He was just your average Joe -- a nondescript guy in his forties who walked into the spring meeting of the Arlington Young Democrats just as it was beginning in the restaurant of the Imperial 400 Motel.
"I had no idea he was anybody special," recalled Greg Principato, the AYD president. "He looked like he probably bought his suit at Woodies or something."
But then the man approached Greg and asked to "speak to chairman." Greg said he was the chairman, and who might you be, sir?
"Anatoly Vasiliev," the man replied. "Third Secretary of the Soviet Embassy."
Come on, now. This had to be an Arlington Republican with a sense of humor. Or maybe Greg had recruited a new member and wanted to have some fun with his 20 fellow AYDs. Or perhaps the Third Secretary had had a flat tire on Rte. 50 and was looking for someone to call him a taxi.
None of the above. Vasiliev said he wanted to attend the meeting because he had seen a notice in the Virginia Weekly section of The Washington Post. He had been meaning to learn more about Arlington County Democrats, he told Greg, because Arlington was one of the few jurisdictions in the nation where Walter Mondale defeated Ronald Reagan in 1984 (for you trivia nuts, the numbers were: Mondale -- 37,031; Reagan -- 34,848).
Vasiliev sat through the entire meeting. It was "extremely procedural," according to Chairman Greg. The AYDs elected the outstanding Democrat in Arlington County. They gossiped about the upcoming statewide Democratic convention and tax reform. They discussed slates for future elections. "There were no purges," deadpanned Greg.
Was Vasiliev's visit somehow underhanded? Not as far as the AYD was concerned.
"Our meetings are open to the public," said Greg. "He's welcome back any time -- as long as he can stand The Beach Boys on the Muzak."
Calls to Vasiliev at the embassy produced many polite promises and no Vasiliev. Repeated calls to the press attache, Boris Malikhov, produced the following statement, read over the phone by a secretary:
"Mr. Vasiliev was there. It is the usual practice of foreign diplomats here, including Soviet diplomats, to attend from time to time various open meetings and conferences organized in the Washington area by different organizations -- and by Democrats and Republicans as well."
If you're a less trusting sort, you might well wonder if Vasiliev was looking to develop some illicit information -- or looking for an Arlington Democrat he could turn into a spy. Here's what an FBI spokesman had to say about that:
"I would doubt that very much. But we do encourage Americans to report to the FBI any contacts with Soviet diplomats that they consider suspicious."
The spokesman said that, as far as the FBI is concerned, there's a great difference between a first meeting with a Soviet diplomat and a second. The thinking is that a first meeting is probably chance; a second is probably chancy.
The best line from the whole affair belongs to Susan P. Short, publicity director for the AYD.
As the meeting ended, Vasiliev commented to several AYD members that 32 million young people belong to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.
Observed Susan: "Politeness prevented us from adding that involvement in politics in the U.S. is a matter of free choice, not compulsion." What with all the fireworks set to go off today -- and all the hot dogs set to go down the old hatch -- we tend to forget the historical basis for our July 4 holiday. But you can get a feel for the passion and drama of the revolutionary era by visiting the Falls Church City Council chambers (300 Park Ave.) at noon.
There and then, the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society will celebrate its centennial with a public reading of three important American documents: The Fairfax Resolves, The Virginia Declaration and The Declaration of Independence.
George Mason, a noted Northern Virginian, wrote the first two of the three documents. Thomas Jefferson, a noted Central Virginian, wrote the third. The readings are an annual tradition in Falls Church. If they stir a little patriotism in that old ticker of yours, well, that's the whole idea. The work of some of our greatest poets appears on the grimy back doors of trucks. That's where Tony Glaros of Laurel caught:
"Capture a Maryland Memory Like I Did . . . . A $40 Speeding Ticket!" From Frank Forrester, this nugget of wisdom:
Most arguments only prove that two persons are present.