Every year about this time, thousands of bright and eager young keeds fresh out of college descend on Washington, many of them acting on the advice of a political science professor who said that D.C. (and not New York) is now the best and most exciting place for "serious-minded" young people to make their mark. The only problem is . . . gee, what's the gentlest way to put this? . . . your typical political science professor is a guy who spent the rumba days of his youth buried in library stacks, whence he emerged after three years with mole eyes, fish-belly skin, a Bob Dylan scraggle-beard and a dissertation called "Thorstein Veblen and O.E. Rolvaag: Totems of the Norwegio-American Dynamic." I guess what I'm saying is that nothing he told you about life in D.C. or anywhere else will bear any resemblance to anything that may or may not happen in real life. Other than that, though, you're all set.
Wait, don't get depressed! Just think of yourself as a freshman about to go through another orientation period -- only, this one could last four or five years, you may not wind up in a "dorm" with showers, you won't have pre-paid meal coupons, and if you don't pay your "fees" (rent) you will be "expelled" (chucked out of your apartment) by six "proctors" (hired ruffians) with necks thick as Oven Stuffer roasters. Also, remember: Nobody cares that you are "highly motivated," your ecru-colored typeset re'sume' is valueless, and there are 25,000 new yous racing about here already, most of whom have a daddy with connections. Scary, isn't it? What you need is a helping hand from someone. I am that someone. Think of me as sort of kind of not unlike your friend, similar to that nice frat brother named T-Bone who, in exchange for unlimited access to all your stuff, showed you the ropes.
Ready? Good. Let's get started. First, the prerequisites: Throw out those pathetic boxloads of college paperbacks, your "Risky Business" sunglasses, Jams and any impressionist posters you may have. Now accept and repeat daily the following two Truths: "New York is awful -- dirty, dangerous, trendy, expensive, full of young greedheads, and Leona Helmsley and Rex Reed live there -- but that doesn't change the fact that I'm a wussy for living in a city with a toy subway system." And: "I'll probably end up writing for the newsletter of the National Association of Pressed Ham Packagers." Now you're ready for my no-nonsense tips.
1. Buy Something Comfortable to Sleep On. It is a known fact that when young people are job hunting for six months to two years, living on grilled-cheese sandwiches and fried eggs and getting frequent calls from hectoring parents who demand to know what they're doing to justify a $40,000 education, they stay home and sleep a lot because they're deeply depressed and probably sick. Don't fight it: You should be deeply depressed and sick. Furthermore, whoever said "the early bird catches the worm" never had to crawl out of the snooze bag with a crushing hangover and trudge to the Hill on a 98-degree day with 111 percent humidity -- all just to hand a re'sume' to a smirking secretary who will promptly "round file" it. Sleep in hard and sleep in often! And don't, as I did, rack on your laundry pile for three months to save money -- this will only make you that much more cranky and jaundiced-looking. Buy a mattress. Better yet, buy a Rancho Mirage canopy bed-sofa-love-seat-and- recliner suite. It may seem crazy to spend $3,000 at this stage of the game, but believe you me, it's worth it.
2. Keep That Delicate Mental Balance. My own rocky start here came in the summer of 1980, when I hit town with a friend named Mike. We arrived in the full steam-press of an August afternoon, went to Georgetown and checked in with some boys Mike knew who acted grouchy just because we said we needed floor space for two months.
Then, business concluded, we bought two six-packs of Wiedemann's and set about drinking ourselves into whopping late-afternoon headaches while Mike theorized about the future. "Eehn," Mike said in a sort of beep -- for he always had the courtesy to announce the coming of a theory this way. "There's like . . . a lot of pretty fun kids here and plenty of pretty attractive jeunes filles, so all we have to do is, like, concentrate on basic social building." It sounded good, and at that moment two perky southern filles walked by and said, "Hey!" Mike and I took this as a symbolic event, ignoring the fact that they kept walking even as we shouted back, "Hey hey hey hey hey HEY!"
Social building began in earnest with a series of small dinner parties where we served "Wiedies" and chicken legs that Mike prepared by (no kidding) covering them with barbecue sauce and broiling them in a toaster oven, without turning, for 15 minutes. This entree tended to be raw on one side and, because there were no vegetable backstops, to roll off the plates. So we weren't that surprised the night Nobody Showed Up. But we were hurt. As we sat there -- alone and rejected -- we noticed that we were also cranky, aching and jaundiced. What could it be? Our horrible jobs? (I was making $8,000 a year typing in "new subs" on a magazine's subscription-fulfillment computer; Mike was training to take over.) Our diet? (Aside from chicken, we also ate a dripping, greasy, as bad-as-it- sounds Mike concoction called Egg Pizza.) Our shock at being out of the college nest? The Wiedies? The moldy bath towels? It was, of course, all these things and more . . .
Darn, that self-indulgent point stretched out a little too far -- sorry. But I have to make room for one last point.
3. Being Cool. You wanna fit in, right? Well, the big fads here right now are:
Corduroy overall suits with elephant-bell pants;
"Nanny and the Professor" reruns;
Robert Owens' "Ode to Ollie" (a moving tribute -- the cynicism attributed to Washingtonians is much exaggerated);
Framed prints of Walter Keane's seminal "Girl and Her Cat" (this one features the most oversized eyes the master ever painted);
Zamfir and his magical pan flute;
The comic strip "U.S. Acres";
Beef (in this town, if Cybill Shepherd says it, we do it); and finally --
Good luck. Don't call to thank me. ::