One irony of the town hall health care debates was that they weren’t debates, they were shouting matches. In New Jersey, a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair tried to speak but an angry middle-aged man kept yelling at her. “It’s some country,” he said shamelessly, “when a woman in a wheelchair has more rights than I do.”

During President Obama’s recent address to the joint session of Congress, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) spontaneously (?) shouted, “You lie!” (Apparently he thought it was Congressional open mic night.)

Before his episode, Joe’s claim to fame was having voted to keep the confederate flag flying over the South Carolina Capitol.

At Joe’s outburst, the disgust on Nancy Pelosi’s face resulted in numerous Botox jokes. But let’s not forget Pelosi’s porcine predecessor, Dennis Hastert (who always reminded me of a character from “Da Bears” skit on “Saturday Night Live”).

Denny once drove to a news conference about rising gas prices in a hybrid car. Afterwards however, and miles away, he squeezed his humongous tuchus back into his gas guzzling SUV (unaware that a local news crew was videotaping him — “Da Bears!”).

While 65 percent of the people want public option health care, 100 percent of the lobbyists, insurance companies and politicians, all feeding from the same trough, want the status quo. So they invent “death panels” and label public option advocates socialist do-gooders. (When did “doing good” become bad?)

To suggest that we can’t afford health care as we waste trillions in Iraq, is obscene. Forget that Medicare takes 3 percent in administrative costs while insurance companies take 30 percent, many people just hate the federal government. As a former federal employee, and in the immortal words of the Three Stooges, “I resemble that remark.”

Back in my hippie days, I worked for the U.S. Forest Service driving a garbage truck in mountain campgrounds above Palm Springs. Having a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, and a year of law school, my parents weren’t exactly overjoyed with my career choice.

The truck was a 2-ton International Harvester with 10 speeds, a compactor and a hydraulic lift that raised the bed. Being a Jewish kid from L.A., this was the toy I never had.

On the weekends I patrolled the campgrounds in a pick-up with a red light and siren (more toys) looking for illegal campfires. I also checked to see that campers paid their daily $2 fees (deposited in the slot of a steel post).

If a camper hadn’t paid, I always gave them a second chance. Without exception they would rush to the box while I continued on my rounds. Actually, there was one exception.

The heavily tattooed couple included a forklift operator who resembled a white Mike Tyson, and his biker girlfriend, a poor woman’s Cher. As there was still no envelope in the box, reluctantly I took out my ticket book. But “Cher” kept insisting that she had given “Tyson” the money. (I later discovered that he had pocketed it!)

As I began writing the ticket, in an eerily calm voice, he asked how much was it going to cost. Foolishly, I told him. A millisecond later his fist was in my chest and I noticed I was having trouble breathing.

In desperation, I bear hugged him to the ground as he was still flailing away. Finally Cher’s screaming somehow shamed him into stopping. This put an end to this ugly incident, or so I thought.

To my chagrin, on Monday, the district ranger decided to prosecute the camper for “assaulting a federal officer.” That meant I had to see this guy again, this time in federal court. (Naturally, my mother took the whole incident as an omen that maybe I would finish law school.)

Accompanied by his lawyer, Tyson wore an ill-fitting suit while Cher was dressed for church choir (forgetting the tattoos).

His “explanation” for punching me was that he had tripped, to which the Judge nearly spit out his coffee. He was sentenced to eight weekends in jail and a $1,000 fine. As we left the courtroom, he glared at me like Charles Manson glared at Vincent Bugliosi.

Six months later, I was standing in an unemployment line. (The Forest Service job was seasonal). I glanced two rows over and there was Tyson. I froze. Given what he had done over $2, I could only imagine what he’d do now.

I tiptoed out the back and called the unemployment office from a pay phone across the street. The female clerk thought the story was hysterical (hardly comforting) but did excuse me from showing up that day.

I still hold out hope there will be a public option health care plan. While Joe the Congressman, Limbaugh, Beck and other Republicans have been loathsome, thankfully Obama, a fan of Lincoln, hasn’t had to bear hug anybody. On the other hand, maybe he should.

Jack can be reached at jackneworth@yahoo.com.