This may not be what Tractorman had in mind.

Yes, he blocked off the Mall, tripled commute times and mobilized the U.S. Park Police, the D.C. police, the Secret Service, the ATF and the FBI against him.

Yes, with television cameras trained on his shadowy figure sitting at the controls, Tractorman is most likely getting more attention than he has ever had in his life.

But perhaps it's not the sort of attention he wanted.

When you plunge a piece of farm machinery into a shallow pool on the Mall and claim to have explosives, chances are you want people to realize you mean business. You want them to respect your cause, your desperation, respect that "I'm going to get my message out or die trying," as Tractorman, aka North Carolina tobacco farmer Dwight Ware Watson, put it yesterday.

You don't want them to call you "Cooter" or "Farmer Brown" or "redneck," as people did yesterday. You don't want them to saunter over on their lunch break just to gawk, more curious than scared, more disdainful than awed. You don't want them to ask:

"How's he go to the toilet?" as one reporter inquires of a Park Police spokesman.

Or muse:

"He must be hungry," as does Nancy Perry, as she holds a styrofoam box of kung pao tofu left over from lunch. Then: "It's an odd choice of venues. The Constitution Gardens." Why, it's not even the Reflecting Pool.

If you're Tractorman, furious over government policies you feel are forcing tobacco farmers out of business, surely you don't want to be an afterthought, a doggie-bagging diversion. You don't want to be such a source of entertainment that someone like Danielle Mengar, 22, calls up the guy she's been dating, Todd Davis, 26, and goes, Have you seen him yet?

At which point Davis takes a lunch break from his work at a public relations firm and the couple head down to 18th and Virginia to look at -- nothing, really. Just a series of blocked-off streets, some police tape and, way back between some trees, the green body and flashing yellow lights of a vehicle occupied by some really small guy with a really big gripe.

"I think it's more funny right now than scary," says Mengar.

Mengar and Davis both feel Watson has gotten way too much attention. How is it that one guy can paralyze the heart of a city? Why can't the various agencies who are working on this just get rid of the guy? These are questions a lot of people gathering down here on their lunch breaks, amid the television trucks and police cars, want answered.

Folks keep talking about how he messed up their commutes. They keep talking about tranquilizing Tractorman, like he's an unruly bear. They keep wondering how it is that this could happen now, when the country is on Orange Alert and supposed to be at its most careful. And they keep invoking this somewhat illogical rhetoric: If we can't take care of Tractorman, how can we be expected to take care of Iraqman?

Maybe there's another way to look at it.

Put aside for a moment the danger, the inconvenience and the very troubling prospect that no matter how many defenses a city erects, it cannot defend against the unexpected. Is it possible that by some perverse interpretation, Tractorman could somehow be considered a gift to a city's panicked psyche?

"It's definitely the most entertaining thing to happen" in a while, an intern for a nonprofit named -- wait for it -- Joseph Edward "Jeb" Bush, 22, says while watching the spectacle with a couple of other interns. "I'm kind of glad it happened on the day it did." After all, says Bush -- no relation to the president -- America is most likely days away from war, and "this just kinda gives a little comic relief."

To which one of his fellow interns replies: "I'm not sure that was the effect he was going for."

D.C. police sharpshooters keep farmer Dwight Ware Watson in their sights during the long standoff.