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The Unforgettable Work of Art
For Buchwald's Birthday, Friends Celebrate His Gift

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2005

"What was going on in there tonight?" said Hudnik, the taxi driver.

I was leaving the French Embassy.

"A party for the Brady Center," I said.

"Marcia?" asked Hudnik. "No, Jim," I said. "And Art."

"Marcia was the blonde with legs," said Hudnik. "Who's Jim? And what's his thing with French art?"

"No, Art is a person," I said. "Art Buchwald. He's the one with the thing for the French. Don't you read his column? He's been writing it forever, 50 years or something. It's in 100 papers."

"Who can read 100 papers?" said Hudnik. "I can hardly get through The Washington Post."

We started down Reservoir Road. "I don't like this guy Mark Souder," he grumbled.

"Well, he wasn't at the party," I said. "Why don't you like him?"

"Because he's the guy in Congress who came up with this bright idea to get rid of this law here in the District banning handguns," said Hudnik. "That happens, I figure my chances getting shot out here are even better."

"Art says he's moving to Florida," I said, "because Jeb Bush has signed that Shoot First law down there. You know, if someone is going to shoot you, you can shoot him first? Art says that when he gets to Florida, and all those old people are standing in line for the Early Bird Special, under the law he can now say, 'Get back in line or you are a dead senior citizen!' "

Hudnik jerked the wheel suddenly. "I don't like this Art, either," he said.

"No, no," I said, "the difference with Art is, he's joking . That's why we were at the party. Art is about to turn 80 and he got 450 people to come to his party and write a check to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. That's where Jim comes in. President Reagan's former press secretary? Who was left paralyzed when John Hinckley shot him and Reagan? Jim and his wife, Sarah, have been campaigning for gun control ever since. Anyway, Mike Wallace stood up and called Art shameless, but he wrote his check for $250 anyway. And everybody clapped."

"So that's what all those Kennedys were doing there," said Hudnik. "I saw them going in. The senator. And Ethel. And lots of their kids. Patrick. He's in Congress, right?"

"Yes," I said. "Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- she used to be the lieutenant governor of Maryland -- thanked Art for all the writing he has done on gun control. She said her father, who was Bobby Kennedy, had the same confusion with Art that you did, by the way."

"How so?" said Hudnik.

"She said her mother was always going off to Paris to see Art, and her father thought she was at the Louvre," I said.

"Art lived for many years in Paris and wrote a column from there. He was quite the bon vivant, to hear tell of it. He was always at Bobby and Ethel's house, Hickory Hill, for dinner parties and playing tennis in Hyannis. At one of the Hickory Hill parties, she said, Art sat next to a woman whose place card said Frances Gumm, and never talked to her all night, because he didn't recognize her as anybody he should know.

"And finally, at the end of the evening, he turned to her and said, 'What do you do?' "

"Do people still talk this way at these Washington dinner parties?" asked Hudnik. "I don't get to many of those."

"All the time, believe me," I said.

"So what did the woman say?" Hudnik asked.

"She told Art she sang and danced a little, and he asked her what she sang, and she said, 'Over the Rainbow.' Judy Garland was just her stage name. Her real name was Frances Gumm.

"Everybody really laughed at that tonight."

"Was that before or after the champagne?" Hudnik asked.

"Between champagnes," I said. "There was champagne before dinner, a St. Germain, and then there was champagne after dinner, a Bouvier, along with le gateau d'anniversaire . These are the French, you know. You could hear the corks popping the whole time Art was speaking.

"Art said if people didn't like their seats it was because FEMA had done the seating. He said, 'You don't become 80 all by yourself.' He thanked his children, Joel, Tamara, Connie and Jennifer, and his friends Mark Shields and Ben Bradlee. And he thanked his doctor, too, for keeping him alive after his stroke."

"Does Art have a blog?" said Hudnik.

"Are you kidding?" I said. "Art had a blog before Al Gore invented the Internet."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company