IWAKE UP to panic. I have only 15 minutes to make my bus. I bolt out of bed and begin doing several things at once: brushing my teeth and reading a news release, putting on socks and buttoning my shirt. I even get a bit daring, simultaneously watering my seedlings, tuning in the news segment of "Good Morning America!" and drinking a glass of orange juice. I have it timed so I know exactly when to leave and just catch the bus. As soon as weatherman John Coleman begins telling me the temperatures in "some of my favotite towns," I race out the door.
I call my "deep throat" inside the Council on Wage and Price Stability to arrange a meeting this morning to go over some technical data. He suggests the cafeteria in his building, the New Executive Office Building. I demur: "Too risky." I want to protect him. I suggest the McDonald's across the street. I arrive early, walk to the upstairs dining area and seat myself at a table, surrounded by indoor plants and overlooking 17th Street. He finds me hidden upstairs. "A bit dramatic, don't you think?" he asks. Facing front, I answer, "You can't be too careful." He rolls his eyes.
Today the council releases new exception decisions. I smile at the receptionist and ask if they're ready. (Always nice to receptionists -- their power is sometimes godlike.) Her voice keeps cracking, and I ask her if she's got laryngitis. She says no, it's her honest-to-goodness real voice. I'm momentarily paralyzed with embarrassment. That's like asking someone with two prostheses if they enjoy dancing. All I can think to say is, "It's very sexy." She laughs and tells me no one ever told her that. The other two secretaries in the room try to restrain themselves. I'm eager to leave.
I corner Joe Carter, the council's flack. I follow him in and out of his office, asking questions. He spices his answers with profanity. Mid-sentence, he takes a phone call and begins arranging a lunch date with a friend. While waiting for the rest of his answer, I practice reading upside-down with papers on his desk.
I want to get a copy of my newsletter into Alfred Kahn's hand, but he's isolated on stage before a group of labor leaders at the Sheraton. As he finally makes his exit, a young aide shuttles him out the rear exit. I follow.
As soon as I'm outside, the two of them are already several yards away, running toward the parking lot. I skip into a sprint.I can't catch up with him, and he's twice my age. With his suit coat winged out to the sides, he looks like a TV cop.I catch up with him at his car.
As I try to regain my breath, he apologizes for not waiting. I apologize for chasing him and stuff my newsletter in his hand. "Just wanted you to take a look at this when you got a chance." He thanks me and climbs into the car. Walking up to the front door, I turn to a bellhop, point my thumb at the departing car and tell him, "That sucker can run."
Arrive at the White House's northwest gate an hour early for a 10:30 a.m. press conference. I want to make sure I make the security clearance in time. Those of us without the coveted White House press pass must wait until our names are blessed inside unseen computers.
Cameramen pass through. Familiar network faces pass through. The usual array of print journalists with typewriter paunches passes through. For some unknown reason, the White House press office wants us to report first to the West Wing, then we'll be walked over by staff, in two shifts, to the conference room in the Old Executive Office Building. If you miss the walk over, you miss the press conference.
My name finally clears at 10:28. I dart down to the West Wing, where a press staffer tells me, without batting an eye, "You missed the last walkover." I turn white, lock eyes with her and drone, "I've been waiting at the gate for one solid hour. You're going to get me to that press conference if I have to ride on your back with a horse crop." She turns red. A nearby staffer clears his throat and volunteers to escort me over. I've lost a friend and gained copy.
I spend the afternoon trying to get three questions answered by phone: one on labor contracts, one on Congress' current opinions of the guidelines, one on where to get a copy of a letter from Sen. Proxmire to Carter. Since I don't expect to connect directly with those who have the answers, I set out bait by telephone. Meanwhile, I take care of an organization chart I'm compiling on council staff.
I never thought it would happen -- I'm getting fingerprinted. Determined not to have a recurrence of yesterday's hassle at the White House gate, my editor-in-chief, Dave Howell, suggests he give up his pass since I'm over there more than he is (only one allowed per small company).
They fingerprint me. They photograph me. I ask the woman if I can get a driver's license while I'm there. She doesn't get the joke and asks, "You don't have a driver's license?" Fear runs up my back. I think: Maybe you must have a driver's license to get a White House press pass. "Well, I have a Maine license," I tell her. "You don't have a local one?" she asks, appalled. I really get nervous now. "I don't own a car," I offer weakly. That seems to satisfy her, and she asks no further questions. She tells me it normally takes three to four weeks to clear.
I interview an attorney from a corporate law firm in his office on K Street. He is encouraging about the newsletter's potential: "Hell, these companies pay us as much as $800 a throw just to send a clerk to the council, pick up a press release, write it and mail it out to them as authoritiative documents." I recall Montaigne's line: "I quote others in order the better to express my own self." I paraphrase it in my head to read: "I rewrite press releases in order the better to portray myself as a Washington lawyer." I feel a twinge of guilt at my cynicism and replace "Washington lawyer" with "newsletter reporter."
We wend through press day with the typical feeling of frantic hopelessness. I plow through the small, last-minute items; a report from the National Council of Technical Service Industries finding recent Labor Department decisions are inconsistent with Carter's anti-inflation program; a story based on facts shot at me rapid-fire yesterday by a senior staff member of the House Banking Committee; a short blurb on the council's new legal counsel, Sally Katzen. That one's a bit disappointing -- the best quote I can get out of her is, "I will find the new job challenging." I decide not to use it.
Our typist, Michael, finishes final copy at 8 p.m. and Dave helps me with the layout. Still amazed that such a mom-and-pop operation can be covering the national scepe. Dave, an old hand in the business, unabashedly calls newsletters the "last bastion of personal journalism."
We put it to bed by 10. I call a friend to see if she'd like to grab a late-night bite downtown. One of my journalism professors back in school once told me that the hardest thing for a young journalist to learn was how to convince girls to go out on short notice, at odd hours. This time I'm lucky. CAPTION: Picture, no caption