It was a slow Saturday afternoon in Ye Olde Back Yard. The mercury was nearing 90, the ice in my lemonade had melted and the novel I was reading wasn't making me forget "War and Peace." I felt the sun beating down. I felt my eyes closing. I felt my chin dropping softly onto my chest . . . .
"Hello, Bob," said a man with long gray hair and a hawklike nose.
"Hello, sir," I said. "Where do I know you from?"
"Maybe you've seen me on a greenback or two," said the man. "Washington's the name. George Washington."
"George Washington! The first President of the United States! The man who crossed the Delaware! The man who gives millions of Americans a day off every February!"
"You newspaper guys have such wonderful recall," said my visitor.
"Gee, George -- may I call you George? -- that's awfully kind of you to say. But you don't have to go out of your way to be nice to me. I'd offer you a glass of watery lemonade even if you were rude."
"You may indeed call me George, Bob. But no lemonade for me. I'm too upset to drink."
"Upset? The father of our country, upset? What could upset a man like you?"
"The real estate market, Bob. I'm telling you, it's a real zoo."
"Why would you be involved in the real estate market, George? You and Martha got a place over at the beach you're trying to unload? One of those overpriced condos at Ocean City, maybe?"
"No, Bob. It's a place much closer to town. Now that the kids are gone, it's a little too much house for Martha and me. It's down south of the 14th Street Bridge, about 10 miles. A spread called Mount Vernon."
"George! You wouldn't! You couldn't! Sell Mount Vernon? Why?"
"Well, my broker called the other day. He says to me, 'George, baby, we've had a lot of good years in Fairfax County real estate. But this Reagan tax bill is about to make all the good tax shelters obsolete. We've got to move quickly. If you can get together a lot of cash right away, I can put you into an oil depletion deal that'll knock the blossoms right off those cherry trees of yours.' "
"And you bit?"
"Well, Martha and I talked it over. We decided, hey, we'd had a good run here in D.C. But when you get to be our age, you have to think about retirement. And what did we have to fall back on? Social Security? Don't make me laugh. A book contract? Nice idea, but who's going to offer me one after the bath the publishers took on Nixon and Carter? So Martha and I figured we'd better get aggressive. We put Mount Vernon on the block."
"You probably had a buyer in three hours."
"Well, that's what we figured, too. We sat on the veranda staring out at the Potomac and joking about how two Yuppie lawyers in a cream-colored Volvo would be showing up any second. But first we had to contend with the real estate agent."
"I nearly strangled a real estate agent once."
"I nearly did it twice. First time was when she announces that she'd have to put a For Sale sign in the front lawn. I point out to her that it has taken me 200 years to get the lawn in the shape it's in. But what does she care? She says, 'Listen, George, you want me to sell your house for you or not?' The second time was when this young couple comes in during a Sunday afternoon open house to have a look. The agent says, 'Oh, so your combined annual income is only $20,000 a year? I'm sure the Washingtons would be glad to knock a few million off the asking price.' Bob, my face might be on money, but that doesn't mean I'm made of money."
"It must have gotten better, George."
"But not before it got worse. We sat there all day Sunday as these people tromped through the house we love. Martha said she'd never been so humiliated in her life. The couple she'll never forget was the one in the matching pink Adidas warmup suits. They walk into the kitchen, chewing bubble gum with their mouths open. All of a sudden the woman bursts out with, 'Oh, my Ga-a-awd, honey, look at this! Have you ever seen such ugly utensils in your whole life?' Don't these fools understand that we've tried to keep the place looking historic?"
"Look at it this way, George. It could have been some fast talker who wanted to turn Mount Vernon into riverfront town houses."
"How did you know? He came at around 4 o'clock. And right after him was a guy who said he represented Middle Eastern oil interests. He wanted to turn it into an amusement park!"
"So you took the house off the market?"
"We had to. I mean, all those tourists every day are a pain in the neck. But as Martha said, 'They don't hold a candle to the vultures who read the real estate ads.' "
A fly landed on my nose right then. Half-awake, I jerked out of the chair, lumbered inside, found Jane and announced that we weren't selling the house, no matter what, because of George Washington.
It wasn't until that night that I found Jane's note to herself. It read: "RUM IN LEMONADE? ASK B."