The world has lost a brutal despot. Louis Schlamowitz has lost a great pen pal.
Canarsie’s famed autograph hound received four signed pictures and letters from Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafy, the eccentric authoritarian ruler who took time from his day job of turning oil-rich Libya into one of the world’s most repressive regimes to correspond with the retired florist for more than two decades.
“He was a good pen pal,” said Schlamowitz, who’s sent thousands of letters to world leaders asking for their autographs, and owns a collection of 6,000 signed pictures of everyone from Herbert Hoover to Anwar Sadat To Barack Obama. “Khadafy didn’t have to reply back to me, but he did.”
Khadafy answered Schlamowitz’s initial autograph request in 1979 with a signed picture.
True to form, Schlamowitz kept making requests, and two years later, the crazy colonel sent a rambling, incoherent two-page letter strewn with hateful references to Israel, America and the West — an unconventional approach towards currying favor with an American Jew.
“We call upon our friends all over the world to use every possible means to remind the American administration of its wrong policy,” Khadafy wrote, in reference to the United States’s reaction to the Iranian hostage crisis, then in its first days.
Khadafy rambled on, subjecting Schlamowitz to a diatribe on the unequal distribution of foreign aid and his own dire predictions of the consequences of an American military campaign in Libya.
“If America carried out an act of aggression against us, we will become a second Vietnam,” Khadafy warned.
The deranged despot ended his harangue with an upbeat “Best wishes!”
Schlamowitz stored the 1981 letter and three others that Khadafy sent to him in a loose-leaf binder dedicated to his correspondence with a who’s-who of 20th century leaders, including American presidents, European leaders and Middle East power brokers.
They include former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who sent the indefatigable autograph hound a dozen signed photos before relinquishing power earlier this year, and longtime Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat.
None met a bloodier end than Khadafy, but Schlamowitz — ever the consummate pro — only mourned his death long enough to make room in his binder for Libya’s next leader, whoever that is.
“Khadafy’s gone,” Schlamowitz said. “That’s the way the system works.”
Reach reporter Daniel Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (718) 260-8310.