out of nowhere Van Buren says, "I'm thinking about running for president."

Morris was stunned. Van Buren was the last guy he expected to run for president. Franklin Pierce, James K. Polk, sure. But Van Buren? The guy looked like an organ grinder! So Morris said to him, "Marty, sweetheart, those mutton chops will kill you in the Midwest. You gotta lose them." And the rest, as they say, is semi-history.

Speaking of books, feminist author Susan Faludi has a new one, "Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man," which is very sympathetic to the American men she has been bashing for years. Faludi doesn't think they're pigs anymore. She thinks they're oppressed, downtrodden, misunderstood.

And this is great, because I don't mind telling you Susan Faludi is babe-o-licious. I've dreamed about her for years, and now maybe those dreams (legal in 15 states) will come true. Hey, don't I deserve it? Who's more downtrodden than I am? Come on over here, Susie, and show me just how sympathetic you can be, you minx!

Later, maybe you could clean my house and take my clothes to the dry cleaners. And while you're out, why don't you pick up a roast at the market? I like mine medium-rare. Thanks.

Oh, wait a second. You don't think that's too sexist, do you? Because I got a letter about my Miss America column wherein I suggested that Judge Judy recuse herself to a duffel bag: "Your sexism, ageism and homophobia are not funny. . . . All of us ladies should be aspiring lumberjacks so we can cut pigheaded trees like you down!" To which I say: Buzz off, doll.

Excuse me. I have to take this call.

"Hi, Edmund. What? No! Pocahontas was sleeping with John Smith and Miles Standish? You're kidding me, right? Well, if you say so. You were there."

Sorry.

Staying on the book beat: Seeking to tap a previously untapped constituency, Americans for Hitler, presidential aspirant Pat "Reich Around the Clock" Buchanan is aggressively courting the pro-Hitler vote with a book that argues Der Fuehrer wasn't as bad as everyone thinks. (Funny, I thought we were all pretty much on the same page on this issue. Who's doing Pat's focus groups, Marge Schott?) You wouldn't think this would help Buchanan that much, unless there's a Republican primary in Paraguay. But I sure would love to see Pat Buchanan on the stump in lederhosen.

Speaking of presidential politics: Hoping to revive his flagging campaign, Al "Al Gore Jr." Gore took the bold step of moving his headquarters to his ancestral home in Tennessee. For a really bold step, he should have moved the campaign to his true ancestral home, Gepetto's wood shop.

Meanwhile, Dan Quayle has dropped out of the race. Polls had Quayle running behind six of the other seven declared Republican candidates, behind four of the five Osmond brothers and behind Gladys Knight and two of her three Pips. Quayle had been loath to drop out because he believed he could do well in states ending in "e," like New Hampshire, Idahoe and Hawaiee.

What a dope. He forgot New Yorke. Speaking of which, have you heard about the mysterious killer-virus outbreak there? It's awful. First you get a headache, and a few hours later your brain explodes. Married men all over the Bronx are sleeping on the couch, in case this should happen to their wives.

The West Nile virus is apparently being carried by migratory birds. The first clue that birds were infected came when 6,100 crows suddenly dropped dead on 42nd Street, in front of the Daily News. The New York Post quickly called this a publicity stunt, and reported that 6,500 crows had dropped dead in front of its building.

Oh, there goes my phone again.

"Eddie, please, I'm writing a column here. Okay, one minute. Get outta here. So that's why Mona Lisa was smiling. Leo did that when you were in the room? Wow."

Getting back to New York, a controversy is raging over whether a painting by artist Chris Ofili should be shown at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary" is a painting--I'm quoting from the New York Times now--"of a black Madonna with a clump of elephant dung on one breast, and cutouts of genitalia from pornographic magazines in the background."

And you wondered where the next great, um, movement in art was coming from.

The bottoms of zoo cages, apparently.

Ofili called the controversy "confusing."

"You never know what's going to offend people," Ofili said.

No, but here's a guess: the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung and a bunch of scrotums in the background.

Look, I don't know art, but I know what I smell, and I hadn't thought of elephant dung as, well, artsy. Fartsy, not artsy. Of course, now that Ofili got a front-page story in the New York Times, everybody is going to be using elephant dung!

I wonder if that's what those Cro-Magnons used on cave walls. I'll ask Edmund if he remembers.