IT IS EMIL ROBERT (BOB) VELAZCO on the phone. He has called the city desk and the aide there, sensing something more than a crank, has transferred him to me and now he is talking. The voice is deep and very excited. He starts the way all cranks do, about how he is just an ordinary citizen, and then he goes on in a torrent of words until suddenly, like a ship coming out of the fog, what he is saying takes shape. Bob Velazco is offering to buy Christmas dinner for the hostages in Iran.
"God damn it, man, I mean it. I am not a crank. I have $1,500 in the bank to spend. If it could be less, so much the better. I would pay the air freight and I would pay for the meals. I want the world to know that one guy, an ordinary U.S. citizen, would buy them Christmas dinners."
There is a lot of emotion in his voice. Every year he treats himself to a birthday present. He was born on the first of January, and so on the 24th of December, he gets on a plane and goes to Las Vegas for what used to be called a toot. This year, he wants to use the money to buy Christmas dinner for the hostages.
"It just came to me at 12:30 today," he said. "I said, my God, wouldn't it be great, I feel so badly about the whole fracas. It sounds crazy, but I want the world to see that one U.S. citizen will buy the hostages Christmas dinner. I want it to be just people, not governments. I want it that way."
The more Velazco talked, the more sense he seemed to be making. He is in the sound and music business in Arlington, a former New Yorker by way of Dallas and some other places. He is 54 years old and single now, with a daughter living in Boston. What he wants is for the hostages to have a proper Christmas dinner. What he did not know how to do is arrange it, so he called the paper and I, in turn, called the Iranian Embassy.
The press officer at the Iranian Embassy is an American named Debby.No last name, she said -- just Debby. I told her what Velazco wanted and I expected her to say, "That's impossible," or something like that. But she did not. Instead, she said that someone had suggested something similar for Thanksgiving but there had been too little time to make the arrangements. There might be enough time for Christmas. Debby is a long way down the line from the ayatollah, but she said Velazco had a good idea. She asked for the check with the guarantee that the money would be returned if the idea was vetoed in Tehran.
"No good," I said. "I have never been to Iran and maybe I am wrong, but I don't think you would have what we call "the fixings" -- turkey and ham and things." Debby said I had a point, and we agreed that it would be best if the dinners were prepared here and flown to Iran. Debby said she would call back.
Right away, Velazco called a Washington catering firm -- one of the biggies. He was very excited. He talked to one person and then to another person and pretty soon he was talking to an owner of the firm.
"He said, 'I feel the way you do.'" Velazco reported. "He said he would do the whole thing for less than $500. He said, "We're going to make them a super dinner. We're going to charge only 10 bucks a person.' I can get the whole damn thing for $500. He mentioned bacon-wrapped this and bacon-wrapped that. You know this place is a very fine outfit."
By now Velazco was ebullient. He talked of getting the food to Iran by plane and he talked about how the stuff has to be ready to go on the 24th for the flight and he talked about how the order had to be placed by the 20th.
"An amnesty -- that's what we need," he said. "We need an amnesty for one flight to come in for one day -- a U.S. airline to land with Christmas dinner for these hostages. We respect their religion.Let them respect our religious day."
The next morning, Debby called back. She asked me to call another telephone number and talk to Kamran Movassaghi. He is the economic counselor. I called. "Let me tell you this," Movassaghi said, "it is a very good idea. It will be a very good idea." He said he would check with Tehran and then let me know.
During the last day or so, Velazco has called many times. He is very excited. He is very anxious. He is like a lot of people -- he wants to do something about this situation and maybe he can succeed. It is hard to predict, but the chances are that his request will go up the ladder until it reaches someone who will shake his head in puzzlement, say no, say that Bob Velazco is a tool of the shah. This is why I am writing this. I want them to know what Velazco said.
"The hostages -- they have been through so much. I just want to see if they can get a Christmas dinner."