WASHINGTON - "Nobody told me the damn thing was formal," said Vice President Dick Cheney in response to a reporter's question about his attire at a gathering of world leaders at Auschwitz to mark the 60th anniversary of its liberation on Thursday. "I would have worn my black parka if I had known."
While other world leaders attended the outdoor ceremony at the former Nazi death camp wearing dark overcoats and dress shoes or boots, Cheney stood out like an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. Worse yet, the parka was embroidered with his name.
"Mon dieu," gasped French president Jacques Chirac after the ceremony. "He looked like some retard being shipped off to a ski camp for fat kids."
The vice president's choice of a hat was equally disturbing. Instead of a fedora, a Stetson, a fur hat, or any kind of headwear one might expect a representative of his country to select for a solemn observation, Cheney was tricked out in a ski cap embroidered with the words: "Staff 2001."
"Why did our spies in the White House not warn us about this," fumed Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. "We must not let the world forget what has happened here today."
Even England's prime minister, Tony Blair, who is on the U.S. payroll, was overheard to remark, "Bloody hell, he looks like a drunken football fan who crashed a funeral."
Cheney's wife, Lynne, who was with him when he arrived at Andrews Air Force Base last night, tried to make light of the incident. "Dick's always been a little fashion impaired," she laughed. "Fortunately I was able to talk him out of wearing his monogrammed Top Gun sun glasses."
Mrs. Cheney also revealed that her husband had wanted to wear a Hawaiian shirt to their wedding. "I told him he'd be celebrating his wedding night alone if he did," she said.
"That's how I celebrated it anyway," the vice president muttered as the couple stepped into their waiting Humvee.
Auschwitz was not the first time the vice president's clothes created a controversy. Two years ago he wore a Michael Jordan jersey and a pimp hat to a fund raiser for the Black Political Caucus, and last year he stunned the executive board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving by wearing a Budweiser windbreaker to its annual picnic.
In related news, President Bush sent Cheney a memo yesterday, advising him that cutoffs and a T-shirt "really aren't appropriate for cabinet meetings."