l "The most interesting theory that I have heard so far, which is nothing more than a theory, I can't think - it can't be proved, is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now who knows what the real situation is." -- Howard Dean, Democratic candidate for president, on National Public Radio hinting that President Bush may have had advance warning about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks

l "No, I don't believe that. I can't imagine the president of the United States doing that. But we don't know, and it'd be a nice thing to know." -- Dean, clarifying his 9-11 conspiracy theory on "Fox News Sunday"

While in college working part-time at my hometown public library, I found myself on the "receiving end" of a conspiracy theory one Saturday. I was shelving books when a wild-eyed man in jeans and a dirty T-shirt approached and asked if I could find him a back issue of Congressional Quarterly. He gave me the date, and I asked him to follow me to the storage area that housed periodicals. I searched in vain for the publication while the other fellow, uninvited, elaborated on his philosophy of life. He hated church-goers because we're all a bunch of hypocrites. He wondered why the state would require a couple who live together to get a marriage license before enjoying certain legal privileges. And why should a guy like himself, who grew his own food and minded his own business, be forced to pay property taxes?

The fellow's provoking manner indicated he wanted to debate. Each time I tried to offer an opinion, however, he cut me off mid-sentence. So, wanting to help this guy and send him on his way, I continued searching for Congressional Quarterly.

"Doesn't look like the issue you need is here," I finally said.

"That's a little convenient, isn't it?"

I wasn't sure I followed my wild-eyed new friend's meaning. "People are sometimes slow about returning these periodicals. Looks like the issue you need is still out."

"Know what I think?" the fellow asked, smiling. "State government runs this library, right?" The man folded his arms, and the smile faded. "Sounds to me like someone in state government doesn't want me reading the information I was looking for."

I argued to the contrary. I insisted this wasn't part of some county-state-federal conspiracy to suppress information. The more I talked, the more I implicated myself in the man's paranoid delusion.

It finally dawned on me how pointless it was to try to prove a negative -- that I wasn't a foot soldier in some global plot -- to a lunatic. It was my turn to cut the other guy off in mid-sentence. "If you'll excuse me now, I have other patrons to help."

I returned to my work, and my truth-seeking friend wandered over to the circulation desk. He began quizzing my workmates about how much state government paid them.

When I hear a wild-eyed fellow like Howard Dean spin bizarre theories about 9-11, I think about Dean's soul mate, who, I reckon, still grows his own food somewhere in Grady County. I hope that President Bush - who has worked hard and well at protecting the United States from future terrorist threats -- will shrug his shoulders at Dean's rhetoric and just keep on working.

"If I don't win the nomination, where do you think those million and a half people, half a million on the Internet, where do you think they're going to go?" Dean says.

Well, Dean shouldn't worry. Folks who subscribe to what the Dean camp shovels always find a comfortable place out on the fringe.

To contact City editor Heath Griner, please call 244-3400 ext. 274 or e-mail him at heath.griner@gaflnews.com

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