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No, I wasn't Mr. Tracy, but I almost wished I was

Dec 5, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

On a fall visit to my son�s college campus in Connecticut not long ago, I was headed down to the lobby in the hotel elevator. My plan was to do a campus walk-around for, oh, I don�t know� maybe the fourth time that day. (It�s a great place to walk around, and I love doing it.)

The elevator stopped on the sixth floor, and a tall man possessed of an imposing presence stepped in. He had thinning hair, gray, with steely eyes and rigid posture. In the most general terms he looked like a younger, taller version of John Houseman, the glowering British actor from �The Paper Chase.�

We stood there in the elevator compartment, me slightly to the rear. He wore a navy blue suit with pinstripes, cut from heavy wool. It looked like it was made of iron. His supple leather briefcase looked as if it had just been wiped and polished.

After a few seconds, he turned to me and boomed �Are you Mr. Tracy?�

I am not a short man, but I felt I was being loomed over by this authoritarian figure.

Was I Mr. Tracy? A bit flummoxed, I pondered the question for a split second longer than necessary under his intense stare.

Finally, the answer came to me.

�No,� I managed to say.

�Oh,� he replied, turning briskly away.

He pulled a cell phone from his suit pocket and fingered the buttons.

�Is the car ready?� he asked. �This is Mr. Negroponte.�

At this point I remind readers that I am a newspaper man. I am the kid who started watching the evening network news when I was 10 years old (John Chancellor of NBC was my guy). I memorized the Associated Press �Year in Review� books that my dad brought home from the office. And I have edited The Ranger�s daily World and Nation news pages for the past 26 years.

So I recognized the name. I was on the elevator with John Negroponte.

John Negroponte, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, ambassador to Iraq during Bush�s re-election campaign. John Negroponte, the first U.S. Director of National Intelligence, a cabinet level office create after 9/11 with him in mind as the originator of the job. Deputy Secretary of State in the second Bush term. Ambassador to Mexico, Honduras, the Philippines. He was our man in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Colin Powell�s comrade in arms. John Negroponte, a founding �fellow� of Yale�s new $50 million Jackson Institute on Global Affairs, along with Henry Kissinger, among others.

And he wanted to know if I was Mr. Tracy! Me, the guy from Wyoming visiting his son in college. Me, heading out to browse the T-shirts at the Yale Bookstore. Me, who had spent 45 minutes earlier that day taking pictures of the gargoyles at the law school building.

I was thrilled that he might even presume I was Mr. Tracy ��whoever that was.

The door opened. An entourage numbering half a dozen was assembled to greet Negroponte. A young woman stepped ford with her hand extended.

�Good afternoon,� Mr. Negroponte. �I�m Tracy.�

And then, for an instant, the VIP turned his head for the quickest of peeks back at me. I wasn�t Mr. Tracy after all. There was no Mr. Tracy, in fact. There was just Tracy, and it was someone else. His backward glance conveyed an unmistakable message. You are dismissed.

I hung around in the lobby for a couple of minutes, getting a drink of water, pretending to consult the train schedule, and generally milling about while the entourage got things together. The long limousine waited just outside the door, its windows impenetrably black. Negroponte said his wife would be down in a moment.

�We�ll be going to Rosenkranz Hall,� someone said.

�Rosenkranz Hall,� he repeated. �Where is that?�

I felt myself take a step forward. I knew where Rosenkranz Hall was! I had gone past it earlier that very day on walk-around No. 2. I wasn�t really on the main campus, but a block or two removed. I could get him there. We would walk over together. And chat.

Then the fog lifted. This was John Negroponte. He had been around the world. He had a limo waiting. He had an entourage. He didn�t need the tourist from Wyoming with gargoyle pictures on his camera.

Mrs. Negroponte appeared. The group strode to the entrance. The ambassador spoke briefly to the driver, who closed the door after Negroponte was settled in the back seat.

You�ve done your part, I told myself. Tracy could take it from here.

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