Dear Uncle Harold:

Sorry to have taken so long to answer your letter, but you know how it is. Those of us who think deep thoughts for a living need unbroken concentration. We must search our souls for hours at a time for the wisdom that will guide a waiting world toward peace and prosperity.

Actually, Harold, I was going to write you Sunday afternoon, but I started watching this basketball game on TV, see, and. . . .

OK, OK, enough. To business:

Harold, I appreciate the offer, but I simply am not interested in moving to Worcester and working for you as vice president of packing and shipping. I know it's a great opportunity, but you know as well as I do that family businesses breed trouble. Remember Cousin Alfred? Aunt Betty ran him out of the accounting department in less than six months. And Alfred had been to business school, Harold. The only thing I know about packing and shipping is how to spell them.

No, I'm going to stay here, working as a "crotchety columnizing curmudgeon," as you put it. And despite what you say, I'm going to continue to enjoy living in Washington.

You know I always have, Harold. Remember that story I told you, about the day I was getting ready to be interviewed for a job at the paper? About how I was sitting at the drug store soda fountain across the street, having a hamburger, when two guys came in, sat down and started talking about how to eradicate poverty in the United States?

Now, OK, you can say those were the naive days of 1967. You can argue that that's the kind of stuff that belongs in the movies or in a graduate school coffee lounge.

I told you then and I tell you now that it thrilled me. It's exactly why I love living here.

You get the sense that people here believe they can solve problems. That they have a purpose. That they want to see a better world, not just that they hope to.

I know what you're thinking, Harold. I've never seen anyone eradicate poverty by sitting in a drug store, either. But where are you if you don't try?

And what's a smart guy like you doing taking political rhetoric at face value? You say that Reagan's right about the federal bureaucracy -- too bloated, too inflexible. If you were in Washington, you'd know how false that line of argument really is.

I've watched cancer researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Harold. They're "bureaucrats." Their paychecks are good old U.S. Treasury green. Does that mean the only thing they care about is spending three hours a day reading the paper with their feet up on their desks?

I've known National Park Service naturalists who spend weeks preserving duck habitats. They get up before dawn, work seven days a week, stand for hours in pools up to their waists. Do they sound like guys who skip out early on Friday afternoons to go to the race track?

I've watched federal employes dig graves at Arlington National Cemetery. That's never any fun, Harold, and you can imagine how much fun it is in August. But the job needs to be done, and it is -- every day of every year. These guys aren't doing crossword puzzles, Harold, or calculating how much annual leave they have left. They're doing the work we pay them to do.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Washington may not be the dynamic "center of the universe" that it was under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. I'm the first to admit we have Watergates and cost overruns and sex scandals. This is Washington, Harold, not Paradise.

But it's still a city where you can get an answer to just about any question in two phone calls. It's still a city where people look ahead to the next election rather than back to some "good old days" that might not really have been so good. It's still a city full of dedicated people. Lots of them.

Harold, I hope you understand. When a guy is in love with a city, there's nothing you can do about it. You can whisper "packing and shipping" in his ear till kingdom come, but he doesn't hear you.

Give Doris a big kiss for me. Keep working on your putting. I'll write again soon.

Your Loving Nephew,

Bob