Just me. (lara7) wrote,
Just me.

Henry Rollins, USO guy.

no, really. I thought it was odd enough that Al Franken had done USO, but he is a comedian and was on SNL, so I figured most soldier-age kids would still know who he was. But even I haven't noticed that Rollins was up to anything in the last 8 years (or whenever it was that the Rollins band played Lollapalooza), and I was even a fan back in the day and am old enough to have seen Black Flag when Rollins had long hair. No, he really did. Ask your parents.


NY Times November 13, 2005

Not Bob Hope's U.S.O.


"Where are you from?" It was the first question that the punk legend and occasional film actor Henry Rollins asked a soldier named Andy who was standing in line to meet him one afternoon last August. Rollins and Andy were in a small, half-empty cafeteria on a military base in Izmir, Turkey. The two men made for an interesting contrast: the lanky 20-something soldier who looked downright shy despite his camouflage uniform and black boots, and the 44-year-old, heavily tattooed, obviously muscled Rollins, who appeared the more menacing, despite his boyish shorts and gray tucked-in T-shirt. Rollins was at the base as an entertainer with the U.S.O., making a stop on what the organization calls a handshake tour, a chance for soldiers to meet a celebrity one on one. Fliers taped around the cafeteria promoted the event, showing a picture of Rollins with his two forefingers pointing out, like a version of Uncle Sam with a graying buzz cut: he wants you! The American soldiers who provide security at the Turkish base were mostly off that day, but several made a point of coming by to meet Rollins, and the line slowly grew, as men finished plates of spaghetti and made their way over to where Rollins was standing.

Rollins, who was in the middle of his sixth U.S.O. tour, always asks the soldiers he meets where they're from, not because he's curious but because it's an easy in: having toured practically every town that has a hall that can hold 50 kids, and in possession of a prodigious memory, Rollins can almost always make a connection - Is that killer record store on Main Street still there? Oh, yeah, I was playing that club in Evansville before you were born. Andy, it turned out, was from Indiana. "What's that famous club in Indiana, the one where Houdini gave his last performance?" Rollins wanted to know. Andy shook his head, and Rollins, having struck out, backpedaled: "Stupid piece of trivia," he said, before shaking Andy's hand and moving on to the next kid in line.

"Hey, Henry, it's an honor, I'm a big fan," said Mike, a 21-year-old from Reno, Nev. He asked Rollins to sign a photograph, smiling just a little, holding back what could clearly have been, unchecked, a big, goofy grin. He told Rollins how much he loved "Damaged," the first album Rollins cut with the 80's-era hard-core band Black Flag. "Oh, yeah, we were broke and at each other's throats, but every song we wrote was first-rate," Rollins said. A self-described loner, Rollins is nonetheless a master of the instant, confiding connection. For 20 minutes or so, Rollins told a series of insider stories about the music world. "The drummer in Tool?" he said. "He's an animal. The band was just killer. We had to follow them on tour, and we'd always ask people: 'How were they? Really good?' " He cursed.

Rollins is an unusual relic of the punk era, one of the few celebrated stars who stayed clean enough to remember it. (He is also articulate enough to analyze it as cultural history, something he frequently does as a talking head in VH1 or IFC documentaries about the era.) Of course, as faces of the U.S.O. go, he's even more unusual, an antiestablishment rocker whose hero is Iggy Pop, not Bob Hope. Most of the soldiers greeting Rollins at the base that day probably knew him for his cameo appearances in two recent films that practically constitute required viewing for young men in the military - "Bad Boys II" (Rollins plays a narcotics cop who barks orders like "Rock 'n' roll, let's go!" to his men), and "Jackass" (that is Rollins screaming profanities and driving a bucking Humvee as someone else in the vehicle tries to tattoo the willing participant howling in agony next to him). A slightly smaller proportion of the soldiers knew Rollins from his frenzied, raging frontman performances with Black Flag. A hard-core group that played a caustic kind of punk, the band had a cult following of mostly angry young men. Rollins, who often performed bare-chested, got in so many brawls with audience members that eventually the band learned to keep playing until he could get back onstage and resume singing. Local police officers tended to follow the band, which took its name from the symbol for anarchy, whenever they rolled into town. Nick Cave, a fellow rocker, once complained to Rollins that his own performances left him bruised; Rollins responded by showing him a series of small round scars on his shins, where his audiences had a habit of stubbing out their cigarettes.

