Bert Brilliant writes a column for The Daily Planet. Norman Naive is one of the young up-and-comers who sits a couple of desks away. Every few days, they go have Chinese food and good Dutch beer and figure ways to make the world a perfect place.
"I still don't believe you did it, Bert. I've been eating lunch with you for more than three years, and I'm all choked up with surprise."
"Youngster, if I want to ask for the check before the meal is even served, that's my privilege. You see, once in a while, a man of my experience and refinement finds himself in an excellent mood, and he decides he'd like to scatter a bit of largesse, if you catch my meaning."
"Bert, the only largesse I usually see in you is wrapped across your midsection."
"Cute, Norman. Very cute. Is that what they taught you in journalism school?"
"No, Mr. Distinguished Columnist, sir. But they didn't teach you to pick up checks in the great city room of life. What's going on? You finally win three nickels in Atlantic City?"
"Insolence! For your information, Norman, I got a phone call the other day."
"Some desperate divorcee, I'll bet."
"No, Norman, you sweet thing. It was the office of our new mayor. Seems I am under consideration for a big job in the new administration."
(Shouting over his shoulder) "Louie! Hold the beers! We'll take champagne instead! Bert's gonna be the brains behind Sharon Pratt Dixon!"
"Will you please shush, you imbecile? I learned way back in the Johnson administration that if you want to be sure something doesn't come true, all you have to do is talk about it out loud."
"I'm sorry, Bert. I was just so surprised, that's all. Who called? What did he say?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss the identity of the caller. But it seems that I'm on the proverbial short list to become the mayor's press secretary."
"Glad to hear it. I was afraid she had something else in mind. After all, she wants to clean house, and you are pretty good with a mop and a dustpan."
"Norman, you sad pup, I was batting out big stories when you thought a big story had Huey, Dewey and Louie in it. I was writing D.C. politics back when 'Sharon' was what the teacher told you to do with your leftover carrots. I was . . . "
"You gonna take the job, Bert? You might be too cranky and set in your ways, you know."
(Shouting over his shoulder) "Louie! That business I told you about the check! Forget it!"
"Bert, Bert, let's not get churlish, Bert. Little Norman only has Big Bert's best interests in mind."
"Yeah? What do you mean?"
"I mean that it's hard to see you in that role."
"Why? You think I can't stonewall reporters? After all the times it's been done to me?"
"No, Bert. I just don't think it fits with your personal style."
"Is this going to be another one of your New Age lectures about my wardrobe?"
"Not at all. I'm just concerned that you haven't thought through what the day-to-day drill would be like. I mean, across the street, you come to work, you have a coffee, you have another, maybe you write a column before lunch and maybe you don't. If you become the mayor's press secretary, you've got to hop up and salute every time some doofus from some TV station wants the daily schedule. I just worry, Bert, that you're too much of an independent personality."
"Mmmmmm. You may have something there, youngster."
"Besides, I don't think you've thought about how gooey and positive you'd need to be, every single minute of every single day. If a D.C. ambulance got lost on its way to a sick woman and ended up in Delaware this afternoon, you'd write a column that would scorch earth. But if you were working for the mayor and the same thing happened, you'd have to get up there and say, 'Ninety-nine percent of the time, ambulances do an excellent job for this city.' You'd know that isn't the point. But it would still be the point you'd have to make."
"You mean I'd be a windup toy, Norman?"
"A mouthpiece that wouldn't necessarily be connected to a brain?"
"A follower rather than a leader?"
"Youngster, for a man who has spent so little time on this planet, you understand it very well. No chance. Pass. I need to preserve my independence. I ain't takin' the job."
"Congratulations, Bert. For a man who has spent so much time on this planet, it's nice to see that your judgment hasn't deserted you."
(Shouting over his shoulder) "Louie! The check, please!"
"Why did I know you'd do that, Bert?"
"Must be all your experience, youngster."
"Next Thursday?" asked Norman.
"Next Thursday," replied Bert.
And they shuffled back to the office.