IF IT SNOWS at the summit, I wonder if they will call it off. Everything else around here stops when the flakes start flying, from symphony concerts to spelling bees. If they don't scratch the summit, I fear for my country. The possibilities for distortion, misunderstanding and sellout are endless.
If the summit goes forward and Mikhail Gorbachev sees what snow does to Washington, he will think we are a weak and incompetent nation that he would be a fool not to fleece. As for our negotiators, I see them unable to talk about anything but the weather and carrying away from the meeting such an overwhelming sense of Soviet superiority in snow-warfare that they will make the concessions of right-wing nightmares.
For openers, I see our team arriving late. They explain to the general secretary that they were listening to the radio to find out if the meeting was on and, if so, if it had been moved back. The first hour will be given over to war stories about getting the car out, getting to the Metro. Eachstraggler will be closely quizzed about how he made it.
This is how I hear the negotiator from McLean as he meets the leader of the Soviet Union:
"Good morning, Mr. Secretary. Sorry to be a few minutes late. My car-lock froze. Couldn't get the key in it. As you know, the best weapon in this case is a cigaret lighter, but Betsy and I gave up smoking, so I had to hike down to my neighbor's house. I found his wife in hysterics. She had just heard that her son's school would open two hours late, her daughter's three hours and the kindergarten was closed. The logistics simply overwhelmed her. Took me a while to calm her down. She's from Michigan.
"Yes, of course, Mr. Secretary, let's get down to business . . . . What do you do when it snows in Moscow?
"You send out plows in flying-wedge formation? I see. And do you do sidewalks? I'm especially interested because I took a header just outside the door here. You send out old women with twigs to brush off the sidewalks? Then trucks pick up the snow and dump it in the Moscow River? What a wonderful technology. I wonder why we never thought of the meltdown approach. We have the Potomac, you know. You have no idea what the bridges are like here already.
"Could I ask -- and if it's a state secret, my deepest apologies -- when do you send out your plows? When the snow starts falling! I thought maybe you had a meeting of the Politburo and that you would have to press the launch-button yourself at your snow command center. Oh. You don't have a snow comand center. Strange. Or perhaps we are a trifle over-organized in this respect.
"Why yes, Mr. Secretary, we all know the agenda of this meeting. You wish to discuss SALT II. You salt, too? Tell me how you do it. Do you send out the trucks while it is still coming down or do you wait until it stops? This is a bitter and divisive issue here. Our mayor does not like to deploy vehicles too soon. He's extremely cautious about a first strike.
"You don't know? You did not notice it is snowing? You have been looking out the window so much, and I thought you were bound to see it. I see. It starts snowing the first of October in your country and it goes on until April Fool's day. I can see that might give you a different starting position.
"That must cause a great disruption in your bureaucracy. Could I ask you your policy on rolling dismissals and liberal leave? You don't have one! Really? Everybody has to show up. Weather is no excuse. But how can you be sure that someone is not really sick or the grandmother has just died when people calls in during a blizzard? I regret to say it, Mr. Secretary, but I think that's a verification problem without a solution.
"Boy, look at that stuff coming down. I bet there'll be 10 inches on the ground by dark. I agree with you, the accumulation of nuclear weapons is dangerous. Just look at the way it's piling up out there.
"No, I don't think we need to go into those ABM violations. That could take all day. I mean, if we could wrap this up in an hour or so, I could split and beat the rush-hour traffic. I might even get home before my driveway freezes. Look, why don't you just write down what you think the treaty ought to say and I'll sign off on the bottom of the page.
"Actually, I don't see why we need to go into ABM violations. Star Wars? Frankly, if I were you, I wouldn't worry so much about it. The next president may not be so set on it. Delay deployment for 25 years, why not? What's the harm? Jesse Helms? Oh, he's probably stuck in a snowdrift somewhere. Say, I hate to ask you this, but I could save a few minutes if you'd have your interpreter call up my wife and tell her I'm out of here. Thanks, Mr. Secretary, you're a prince."
Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.