Call him the Crayon of Dhahran, the Doodler of Dammam, or, maybe better yet, Benson of Arabia.
When editorial cartoonist Steve Benson heard that President Bush was "drawing a line in the sand" to counter Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he reacted like any red-blooded American satirist would - he packed his pens, grabbed some sunblock and hitched a ride aboard a U.S. military transport plane bound for Saudi Arabia, where he spent several days drawing his own lines on the front lines of Operation Desert Shield.Benson was the first - and so far the only - American editorial cartoonist to hit the beaches of the Persian Gulf.
Once on the ground, Benson and some fellow journalists struck out for the local market. Finding an authentic Arab eatery was as easy as pushing a camel through the eye of a needle. American-style fast food outlets were everywhere.
At one point, an unmarked car pulled up alongside. The driver, in unmistakable sign language, told everyone to freeze. Benson and his accomplices were under arrest of some sort. Within minutes, two policemen pulled up in a cruiser, demanding to see passports and credentials. They especially wanted to examine the minarets and mosques Benson had been drawing.
A crowd gathered, somber and staring. No one spoke English. No one smiled. The Saudis radioed for their supervisor.
Then Benson remembered his days as a struggling college student drawing quickie caricatures for tourists at Six Flags Over Texas. Now he drew the policemen's mugs, whipping off a look-alike of the fellow in the passenger seat in a couple of minutes. The crowd started smiling; now they were on the side of the Ugly Americans. Another policeman pulled up. He asked to see the sketches and told the first two cops to let Benson and his pals go. They hurried off, sticking close to Benson.
While some of the soldiers were itching for a fight, Benson found that a lot more were just plain itching. Sand as fine as talcum powder managed to seep into every nook and cranny of their boots, clothes and equipment.
Combine Saudi sand with Saudi sun and it took a pretty dry sense of humor to deal with the danger of dehydrating in the dunes.
His sojourn with the troops in the desert finally over, Benson returned home, emptied the sand from his sneakers, refilled his ink bottle and talked of his next Big Adventure - getting into Iraq to cartoon the Bozo of Baghdad.
This time his wife drew a line in the sand.
She said no.