Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"Are you ready to be tapped?" inquired the reporter from Enid, Okla., her finger poised to do the tapping.
"Certainly," replied the President of the United States.
With that, the annual Christmas party for the White House press corps - 1,200 strong including spouses - was off and dancing Tuesday. And if some in the throng had been calling him the most unsocial President since Calvin Coolidge, you'd never have known it from the way they crowded in for a closer look.
Some stood in the rain nearly 20 minutes waiting to get in. And when they finally did, they found that others who had gotten there first had drunk up all the White wine.
Others waited on the dance floor to take a spin with Carter. "I didn't know I was so popular," he said, planting a kiss on the head of veteran correspondent Naomi Nover.
Sally Steele of The Enid (Okla.) Daily News and Eagle started it all when she cut in on the Carters after they completed their debut spin on the East Room dance floor. While President Carter danced with Steele, Mrs. Carter danced with Holmes Alexander of McNaught Syndicate.
After that it was anybody's dance who asked. "I'm sorry," Carter told one reporter, stranded in the middle of the floor, "but you'll have to wait I promised the next one to that lady."
The party was the wind-up for a holiday spree that began nearly two weeks ago when the Carters gave an impromptu dinner dance for members of their senior White House staff after the state visit of Morocco's King Hassan II fell through.
That night Carter danced with "everybody," according to one staffer who was there. "I think the Carters danced more thn anybody else at the party."
The following week, the Christmas season officially got under way with a reception for Congress and a Santa Claus who doubled during the day as Carter's congressional liaison Frank Moore.
One week, eight parties and eight special holiday tours later, the Carters had entertained 12,300 guests, served 209 gallons of punch, 8,000 cookies, 200 fruit cakes, 10 steamship rounds of beef, 12 Virginia baked hams and 12 roasted turkeys.
Billy Eckstine and the Big Band Sound wrapped up the season musicaily for the press party Tuesday night. As for the gifts, the President was keeping his for Mrs. Carter secret. He had bought it from a selection shown him in his office, he said. And he had known exactly what he wanted.
Did he always get exactly what he wanted one reported asked.
"No," he replied. "Not alway."