I want new friends.

The old friends I have are loyal, but none of them has flown me to Paris or even bought me a pair of pants.

I want the kind of friends a U.S. senator gets.

Norm Coleman is not a relative of mine, but I would trade any of my real relatives for him because Norm has great friends, including a guy named Nasser Kazeminy, a big businessman who has flown Norm and members of his family to the Bahamas and Paris, which the rules allow, because he is an old friend. Or, as Norm says, "a friend with a plane."

I just wish I had a friend with a pontoon boat. I used to have a friend who lent me his pickup to take my hedge trimmings to the county brush pile. But after his kid got a driver's license, I never saw the truck again.

My friends are bums.

But not even Norm's friends buy his trousers. Norm made that clear Friday, at a news conference where he declared firmly that no one but he and his wife, Laurie, has paid for his clothes, which I was relieved to hear, because where I come from, we have a saying: "He who buys your pants gets to make you dance."

In case you haven't noticed, this is the weirdest election campaign ever, and it is beginning to get downright strange. Last week, a story was going around the Internet that Norm's buddy, Nasser, had bought some expensive suits for Norm at Neiman Marcus.

It's OK if your wife, your sister or Aunt Mildred helps you choose your clothes, but guys don't do that. Have you ever tried on a pair of pants with your friend, Bob, in the changing room, checking out the fit?

Don't answer that question.

Men need help choosing their clothes until someone picks out their last suit and puts them in a box. I have only bought a few pairs of pants on my own over the years, and I have always been sorry. My first pair, purchased at Montgomery Wards when I was 19, was a pair of Paisley bell-bottoms. My friends laughed.

I told you they were bums.

Norm's friends are better than mine, but no senator fighting for reelection can afford to have a story going around that his buddies buy his pants. That allegation originated online with the Washington editor of Harper's Magazine, Ken Silverstein, who irritated Norm last winter (Norm calls him "a left-wing guy with a political agenda") by making fun of Laurie Coleman's crucial invention of a device that allows you to use a portable hair dryer without your hands. It's called "Blo & Go," and I agree that Silverstein should be ashamed.

The jokes were too easy.

Now Silverstein claims that unnamed sources tell him Norm was suited by Nasser.

Norm's people refused to answer repeated questions from local reporters about it, and the stonewalling just made the story get bigger. By Friday, a Wall Street Journal blog was saying that the press was looking "for skeletons" in Norm's closet, although they were really just trying to track down his designer labels. As far as I know, nothing appeared in a newspaper about this except for an item on the Star Tribune op-ed page pointing to the Internet kerfuffle. The story finally made it into print over the weekend, but only because steam was coming from Norm's ears.

"Nobody but my wife and me buy my suits," the senior senator from Minnesota told the news conference.

Ah, another proud moment in Minnesota political history.

Past or present?

Even then, "Suitgate," as bloggers were calling it, didn't go away. Some news sources, cribbing from a rough transcript of the senator's remarks that were posted on his campaign site, quoted him as making his denial in the past tense: "Nobody but my wife and me bought my suits."

I talked to the senator later in the day and asked, which is it: Past or present? Is it nobody else "buys" your suits or nobody "bought" your suits?

Ah, another proud moment in Minnesota journalism.

"I'm not playing word games," Norm said in a tone that made me glad he was on the phone and not in the room. "No one has ever bought me suits, past or present."

I believe him. His shirt collar looked too big. He must have bought that one by himself.

Taking the High Road

I hope we have gotten to the bottom of Norm's Pants Caper. That would be nice, because there are few problems that seem more, um, pressing, than pants: wars, economic collapse, presidential elections, that kind of thing.

The real purpose of Norm's news conference was to announce that he was yanking his campaign's negative ads against Al Franken, his Democratic challenger, who has been made out by Norm's ads to look like a hit man for the Mob who could have you whacked. An impression, by the way, that is amplified by Franken's Tony Soprano suits.

Maybe Laurie Coleman could run Al through the men's departments at Rosedale.

With three weeks left in the election, negative ads don't seem to work anymore, so it's not a huge sacrifice for Norm to stop running attacks on Franken. I am glad that Norm is taking the High Road, but it is a bit like Farmer Jones deciding to stop butchering his chickens when there are only three left squawking. A nice gesture, but kind of late.

Anyway, back to my friends. Most of them cheat at cards and none of them knows to shut up when I am telling a joke. But they have been good friends for a long time, and I can't quit them. But one of them better buy me lunch.

ncoleman@startribune.com • 612-673-4400