"Bob Levey speaking."

"No, no! The first thing we do is hire a sweet-voiced secretary. Teach her to say, 'Levey Campaign Headquarters, Cheryl speaking, may I help you?' "

"Harry the Kingmaker, don't you have anything better to do? I mean, don't you have a date to go play hopscotch in the middle of Shirley Highway?"

"Nice to talk to you, too, Bob. I just thought I'd call and find out if you've decided to run yet."

"You know I can't stand jogging, Harry. Gives you shin splints and sore feet. Have to spend all that money on headbands. Not my kind of thing."

"Robert, my friend, I'm talking about politics. Running, as in running for president."

"Harry, I thought we settled this fantasy of yours back in '84, somewhere during the third martini."

"But that's just it, Robert! In the presidential arena, each time out of the gate is different. In '88, the lay of the land will be completely different from what it was in '84. The advice I gave you then would not be the advice I give you now."

"As I recall, Harry, you told me that only a newsie had the experience and the smooths to handle the Top Job. But as I recall, you also told me not to challenge Reagan or Mondale in the early primaries. 'They have the Inside-the-Beltway brains and bucks all lined up,' I believe you said."

"Astonishing recall for a man who dulls his gray matter by punching a keyboard all day. I did indeed say that, Robert. And what I'm saying for '88 is: You'd better get started. Soon."

"Just a second, Harry. First of all, I'm not crazy enough to want to be president. Second of all, I'm not crazy enough to leave the keyboard I punch. I like to punch it, Harry. You dig? And third of all, what am I going to do for money? Are you suggesting I run for president and charge the whole thing on my Visa?"

"I'm suggesting you do what Kemp and Bush and all the rest have already done. Form a PAC."

"Harry, the only PAC I understand is a video game."

"Good, Robert! That's good! I can see you before the Cedar Rapids Civitan Club, delivering that one, deadpan. They'll eat it up."

"Which is more than I can say for the chicken they'd inevitably serve."

"So cynical, Robert. Even more cynical than Dole. That's what I always tell him. 'Be cynical to your friends, Senator,' I say, 'and the word gets around.' "

"Harry, I don't mean to be rude, but I've got work to do, and . . . ."

"Please, Robert! Don't do anything with that receiver you'll live to regret. Would you rather run as a Democrat? Is that what you're trying to tell me, in that endearingly clumsy way of yours?"

"Harry, even if I wanted to run, which I don't, I'm already too late. You said it yourself. Bush has been gearing up since the end of the '84 convention. Cuomo has been gearing up since the middle of the '84 convention. There are only 23 months until the first primary. I couldn't catch up."

"Not so! The big bucks haven't been committed yet. Neither have the hearts and minds of the kids on campus. I've got a scenario here . . . ."

"How did I ever get mixed up with a pistachio like you?"

"You love every second of it. Now listen! First, we book you into the major association conventions this summer. Why wouldn't the American Tool and Die Association dump Don Johnson or Jane Fonda when they could get a guy with a new message?"

"And what, dear Harry, is that new message?"

"America is ready to return to its roots! With Levey at the helm, there'll be no more hanky-panky with Gramms or Rudmans. There'll be no more politicking about the Statue of Liberty. We'll stay in touch with the temper of the country the way the TV news shows already do: with telephone polls."

"You mean those things that say, 'If you're afraid of war in Libya, call 1-900-blah-blah-blah?' "

"Exactly, my sweet prince! Levey will be the candidate closest to the people because he will be the candidate who's hearing directly from the people. Every day, before you take a position on anything -- in fact, before you get out of bed -- you will rent two of those 900 numbers. Whichever position attracts the most votes is the position you take. You'll be the most responsive presidential candidate in the history of the republic!"

"But I'd be putty in the hands of the rich, Harry. Whoever can afford the most calls to one of those two numbers will own my public persona."

"You think it doesn't work that way already? Robert, it would be the first truly new political idea to hit in this century. And once it took hold, the rest would be easy. A couple of guest shots on Carson. A couple on Letterman. An accidentally-on-purpose meeting at O'Hare with Rose Kennedy, which makes the cover of People. I've got the horse right here, Robert! All you have to do is mount!"

"Sorry, Harry. Try me again in 1990."

"It's your loss, kid. When the snows of New Hampshire start to fly, I'll be thinking of you-u-u-u-u."