It is all very peculiar. It is all very obvious.
It is a reception in the lobby of Constitution Hall and everyone has a look which they wear like a uniform.
To begin with, they are waiting, either for Rosalynn Carter or for Waylon Jennings. Or both. Waylon Jennings is a country music star who will perform a benefit concert for Jimmy Carter tonight.
The people who bought $1,000 boxes, thereby winning invitations to the reception, look like men in barber chairs. Even the women. It is that look of wary dignity.
"I guess we can just migrate over here," says a man with silver hair and a pinstriped suit that signal he does very little guessing in his life. Or migrating, especially of the mass variety.
The $1,000 contributors keep guessing but don't know where they belong among the brass stanchions and ropes and television cameras.
The Secret Servicemen know, but they aren't talking. They have plastic tubes in their ears, presumably to receive radio messages. None of them ever talk into microphones, however. They listen, and look as if any minute they might stride across the room and ask you exactly where you bought your shoes.
The elective politicans may not know, but they're talking. Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) does it perfectly, responding to every eye contact, even those with the Secret Service, by saying "Hi, how're you?"
He is asked how Waylon Jennings' outlaw image jibes with the white-hat persona of the candidate, President Carter.
"I don't know what I'd say to that," he says, speaking as if the words are slightly larger than his mouth can accommodate.
The press are the only ones who look at ease, a grimy, drip-dry look. They look at ease because they are beyond embarrassment. How else could a film crew, just now, pan their camera very slowly across a table of hors d'oeuvres -- cheese, lunchmeat, liverwurst?
Waylon's entourage are the only people at the reception wearing black t-shirts which read: "Support Your Local Hell's Angels." Some fairly ring with notoriety, working their jaws around small smiles as they ease through the crowd to gather in corners, harbingers of Waylon to come.
"I like most everything he ever sang," says Rep. Marvin Leath, who's from Texas and doesn't look twice at the black T-shirts; he know's it's just the boys having a good time.
"'Goodhearted Woman,' 'Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,'" he says, listing two favorite songs. "Oh Lord, he's got obbs and goodles of 'em," he says, turning to head for the center of the lobby, where Rosalynn Carter and Waylon Jennings have entered.
Mrs. Carter wears a white suit and her huge, watchful, patient smile. She stands so straight she looks short, especially next to Waylon Jennings, who slouches so elaborately he looks enormous.
Waylon wears his outlaw rig -- black fringe beard, black leather vest, black cowboy boots and a big, black flatbrimmed cowboy hat with a silver-coin band, the quintessential man-in-the-black hat. He has lined cheeks which curve in, as if someone had pinched them like the crown of a fedora.
He follows Mrs. Carter to the reception line, walking as if he's poking one shoulder at a time through bead curtains; and he puffs on a cigarette he hides inside his hand, street-corner style.
Behind Waylon stands an enormous man named Deacon Proudfoot who wears another black hat, a belly that looks like he might be shoplifting wholesale beef, and eyes that keep looking at peoples' shoes.
He is Waylon's own private secret service. Why do they look at peoples' shoes?
The $1,000 types line up to shake hands with Mrs. Carter. It has been previously arranged that Waylon Jennings (and his wife Jessi Colter) will not stand in the reception line.
You wonder what the Secret Service people think of Waylon Jennings, the outlaw. Maybe they think that, as he himself has sung, he ain't wrong, he's just different, but his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right.
"He isn't bad, unless you cross him," says his daughter Julie 21, who is big-boned and watchful, like her daddy.
"I've known Waylon since 1957 and he hasn't changed, he's always been a good guy," says Jerry Allison, who was -- and is -- a member of the original Crickets, the band that played behind Buddy Holly.
Then Waylon and Rosalynn Carter are gone, and the TV lights go out, and the $1,000 contributors aren't guessing about anything any more, they're just waiting for a show.
Outside, in the April air, a woman in a red dress crisp as a new sail smokes a cigarette while she waits for her husband to bring the car around.
She studies a noisy straggling of young Waylon fans, some of them in straw cowboy hats they bought especially for occasions such as Waylon Jennings concerts.
They whoop a lot and wave beer cans and look as if they would be pleased to know she's watching; even more pleased to see the cautious over-the-shoulder glance she gives them as she gets in the car.
Washington is a city full of these little rituals, every day.