When Henry Kissinger was at the height of his public power nearly two years ago, a Washington columnist speculated that he would never be content to slip into obscurity - taking the subway to Council on Foreign Relation teas.
Seven months in Kissinger's retirement as Secretary of State, the evidence suggests that the columnist was right.
Many of the leading lights of governmental affairs in past administrations have burrowed into the relative anonymity of law offices, corporate jobs or obscure professorships.
Kissinger yesterday lunched with President Carter at the White House and pronounced a benediction upon the new panama Canal treaty consummated by the new administration.
When new Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin came to New York for a day of politicking last month, his day began with a visit from Henry Kissinger for an hour of off-the-record conversation.
Kissinger has made headlines with his speeches warning President Carter against the danger of Eurocommunism, decrying reconstruction aid to Vietnam, admonishing against the dangers of the oil-producing nations' cartel.
He breakfasts with prominent friends in press and television, provides "deep background" insights into Carter's foreign policy which find their way into syndicated columns and is launching a $2 million book venture as well as a new career as an adviser-commentor for NBC on foreign policy.
Kissinger has managed not only to keep his network of media contracts intact, but is also serving as vice chairman of the international advisory committee of David Rockfeller's Chase Manhattan Bank. He also slips away from his Georgetown residence for occasional visits to the Tarrytown, N.Y., home of his old patron, David's brother, Nelson.
At times Kissinger in private life seems to be still almost an adjunct of government.
Yesterday's lunch at the White House was his third formal meeting with President Carter. He talks "frequently" with Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. He has seen every foreign minister who has visited Washington since Carter was inaugurated.
The Saudi Arabian ambassador has received so many calls from Kissinger that he has told his friends he is puzzled by all the attention.
And Soviet Ambassador Anatolly Dobrynin confers often on the phone with Kissinger - a "back channel" arrangement that reportedly has annoyed some at the White House.
It takes a special adroitness to manage such a style.
At a dinner party at the home of columnist Marquis Childs July 7, Kissinger mildly criticized the Carter administration's Middle East policy and the B-1 bomber decision - but added that it was essential for the president to succeed in his term of office.
The institution of the presidency, he said, required such a success after the tragedies and tortured failures of the recent past.
It was a "highly civilized" but also "low profile" performance, striking the right balance between mild dissent and sportsmanlike approval, recalls a dinner guest.
That is the way the former secretary of state plainly wants it. He is disconcerted by the possibility that his breakfasts with seniro journalists might be misconstrued or that enemies might cast him in the role of covert critic-at-large of the Carter foreign policy.
"I've avoided comment on current policy," said Kissinger in a telephone interview. "I'm not on a campaign. I know how difficult it is to make foreign policy, and I'm not going to add to the complexity. When I reach a point of disagreement, I'll let it be known."
The "leader of-the-loyal-opposition" role definitely does not appeal to Kissinger. "The last thing he wants to do is to be the old-fashioned man bleating about the new boys," said New York Times columnist James Reston, who had breakfast with Kissinger several months ago.
But Kissinger out of power is still potentially powerful, administration foreign policy officials say. What he might do, or say, is something they must reckon with.
"He should still come crashing back if he chose to do so," said a politically experienced Washington lobbyist.
At his offices at the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies, the former secretary of state is a Washington presence. Nobody has yet emerged with his foreign policy stature in the Carter administration. And comparisons with Kissinger rankle Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter national security adviser with the same job that Kissinger had when he first joined the Nixon administration.
Whatever Brezezinski or anyone else may think, Kissinger clearly has no intention at this time of writing his epitaph as a public personage.
The man who was once jokingly described as "the hermit of Acapulco" and once characterized himself as a "secret swinger" is determined neither to be a hermit nor to break the comforts of obscurity.