Nobody ever accused The Mole of being an historian. Not if they liked the way their teeth were arranged.
A high school physical education teacher, yes. A singer and skier and sports fan, certainly. A street-smart scrapper with a rough and ready spirit, to be sure.
But most of all, a man who grew up in downtown Washington, the youngest son of Armenian immigrants who ran a $1-a-night hotel five blocks from the Capitol.
It was there, and in the surrounding neighborhood of bullies, burlesque and burglars, that Richard Janigian Jr. first picked up the nickname Mole (in honor of his oversized nose). It was there, too, that he picked up a sense of Washington that no tourist ever sees from the air-conditioned interior of a tour bus.
Now that he is 48, Janigian drives a tomato-red Corvette with "MOLE 1" license plates. He summers at his chalet in the western Pennsylvania mountains. He smokes good cigars and sculpts in his spare time.
But The Mole is still a creature of his first nine years, still a scion of the streets. And now he has begun to write a histroy of what it was like.
His untitled manuscript was 22 single-spaced pages long as of last month, or enough to trace The Mole as far as the age of 12.
Reviewers would have little use for his opus. It is chronological to a fault. It cries out for more details in many places. It concentrates much too much on guess who.
And, oh, the language. "The most compelling charm of his reflections is its unrelivable illusiveness," writes The Mole in his introduction. Lilting it ain't.
But for flavor and feel, The Mole has written a winner. And it may be a service to mankind that his story is "unrelivable." Anyone who tried to duplicate The Mole's boyhood today might not get through it with the skin of his teeth.
That boyhood centered around the Mount Vernon Hotel, 487 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Richard Janigian Sr. leased the hotel from the federal government. The building was torn down long ago to make room for Civil Service Commission headquarters. But when The Mole was 4, it was very much there, and its lieutenant in charge of rat patrol was a certain 4-year-old himself.
"There were two or three cracks in the baseboard where the rats could come out into the hall," The Mole writes. "When the rat's nose popped out, I would listen for which way he went, beat him to the next crack and scare hell out of him again. This game sometimes went for four hours."
The Mole first made his mark on the world by flunking kindergarten. It seems that only Armenian was spoken at home. Kindergarten was conducted in English.
He cultivated a daredevil reputation, leaping on watermelon trucks as they drove along New York Avenue and heaving two or three big ones down to his waiting friends. And no one knew better when the cops changed shifts - making it safe to go for a swim in the fountain in front of Union Station.
But all was not idyllic. On what is now the site of the U.S. Courthouse, at C Street and John Marshall Place NW., "there lived a man who couldn't stand kids. He could have been a relative of W.C. Fields," The Mole writes.
"He had a BB gun with him at all times of the day and whenever one of us kids would walk by his place, he would shoot BBs at the seat of our pants." But not even this hardhearted soul could outwit The Mole and his pals. "We would put books or cardboard in the seat of our pants and casually walk by, letting him take shots at us," The Mole recalls.
Fistfights were constant. So was freeloading. Night and day, the gang would ride on the streetcars that passed in front of the hotel. Of course, they did not find it necessary to pay.
They would climb on the back of a car and ride until the conductor threw them off. But no problem: They would simply run ahead to the next stop and jump on again.
Most conductors gave in gracefully. If one got nasty occasionally, Mole and Co. "would drive him crazy pulling the contact pole off the overhead track." The car couldn't run until the conductor put it back.
Panhandling was a constant sport, too, especially among the bums waiting for free meals at the Gospel Mission. But The Mole and his friends always repaid the kindnesses of the down-and-outers. Asleep in a doorway, a bum would awaken to find a toothbrush or some other gift stuffed in his shirt pocket - compliments of Moledom.
The most exciting feature of the old neighborhood was the FBI Building. The Mole had heard about the free guided tours by the time he was 6. "I would sometimes go on three or four tours a day," he remembers.
The old Gayety Theater on Ninth Street was a big favorite, too. Especially after Mole and his running mates discovered exactly where to sit in the alley so that they could see the girlie shows for nothing.
In 1938, Richard Janigian Sr. moved the family to the home in Friendship Heights where The Mole and his mother still live.
The Mole has been a physical education teacher and coach at Bell Vocational High School for 22 years. But some of his pals from the old neighborhood have not turned out so well. One is doing time for picking a policeman's apartment to burglarize. Another, who kept making bad investments at the race track, is flat broke.
The Mole is not immune to trouble himself. Just this spring, a Bell student called him a name and punched him. The punch broke The Mole's nose for the fourth time. Although he is only 5-feet-7 and 150 pounds, it took four bystanders to keep The Mole from retaliating.
"Sure, I think it all goes back to my days on the street, and to my size. You've got to prove yourself when you're a small guy. It's the same old thing - fighting for what I think is right," said The Mole.
His epic will probably never be published. Maybe no one would believe it if it were. But all The Mole needs is for a youngster at school to tell him how tough things are.
The molelike nose will crinkle. The eyes will twinkle. And The Mole will say, in his characteristic blend of threatening and sweet, "Hey, man, what do you know from tough?"