"You understand why I'm here today? I'm here because this is a totally unauthorized biography," Uncle Sam joked. "I'm consulting my lawyer. Unfortunately, he's William French Smith. Know anyone at the ACLU that would take my case?"
The man wearing the short white beard and red, white and blue suit with a top hat was really Fred Jordan, spoofing authors Neal R. Peirce and Jerry Hagstrom.
The three of them, and about 100 others, invaded the offices of the National Journal, a weekly magazine. Connoisseur of cities Neal Peirce is a founder of the magazine and contributing editor. The crowd was celebrating the publication of Peirce and Hagstrom's new work: "The Book of America: Inside Fifty States Today," a kind of travel guide to politics. Each state gets its own chapter, and all revolve around history, geography, economics and political figures now in power.
The book, which sells for $25, is 910 pages.
"I lift them each day for exercise," said Starling Lawrence, one of the book's editors. Then he quickly admonished, "No, don't write that.
"I would say the audience we are most interested in--aside from everybody, in case everybody is too broad a term--is people who are in business. People who are relocating or opening a branch office."
But Lawrence wouldn't slot "The Book of America" as only a business book. "It has a lot of color in it. And that's not easy with the amount of ground these guys had to cover."
So much ground, in fact, that Peirce said the book had been 15 years in the writing, from the conception of the idea to the finished product. The book idea sprouted from John Gunther's "Inside U.S.A.," which was published in 1947, and with that idea Peirce and Hagstrom went on to conduct more than 1,000 interviews.
"It was the most monumental writing job we could think of," Peirce said. "It was also fun," said Hagstrom. "We had an excuse to knock on everybody's door."
Before the big book got under way, Peirce wrote several others on regions of the United States, one of which was "The New England States."
That's what brought former Maine senator Edmund Muskie to last night's party. "I was in the hospital for a back operation and I had my secretary track down a copy of 'The New England States,' " Muskie recalled. "I enjoyed it immensely. So when I got the flier on this book, I thought I'd drop by."
Muskie was talking to Evan W. Thomas, senior editor emeritus of W.W. Norton, the book's publisher.
"This book does more than describe the places, the nature of the 50 states," Thomas said. "It puts people in them."
It even mentions Ronald Reagan in the California chapter, under Parties and Personalities. He's described as a trend setter:
"California began a new trend in American politics when it took a veteran movie actor who had not a day's experience in electoral office, elected him governor, and launched him toward the presidency. Other states would later elect such nonpolitical personalities as astronauts (Ohio's John Glenn) and semi-distinguished men married to famous women (Kentucky's John Y. Brown and Virginia's John Warner), but California did it first."