"Bob Levey speaking."

"Robert, Robert, my good friend Robert! Do you accept Visa for consultations, as always?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, if my ears don't deceive me, those are the strangled gasps of my good buddy Arthur, boy millionaire. How's the development business, Arthur? Still trying to turn Fairfax County into one big parking lot?"

"Robert, you are scandalous and slanderous, as usual. And I am in search of advice."

"Arthur, the last time I gave you advice, the horse finished sixth."

"Not that kind of advice, Robert, you poor muddlebrained newspaper boy. I'm talking about career advice. You see, I'm thinking of making a switch."

"Arthur! You? Is this the same Arthur who once told me he'd never get out of the development game because there'd never be a bottom to the well?"

"Same Arthur. But the well grew a bottom."

"So you're selling pencils on the corner of Connecticut and K?"

"It's not that bad -- at least not yet. But I may have to stop smoking Cubans and start smoking Phillies cheroots."

"Arthur, coming from you, I know that's a major-league sacrifice. But what happened, champ? You ducked all the vicissitudes in the interest rates before. How come you're not ducking them again?"

"It isn't the interest rates, Robert. It's the fact that the office building business done went bust. And I'm not exaggerating, the way all you slimy journalists always do. I'm talking about buildings that are 35 percent vacant. The developer hasn't been born who can make money off a building that's 35 percent vacant."

"But Arthur, you always hedged your bets by getting into private homes, too."

"And if you'll pardon the phraseology, newspaper boy, those hedges have developed Dutch elm disease."

"I don't see how that's possible, Arthur. Every time I pick up the paper, some crummy house with nothing to recommend it is selling for half a million bucks."

"Robert, perhaps you have forgotten that I do not deal in resales. I build them from scratch. And it takes scratch to build them from scratch. Scratch that I don't have. Scratch that I must borrow from banks. Scratch that I don't then recoup from buyers, because there aren't enough buyers, or else there aren't enough buyers fast enough. I'm telling you, Robert, I should have been a doctor."

"Arthur! Have you seen a malpractice premium notice lately? Big bucks, Arthur. Bi-i-i-i-g bucks."

"Robert, let me assure you that doctors have bigger bucks than the bucks it takes to handle malpractice premiums. But could we please stay on the point?"

"We could, Arthur. You're looking for career ideas?"

"Just one will do -- if it's the right one."

"Well, have you thought about becoming a venture capitalist? You come up with the bread, and you let someone else clean the mud off the carpets of model homes."

"That's brilliant, Robert. But if there's any business that's more crowded in Washington than real estate development, you just named it."

"All right. What about teaching? I'm sure your experience could be a big drawing card. There are business schools here, you know."

"Let me put it this way, Robert. I am willing to shift to cheroots. I am not willing to give up cigars altogether. Me, teach? Me, survive on $20,000 a year? They'd repossess three of my cars!"

"All right, Arthur, I'm getting the idea. What about banking?"

"Nice try, but the big boys have that all locked up already. No, what I'm looking for is something no one else has thought of. Something that fills a need. Something original . . . ."

"I've got it!"

"So let me have it."

"Open a shopping service."

"They exist, newspaper boy."

"But not the kind I have in mind. You open a shopping service for husbands who can't stand to be dragged to shopping malls by their wives."

"Hmmmmm. How would it work?"

"Easy. You'd provide an escort for wives who say they're going shopping for one thing and who end up shopping for six."

"You mean some guy who'd be an expert at sitting in the juniors department and looking bored? Some guy who would snarl, 'I couldn't care less,' when the wife asks him which of two salad bowls he likes? Some guy who would say out loud, 'For crimmany's sake, Doris, we've already been to White Flint and Lakeforest Mall. Do you have to drag me to Tysons Corner, too?' "

"You read me loud and clear."

"Newspaper boy, you're a genius!"

"Arthur, my son, some of us have been saying that for years . . . ."