His suit was J. Press, his tie was yellow and his smile was as wide as dental science permits. He shook my hand the way veteran Washingtonians do -- not too hard, not too delicately -- and asked if he could sit down. I figured him for my new city editor, so I said sure.

"Levey," he said, "are you happy in your work?"

"Happy the way a clam is happy," I said.

"You ever long for a little adventure?"

"Sometimes, although it's usually when I have $11 in the bank."

"How'd you like to run for president?"

I got up and closed the door. "Listen, I don't know who you are, but rookie editors don't get very far around here by playing practical j . . . ."

"I'm no editor. I'm a political consultant. A very special political consultant. They call me Pac Man."

"Yeah, well, tell you what, Mr. Pac Man. My sinuses are killing me, I stayed up late watching the Orioles game, I've got a column to write and . . . ."

"Levey, I'm serious. There are only 25 months until the convention. I'm looking for a candidate. And I have a hunch that I'm looking at a candidate."

"Look, Mr. Pac Man. The only thing I ever ran for was the student council in high school. And I lost. Some guy outpromised me, and the ladies all went for him, like lemmings. Story of my life."

"Levey, I'll level with you. I've got a whole bunch of cash burning a hole in my pocket. I've been looking for a candidate for months. Everyone says no -- Cuomo, Bradley, Robb, even Ed Koch. Jesse is dying to see me, of course, but the feeling isn't exactly mutual. So I'm down to what I call the unconventional possibilities. Don't worry about the student council defeat. It's better than if you'd never run for anything. And it's a damn sight better than if you were governor of Massachusetts."

I started putting two and two together. "Wait a minute," I said. "You said your name was Pac Man. Are you by any chance the guy who controls all the PAC money in Washington?"

"Exactly."

"And you're going out of your mind because more and more people on the Hill won't accept what you're offering?

"Exactly. They think it's tainted dough."

"And your people are beginning to put heat on you to find a 1992 presidential candidate so all that money you've already raised does some good somewhere?"

"Yup."

"And since they figure the Republican nomination is, uh, spoken for, they don't even care if the money goes to a Democrat?"

"Some of the big boys had to hold their noses a little, but, yeah, that's what they said."

I got up and clapped Pac Man on the right bicep the way veteran Washingtonians do -- not too hard, not too delicately.

"Pac Man," I said, "let's talk."

"I had a feeling you'd say that, Levey," Pac Man oozed, as his smile widened out to the max once more. He picked up a yellow pad. "A few questions. Any skeletons in your closet?"

"Well, when I was 11, I stole a basketball from a playground bully to try to teach him a lesson. In college, I once bought a six-pack of beer when I was a week short of my 21st birthday. And some of my former girlfriends weren't too delighted when I told them they had just become former."

Pac Man was scribbling notes and mumbling. " . . . . No drugs, no National Guard problems, good! Now what about your political beliefs?"

"I favor garbage pickups every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and concerts at Wolf Trap every summer."

" . . . . He'll play in the South, solid relations with municipal blue-collar unions, good! Now what about past political debts?"

"The only debt I owe is to American Express."

" . . . . Good with one-liners, shares concerns of average Americans, excellent! Now, have you ever heard of Willie Horton, Levey?"

"Of course. He was a sweet-swinging left fielder for the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s. I once had his baseball card."

"Hey, that's right. There was another Willie Horton. Good memory. Now why didn't Dukakis use that line during the debates?"

"The Duke wasn't a baseball junkie. America sensed it. And Bush had been a first baseman at Yale. Simple as that."

Pac Man placed the yellow pad in his lap with emphasis -- too much emphasis. The clincheroo question was coming.

"Levey," he asked, in a tone vaguely reminiscent of Roger Mudd's, "why do you want to be president?"

"Well," I said, "I just . . . . I mean, well, I've always thought that America . . . . uh, um, see, I believe deeply in the right of uh, um . . . ."

Pac Man got to his feet abruptly. "Another tongue-tied Teddy Kennedy," he intoned, as if he was passing sentence.

"See you around, Levey. Maybe after you get a little more seasoning . . . ."