Something About Mary Beth

Rep. Bud Shuster's new novel, Double Buckeyes, is a guaranteed bestseller -- or at least a "must buy" among transportation industry lobbyists, what with Shuster being chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The 149-page book, based on Shuster's youth in western Pennsylvania, is only $19.95 -- bulk rates might be available for transportation unions -- and the proceeds go to charity. The book is billed as a "touching story of a boy's love for his grandfather." Jacket blurbs come from Charlton Heston, Joe Paterno, Merlin Olsen and former representative Susan Molinari.

The Republican lawmaker clearly wrote the novel himself, with no help from a ghostwriter. How else to explain that four of the first six sentences begin with gerunds? And there's an Edmund Morris-like moment in the back when Shuster writes about himself in the third person, describing his lifelong "dream" of becoming a congressman.

The slim tale revolves around an 11-year-old boy, "Little Buck," but there's plenty of stuff in here for adults. There are big words, like "fuliginous," which means sooty or the color of soot, and "double buckeyes," which are twin buckeyes in one hull, something like twin cherries on one stem, and are said to be major good-luck charms, far more powerful than four-leaf clovers.

There are no steamy sex scenes, but there are some remarkable passages, including Little Buck's junior-high observations of classmate Mary Beth:

"Little Buck often studied Mary Beth and [her brother] Tubbo, wondering how they could be from the same family. She was a slender, well-groomed, pretty girl with bright blond hair, always neatly trimmed in a pageboy style. She always smelled so fresh, like a shiny new wrapper from a bar of Palmolive soap. She was never sweaty like her brother, and she always spoke in a pleasant, lilting voice . . .

"And the rounded calves of her shapely little legs looked better than any of the junior high cheerleaders, even though they were two years older. Little Buck liked the special way she treated him, from the time they had entered first grade together. But what he liked best about her was her lips. They were full and soft, and very moist right after she had dabbed on lipstick with her little finger, which she always wiped off on her way home from school. Sometimes when he looked at her, he felt a strange, tingling sensation that he didn't understand."

Is this why Molinari, on the jacket, calls it "a must-read for younger people to learn the importance of dreaming"?

A Diplomatic Dressing-Down

Washington at work . . . Columnist Rowland Evans likes to take State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin to breakfast every couple of months to pick his brain about goings-on at Foggy Bottom. The usual Washington thing. Rubin goes to spin a bit.

But what Rubin really enjoys is sitting in Evans's Metropolitan Club and being exceptionally bad: eating bacon and eggs and such, then illegally smoking at the table. (Evans allows Rubin this, when no one's around.)

At one recent meeting, the dapper Rubin noticed Evans's shirts were all frayed -- the cuffs had a little white fringe around them. "That shirt looks like a Kennedy administration relic," Rubin said to Evans, in his delicate way. "A man of your stature shouldn't wear such shirts, it's not good for your image. Why do you wear them?"

"Because I like it," responded Evans, who hears the same thing every day from his wife, Kay. "I make my own image, you make Albright's image, not mine," said Evans, suspecting Rubin might have been embarrassed by being seen in a place like the Metropolitan Club with someone who couldn't dress.

The next morning, a beautiful blue stay-collar shirt from J. Press arrived for Evans, courtesy of Rubin. "It must have cost $60," marveled Evans. So is he going to change his ways and stop wearing shirts till they wear out?

"No. I'm going to save it," Evans said, though he wore it once to show Kay.

Evans called to thank Rubin. "Was this State Department money?"

"Out of my own pocket," Rubin insisted.

So will we now see Evans and colleague Robert Novak doing puffery for Madeleine Albright?

Don't hold your breath.

Twin Tweaks

Political observers were somewhat surprised by outgoing Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's recent endorsement for president of former senator Bill Bradley over Vice President Al Gore. Moynihan's words and attitude seemed to reflect almost a disdain for Gore.

Perhaps they didn't know of Gore's March 16, 1998, "Dear Daniel" letter to Moynihan -- who is universally known as Pat -- congratulating him "on the recent birth of your twins."

"Tipper joins me in sending our warmest congratulations and best wishes to you," the letter said. "We understand the joy you are feeling at this special time."

It was supposed to have been a 71st birthday note for the New York Democrat, but someone seems to have hit the wrong button.

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.