THE SECRETARY'S echelon at the Department of Agriculture is a most comfortable bureaucratic enclave. I appear at 9:30 for a meeting of the Task Group on Structures Policy. I am the lone outsider - for pay, of course. A freelancer learns not to write in coupon blanks without negotiating a price.
The group leader, 30ish, tall and svelte, was peeled from a page in Harper's Bazaar. She gazes at my three-piece blue suit, gold headed walking stick and Cordell Hull Panama hat. "Bob, it's nice to have you here just to look at you." My turn to gaze. "I come just to look at you. Isn't it nice we each provide pleasure by showing up?"
Brisk walk up the mall to Smithsonian magazine. Ted Park, an editor and old friend, is bouncing around his office like a caged marmoset. We talk. "Ed Thompson says we've got to get Cochran in the magazine," Ted says. "You've got no problems." Cab ride up Independence Avenue to House garage where my wife has left the car ( she's office mother for a good friend, Rep. Bob Eckhardt). Home to spend the afternoon drafting an article abot farm size and efficiency for a Vermont-based rural New Yorker called Country Journal.
Fry up three country pullets for dinner (I do most of the cooking in our house). Its Cousin Michael's ninth birthday, one of a dozen or so we celebrate at dinner each year. Clan gathers. Daughter Ellen's husband, Peter Hicks, a Republican stockbroker, doesn't have a candidate of the week for president. Table talk lags.
I spend the day writing, with phone calls to farm types. I discover an aspect of the farm problem: its experts speak a language other than English. Stop at six to cook linguine and what seems like a thousand spicy, tiny meatballs. My wife comes home: "My Italian grandmother never made them that small." Cooking can be tense. "Too bad the old soul is dead," I say. "She could have come out and made the damn things."
My wife has taken the rest of the week off because daughter Sarah is visiting from Oregon, where she teaches school. Wednesday is my wife's first trip to a gas line. She fills up at Glen Echo and comes back with a gas line story we old pros find tedious. I decide to forget gas lines and zero in on energy policy. Why not makethe oil companies public utilities, like the phone company and Pepco? With what we pay them, Ma Bell and Pepco aren't hurting. Cable TV moguless Lucille Larkin picks me up to go to leesbury to negotiate the printing of a viewer guide I've written for watching the House on cable. We go in style in her maid's husband Henry's cab. "Cheaper than renting a car," Lucille says. In Leesburg I see Fannie Reid, my first and best newspaper mentor, at the Times-Mirror office. They're doing the printing.
Miss Fannie, in her late 70s, is writing the history of weekly journalism in Loudoun County, and I work on it with her from time to time.
Back home shortly after lunch, to read suspenseful thrillers on farm size, which yield stray paragraphs. I braise a mess of shoulder lamb chops and vegetables in stock and wine. Tough but tasty.
Notice the Dewars half gallon is getting low. Scotch is the mother's milk of writhin, especially about the relation of farm until size to production efficiency.
Call Al Hart, my agent in New York, just to let him know I'm alive. He has bracing news. W.W. Norton has turned down my proposal for a book on National Geographic. Our fifth near-miss. Al no longer sugarcoats rejections by saying Eric Segal's "Love Story" was turned down 14 or 17 times before it hit, made 10 zillion dollars, a movie and God knows what else.I have high hopes for Gepgraphic, but don't see much spinoff market for Melville Grosvensor T-shirts.
John Greenya, a writer friend calls. Yesterday he finished and mailed a piece on job discrimination for a lawyer with a problem involving it. "I got home and saw headlines that the Supreme Court decided Weber ," John says. "Now I'm rewriting a chunk on (sob) my nickel."
I finish the Country Journal draft and drop it by Agriculture. For dinner I make Kristina Truitt's omelet. It's a puffy confection you cook in the oven and cover with cheese sauce. Kristina is an old friend and fellow cook. Will we ever open a restaurant? It always seems so logical late in the evening over brandy.
A visit to Agriculture proves that farm economese indeed can be rendered into English. They find few faults with the Country Journal effort and I mail off to editor Dick Ketchum specifying changes to come. Much of the day is odds and ends for the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, another agency that yields writing chores Daughter Jane, needle on empty, makes it form West Virginia where she tends a sheep farm. Corned beef hash for dinner, from a Kenneth Roberts recipe in one of his novels.
Up early to make a grocery list so my wife can do the week's shopping at Giant after she goes to the Farm Woman's Market in Bethesda. Cooks ought to do their own shopping, but who would do the writing? More odds and ends for Federal Disaster, and a shot at beginning an article on prisoner grievance procedures for the American Bar Association. In the afternoon we go with two daughters to see "Ain't Misbehavin'." Home to two lascivious homemade pizzas - can't buy them that grandiose.
Sarah leaves on a crack-of-dawn Trailways for southwest Virginia to visit her brother Stephen, who is subsistance farming while his wife Janet carries around our second grandchild. He's due in December.
I remind myself of the writer's first principle all day: apply the seat of your pants to a chair in front of a typewriter. As always, results are mixed. Why are Sunday papers so fat? How about pot roast and potato pancakes for dinner? Nobody objects. CAPTION: Picture, no caption