As everyone knows, a stomach- conscious Washington journalist armed with a press pass, a bib napkin and a working gullet can get fed five nights a week by "covering" one of the city's numerous political receptions or dinners. But it's possible to achieve more than mere belly-loading. With help from the UPI Daybook -- a thick daily schedule of press conferences, trade shows, rallies, speeches, lectures and think-tank gabfests -- the freebie-grubbing inkman can also piece together a fun and informative diet for the mind.
The Daybook is my buddy. Each morning, in drab teletype lettering that camouflages its magical contents, it offers an assortment of escapes. Do I want book-learning with a glamorous twist? At Alice Deal Junior High School, I could have thrilled to "Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya-Nyabongo, Ambassador from Uganda . . . dramatizing the geography of current international events . . ." Is politics more my craving? How about last summer's "Candlelight Vigil" for Oliver North at the Lincoln Memorial, which featured a foaming Olliemaniac who yelled that Congress should keep its snoot out of foreign affairs because "It says so right there in the Constitution: 'Foreign Affairs -- PRESIDENT ONLY!' " (the famous "Congress, Get Out of My Face" clause). Am I curious about how the federal government is violating Lyndon LaRouche's human rights? His people will be on the steps of the Longworth House Office Building at 9 a.m., ready to tell me ALL about it. Am I eager to rub elbows with pro-contras, sandalistas, beef packers, anti-veal protesters, Eritrean nationalists, fruit dieters, Malaysian "tribal-people activists," valvemakers, shad-fishing lobbyists, fasting jugglers, proponents of Defending Europe Without Weapons or the always-exhilarating National Association of Government Communicators while getting all the doughnuts and roast beef sandwiches I can eat? I can find them in the Daybook.
Until I get my dream job -- eight beeper-directed hours a day covering Daybook stuff -- I must make do with the occasional splurge. So once every two months or so, I load up with bus change and spend a day attending a full slate of events. My most recent outing was in late November. First stop: The Soviet Embassy, for a morning reception featuring Fred Rogers and his Soviet counterpart, Tatiana Vedeneeva. Since there were at least 50 reporters and pushy camera-crew guys at this Era of Gorbo Feeling event, you probably already know what happened. Mr. Rogers and Ms. Vedeneeva, along with an uneasy-with-the-whole-thing Ambassador Yuri Dubinin and a captive audience of hand-picked Soviet and American tots, discussed their mutual guest-shot pact. Fred, with Daniel Striped Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat in tow, recently journeyed to Russia to be on Tatiana's show, "Good Night, Little Ones." This spring she'll reciprocate with a visit to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." All of which was billed as the start of a Children's Crusade for Detente, and yes, I know, it sounds a little squishy. But you'll hear no cracks from me, for two reasons: 1) This sort of project makes right- wingers so mad that you can actually spot-check their pulse with a glance at their bulging, thumping forehead veins; and 2) I like Mr. Rogers. As an ex-babysitter who has seen the man work his special magic, I will always be on board for anything he wants to do.
Freed from my normal media duties -- gathering snitty facts -- I was able to concentrate on answering the questions I knew you'd ask, starting with: How was the grub? Not bad. There was a tableload of coffee, danishes and individually wrapped sweeties that I hit like a neglected feeder hog. Was the embassy manned by surly KGB-looking guys with ham necks and pylon heads? Yes, very much so. When I sidled through the lobby for a spot of unregulated wandering, two of them were on me in an instant: "You press? Oop-stairs! The cheel-duron will be there in a mean-it." Did you conduct a comparative Nose Pick and Fidgeting survey to see how our kids stacked up against the appabratchiks? Yes, and all the children did fine. The only stray finger I sighted belonged to a pushy cam- crew guy, the same lout who elbowed me aside to get a shot of Dubinin joylessly working a hand puppet named Khryusha the Piglet. As for the Fidget count, I'm happy to report that their wee ones, perhaps subdued by a humongous portrait of Vladimir ("Father Knows Best") Lenin that hung nearby, gave a rigid show of good behavior -- especially when Tatiana tried to make them laugh. Our kids put on a more humanistic display of giggling, sighing, chair- leaving, burping, head scratching and ponytail yanking.
Before long, with the coffee and sugar I'd gulped now flowing into Vein Highway, I was feeling pretty fidgety myself, so I left early. The day, like my false energy high, quickly nose-dived. First, unable to find a free lunch, I downloaded a greasy Little Tavern burger. Then, while my digestive system rerouted vital stay-awake oxygen from my brain to my stomach, I went to a downtown bank and suffered through a promotional event that had all the pizazz of a church-sponsored pork 'n' beans bake-off. Then, foolhardy though it was, I went to the 45th Annual Meeting of the Business Council on Reduction of Paperwork. Needless to say, these humorless tightwads weren't giving anything away -- including coffee. Though I thought I could tough it out with the old high school technique of sitting front and center (this puts more pressure on you to stay awake), it didn't work. All it took was the opening topic -- "Why does Treasury oppose implementing the proposed OMB rule to place a burden estimate on their forms?" -- and I hit mode Zzzz.
After an awkward exit, and with three hours to kill before the next decent event -- the Women's National Democratic Club fundraiser for Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, featuring Patty Duke, Colleen Dewhurst and, no doubt, free drinks and a groaning buffet table -- I set out for a special place I know where one can take a vitality-restoring nap undisturbed: the usually empty House Press Gallery. Sure enough, there were only three representatives on the floor and zero reporters in the gallery, so I thought I was set. Unfortunately, one of the representatives was Robert (Ninja Congressman) Dornan, and this was the day he'd picked to go berserk about the prospect of Gorbachev speaking inside the House chamber. First he listed every dignitary who'd spoken in "this august body" in the past -- boring, yes, but loud! Then came the real shouting: "Never in history has a known Communist dictator -- !" And so on. And on. And on. I thought about folding the Mr. Rogers press release into a paper airplane and floating it down to Dornan -- that info would really get him going -- but instead I shuffled over to the more low-key Senate side, where I hoped the afternoon topic would be dull and muffled. The afternoon topic was (and this is my description, not the Senate's): "Prolonged discussion of minutiae surrounding ratification of the proposed INF Treaty, slowed down by unnecessary procedural verbiage."
Just the Rx I needed. Good Night, Droning Ones. ::