"Doc," I said, as I shifted uneasily on the couch, "it's about this fantasy I've been having. . . . "

"You're always having fantasies," the doctor said, between deep puffs on his pipe.

"Hey, it's you guys who keep saying fantasies are all right. It's not that kind of fantasy, anyway. It's about politics. Running for office."

"Severe loss of judgment," the doctor mumbled, as he made hasty notes on the clipboard in his lap. Then he looked at me with disdain on his face. "Been listening to that guilt your father instilled in you, haven't you?" he asked.

"Doc, the only office my father ever ran for was on the tenth floor of a building in midtown Manhattan. No, sorry, this one I cooked up all by myself."

"Tell me about it," the doctor said.

"I would have bet a million bucks you were going to say that."

"Well, if you're so smart, why aren't you a psychiatrist?"

"I don't smoke a pipe."

"And I thought you'd been making progress with this hostility of yours. . . . "

"Okay, Doc, no more Mr. Wise Guy. Get your pencil ready. Here's the fantasy. I run for mayor of the District of Columbia, and I win."

The doctor grinned. "I've been looking for a reason to move my practice to Bethesda," he said.

"Now who's being the wise guy? No, I'm dead serious. I could be the Jimmy Carter of District politics. No track record. No promises to pressure groups. No party hacks I've got to make nice with. I just walk in and say, 'I'll never lie to you' and they don't walk to the polls, they run."

"I hate to waste time taking this seriously, but what about a man named Marion Barry?"

"Out of touch, Doc. Lives in a swanky neighborhood. Never seen without a three-piece suit. Only talks to his chauffeur. This is a man of the people? I'd ride the subway to work. I'd show up in blue jeans three days a week. I'd play basketball with 16-year-old boys--for real, too, not just two shots for the TV cameras and back in the limousine. I can't miss."

The doctor was taking notes and mumbling again. "Overconfidence problem still out of control," I thought I heard him say. Then he looked up and asked: "You really think a media person can get elected to a major office?"

"I'm surprised at you, Doc," I said. "Jesse Helms was a TV newscaster before he got elected to the Senate. Alan Cranston was a foreign correspondent for a wire service. It's not exactly the first time this has been thought about."

"Yes, but why you?" the doctor said, taking me as seriously as he had said he wouldn't. "Do you have a program? A platform?"

"You think I'm just showering when I'm in the shower, Doc? I've got it all right up here in the old skull. First, mandatory schooling through age 18. If a kid has a hardship situation that means he has to work at 16. Let him, but give him school credit for it so he doesn't have to drop out. Second, give me a staff of 25 troubleshooters working directly out of my office. Their job would be to get every citizen an answer from the bureaucracy within 24 hours. Third, I'd set aside one afternoon a week where I'd sit in my office and listen to people. Anyone who shows up. You got a problem? Come see the mayor. Goodbye to hold buttons and appointments and all that. Fourth, huge tax incentives for business. I know Barry does it now, but I'm talking about much more, and much more often."

"It all sounds reasonable," said the voice of reason. "I just don't understand why you'd want all the aggravation. It doesn't fit with your basic journalistic personality of sitting on the fence and watching other people do all the work."

"Hey, who are you to talk? You just sit here and look pensive all day. That's work? Anyway, I think there's one more part of my platform you'd better hear."

"I'm listening."

"I'd require all doctors to donate six hours a week of free treatment time to whoever asks. No easy street to a Mercedes for you guys. You'll have to give something back to the community."

The doctor gave me a searching look. "This," he said, "is getting more alarming than I originally thought. . . . "