I'VE LIVED in Washington for nearly 10 years now, and I like it. (Actually, I live in Maryland, but Washington is a state of mind and I'm a citizen of it.) Before that I lived in Iowa -- right in the middle of it -- and I liked it too.
My friends in Iowa ask me: "How do you stand it in that place? So phony." And my friends in Washington ask: "How did you survive so long out there in Idaho? So dull."
I tell them, each of them, that there is no perfect place to live; it's a matter of taste. Hermits like caves, New Yorkers favor apartments. Iowa is graced by absolutely marvelous people. I know you hear that all of the time, but it's true. They are clean, brave, thrifty, reverent, loyal, honest and able to brush after every meal.
Washington, however, has its advantages. For example, these:
FOOD: It is possible to get a meal in Washington without gravy on any of it. Also, carp is not considered seafood here.
SEX: I'm not sure that sex is actually any better in D.C., but people tell more astonishing lies about it. Would you rather sit next to Rita Jenrette at a party and swap stories about your trips to the Capitol, or next to the governor of Iowa and hear the truth about double-bottomed trucks?
BASEBALL: The Chicago Cubs do not play in Washington; not even exhibition games. The closest they get is Philadelphia. This is a big plus for baseball lovers. The Cubs have a farm team in Des Moines. Last month they came to play a game against their functionaries, who had lost six games in a row against Triple-A competition. The farm team won.
CULTURE: There are people in Washington who have not seen "The Sound of Music" even once.
TELEVISION: Pesticide commercials, without which television could hardly exist in Iowa, are virtually unknown in Washington. The closest you get are ads for Black & Decker power lawnmowers. And, while the local news shows are no better than they are in Iowa, the people on them have better haircuts.
DRESS: People here in Washington dress well. Saul Polyester, the inventor of synthetic fabric, might never have lived as far as the people of Georgetown are concerned. The only people who wear white belts are albino karate experts, and if you see a powder-blue leisure suit with contrasting stitching, you know it's better a tourist or a congressman.
BASKETBALL: At no time are more than 10 players, regardless of sex, allowed on the floor during a game here. Iowa is bonkers over a curious game known as girls' basketball, which features six-person teams divided into offensive and defensive specialists. It resembles nothing so much as a still life, chewing gum.
SCANDAL: Scandals in Iowa are pallid things, particularly political scandals. They generally consist of legislators complaining about sex-education films in which the women do not wear shoes with laces. And you can either bribe an Iowa legislator with a ham sandwich, or you can't bribe him at all. In Washington, public figures not only drool as they accept wads of $100 bills and do kinky things with real-life Playboy foldouts, they do it on television.
LA DOLCE VITA: There are no sock hops in Washington and laundromats here are not required to pay an amusement tax.
If I were to try to rate Washington as a home, I'd say it is an entirely reasonable place to live; one of the very best of the big cities. It's nicely located between mountains and ocean, it's pretty and it lacks ferocious winters. Most of all, I suppose, it gives one a sense of being near the center of things. That's more important to some people than to others, but it has its attraction. D.C. is a town rich with art galleries, museums, concerts, plays, foreign movie houses, sidewalk cafes and superb restaurants.
What it lacks -- and what Iowa has -- is a sense of community, a sense of place, a sense of rootedness. It is a town of people from someplace else, on the way to someplace else. Its sophistication has a wallpaper-like quality to it.
For all of its fancy restaurants and cafes, there's not a single good neighborhood bar in Washington, a place where people of the area -- young people, old people -- congregate on a casual basis and talk about things over a beer or two. That's because there are no neighborhoods, not really.
Iowa has neighborhoods; it has neighborhood bars. I know a terrific bar in Deep River, for example. It's in a retired bank.
Oh, well, you can't have everything. When was the last time Luciano Pavarotti sang in Deep River? There's no reason for anyone to be smug.