Most people who live outside of Washington are under the impression that the only two topics of conversation in this town are politics and government. This may have been true at one time, but it isn't any more.
For a while the main topic was sex. But recently this subject has waned, and now all people talk about is the high cost of real estate.
I went to a party the other night and cornered an assistant secretary of state. "How did things go at Camp David?" I asked him.
"It was beautiful. My wife and I are thinking of buying a weekend retreat near Thurmont. It's 40 acres of farmland and they want $3,500 an acre."
"What about the talks? Do you think anything will come of them?"
"Oh, we talked to the banker. They'll give us a mortgage at 10 percent: However, we have to put 30 percent down. But it has a stream running right through it, and I'm told if I hold on to it for five years I'll double my money."
"Did you speak to Sadat and Begin?"
"What for? They don't know anything about real estate in Maryland."
I wandered over to a couple who were whispering and giggling. I thought there was some hanky-panky going on since he was a congressman and she was from the typing pool in HEW.
I strained my ears to hear what they were saying:
"So I figured after my divorce, I'd keep the house in Washington and give my wife the house back home. She agreed. I didn't want the house in Washington, so I put it up on the market, thinking I'd get $90,000. The first offer came in and it was $120,000. I was about to agree when I got the second offer for $145,000. Do you know what I finally sold the house for? One hundred and sixty thousand dollars."
You could tell the secretary was impressed. "Now I know why the people from your district elected you."
"Why don't we got to your place for a drink after the party?" the congresssman said.
"I'd love to, but I live with four other girls. We pay $250 each a month and that doesn't include utilities."
"Well, my kids are staying with me at the Watergate in a two-bedroom flat which costs me $1,000 a month. As soom as I buy a condominium for $90,000 plus $450 maintenance, I'll give you a call."
"I tried to get in on the conversation. "The house next to me just went on the market for $250,000 and it doesn't even have a finished basement."
The congressman took the girl by the arm and started to walk away. "I'm sorry," he said, "this is a private conversation."
I looked around the room and saw a Treasury official. "How far do you think the dollar will fall against the Japanese yen?" I asked him.
"It's hard to say. Frankly, I think it's bottomed out. A Japanese official with the World Bank looked at a house on our block in Cleveland Park, which was selling for $180,000, and he told the owner he couldn't affort it. When th Japanese start talking like that you know the yen is in trouble."
Driving home that night my wife said. "I sat next to the most fascinating man at dinner tonight and we had a marvelous talk."
"You were sitting next to Henry Kissinger."
"Not him, the man who was sitting on my left. He's a contractor and he's building 20 new townhouses on Chain Bridge Road."