Black Flag eventually fell apart, but Rollins still tours with his own group, the Rollins Band, which continues to play to young men hooked on its adrenaline-pumping sound. A charismatic performer, he is also adept at giving what marketers call spoken-word performances, in Rollins's case, a cross between stand-up comedy, Spalding Gray-style storytelling and political commentary. The shows have been recorded for DVD and sell well. Rollins reserves a significant portion of each performance for his favorite material, the foibles of President George Bush, a subject he attacks with relish and no small amount of venom. The war, and what he perceives as Bush's doublespeak about it, fuels much of his rage toward the president. "So many Americans, when the president speaks, we hide under the table," he told a Montreal audience in March 2003. "What is his malfunction? He has a devastatingly dangerous unconnection to what we call the world."

A few months after that performance in Montreal, Rollins got his first call from a U.S.O. recruiter. She wanted to know if Rollins would consider visiting the troops on behalf of the organization. Rollins was immediately interested but also confused. Before he was willing to get any further involved, he wanted to be sure the recruiter had done her homework. He had to ask her one essential question: "Do you know who I am?"

President Franklin D. Roosevelt founded United Service Organizations Inc. in 1941, before America entered World War II but after the draft had started, as troops began training in remote, rural areas near small towns. The U.S.O. is often imagined as an institution that sprang out of Americans' abiding loyalty and affection for its soldiers, but in fact its origins reflect what was even then a complicated relationship between the public and the troops. The U.S.O. was created partly as a public relations maneuver, to offset the resentment people felt about the armed strangers suddenly flooding their insular hometowns. Not only would the organization encourage bonding between the citizens and the soldiers, but it would also aim to keep those thousands of young men out of bars, encouraging churchgoing and providing them with dedicated spaces for all that clean-cut swing dancing and Scrabble playing. Individual chapters started providing entertainment, and eventually, after the U.S. entered the war, movie studios enthusiastically sent their stars overseas. Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball, to name a few, all performed either stateside or abroad for the troops; Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on her way back from a U.S.O. performance she'd given in Indiana. If a U.S.O. equivalent exists in another country, it's a well-kept secret, but it's an institution that seems almost inevitable in this one, pairing, as it does, America's two biggest exports: arms and entertainment.

If the military has been criticized for being slow to adjust to new tactical situations, the U.S.O., an independent nonprofit that works closely with the Pentagon, has apparently adapted to more nimble forms of deployment. During the first gulf war, the U.S.O. added to its repertory the handshake tours like the one Rollins was on - tours entailing no actual performance but instead a lot of small talk, picture taking and autograph signing with the troops. The Defense Department limited bigger spectacles for fear that they'd draw terrorist attacks, or that performers would offend Muslims on the bases. (The gulf war was too short-lived for many performers to make the rounds, but Steve Martin did travel to Saudi Arabia with the U.S.O. under strict orders that he not make any jokes.) With the U.S.O. budget dwindling over the years - in real dollars, its budget is a fraction of what it was at its peak during World War II - handshake tours also provide a cheaper way to get more celebrities visiting more troops and in more isolated places.

In many ways, the modern U.S.O. seems to bear little resemblance to the U.S.O. featured in nostalgic History Channel snippets or lingering in the public's collective memory. Today, U.S.O. tour T-shirts have 17 different company logos emblazoned on the back - it's hard to imagine Betty Grable waltzing around in a midriff top with a prominently featured Coca-Cola insignia. Once financed mostly by other established charities like the United Way, the U.S.O. now depends almost entirely on private donations and sponsorships for its roughly $100 million budget.

Yet some of those memories aren't wholly accurate anyway. (The rougher-edged jokes Bob Hope frequently told on U.S.O. tours rarely show up on the retrospectives; the writhing, available Playmates who whipped the troops into a mad frenzy in "Apocalypse Now" had no counterparts in reality, although Playboy did send one Playmate to make a hospital visit in Vietnam with the informal help of a U.S.O. coordinator.) The modern U.S.O. walks a fine line, wanting to appear contemporary and relevant while still preserving all the feel-good, old-fashioned, wholesome associations that served the beloved G.I.'s of World War II. That's how a performer like Kid Rock, a loudly patriotic, Republican-friendly but hard-partying hip-hopper, ends up on an Air Force base in Germany, singing about smoking a spliff on Air Force One. And that's how a punk-rocking, troop-supporting, left-leaning, foulmouthed Bush-basher like Henry Rollins ends up in Turkey on his sixth U.S.O. tour in one and a half years.

