COLUMBUS _ "Dear Mr. President: Get out of Afghanistan!" Uncle Chet read as I scraped maroon epoxy paint off an antique dining room chair.
"Amen to that," I said as I knelt on the concrete barn floor, drawing a curved blade across the wide seat. Try as I might, it skipped along the glossy surface, making little progress.
"Get out now, while the gettin's bad," he read. "And before it's worse."
"This isn't going to work," I said. "I'm going to have to use a heat gun or stripper."
"If you have stripper, go with that," Uncle Chet said. "Goop it on and come back in an hour."
"I'll look in the shed," I said as I arose.
"Do you want to hear this?" he gave the yellow legal pad a little shake.
"Sure," I said. "I've just got to keep moving."
"I understand," he said from the lawn chair, but made no move to come with me to the storage shed -- our little Love Canal in old cans and plastic bottles.
Pennzoil, Brasso, Raid, paint, lacquer, Waterlox, turpentine, mineral spirits, waste oil, antifreeze, red grease, foamy white de-greaser, and of course propane, gasoline and diesel. All the usual smells were there, but I couldn't find StripEase -- methyl-chloride -- that incomparable brain arrester.
I walked back to the barn and took out a heat gun.
"Better get a mask," Uncle Chet said. "And I'm leaving if you're going to use that thing. I've already inhaled a lifetime quota."
"I couldn't find any stripper, except that orange-scented stuff," I said. "And that doesn't work."
"If the can doesn't have a skull and crossbones on it, what's inside is useless," he said. "Tell you what: give me five minutes, then I'll borrow your rowboat for an hour and let you work."
I sat down on the lawn tractor. "So, you've written the commander-in-chief again?"
"Last week, his office sent me an e-mail asking me to sign an electronic birthday card, and this is what I wrote back," he said.
"Let her rip," I said.
"Dear Mr. President: Get out of Afghanistan! Get out now, while the getting's bad, and before it's worse.
"You have no moral way to win this occupation. Yes, you could nuke the country in frustration, but short of that, the resistance will not be crushed," he read. "It's too diffuse, too desperate.
"Afghanistan is a graveyard of foreign ambition. Perhaps an outside power could win hearts and minds in that country, but anyone who comes in with fleet of gunships is doomed, and that's how we arrived.
"You can't bomb your way to popularity. You can bomb your way to respect, but only when your cause is just, and ours is not.
"The Afghanis have done nothing to warrant this last nine years of war.
"Before you say 9/11, Mr. President, remember that not one of our attackers in 2001 was Afghani. Before you say 9/11, Mr. President, remember the Taliban offered to turn over Osama bin Laden if we could supply proof of his guilt.
"Before you say 9/11, Mr. President, I ask whatever happened to this bin Laden, this madman, we are supposedly tracking down? Where is Ronald Reagan's former freedom fighter, who armed his men with $1.97 box cutters and led us into two trillion-dollar wars? Is he dead, except for the occasional, predictable audio tape?
"Or is he alive and well, a director of one of the corporations that has profited so handsomely in the search for him?
"One problem with war, Mr. President, is that it spreads like influenza. Afghanistan has already bled into Iraq, and now threatens to blow up Iran and Pakistan.
"Two wars have brought us nearly to our knees economically. Four would bring down the house and might lead to Armageddon.
"I know, you didn't start this mess, but only you can lead us out of it.
"Please, start leading.
"And, have a happy birthday..."
Cooperstown Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week. For more of his columns, visit www.thedailystar.com/tomgrace.