A well-dressed fellow walked up to me on the subway the other day and asked if I was Bob Levey. I confessed. Whereupon he did, too.
"I'll tell you my name but I don't want you to publish it," the guy said. "You'll understand in a second. You see, a long time ago, I stole something."
I wondered aloud if he shouldn't be talking to a Metro cop rather than a Metro rider who happens to type for a living. But the man asked me to hear him out, so I put down the sports section and perked up my ears.
He told me he had floated into town with a particular administration (his was Kennedy, 1961) and never floated back out. "I held a series of unspectacular jobs in the Defense Department. Then I went to State for a while. Finally, when Nixon came in, I went into the private sector," the man said.
He said he is now a lobbyist in one of those cookie-cutter high-rises on K Street (I checked; he was telling the truth). He said his reputation is among the best in the business. But the man has a conscience, too -- and he told me that it's bugging him.
"I stole a stapler from the Pentagon back in 1961," the man told me, as we zoomed through the tunnel linking Friendship Heights and Tenleytown. "That's bad enough. But here's what's worse. I've tried to return it, and I haven't had any luck."
"That's amazing," I said. "If Willie Sutton tried to return money, a bank would accept it in a second."
"Well, it's not as if this stapler was worth very much," the man said. "It stopped working about two weeks after I stole it, and I never could get it going again. But for some reason, I never threw it away. And then I got the guilties when I kept reading about Pentagon cost overruns. I figured maybe a toilet seat would cost three million instead of four million if people like me didn't steal staplers. So I called the Pentagon -- just looked up their number in the phone book -- and explained to the operator who answered that I was a thief who wanted to return what he stole."
"What happened then?" I asked, as we pulled into Woodley Park.
"I got transferred all over the place, till I finally found myself talking to some military policeman. I told him the story. He says, 'You say you stole this stapler in nineteen-and-sixty-one?' I say, 'That's right.' He says, 'You damn practical jokers really drive me crazy,' and he hung up."
"I've got an idea," I said. "Call the House Armed Services Committee and ask them what to do. They handle the Pentagon's budget, after all."
"I did that," the man said. "They thought I was a weirdo, too. I was telling the secretary who answered the phone all about it, and she asked me to hold on for a second. But she didn't push the hold button all the way down, because I heard her saying, 'Dick, I've got some nut on the phone. Real fruitcake. Something about a stolen stapler.' I knew then that I was barking up the wrong tree."
"Sir," I said, "I've got to get off at the next stop. All I can suggest is that you call Caspar Weinberger's office. He's the guy who keeps claiming he wants the Pentagon's budget brought under control. See if he means it."
"Tried that, too," the man said. "They were very polite, but they said they couldn't accept anything like a stapler, for security reasons."
The train arrived at Farragut North right then, so I didn't get a chance to give the man my last thought on the matter. I'll do it now, this way:
Memo to the Pentagon cleaning crew: If you find a broken stapler on the front doorstep some morning, don't say a certain thief or a certain columnist didn't warn you.
Speaking of Metro, am I the only regular rider who is bugged by a habit of some drivers?
There you are, pulling into, say, Metro Center. The voice comes on the loudspeaker and says, "Metro Center, doors opening on my right."
And which way is that, dear driver? Are you facing forward? Backward? Sideways? Don't forget that we hapless creatures can't see you. So we don't know for sure which way "my right" is.
Wouldn't "doors opening on the right" be infinitely less ambiguous? Sure seems so to me.
My sources tell me it was gone almost as soon as it went up. But here's a salute to that anonymous soul who put a good giggle on the Capitol Hill office door of D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy.
If you've been up and down the corridors of the Hill's office buildings, I'm sure you've noticed all the boosterish claptrap on congressional doors. Florida Gators pennants. Los Angeles Raiders bumper stickers. And other stuff that supposedly reflects the best of one's home district.
One day last week, I'm told that somebody slapped a bumper sticker on Fauntroy's door.
It was in the official colors of orange and black.
It said "TOW."