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Belaboring the dubious

Sunday, February 01, 1998

By Brian O'Neill

Rumor is that if the president sees Kenneth Starr's shadow tomorrow, we'll have six more weeks of Sam Donaldson talking like Dr. Ruth.

Forget that for now, gentle reader. You're on the front page of the Region section, a haven from all the verbiage about how much we don't know about you know what.

So reheat the coffee. Let the cat out. Settle in. Relax. Spend a few minutes catching up on an event that was unfairly shunted to an inside page last week, despite the international prominence of its central figure.

I am referring, of course, to the death of Emil Sitka, that favorite foil of the Three Stooges, whose obituary ran on page B-10 last Sunday.

It was an obit to which any reader might relate. Surely, any man would be honored to have the lead paragraph of his death notice include: "If he didn't get poked in the eye or bopped on the head, he was sure to catch a cream pie in the kisser."

Fame. I want to live forever.

There's also a local connection. Sitka, who died at 83, was a Johnstown native. Orphaned at 12, according to The New York Times, Sitka broke into acting "as a teen-ager in church passion plays while living with a priest in Pittsburgh."

Proud? You bet I'm proud. But given the events of the past week, one can't help but be struck - not with Moe's two-by-four; I'm speaking metaphorically - by the parallels between Stooge-watching and watching the news from Washington.

Half the nation is fascinated. Half is disgusted. Some can't get enough. And while many men howl at the comedy, none wants to watch it with his mother. Or his kids.

Meanwhile, the man at the center of everything continues on, even as indignities are heaped upon him.

"A victim of soycumstance," a President Curly might say.

The old rules of journalism, of fact-checking and considering the reliability of sources before broadcasting their charges, seem to have gone the way of the Dodo in this age of radio call-ins and Internet mad dogs. This might alarm you, but to me it's liberating. It frees me to use something here that surely would have been scotched in the past.

It's a transcript of dubious authenticity. But I can produce a friend who will swear it chronicles his meeting with Sitka not long ago. My source wore a wire when they met in a place where any fan of lunacy and mayhem would feel comfortable, the hallway outside the Allegheny County assessors' office.

Source: Pleasure to meet you.

Sitka: Wherever a man is getting slapped in the face or poked in the eye, I'll be there. Wherever a man is getting clumps of hair ripped out or pulled by the nose with a pair of pliers, I'll be there.

Source: That's swell, Emil, but why are you telling me this?

Sitka: Because you're a Stooge fan and I'm the last link to those fine films. Did you read John Hayes' story in the Post-Gazette this past November, where he said all personality types can be narrowed down to a Moe, a Larry or a Curly?

Source: Sure. I read it.

Sitka: Do you remember a politician described as "something of a Stoogian enigma . . . prone to schizophrenic, Third-Stoogian policy twists. Yet he's alleged to possess the Moe-ian gall to pinch the bottoms of his `goil' friends."

Source: Yes.

Sitka: I feel his pain.

That's it. That's the entire transcript. Surely, though, that's enough evidence to question the circumstances of Sitka's death, and for Starr to open a new line of inquiry. Just don't expect my testimony without a guarantee of immunity.

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