To some degree, Rollins's appearances on U.S.O. tours - and those of Al Franken and Robin Williams, both outspoken opponents of the war - seem consistent with the kind of free-floating, up-for-grabs patriotism that characterizes this particular war and time. Never has a war so unpopular coincided with such a surge of mass patriotism. During Vietnam, the public's feelings about the war somehow justified its feelings about those who waged it; in this war, it's the public's love for the troops that's being used to justify just about any position on the war. We support the troops, but they need more to do their jobs right. We support the troops, so pull them out.

There is, of course, a limit to how acceptable all variety of arguments are in a military setting, no matter how devoted to the U.S.O. or the troops a performer is. Before a performer heads out on a tour, particularly if he has been vocal about left-leaning political views, either Ned Powell, president and C.E.O. of the U.S.O., or a tour director talks briefly with him, reminding the performer that he's there simply to thank and entertain the troops rather than interject his opinions. Rollins has no problem with that in theory, and he's only really slipped up once in front of the troops, in Kyrgyzstan, so far as he recalls. A commander had been briefing his soldiers on how best to reacclimate to society after the end of a tour, and at the end of the presentation, he turned the mike over to Rollins, asking him to make some spontaneous comments. "I think your commander has some great points, and you should all listen to what he has to say," Rollins started out. The commander wouldn't lie to you, Rollins added - "that's the vice president's job." It got a big laugh from the troops, but Rollins told me he thought he saw the face of a U.S.O. press officer traveling with him at the time go white. He asked if she was angry. "No," she replied, "but I'm sure somebody is." It's not that all politics are unacceptable, of course; no one seemed to mind when Drew Carey, a former marine who has made seven U.S.O. tours, joked during a performance in Iraq that he was pretty sure his girlfriend was a Democrat: "She's never really come out and said, 'Hey, I'm a Democrat,' but every time we drive somewhere, she just sits in the passenger seat and bitches."

When soldiers confront Rollins about what they know about his politics - "Hey, man, you don't like my boss" - Rollins tends to dodge the conversation. "I'm like, that doesn't matter right now - here in Baghdad all that matters is that I want you home in one piece," he said during an eight-hour van ride on one leg of the trip, recalling an exchange he has had several times. "The other stuff - we can have that discussion in Minneapolis when you're home eight months from now. And we can have a debate, and I will whip your butt."

Rollins often sounds like a proud but gruff older brother when he talks about his affection for the troops. If he's walking through an airport and sees American soldiers in uniform, he'll approach them, his U.S.O.-stickered luggage in hand, to introduce himself and thank them. "I identify really strongly with their training, with their discipline," Rollins says. But he also identifies with them as angry young men, a category he has never wholly outgrown. He may interview cineastes with thoughtful, informed questions on his IFC program, "Henry's Film Corner," but every episode begins with a segment called "Teeing Off," in which Rollins gnashes his teeth, sputters and screams his way through diatribes on targets ranging from Paul Wolfowitz to Ashlee Simpson. (For a sense of his range and tone, picture Jim Carrey without a superego.)

And the rage isn't just a performance, as was apparent one day at a restaurant near the base in Turkey. Some soldiers sitting at a table near Rollins had urged a waiter, a solicitous man in his 60's who was a friend of the U.S.O.'s Turkish liaison, to serve Rollins his "special tea." The waiter tried out his gag, pretending to spill a cup of hot tea onto Rollins. The cup turned out to be empty, attached by a wire to the spoon in the waiter's hand, but Rollins startled visibly, and the troops roared with laughter. Rollins, however, remained tense and unsmiling. When the waiter finally took his order, Rollins replied with a stone-cold stare and a nasty use of profanity that silenced everyone at the table. Later Rollins told me it took every bit of restraint he had not to jump the man.

