Jacob Neusner broke an unwritten Washington rule the other night, and I, for one, say, "Bless him."
Neusner is a professor of religious studies at Brown Univesity in Providence, R.I., which makes blessings in order.
But he is also a member of the National Council for the Humanities, and thus must travel to Washington for council meetings four times a year.
Neusner has never had Potomac Fever, has never lived in Washington and has never wanted to. He regards this city and its customs with a certain bemused distance.
So distance is exactly what he put between himself and the Washington Hilton Hotel last Wednesday night -- when dozens of D.C. stargazers would have given their eyeteeth to have been there.
Neusner, it seems, walked out of a $1,000-a-plate Democratic Party fundraising dinner because he was bored.
Bored? Why, the dinner featured every party luminary you'd ever want to see and lots you wouldn't. It made the network news. It rates two photos and 25 inches in The Washington Post.
But Neusner walked out after only seven minutes.
That's another way of saying he didn't stick around long enough to slip even one business card to a state chairman, or to hear Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd play the fiddle, or to try to get within three TV soundmen of Teddy Kennedy.
Neusner says he walked out without guilt, without looking over his shoulder and without apologizing to the friend who had invited him to attend for free.
He told his dinner tablemates that he was going to the bathroom. What he really did was to take a cab back to his motel, the Howard Johnson's on Virginia Avenue NW, which a bunch of fellows made very famous a few years ago because it overlooks the Watergate Office Building.
At approximately the moment Jimmy Carter was promising victory for his party and himself in 1980, Neusner was munching a tuna fish sandwich in the Howard Johnson's coffee shop and arguing with a cab driver on the next stool about inflation.
As Byrd was fiddling, Neusner was watching "Vegas" on television.
And as Kennedy was trying to extricate himself from his customary flying wedge of fawners, Neusner was reading the newspaper.
He was asleep by the time the cognac was served.
When Neusner told me this story the other day, I was stunned.
"You just don't do that kind of thing in Washington," I said.
"Even if you're bored, you sit there and hope something or someone will come along and unbore you. You don't just split."
"Why not?" said Neusner. "For me, it would have been unimaginable to have done anything else.
"I will defend to the death my right to be bored, and to say so," he said.
The more I think about it, the more I admire The Visiting Professor. He may not be invited anywhere by the Democrats again, but he's got the courage of his convictions.
Which is more than most Democrats can say these days.
In my ever-lengthening existence, I've set foot in many American towns whose names just plain make you laugh.
Like Tie Siding, Wyo.
Like Painted Post, N.Y.
Like Muleshoe, Tex.
Like Bald Knob, Ark.
These are all on maps. I wouldn't kid you. As the teen-agers among us would say, in their charmingly illiterate way: They, like, y'know, exist, ya see what I'm saying?
But the names of these towns have nothing to do with the states in which they sit. The town names not only don't mesh with the state names in terms of meaning, but town-plus-state doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and into a poetry anthology.
So in the interest of accurate imagery, a loyal reader and I have thought up some fictional metropoli.
Like Oompah, Pa. No blues bands there.
How about Noah, Ark., Monday, Wash., and Slick, Conn.? "Throwaways," sniffs the reader who spawned them.
Throwaways, he says? What better place to heave them than Garbage, Kan.?
And what better to eat than Roast Beef On, R.I.?
Washed down, of course, by a drink that's Low, Cal.
Overdo it, and you'll be an honorary resident of Makes Me, Ill.
As for holidays, I'd be delighted to spend Dec. 25 in Chris, Mass.
As for women, give me a Comely, Miss., any time.
Amusement? What else would we play but Farmer In The, Del.?
Meanwhile, as a permanent home for the undecided, we nominate . . .
No, wise guy, not Washington.
Had enough? Fine, we understand. Just don't tell us to cease and desist.
Say, "Spare, Me."
Bill Gold is on vacation. His column will resume on his return.