"Hello, out there," begin the notes from Washington. Others refer to this as "the rest of the country." My favorite is "the field."
"Out there," of course, is anywhere that is not Washington, and I am always amazed when something arrives here, this being such a small part of the great "out there." But a new appreciation of the U.S. Postal Service is only one of the changes that has come over me in the last month.
It was not always thus. For most of the last 10 years I did not live "out there." I didn't live in "the field." I lived in Washington. Now, with my wife and son, I live in the rest of the country and am beginning to understand how it feels.
I have redrawn the famous New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg that shows America from the perspective of midtown Manhattan, and likewise the knock-off with Washington at the center of the universe. And there are no more Gertrude Stein-Oakland jokes about there being no there there.
This has been a bad time to move to the rest of the country, because most of it just moved to Washington with Ronald Reagan -- at least that's what we (meaning Washingtonians, one of which I was at the time) all thought after the November election. I must report that the rest of the country is still here -- or there -- despite what you think. Either Washington was all wrong about the election, or there is a heck of a lot more to the rest of the country than anyone imagined.
The only thing that makes me believe I'm wrong is that the television -- which links Washington with the rest of the country but not vice versa -- keeps showing pictures of Pennsylvania Avenue filled with cheering people. That's not the way I left it. Where did they all come from?
I have not yet decided whether to look at Washington as my protector or my oppressor. Quite unscientific sampling suggests to me that if I choose protector, I will be in the minority. That is different than in Washington.
In most other ways, the people here in the rest of the country seem like you and me. They drive fewer foreign cars and drive them faster than people in Washington, but otehr than that, their lives are quite smiliar. I am no closer to the rest of the rest of the country than are you in Washington, but I speak with authority because I now live Out There.
Of course, everyone in Washington speaks with authority about the rest of the country. That is reflected in the phrase "in the field," which has nothing to do with harvesting wheat or slopping the hogs, but with the belief that those of us "in the field" are like so many laboratory rats to be studied and eventually disposed of. My family resumably will be spared because of the press card I carry.
Occasionally people from Washington go out "in the field," and return filled with supposedly greater appreciateion of how the field can be improved, with Washington's help. People Out There don't necessarily appreciate that attitude, which is why many of them voted for Ronald Reagan last fall. Having lived in the rest of the country for a month now, I don't appreciate it either. Even the rantings of Harper's Magazine editor Lewis Lapham are beginning to make sense. Either I'm in trouble, or you are.
Washington is seen as both omnipresent and irrelevant to people in the rest of the country. That's not the best combination imaginable, and if Reagan can somehow reverse both, then we should bottle him for future generations. That is, after all, what he promised to do, before he left the rest of the country to start having his picture taken with Tip O'Neill and Bobby Byrd.
People in the rest of the country aren't quite on pins and needles awaiting the outcome of this revolution, as Washingtonians seem to be these days. They are not convinced that the revolution will change their lives as much as it will changes Washington's. As long as the money keeps coming, everything will be just dandy.
By the way, who is David Stockman?