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THREE ON THE TOWN

THE GIFT OF GAFFE : See Dick Run. See Dick Open Mouth and Insert Foot. See Dick Win.

September 12, 1993|Patt Morrison

Ya gotta love this guy.

In a town where some talking coiffures can't manage "Good morning" without TelePrompTers, where jail-bound gangbangers can spit out glib sound bites for the folks watching at home, please welcome . . .

Our mayor, Richard Riordan.

Thank you. Thank you very much. It's great to be here. I . . . oops!

Whoa, careful there, mayor. Those dangling prepositions will trip a guy up every time.

As I was saying, whatever his politics, ya gotta love him.

Until Riordan came along, the typical political speaker was a dead bore, all polish and no mettle. Every "Nice to be here in ----" scripted to a fare-thee-well. Never a word wrong. Cautious as pigs on ice. Couldn't risk dropping that clanger, that one word or phrase that can dog a guy forever. Remember George ("brainwashed") Romney. Al ("I'm in charge here") Haig. Richard ("I am not a crook") Nixon.

Tom Bradley, bless him, was as impressive and stately a mayor as you could want. But truly, I can't remember a single one of his public statements, unless he wrote the hypnotizing words of welcome at LAX: "The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only--no parking."

And all I know of Mayor Sam Yorty's rhetoric is that he was among the last to pronounce it, white guy-fashion: "Loss Ang -keles."

Now comes L.A.'s 50th mayor, who scatters delightfully inadvertent Riordanisms as lavishly as Mardi Gras trinkets. People listen to him, though some of them for the same reason they go to stock-car races--to wait for the crash.

I, for one, find it endearing that the ranking political figure in this city, where even writers have writers, speaks from an unparsed heart and not in static programmed ukases, all upfronting and downsizing and oversighting.

Lincoln was rumored to have written the Gettysburg Address on an envelope. Our mayor has been known to write his speech en route to an event, scribbling it on a restaurant receipt he fished out of his wallet and flattened against the marble wall of an elevator.

And no true pol would tell jokes--lawyer jokes, Irish jokes, even off-color jokes--as unconstrainedly as Riordan, real eyebrow-raisers like: "Know the difference between George Bush and John Gotti? Gotti has at least one conviction!"

Early in the primary campaign, one journalist remembers the future mayor telling some service club that he thought every poor woman should have pre- and post- nasal care.

In a recent nationally televised interview, Riordan mentioned a gun favored by school-kids, the beringer . Now, a derringer is a little gun, a Beretta is a bigger gun and Beringer is a winery. Somewhere in there, I suspect, is the one Riordan meant.

On local public television, he has spoken of the decriminalation of drugs and the spading of pets. He can't always put the right name to the right face. And invariably, women comes out woman , which puts me in mind of the song "Every Woman in the World."

So what if his syntax is as tangled as cappellini ? So what if it comes out "Los Angeles is not a safe city, as most of the big cities are not"? We get the point, don't we?

George Bush, as the present Texas governor once averred, was born with a silver foot in his mouth. Ike was no Demosthenes either; rumor was you could get him to stop speaking and sit down just by applauding vigorously at the end of a sentence. Warren G. Harding's oratory reminded H.L. Mencken of "a hippopotamus struggling to free itself from a slough of molasses."

Sure, Riordan was professionally handled, professionally scripted during the campaign. Yet something spontaneous and genuine has always broken through. The meat-axed syntax is the message. Do as I do, not as I say. Don't expect a guy who eats Pantry to talk Rex Il Ristorante. A big-time TV news producer watched him for weeks and concluded: "He's becoming more and more comfortable with being uncomfortable."

That suits me fine. Politics, like egg-laying, is not something that comes naturally to humans, and we are becoming rightfully suspicious of anyone who makes it appear that way. No telling how long an original can last in a town full of spinoffs. But he's got four years--eight, if L.A. picks up his option.

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