Reporters and editors and columnists and a few printers trickled into the Capitol Hill pub Jenkin Hill yesterday afternoon until it foamed like an overfilled beer glass.
At about 5 o'clock, the Washington Post reporters trickled out, because it was getting on toward deadline.
The Washington Star reporters stuck around. There are no more deadlines at The Washington Star.
Pat Oliphant, who came to The Star from Denver a few years ago, was signing souvenir last editions with his signature and trademark doodle -- Punk the penguin. Yesterday morning Oliphant had completed his drawings as usual and they ahd gone in the mail to his 500 syndicated clients.
"But it's strange," Oliphant said, "not to have my own paper anymore."
He was dry-eyed, but like others in the trickle, he wore a death star, a black pin that s;ays "1852-1981." There were also a few black armbands in the pub and a scattering of T-shirts inscribed with "Time has run out on The Washington Star." That slogan has a bitter edge to it, but in fact, it seemed only a slogan. These reporters were lucky, they agreed, to have two weeks notice. Many could recall the deaths of other newspapers, where they had found the closing notice nailed on the door one unforgettable morning. t
There was, however, no resentment, but some puzzlement at the hordes of visitors to the Southeast Washington building in recent days, carrying off the doomed editions as if they were pearls of inestimable price. Where were those people while The Star's circulation was steadily declining? they wanted to know. And if yesterday's souvenir edition of the paper was selling for as much as $5 and more, why wouldn't there be a paper Saturday? No resentment, no bitterness, and for most, no alligator tears.
"A guy came down to the office with an accordion," said Morris Siegel, The Star's veteran sportswriter, "and he started playing 'Auld Lang Syne," you know -- with some of the words changed to mean The Star. After the first verse, I just told him to knock it off."
There was no getting around, however, the fact that most of these highly skilled, well-spoken journalists were out of work, and all of them looking. For many it hadn't yet sunk in.
"Intellectually, you know you're out of a job," said Boris Weintraub. "But it only really hits you when you wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning."
Duncan Spencer, a reporter whom some have called dashing, was not letting it get him down. "Let m;y buy the drinks. I've got severance and you don't," he said to a writer from another paper. "I'm thinking of taking a job covering Beirut. What do you think of that? I could sail my boat over there. Probably only take about 40 days."
There seemed to be as many Star alumni as employes bellying up to the bar. They had come to pay their respects, some as working staffs for other rags, some metamorphosed into television reporters, and some wearing the $500 suits of private enterprise. The longer they had been away, the greater their recollected enthusiasm.
Reporters drink the same kinds of whiskey and beer as everybody else, except for Carl Bernstein, who was drinking a champagne kir.
There were a few ironic signports. There was, for example, the case of Kathy Sylvester, an assistant business editor, who happened to send to the printers the very last page of the very last edition of the very last Washington Star. It was page F7. "Everybody was trying to get their hands on it," she said. "Usually, you couldn't find anybody at all who wanted to work on it."
And then there was Michael Skinner, an assistant Washington Life editor believed to be the last to sign on the sinking ship. He was hired July 12.He does not know exactly why.
A little farther down the bar, Siegel, an accomplished raconteur, was telling not-so-sad stories. "The good news is, we've only got one more party to go to like this."
What party is that, Morrie?
"When The Post Folds."
But there did not seem to be much resentment. And with any luck, maybe there would not be too many tears. But the smoke was getting thicker, the booze was pouring faster. In a corner of this overflowing establishment, three reporters unpacked their instruments: Phil Gailey on Autoharp, Fred Geiger and Nick Adde on guitars. They were playing "Keep on the Sunny Side, Always on the Sunny Side." "Those guys used to play whenever the contract was running out or when The Star was in some sort of trouble," explained Lance Gay, a staff writer.
Gay did not have an instrument with him. "But I sing sometimes when I get drunk." The crowd seemed quite willing to wait.
Next door, in a restaurant virtually empty, at a back table, deep in conversation with a fellow journalist, say The Star's redoubtable veteran commentator, Mary McGrory. It is no secret in Washington that for years The Post has wanted to get McGrory on its team, but she has always refused, out of loyalty to her paper.
"We are all resigned and philosophical by this time -- yes.The future must go on," she said as she went out.
Yesterday, with The Star gone, McGrory announced that she had been hired by The Post.