Rollins possesses the odd mix of qualities that we think of as soldierly - he is formal, polite until provoked and completely at ease with physical violence. Ask Rollins the time, and he's likely to tell you it's oh-seven-hundred. Even the book he wrote about his years of playing hard-core on the road, "Get in the Van," talks about his "tour of duty" with Black Flag. Aesthetically, too, Rollins seems like one of the military's own: the tattoos, the muscles and the buzz cut mirror the look of soldiers he meets on bases around the world. Rollins, who has the exaggerated, chiseled features of a comic-book superhero, also values the same things young men in the military tend to value, from rock 'n' roll to gross-out pranks. (Rollins, who apparently likes pranks so long as he's not the butt of them, recently put a frozen rat in his assistant's purse.) Even so, it's hard to reconcile Rollins's rebellious, defiant attitude with an institution that's built on a strict code of hierarchy and following orders. Evan Shapiro, general manager of IFC, sums up the message Rollins sends his young viewers: "If you're 17 years old and you're not mad as hell at the government, you're not doing your job."

Back in his early punk days, Rollins and his friends in Washington, D.C., crossed the street if they saw men in uniform coming their way on a Friday or Saturday night. At the time, the marines who went drinking in the neighborhood where Rollins hung out interpreted his friends' dog collars and Mohawks as an invitation to fight. "I'm a 150-pound boy who lived on ice cream and ramen noodles, and these guys are fricking marines," he says of the days before he started bulking up with weight lifting. "Who do you think's gonna win? What do you do? You run!"

And for all his fondness for the troops, occasionally, Rollins says, there's still a slight "disconnect" between him and the soldiers he meets on tour. Rollins still thinks of himself as an art geek, a culturally curious movie buff who gets paid by IFC to interview indie artists like Philip Seymour Hoffman about his character's motivation. Soldiers regularly ask Rollins if he'll go drinking with them - he seems like such a regular guy - but Rollins doesn't drink and never has. Although he always declined their offers politely, I sometimes heard a slight edge in his voice as he refused, as if he were still figuratively crossing the street to avoid those drunken marines.

Rollins mined his tours with the U.S.O. for his most recent spoken-word DVD, "Shock and Awe," which features an account of an experience he had when appearing at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. On the DVD, he does an entertaining impression of a soldier so enthusiastic about his job he seems just shy of unhinged. "Hooah! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Bagram Air Base, here in sunny Afghanistan!. . .We love nothing more than to get the green light to drop bad things on bad people and ruin their day!" Rollins barks in a husky, hearty voice. He goes on to explain that the soldier then handed Rollins a Sharpie pen and asked him to sign a bomb in front of a group of soldiers watching with anticipation. Rollins - who told me he felt nervous at the time, like "a dog in a hat at a party" - had tried to think fast. He could either "take a stripe off this guy's shirt in front of his men," embarrassing him with a refusal, or take his gig as morale booster seriously and give him what he wanted. He took the pen and wrote, "What happened?" Then, "It was over so fast!"

Rollins still feels ambivalent about the situation. "I would be loath to do anything deleterious to morale, but then again, I have to look at myself in the mirror every day at the end of the day," he told me. It doesn't happen often, but occasionally, his own devotion to the troops runs up against the enthusiasm many of them feel for the war he personally opposes, with inevitably uncomfortable results.

Of course, there are reasons beyond sheer love of country that influence a performer's decision to tour with the U.S.O. For Rollins, the travel provides creative fodder, but it also gives him access to places he wouldn't ordinarily visit, among them Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar and Honduras. On his own, Rollins, who's single and is generally on the road for at least one-third of the year, makes it a point to visit at least one country he's never seen every year. "The older I get, the more curious I am," he says. He joined the U.S.O., in other words, for the same reason some people join the military: to see the world.

For a celebrity like Jessica Simpson, who made one trip to Iraq, in April, performing for the troops increases the possibility that she'll reach the kind of iconic status of her U.S.O. predecessors. If World War II had Betty Grable and the Korean War had Marilyn Monroe, for better or for worse, Operation Enduring Freedom has Simpson, who smiled sunnily as she gripped the handles of a grenade launcher for publicity shots that ran in People.

For someone like Al Franken, who first toured for the U.S.O. in Kosovo, long before his political ambitions had surfaced, the tour has the added benefit of helping to insulate him, should he ever run for political office, from criticism that he never served. But none of this is to discount the genuinely altruistic motives that also compel U.S.O. performers (including Franken and Simpson) or the genuine risks they're taking in making the trip. Minutes after Drew Carey and his fellow performers left the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad to visit some bases in September 2003, the hotel took a serious hit from mortar fire a few floors above their rooms. Al Franken likes to tell the story of running into Sylvester Stallone, who asked Franken about the safety of U.S.O tours. "Weren't you" - insert emphatic expletive -"Rambo?" Franken asked him. "Yeah," Stallone replied, "but I like my life." (A spokeswoman for Stallone denies this conversation ever took place.)

