Hobart Rowen's office is a good place to visit occasionally. Most of the time, Rowen is either setting out for a summit meeting or just getting back from an exclusive interview, so late developments in economics are forever bubbling through his mind.
I can learn a lot from our economics correspondent just by asking, "How are things?" When he's not on deadline, he's usually in the mood to talk about the economic significance of recent events. All I have to do is shut up and listen.
A couple of days ago, I stuck my head into his office and asked, "Are interest rates peaking?" He handed me the dupes on an article he had just finished writing. "It's funny you should ask," he replied. "Read what G. William Miller just told me. And while you do, I'll start making out the expense account for my trip to Germany."
"Ah," I needled. "You're about to turn from fact to fiction."
"Don't make jokes," Rowen said. "Even after I finish listing everything I can remember, I'm going to end up a big loser on this trip. I never saw money go so fast. And as a stockholder, it shakes me up when reporters spend so much of the company's money."
"So next time stay at a youth hosted instead of a hotel," I suggested.
"What do you think the hotel charged me to launder three shirts"? Rowen asked.
"I'm now paying 75 cents a shirt," I said. "I suppose German prices are almost as high."
"Almost, my foot," he said as he picked up a printed price list he had brought back with him. "I paid $7.20 to get three shirts washed. A shirt is 4.80 deutsche mark, undershirts 2.80, underdrawers 2.80, and - get this - for a pair of socks, their laundry charges 2.80 marks. Drycleaning a suit costs 21 deutsche mark. For one suit and three changes of linen, the bill is more than 60 marks or $30."
"The mark is now. . .?"
"About two to the dollar. You can figure it's worth roughly 50 cents in our money," Rowen said. "Drycleaning a pair of slacks costs 10 1/2 marks. Schlafanzug , which is pajamas, or a nachthemd , a nightshirt, cost 5 marks to launder. And look at the prices on the damen side of the price list; a Kleid or dress is 19 marks, or $9.50. A blouse is 7.90 marks, and it costs 2.80 marks to launder a bustenhalter or brassiere. Did you ever see such laundry prices?"
"No," I said. "If I were The Post's auditor, I'd think a reporter was kidding if he turned in an expense account like that."
"I thought the hotel was kidding when it gave me the bill," Rowen said. "I went down to the desk and told them that in the United States I can buy a pair of socks for what they charge for laundering a pair. But a lot of good it did me. They respond with a faint, patient smile and explain that everything costs more now."
So that's the latest on the economic situation, folks. G. William Miller thinks interest rates are starting to level off, and a new version of German Schrecklichkeit (frightfulness) marks laundry prices in Bonn. If you're thinking of running away from high prices and inflation, try the South Sea Islands, not West Germany.