IT's my favorite subject," says syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. No, not politics, the military or subterfuge in the CIA. Ice cream. "I think my folks put it in the bottle," he warms to the topic. "And as long as I can recall, it's been my favorite dessert."
Anderson, who says he tends to stick to the staples (vanilla and strawberry, with an occasional hot fudge sundae), doesn't remember getting a scoop over a scoop at any point in his long career in investigative journalism. "I've certainly served ice cream and eaten ice cream at restaurants and other places where I've met people, but I don't know of any conspiracies that have been hatched over ice cream.
"I'm not one who goes out much so I usually eat my ice cream at home in front of a television set. Usually it's Breyers. There's a new ice cream out, a mixture of Oreo cookies and ice cream. That's my temporary favorite. It'll probably last another two weeks and then I'll go back to vanilla." Anderson adds that he's a year-round ice-cream fanatic, "except when I'm on intermittent diets trying to hold my weight down. And even then I sneak some ice cream and cheat."
Les Whitten, a longtime collaborator of Anderson's and author of 10 books, including the new Washington thriller "A Killing Pace," says "Jack and I are both addictive on ice cream. If my wife buys it and it's in the house, it doesn't matter what it is, I'll eat it all up. My sons are disgusted with me when I do that. But I can't stop eating it when it's here. She always buys it for the boys when I go out of town and they'll eat it in a civilized way.
"It's queer that Jack and I came together the way we did," Whitten laughs. "I may even have gotten it from him: as a result of all my years with Jack, I've become an addictive ice cream eater." Whitten adds that the straight-laced Anderson has picked up something from him, as well: "Now, occasionally, he says 'damn.' "
Whitten gets his scoops two ways. "There's a High's store only 20 minutes away by bicycle," he says, tracing his loyalty "back to the days when the High's motto was 'A Quart for a Quarter.' My father used to buy a quart and we'd all work in the back yard and then eat it. I'm embarrassed to say that for matters of convenience, High's is where I usually get my ice cream, usually chocolate mint chip.
"But if I'm really feeling good about eating ice cream--if I'm down a couple of pounds--then I go and gorge on some exotic flavor at Baskin-Robbins. I get whatever their craziest flavor is-- expletive deleted and papaya, if it was on there. I mean, let's give it a try if they have something really exotic. Might as well have something marvelous."
Whitten's not too gung-ho on the idea of parlors as informational trading posts. "Most of your reporters are ice cream eaters and you'd be too likely to meet somebody there. It's like going to Cantina D'Italia: you're bound to meet Sy Hersh or somebody from the LA Times and they'd say, 'What's Les doing with so and so?' If I were going to meet a source, I'd meet them in some blue collar beer parlor because you never see investigative reporters there since the Newspaper Guild got here."
Television reporter Scott Klug of WJLA's I-Team sees another problem with parlor meetings. "It's happened a couple of times that people have asked to meet at Farrell's because it's a convenient place at night if you don't want to meet in a bar. But you always end up trying to talk during a birthday party while they're bringing in the balloons and party-favors for 16 kids at once. But it seems to be an easier place for single women particularly; they seem more comfortable meeting you there than in a bar. It makes it a little more homespun and a little less seedy."
Bruce Johnson, Klug's counterpart at WDVM, remembers that on "one of the best stories I ever had--and I'm not going to tell you which one, I was so excited, I even scooped The Post on this story--the guy wanted to meet at Gifford's on Georgia Avenue." Which just happens to be Johnson's favorite parlor ("I've been there a hundred thousand times!"). "We couldn't meet there during the afternoon hours because the young girl who works there knew me, and this guy wanted to meet in a discreet place. So we met right after she ended her shift. I ordered vanilla and he ordered some concoction that was ridiculous, just gobs of stuff. Amazing."
Johnson, who only eats ice cream in warm weather, is a vanilla connoisseur. "Vanilla, period. I make my kids get that. They don't have a choice, they have to get that. I know what's best for them. If they're experimenting with other flavors, I don't know about it. I just think vanilla is good."
Jack Cloherty of WRC goes for "fudge with vanilla on it. And I like any ice cream parlor that serves brownies with ice cream on top." His all-time favorite: "a root beer float at Baskin-Robbins. That's old dependable and there's lots of Baskin-Robbins around." More recent favorites: Bob's in Georgetown--Bob's Oreo and Bob's Butterfinger in particular. However, Cloherty's one scoop-scoop came at the Gifford's on Lee Highway. "It's quiet, you have ice cream and no one suspects that you're really working on a dull story."
Dan Muldea, past president of the Washington Independent Writers and author of the just published "The Hunting of Cain,"admits he's "pretty conservative," though his favorite flavor is chocolate. "I've always been kind of partial to banana splits, but that's the glutton in me. Now that I've been trying to trim down, I prefer just the straight chocolate ice cream," though sometimes he opts for just the banana. Ice cream is enough of a temptation that he occasionally gives it up for Lent, along with watermelon.
Muldea, who has written extensively about organized crime in America, recalls meeting "a Mafia figure in an ice cream parlor in New York one time. It was his choice, a place he liked to eat." He himself is partial to Swensen's (also the haunt of the New York Post's peripatetic Niles Latham, who usually gets butterscotch sundaes). "But in Akron, Ohio Muldea's hometown , there's a parlor that's just outrageous called Strickland's, a custard ice cream place that is out of this world. I haven't found any custard ice cream in Washington. It's real creamy, real soft . . . I hardly know how to describe it."
Les Whitten has a dream spot for ice cream, as well: Venice, Italy, and "the little ice cream places grouped around the Piazza San Marco. I go to Venice every year and that's the best ice cream in the world. You've gone to an opera or the symphony, or you've just walked around Venice, or you've had a big greasy meal--to come back and get one of those 800-lira cones with Italian ice . . . it's so light and delicious, the flavors are so intense. There are three of them around the piazza, and all of them have this delicious little cone. If I were going to be shot tomorrow for some awful thing I'd done in the column or for some novel that had cost the publisher thousands of dollars and it was all finished for me, and they said 'What is the last dessert you want and where would you like it?' I'd say, 'I'd like to go to Venice and get one of those ice cream cones.' "
Jay Gourley, now with Ted Turner's Cable News Network but possibly better remembered for rooting through Henry Kissinger's garbage when he worked for the National Inquirer, doesn't have to travel quite as far. He says his favorite source for ice cream is the Dairy Queen "just south of Okmulgee, Oklahoma" (he's from nearby Henrietta), but he'll settle for anything similar. "My favorite kind of ice cream is that soft stuff they serve at Dairy Queen, creamy and thick, not like the kind you buy in a package or in an ice cream store." He also likes Gifford's, vacillating between hot fudge sundaes and "given my druthers, banana or banana nut."
Gourley has never come across a story in a parlor, but he did come across some ice cream looking for scoops in the Kissinger garbage. "Rich folks seem to throw out their ice cream when it's been around for a while, even if they haven't eaten it all," he says pensively, possibly suggesting that melted ice cream may have as debilitating an effect on documents as a shredder. "I did find some interesting foodstuffs," Gourley adds, "mostly in terms of wastage, like unopened canned goods. I still haven't quite figured that out."