Well, we're not playing Blackjack, but 21 does seem to be the number lately. I've given you 21 women I'd like to have lunch with, 21 places I'd like to visit - and now, 21 men I'd like to have lunch with. So if you're wondering, no - I haven't run lists of 21 somethings into the ground yet.
So here, in no particular order, are the 21 men I'd like to have lunch with.
1. Kim Jong Il. It's obvious the North Korean dictator is off his rocker, which is precisely why you want him at any lunch party you throw. His pantsuit would add a certain "Communist chic" to the fashion around the table, and I could ask him about his rap albums, and if he's ever tempted to hold a press conference and tell his citizens, "Just kidding! I'm not divine."
2. Charles Barkley. This former basketball player, current sports commentator is famous for his mock turtlenecks and conservative politics. I think he'd bring a very unique perspective to conversation. I'd also like to see how tall he is, and what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to better represent conservative ideas. Plus I'd like him to play some one-on-one with Kim Jong Il.
3. Paul McCartney. As the remaining Beatles are slowly whittled away, it would be historically memorable to have Sir Paul grace my table - a man who's crafted the songs we sing, hum, recognize, and love. I'd be tempted to ask him about Heather, but wouldn't have the guts. But I would ask him to play a bit on the piano as other guests arrive. And hey - the man recently sold out a Vegas show in eight seconds. SECONDS.
4. Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger). While I'm not much of a fan of the German language, I do appreciate the current Pontiff. My perception may be way off base, but he strikes me as fiesty and possibly prone to crankiness, though not unkindness. I like gruff old guys, and he certainly is a bulldog for doctrine, which I respect. I think he's a good man, and a very, very intelligent man.
5. Christopher Hitchens. Though I wouldn't seat them next to each other, Christopher Hitchens has all the bulldog, cranky tendencies with none of the kindly ones. He's an absolute so and so who frequently looks hung over and disheveled. But he's an intellectually honest atheist, and by that, I mean he's consistent, and he doesn't pretend to be nice, which I can respect much more than the sniveling Richard Dawkins. Christopher Hitchens isn't easily pigeonholed, either - I've enjoyed reading his rather conservative political opinions.
6. Nelson Mandela. Enough said.
7. Paul Lieberstein. "Toby" from "The Office," Paul is also a frequent writer of my favorite comedy, as well as producer. He's tended to write some of my favorite episodes, and I think it's interesting to see the "small town" tendencies that this show has, of writers who act, actors who produce, producers who write, and on and on. I think it's a healthy trend that keeps the "brand" of the show consistent, and really develops loyalty to a series.
8. Bono. The Irish rocker's latest musical efforts on U2's "No Line on the Horizon" have been called some of the most blatantly spiritual of the band's albums to date. He's never claimed to be a saint - but he's always allowed himself to be driven to search for truth. And he went from singer to international humanitarian, working tirelessly with politicians of all stripes (including George W.) to secure funding to fight the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
9. George W. Bush. To paraphrase, of all people, Barbara Walters, "say what you will about this President, for whatever reason, we haven't had another 9/11 while he's been in office, and that's something we can all be grateful for." Love him or hate him, he was elected for two terms as a leading figure in the free world.
10. Anthony Hopkins. He is a treasure of a classic British actor. Whether his films become timeless (his Hannibal Lector portrayals) or under-the-radar ("The World's Fastest Indian"), Anthony Hopkins raises the bar. Interestingly, he also paints, and is quite good at it, too.
11. Billy Graham. The famous crusader has preached to millions, over decades, and has remained a true gentleman through it all. Never haunted by scandal, he lost his beloved Ruth a couple of years ago, and his health has faltered considerably as he ages. But the world is a better place while he is in it, and it would be an honor to visit with him and enjoy his gentle presence.
12. Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani fascinates me. He's likeable, for one thing - you don't have to agree with all his politics to think he must be an interesting guy to have a conversation with. And he epitomizes the New Yorker. He has his faults, but you get the idea that he's well aware of them.
13. Prince Charles. I think his treatment of his young bride was revolting. That being said, I'm curious to see whether he's as much of an idiot as he manages to appear frequently. He's a gardener, and I have a hard time writing gardeners off completely. Simply because he's a gardener, I would give him the chance to redeem himself from the classic Monty Python "Upper Class Twit of the Year" award.
14. Speaking of which - Monty Python. I'm not sure if they're all still living, but I would like to have lunch with those who are. I know John Cleese and Michael Palin are still raising heck, but that's because they've established pretty successful post-Python careers. Monty Python still makes me laugh, and embodies some of what I like the best about British humor. And I think they'd really enjoy sitting next to a Communist dictator. And I would enjoy surrounding him with Monty Python alums.
15. Elie Wiesel. The tragic, broken Holocaust survivor would have a warm place of honor and welcome at my table.
16. Mel Gibson. The tortured soul, riddled with addictions, "found religion" and has been a devout adherent to the Tridentine Mass, a Latin, pre-Vatican II rite. I have a lot of respect for Mel Gibson. He made a movie - "The Passion of the Christ" - which was sure to be received well by many of the Christian faith, but would also be sure to get him blackballed in Hollywood. He doesn't pretend to be something he's not. He still has a sense of humor. But I believe he's sincere in his faith, and I appreciate that.
17. Alvin Plantinga. Quite simply, he's written some of the most academically challenging material I've ever read. A philosopher of religion at Notre Dame, Plantinga is One Smart Cookie. If academics is cerebral weight lifting, you gotta spend some time in the gym and work up to Plantinga: but it's worth it.
18. Yo-Yo Ma. He is an artist for your ears. It would be a treat to discover more about him in person.
18. Tony Dungy. The former Indianapolis Colts coach embodied what it means to be a gentleman and an athlete. He let the Colts through a historic Manning era and weathered the personal tragedy of losing a son, in the midst of it. He recently retired to spend more time with nonprofit work, and in devotion to his public Christian faith.
19. Jack White. Bandmember of the "White Stripes," the Detroit native started out as an upholsterer - a rather unusual one, upholstering only in certain colors, and frequently issuing invoices in crayon. The other member of the "White Stripes" was his ex-wife, girl-drummer Meg. Jack always looks like he's walked out of a Tim Burton movie set. He'd be a great guest to throw into the mix.
20. Russell Crowe. At one point known most for his temper, the actor has played some great historic roles, not least of which in "Master and Commander," a favorite movie of mine. More recently, he's settled down with his family, though the Aussie still isn't particularly overfriendly with the media. But he did have a Byzantine chapel built on his ranch, and was baptized there along with his sons, when he realized he wanted them baptized. He's a gifted actor and unpredictable person.
21. For purely curious and nosy reasons, Jack Kevorkian. I completely disagree with everything the man stands for; therefore, I want to meet him. I'd be tempted to almost let him choke on something, then whack him on the back and say "sorry, I couldn't tell if you wanted to live or die."
Okay, I used up my 21. Let it be known that I would also set a place for the dead: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, Martin Luther, St. Thomas Aquinas, Albert Einstein, Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Heath Ledger, Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, Gengis Khan, Henry VIII, William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Douglas Adams, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Christopher Wren, Don Knotts, Charles Dickens, and my own grandfather who has joined the "choir invisible," Robert Bruce White.
Also, I would scoot everybody a little closer together and invite Andy Griffith to my lunch.