Carrying the Waite:

SOUND OF FURY

HE WAS groomed for leadership in the halls of power that honeycomb the sacred ground under the cathedral in Canterbury. He was the golden boy, the whiz kid, the man the archbishops turned to before risking a dangerous political maneuver. He walked the path of God. Name: Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury's special envoy.

But you won't see Terry Waite on Celebrity Roundup any time in the near future. The same press that hailed him as the last hope of the Lebanese hostages now fills the spaces that once broadcast his message of hope with spreads on seasonal fashion trends and recipes for triple-tiered Jellocakes. People magazine, which hailed him as one of "1986's 10 most interesting people," has dropped him from their party list. Terry Waite, seized several weeks ago by Muslim fundamentalist, is a media nonentity.

Andy Warhol once said that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, and that certainly was true for Terry Waite. But now Warhol's dead too, and it didn't even take a quarter of an hour for people to start misspelling his name. The collective consciousness seems to be suffering a peculiar kind of amnesia, unable to remember anything except what's in front of it.

IT WOULD be paranoid to blame it all on some enormous plot, masterminded by the Master of Amnesia himself--but let's not name names, the President has been getting enough abuse lately. But the grim fact of the matter is that blame for the short attention span of the American public must be laid on the baby boomers.

The post-war generation invented the taste for mass-produced, disposable culture that we take for granted nowadays--a taste that even extends to our view of history. Where once the news media tried to place the news in a broad historical perspective, the closest they come today is producing specials on which Geraldo Rivera builds the public to a frenzy in anticipation of unlocking Al Capones' subletted crawlspace.

I can make the accusation because I'm one of the guilty: I'm partly responsible for the decline of American sensibilities. In fact, I might as well make a clean breast of it: I'm completely responsible.

I never intended to do any harm. I just wanted to have some innocent fun. It was the '60s and the spirit of adventure was in the air. I had managed to funnel some of the profits from a bustling amyl nitrate trade into real estate, and one of my tenants was a young artist named Andy Warhol.

He seemed pretty cool, if not very imaginative, and we used to hand out a lot of at the apartment and shoot the bull. I told him about some of my philosophies--he was a great listener--and encouraged him to try to break free from the mold. To demonstrate the point I showed him some woodblock prints I had done of a Lipton's Cup O' Soup box.

IDIDN'T see him for a while after that, and when I saw him again I realized I had created a monster. He had transformed my apartment--beautiful high ceilings with real hardwood floors--into a debauched crash pad for freaked-out artists and assorted hanger-on, calling it "The Factory". What's more, he had taken my concept and was churning it out on silkscreen by the thousands; the art scene was going wild. Unwittingly I had transformed the aesthetic perceptions of the West forever.

The story does not end there, however. Intrigued, I began to hang out at The Factory, trying to get a handle on what was going on. Gradually I made the acquaintance of a pensive, moody and occasionally aggressive young man from Oregon. He had taken too much acid back in Portland, he told me, freaked out, and killed a game warden. Now Satan was out to get him.

With much patience, and liberal does of what I believed at the time to be anti-psychotic drugs, I slowly began to turn the young man around. We took long walks in the park, read Emerson in the library, and discussed religion. The latter soon began to fascinate him; he would rap until deep in the night about God and salvation. In the end, I got sick of it and decided it was all a bunch of bull. Terry joined the Anglican Church.

It was almost twenty years from the windy day I saw Terry Waite off on his flight to Canterbury to the moment I first heard his name on the evening news. By then it was too late, for him, for me, for all of us. We cannot escape the past that we have constructed for ourselves; whatever duty Terry Waite thought he had to fulfill in the dangerous back allies of Muslim West Beirut, his fate lies in the hands of his God now.

Which means he probably won't be wanting back the money I owe him.

Rutger Fury, a former national political correspondent for The National Enquirer and bouncer at the Hard Rock Cafe, is a close confidante of Jeffery J. Wise.