Will the meeting please come to order? Ladies and gentlemen, our speaker tonight needs no introduction, so I won't give him one. Will you please help me welcome that tinhorn typist, that ribald raconteur, the man whose teeth and hair are somehow still his very own, the one, the only, Bob Leve-e-e-e-y!
(Scattered, grudging applause) Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to be with you tonight. The fruit cup left a little to be desired, but, hey, one thing you learn in a political town is that you can't have everything, right? (Weak laughter).
I have always believed that fair is fair, ladies and gents. So if your program chairman wouldn't give me an introduction, I won't give you a long speech (Hearty applause).
I had a feeling you'd like that. Instead, I think I'll go straight to questions. (Embarrassing pause) Gee, don't all ask at once, people! Ah, there are some hands. Yes, Ma'am?
You write so much about local affairs that I wonder whether you were born in Washington.
No, ma'am. I was born on a little island northeast of here. A former Indian reservation called Manhattan. My first visit to Washington was when I was 8 years old. Whole family drove down. We have the pictures to prove what a joyous occasion it was. Bob and his brother argue on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Bob slugs brother while waiting for White House tour to begin. Cigar-smoking cab driver tries to hustle Mom and Dad into $150 three-day visit to Mount Vernon. After that splendid weekend, it's a wonder I ever came back.
Can you tell me why the paper boy always throws my Post in the hedges?
Because he sharpened his aim on my hedges, and he decided to branch out. Next question. The gentleman in the back.
Does the newsroom at The Post look like it did in that movie?
Depends on which movie you mean, Sir. Most of the time it looks like a scene from "Frankenstein Was a Teen-Age Newspaper Reporter." But if you mean the Watergate movie, yes, it still looks pretty much like that. The same cluttered desks and cluttered minds. The same fluorescent lights giving everybody a headache. The same last-month's calendars taped to the walls. As I always say, the wonder of "All The President's Men" wasn't Dustin Hoffman's performance. It was Dustin Hoffman surviving protracted exposure to Washington Post coffee.
Do you ever have a day when you can't think of anything to write for your column?
Nope. Or maybe I should say, not yet. Yes, MMMam?
My son is interested in journalism. What advice would you give him about a career in newspapers?
Apply to law school before it's too late. Seriously, Sir, your son has already taken the biggest step. He has decided to fall in love with the business. From there, it's just a question of opportunity and of luck -- but mostly of practice. Doctors get better with experience, quarterbacks get better with experience and newspaper urchins do, too. I'm sure your son has talent. What he doesn't have is the knowledge of how it feels to bat out a tough story on a tight deadline. If you do that once, you want to do it twice. And if you do that once, you can do it twice.
Do you choose the comics?
Ma'am, I may look crazy, but I'm not that crazy. The comics are chosen by editors -- several editors. I just rent space in the same neighborhood.
What's your favorite Washington story?
There are so-o-o-o-o many. But I think my all-time favorite concerns Roman Hruska. He was a Republican senator from Nebraska who was ultraloyal to President Nixon. One day, when one of Nixon's Supreme Court nominees was going down to defeat -- Haynsworth or Carswell, I can't remember which -- an opponent said on the floor of the Senate that the nominee's record was mediocre. It was time to rise to the defense, and Hruska did his best. He said: "I believe that the mediocre people of America deserve representation on the Supreme Court, too!"
Why are there so many bad drivers in Washington? Because there are so many drivers in Washington. They aren't any worse than they are elsewhere. It's just that when you put 300,000 cars where there's space for only 200,000, they start acting like rats in a maze.
One last one. The man in the tan suit.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Well, if I don't hit the lottery, I'll probably still be columnizing. If I do hit the lottery, I doubt that I'll be leaving a forwarding address.
Bob, we'd like to thank you for being with us tonight. You have opened our eyes to the joys and problems of being a columnist in today's uncertain world. As a token of our appreciation, we'd like to present you with one mediocre fruit cup, in honor of Roman Hruska, to eat at breakfast tomorrow morning.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. The pleasure is all mine.