The secretary ushered me into the oak-paneled conference room that overlooked Farragut Square. The guy in the wire rims and the blue blazer wasted no time.

"Bob," he said, "although you rode the elevator to 8, you've actually come to the ground floor. Welcome, if you will, to a natural childbirth. We are about to launch a new magazine about life in this nutty town. We plan to call it {pause for dramatic effect} . . . . Washingtune-ian!"

"Washingtune-ian?" I stammered. "But . . . ."

"That's Washingtonian, Bob! We're deliberately spoofing their name. But we have a serious point to make too. When you tune in to the Tune-ian, you'll know what's up. What's goin' down. What's shakin', Jack. Washingtonian merely gives you the tone. We give you the tune."

I looked at my watch, sending an unmistakable body-language signal that I wasn't enjoying myself. Washingtune-ian? This wired-rimmed yo-yo didn't need a Tune-ian. He needed a tuneup. In his head.

"Bob," he said, blithely ignoring my hint, "we think this is going to be a big book, a big hit. But we need the benefit of some experience. That's why we asked you to stop by."

"Well, I have circled the Beltway a few times in my day."

"Just the turn of phrase that marks you as the poet of the Potomac, Bob! Just the sort of hard yet perspicacious eye we're looking for! Put it this way, Bob. In Washington terms: We're looking for a consultant."

"Consultant? My mother is still embarrassed to tell her friends that I type newspaper columns for a living. If I ever told her I'd become a consultant, her heart would break."

"What if you told her you'd become a critic?"

"That would be OK. But what am I critiquing?"

Mr. Wire Rims nodded to a woman beside him who was wearing an orange serape, a set of turquoise earrings that must have weighed six pounds and pea green Air Jordans. Suddenly, the neons dimmed. On the far wall, a brilliantly back-lit list of story ideas appeared, in foot-high letters.

"We figure food is, like, a big deal to our readers," the woman said. "So, like, we'll do a regular feature on the new ethnic restaurants along, like, 18th Street in Adams-Morgan."

"But . . . ."

"And of course there's a lot of concern about, like, getting your kids into the best private school, you know what I'm saying? So we'll do a real, like, thorough survey, dripping with, like, the elitism we know our readers share, each fall."

"But . . . ."

Some guy in flowered suspenders took up the narrative. "You realize, of course, that what makes this town go 'round and 'round is not power, but money," he said. "So at least once a year, we'll run a list of which bigwigs make how much, even if we embarrass the living jellybeans out of each of them."

"And we'll run photos of the homes of the greats and near-greats without asking their permission," added Ms. Orange Serape.

"And we'll do an endless series on country inns in Virginia that are run by former Justice Department lawyers who always wanted to chuck it all and live a simpler life," added Mr. Suspenders.

"And we'll publish anything anyone says about Richard Nixon, Duke Zeibert, Wayne Hays, Doug Williams and Georgette Mosbacher," added Mr. Wire Rims.

"But . . . ."

"Now, Bob," Mr. Wire Rims said, hastily, "I know you're probably wondering what we have in mind for the very front of the book. We plan a real breakthrough. A calendar! Full of every event that every PR person in town has been trying for six months to find free space for!"

"But . . . ."

"And in the back? We have a genuine blockbuster of a brainstorm. We figure there are lots of single adults around Washington, Bob. Nice folks, presentable folks, available folks, but, hey, they work hard, and they have trouble meeting that special someone, and they're sick of the bar scene. You know the type, right? So how about classified ads that help them find each other? Why, I'll bet we'll produce 25 marriages in the first year alone!"

"But . . . ."

"Finally, the pie`ce de re'sistance," said Mr. Wire Rims. "An absolute prohibition against publishing anything that doesn't revolve around Georgetown, McLean or Potomac! Isn't it brilliant?"

I got up from my chair and began to walk around. "Shhh, quiet, he's, like, thinking," I heard Orange Serape say. Finally, I whirled around and confronted the assembled multitude.

"It'll never work," I announced. "You need to do at least one cover story every three months on the 50 Very, Very, Very, Very Cheapest Restaurants in Washington. Another on which Democrat is really going to run in '92. And another on how much Jack Kent Cooke's latest divorce is costing him."

"But, Bob," said Mr. Wire Rims, "that would be too much like Washingtonian."