Let history record that the second day of the Great Summit Meeting was one of those oddly soft December days when the wind goes into the south, and Washington gets a kind of suspended feeling about it, a sense of caesura.
A straggle of black balloons left over from Monday's Ukrainian protest wrinkled in a tree in Lafayette Park. Sea gulls drifted over the White House while Reagan and Gorbachev decided the fate of mankind, and after days of brisk cold, you could smell things in the balmy dampness -- half-smokes in the street vendors' carts (history will also record that the half-smoke was Washington's culinary glory), bus exhaust and incense burning in front of the seven Nipponzan Myo Ho Ji Buddhists (down from eight yesterday) who kept drumming and drumming in front of the White House.
For all of the eternal grumbling of police motorcycles, for all the cat-spit noise of two-way radios and the miles of yellow barrier ribbon the police had wrapped the city in (as if either we or Gorbachev or both were hostages waiting to be freed), the city dissolved into commonplaces.
A pamphleteer harried passersby near the White House. Another Afghan bitter over Soviet occupation? Another devotee of Elijah Hong and his Christian prophecies? "Announcing the Executive Sandwich Shop," the leaflet said.
A gap-toothed woman in sandals railed at the crowd waiting by the Corcoran Gallery to see Gorbachev ride from the White House to the State Department: "I have not seen anything, not a damn thing. I would like to see who is in there, you know what I mean? I saw Hitler closer, I seen Goebbels, I seen Nixon. Why such a fortress?"
Hegel saw Napoleon near Jena and called him "the world soul on horseback." A man on a Washington street couldn't see Gorbachev at all.
Security had triumphed, the Secret Service had won, the police had done their job, and along with the shift in the weather, they had reduced the making of history to as close to an ordinary happening as they could. Public pageantry, allegory and symbolism yesterday afternoon amounted to this: Gorbachev entered the State Department through the garage.
This was important, this had meaning. In 1981, then-Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin was not allowed to enter the State Department through the garage, and yesterday's gesture was immediately interpreted as a sign of the warming of American-Soviet relations.
Then again, said Terry Murphy, a professor of medieval history at American University, "we come at it from a liberal academic background -- we look for hidden meanings but we're being misled by forms. We should enjoy the forms for what they are, rather than finding hidden meanings in them."
For days, we'd savored the ruckus and splendor of the demonstrators along with the fervor of the press corps, but there was little to enjoy from the men who would once have been at the center of all the gaudiness. The only talk of finery had been about Gorbachev's refusal to wear a tuxedo to the White House dinner on Tuesday night. Was this a symbol? A gaffe? Was it in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin at a state dinner in Paris in 1778?
"But for his noble face," wrote Mme. Vige'e-Le Brun of Franklin, "I should have taken him for a big farmer, so great was his contrast with the other diplomats, who were all powdered, in full dress, and splashed all over with gold and ribbons."
Not even the press could tell who huddled in the bulletproof twilight inside those Zil limousines. Sirens! Flashing lights! Motorcade! Two Zils slide into the symbolic basement garage of the State Department! There he is!
But why weren't the cops relaxing, lighting cigarettes, fingering their mustaches while they waited for the lunch with Secretary of State Shultz to end?
"He wasn't in that motorcade?" said a British TV cameraman who had just recorded it all for history.
"The network TV guys' radios are saying he's still at the White House," said a still photographer from The Washington Times.
Who knew? It was as if the king and his knights had ridden past, all wearing identical armor with the visors on their helmets down.
How smoothly things had been running since the start of the summit. There hadn't even been any good foul-ups. Someone at a White House ceremony had addressed the general secretary as "secretary general" and a White House statement had described a cherrywood box containing souvenir treaty-signing pens as being decorated with a "code of arms," but that was all anyone had uncovered.
How fabulously calm the police were! When Christian Solidarity International's demonstrators arrived to stage a playlet down the slope from the symbolic State Department garage, and they were carrying startlingly realistic toy machine guns as part of their props, the police asked only that they leave the machine guns on the ground. When a plainclothesman walked briskly toward them with a jumpy German shepherd, it wasn't to sniff out bombs, it was to let the German shepherd lift a leg against a nearby tree. After Gorbachev's Zil finally arrived, what appeared to be Soviet security men posed smiling for a photographer with a Metropolitan Police insignia on her camera.
"They've got badges, those KGB guys, and you can bet I'm going to get one," said Sgt. G. Nelson, who worked though a bag of M&Ms while he explained how he trades badges with members of other police forces.
"There's one right there," he said.
Sure enough, a large young man with a cigarette in his hand and a blue-gray raincoat ambled down to watch a man walking on stilts and wearing a Gorbachev mask harangue the Christian Solidarity folks.
Nelson eased up to the KGB man.
So did a reporter.
The KGB man walked back toward the State Department.
Nelson shook his head. "You spooked him," he said. "They see a press pass and they boogie."