Although the U.S.O. has reeled in some of Hollywood's major players, particularly in banner years for patriotism like 2001 - Jennifer Lopez played at Ramstein Air Base, Mariah Carey played for troops in Kosovo - Ned Powell says he spends a significant amount of his time simply recruiting talent. Some performers are too nervous; some of them don't have the time or energy for the hassle the trips entail, even to relatively stable places like Turkey or Egypt. Just getting Rollins from Los Angeles to Cairo was an 18-hour trip, one he had to repeat in reverse, all for an eight-day tour, two days of which were spent traveling in a cramped van. There's no room for an entourage on a tour (Simpson did her own hair and makeup), there's no luxury suite on a military base, and there's no comfortable seat on a Chinook. But the biggest challenge, Powell says, is working with the schedule of the military, which may be the last and only institution that demands that celebrities work around its timetable rather than the other way around. The logistics of military transport and adequate security are considerable, and the military can be only so flexible about who uses its Black Hawks and when, no matter how big the star.

Those limitations also explain why gadflies like Rollins and Franken are gratefully accepted and celebrated by the U.S.O. - they're willing to show up. "These tours aren't designed as the perfect mixture of entertainment," says Franken, who traveled with the good-old-boy country singer Darryl Worley and Karri Turner, an actress from "JAG." "It's always just, Who will go?"

Powell - who hesitated only briefly before sending Franken out on tour after the publication of his blatantly left-leaning "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" - sees the range in opinions represented by the performers as a positive signal for the troops. "If the soldier is watching someone who is left or anti- in perception standing next to someone who is right and pro- in theory, and they're working together to do a show," Powell says, "that sends a strong message that the American people support them."

By the end of his most recent tour, Rollins had met soldiers at two bases in Egypt and stopped in at several remote outposts in the Sinai Desert, where U.S. soldiers are part of a multinational task force overseeing the Israeli-Egypt border, and visited two bases in Turkey, including Incirlik Air Base near Adana. At the Incirlik base library (which Rollins kept privately calling the George W. Bush Liberry), a line of 30 to 40 soldiers filled the length of the room, patiently waiting to meet the performer. Compared with sleepy Izmir, this base, a major refueling and supply stop for planes on their way to Iraq, felt tightly run. A pretty, blond, mascara-wearing public affairs officer whom Rollins's road manager dubbed Captain Maybelline hovered nearby as Rollins joked around with the soldiers. ("Try not to look so tall," he told one soldier. "Don't worry, Henry, I've got the special filter in," his road manager assured him as he snapped the photo.)

A burly, 30-something explosives defuser who was standing in line said he and his friends had a Rollins Band CD they'd play full-blast in their Humvee when they went out on a mission. "It got us pumped up," he said of the ritual. So he was thrilled to meet Rollins - "we're all superstoked," he said - but told me after a few minutes of conversation that he'd have been even more excited to meet someone a little more pro-military. "Like Bruce Willis," he said, "he's cool. Or Toby Keith. He's totally pro-military." He was a little tired of "celebrities who get on the bandwagon and denounce the war and denounce Bush."

Rollins didn't make much of it when a soldier in a black F.B.I. T-shirt asked him to sign a flask. "Mr. Rollins, sir, I just want to say, that if I was not in the military, I would totally agree with everything you say about President Bush," he said, loudly enough for most of the room to hear it. Perhaps because it was so unexpected - it's the kind of comment that could get a soldier in trouble - Rollins mistakenly heard a defense of Bush. "Well," he said, his tone avuncular, "it's all right for me to be right and you to be wrong." As Rollins moved on to the next person in line, Captain Maybelline tore after the soldier with the flask. "I need to talk to you!" she said, whipping out a pen and demanding his name. "That was totally inappropriate! I need to talk to your commanding officer!"

