Picture Tom Brokaw, host of NBC's Today Show, at the crack of dawn -- peering intently into the (closed) toy store window of New York's F.A.O. Schwarz at the bobbing, whirring toy display.
Now picture CBS White House correspondent Bob Schieffer riding a little toy car up and down the mall of the Foxhall Square shopping center in Washington early one Sunday morning also outside a closed toy store.
What are these two tough newsmen doing? Each, as it turns out, has a wife who owns and runs a toy store. Neither of these veteran reporters can resist helping out a bit.
From New York, Tom Brokaw marvels at how his wife Meredith and her business partner Mary Slawson have turned a onetime plumber's shop, in a narrow trip of land on 91st and Madison in Manhattan, into a toy store complete with bright colors and whirring, musical noise.
He gives all credit to his wife for the two-month-old toy store, but has been known to offer some advice, according to Meredith Brokaw: "What on earth is THAT?" she said he once exclaimed about a certain toy she refused to identify. "Put that on sale!"
From Washington, Bob Schieffer delights in his wife Pat's two-year-old store that she and her partner Beth Gibbens operate. But he takes a little credit for some things.
Take, for instance, the dinosaur.
Standing in the middle of Tree Top Toys (the store's name which he helped select), he points to the dinosaur skeleton, all 40-plus pieces of delicate thin wood ribs, suspended from the ceiling over a display of boxed $30 and $40 prehistoric animal kits. "It's funny, but this is one of the easiest toys I've put together," says Schieffer, a whiz at this sort of stuff, whose past accomplishments include assembling a doll house and a play house. He scrutinized the dinosaur. "You just punch out piece number one and put it in slot number one. I think it took me 15 minutes."
Schieffer, however, is quick to point out that he stays out of the decision-making. "I don't tell him how to run the White House," said Pat Schieffer, "and he doesn't tell me how to run my toy store."
Schieffer also designed the simple tree logo that goes with the name and he designed the bright green tree backdrop of the store window. To top it-off he wrote the press release on the store.
"They were very successful," he says about the press releases that say children are encouraged to touch, play with, and otherwise examine the toys. "A TV station came and did a story on the store. I felt like a big time PR man," he laughs.
It is, of course, no accident that this pair of TV news families are into toys. The Brokaws and the Schieffers are old and good friends. And Pat Schieffer's toy store was an inspiration and Pat a willing guide for Meredith Brokaw's store.
"It really is kind of funny, you know," Schieffer says. "We've been good friends. Tom and I were direct competitors at the White House. He covered it after I covered it. Then he did the Saturday evening news for NBC when I was doing the Saturday evening news for CBS. Now, I'm going to be doing the morning news for CBS, and he does the morning show for NBC."
"Looks like we're stuck with each other," Schieffer says -- and grins.
Brokaw, in New York, says cheerfully as he stands in the middle of his wife's toy store "Bob and I talk about politics first and toys second, and sometimes not in that order."
Brokaw's most steady function at his wife's store, Penny Whistle, is walking Meredith the 10 blocks to their home when the store closes in the evening. But occasionally. the clerks.
"I used to work in retail," he says in the low, authoritative newsman's voice that has become his trademark. "I used to sell clothes. I'm the experienced hand in the store.
Walking through the store, Brokaw gives it the same once-over with his careful newsman's eye that Schieffer gives his wife's store in Washington. When Meredith informs him that they have sold a great deal of stock and must start restocking the shelves, Brokaw says soberly, "You do look a little depleted."
There is no doubt that Brokaw's toy consciousness has been raised. When asked what his favorite toys are, Brokaw walks over to a battery-operated plastic dumping truck extra-vaganza and picks up one of the dump trucks. "I love this Big Load," he says.
Brokaw explains his stopping by F.A.O. Schwarz "I go by very early in the morning," he says. "I can look when nobody is around. I told Meredith there was a whole electronics window."
Brokaw stays away from some of the more difficult aspects of the toy business such as the elaborate and cheerful window display. "It's clear that's too clever for me to have done," he says. When told that Schieffer does windows for Tree Top Toys, Brokaw frowns and says, "Oh, I think he just helps out. He just takes more credit."
But Schieffer claims that in fact he does occasionally do the window displays. (And, of course, he did design the trees that stand perpetually in the background.)
"The best window I ever did was a circus window," Schieffer says. "We got old circus posters and we dressed up the bear (the mammoth stuffed brown bear that sits patiently in the window as a vendor, with a top hat, selling popcorn. Then we must have taken 60 of those little stuffed animals and dressed them in tutus and made them aerial walkers and trapeze artists."
Currently, the big bear is dressed as Santa Claus for the season.
Schieffer also goes along to the big annual retailers toy fair every February.
"I tell you this is my favorite toy Schieffer says, back again looking at the hanging dinosaur. "Isn't this neat?" he says to a customer. "And you know I was was just telling them I put it together in no more than half an hour." "As a matter of fact,c he says, his voice growing soft with affection, "I think I bought this toy at the fair." CAPTION: Picture 1, Bob and Pat Schieffer at their Washington toy store, by Harry Naltchayan -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Tom and Meredith Brokaw in their New York shop, by S. Krain Epstein