After two years of writing what is called a "column" in the news business, I have been greatly impressed by the reaction of the Washington community. My telephone rings a lot, with people wanting to know such things as, "Can you get me tickets to the Prince show?" or, after reading about the concert, wondering, "Are you sick?"
Well, I am fine, thank you. The only problem I have is how to deal with these people. You see, columnizing in Washington is not like it is in Chicago, turf of Mike Royko, or New York, home of Jimmy Breslin, or even Atlanta, with Lewis "Red Neck Chic" Grizzard. D.C. does not want columnists; D.C. wants advertising agents.
"I have a great column idea for you," said producer Karen Spellman, desperation in her voice. "There is a concert, Duke Ellington Revisited, at 8 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Cramton Auditorium. We're having trouble selling tickets and a little publicity would help a lot."
Well, having solved that problem, let me move on.
It started last week with a visit to the Northeast Washington headquarters of Swing Inc., a group of jazz buffs who sit around a dinner table talking music and politics. All I did was pull up a chair and the next thing I knew a plate of barbequed chicken wings, salad and a beer appeared before me.
"We have an idea for your column," said Gail Dixon, a founder of the group. "At 9 p.m. on Feb. 27, a musical program called 'Jazz Women: Black, Brown and Tan,' will be held at Park Place Cafe, 2651 Connecticut Ave. Can you help?" she concluded, preparing to take back the chicken wings. Of course, I said.
"You know last Friday was my birthday," said Daisy Voigt, who had invited me to a provocative luncheon seminar on "Sexual Politics in the Arts," featuring New York art experts Lowery Stokes-Sims and Nanette Salomon. "I don't want to grovel, but it would so nice to see something about it in the paper."
"You indicated that you might be interested in a column on our computer training program," writes Pat Patterson of the Spanish Catholic Center. "Even though we charge only $50 for a six-week course, I still find it is an almost impossible task to get enough students. I am told the reason is that people don't know that the computer training program is available." Well, now they do, Ms. Patterson. Call her at 483-1520.
"Help Raise Funds For Comptex," reads the contents of the umpteenth piece of mail on the subject. Comptex bills itself as an innovative company that actually makes unemployed people employable. All they need are volunteers and some funds. All you have to do is call 599-9222. And make my day.
I used to have three advisers who helped me when my well of ideas ran dry: Ivan Brandon, an eccentric Washingtonian who emphasized that columns should have humor; Harold Logan, a Stanford MBA who stressed that they also should have at least one fact, and Jean Fugett, former Redskins tight end and now a CBS sports color commentator who looked for action in the written word.
When a column idea didn't work, the comic would call up and and shout, "Swing -- and a miss," then guffaw. The MBA would claim I left out the requisite fact, and the jock would say it put him to sleep.
Of course, when a column worked, they'd all call up to say I could expect a bill for services rendered. But they soon departed, in the absence of money or recognition.
Well, welcome back, fellows!
Meanwhile, Sheila Banks of public television station WETA has called to say that the esteemed television critic Tom Shales refused to review her show, "Teenage Dropouts: Wasted Wealth," which airs at 4 p.m. today on Channel 26. And if Tom doesn't write about it, well, who's going to know about it?
Now, would you all just give me a break?