Rollins was engaged with the next soldier in conversation about his hometown and missed the entire exchange, but he was incensed to hear about Captain Maybelline's devotion to military rules. "You just want to ask someone like her, 'What fantasy world do you live in?' " he spat out. " 'What's the name of your world?' "

Although celebrities frequently travel in groups on U.S.O. tours, Rollins has preferred to travel solo ever since he accompanied Patrick Kilpatrick on a tour and decided that the actor got on his nerves. As a result, the tour in Turkey felt subdued. He had, for company, just his tour manager, Michael Curtis, an entertaining sidekick in his early 40's; his U.S.O. tour manager, an organized blonde named Tracy Thede whom Rollins liked to tease; and a U.S.O. public-affairs officer, Donna St. John, a careful, proper 58-year-old woman who regularly accompanies U.S.O. stars to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Meals tended to be hurried affairs with discussion limited to logistics, but one evening the group planned a more leisurely dinner at an outdoor cafe. The conversation turned to the next U.S.O. event Rollins would hit, the organization's major gala at the Hilton in Washington. The U.S.O. had asked Rollins to present an award to the sailor of the year, and the organization would honor Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of the Secretary of Defense, was supposed to be there.

Rollins, who could sometimes be silent at meals, suddenly came to life at the prospect of all the possibilities the evening presented. "I'll be hanging out with Wayne," he said, referring to Wayne Newton, "and we'll get Mike to get behind Rumsfeld's wife and give her a good.. . ." Rollins pushed his hands forward with a grimace, to suggest a shove off a stage. Until that moment, it had been one of the more relaxed meals on a hurried tour; now there was an awkward silence. Rollins cracked a joke about recreating the Reagan assassination attempt. Another awkward pause. "Is Lynne Cheney gonna be there?" he asked Thede.

"I'm not going to help you make a hit list," she answered, sounding annoyed for the first time on the tour; maybe even a little worried about how Rollins would handle himself.

"Do I smell. . .regret?" Curtis asked.

Three weeks later, the night of the gala, Rollins was on his best behavior, dressed in a rented tuxedo, with his road manager, Curtis, in tow. He looked impressive, if a little out of his element. "I don't know a single person here," he said. "I don't know this aspect of Washington. I would like to meet Wayne Newton, just to see the plastic surgery." He was a little nervous about the two-minute introduction he was scheduled to give to the naval officer, whose bravery he wanted to honor with all appropriate respect. "If I get one word wrong, I'm going to kick my own butt," he said.

During the dinner, Rollins was seated with mostly Air Force members; other tables nearby were sprinkled with celebrities who were either introducing other soldiers being honored or were there to perform in some way. Many of them seemed to know one another and shared a warm camaraderie, having traveled together to perform in groups. Touring can make for some unexpected friendships: Al Franken and Darryl Worley have become close (Worley invited him to a dinner during the Republican convention), and Jessica Simpson had the B-list country singer Neal McCoy, whom she met on her U.S.O tour, sing at her wedding.

Just as Bob Hope recruited Newton for the U.S.O., as well as many of the other performers of his era, Newton now recruits for tours. Throughout the evening, he could be seen surrounded by a crush of admirers and friends, smiling warmly and doling out two-handed, clasping handshakes, a faint scent of cologne trailing in his wake.

The event was a mix of high-octane celebrity and patriotic fervor, with sports legends like John Elway and Shaquille O'Neal introducing other honorees, the Marine band, sharply dressed in red, playing the National Anthem and the host Deborah Norville briefly tearing up. After Rollins and the other celebrities had presented the awards with all due pomp and circumstance, the comedian Jeff Ross, who accompanied Drew Carey on a tour to Iraq, showed an affectionate short film he had made about General Myers, then Neal McCoy performed hokey versions of "Okie From Muskogee" and "Celebration." Around 11, the event started breaking up, with the Maxim model and Fox sportscaster Leeann Tweeden hugging Elway's date goodbye, Miss U.S.A. shaking Jeff Ross's hand, Wayne Newton shaking John Elway's hand and Jeff Ross hugging Wayne Newton. Rollins was nowhere to be seen.

A few days later, an e-mail message from Rollins explained that he had left the event early. There was a fine line at that gala separating the troops from the war machine itself, and he wasn't going to stick around to see it blur. "Saw Myers at the White House with Bush today," he wrote, having caught them on TV. "So glad I didn't shake that hand."

Susan Dominus is a contributing writer for the magazine. Her most recent cover article was about the fathers' rights movement.
Tags: politics

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