Monday, June 22, 2009

Your Man In Washington

"Oh, I remember you," said the receptionist. "You were here last week."

Indeed, I replied, adding that I'm likely to become a familiar face. When she asked my name, I handed her a business card, and she bid me to have a seat while the person whom I'd come to see was summoned.

Monday afternoon found me on Capitol Hill, once more asking questions about the Obama administration's campaign against inspectors general. As Smitty says, volume of fire has an accuracy all its own, and so I'll be making more trips like this in the near future.

Sitting in the lobby of this office, I inquired about directions to another office. The receptionist gestured this way and that -- "go down by the elevators and out that way . . . go left . . . past the Capitol and across . . ." -- in such a manner that even an old Boy Scout like me might never get there in time for his appointment 45 minutes later.
"Hmmm, sounds complicated . . . do you have some kind of map?" I asked. She walked over to hand me a tourist-type 7"x14" map bearing the motto "Getting Around Washington."

This map was of such a scale as to have the intersection of Florida and New York avenues in the northeast corner and Arlington Cemetery in the southwest corner. The type was in a nearly microscopic font -- 4-point Helvetica, I'd say, although I didn't have a pica gauge handy.

With its itty-bitty buildings, teeny-tiny streets and miniature lettering, this map was unlikely to be much assistance to a guy from out of town trying to make his way hurriedly from one office to another. Yet the map could still be useful to an experienced Washington journalist.

"Now, which building are we in?" I asked, holding the map in front of me. The receptionist leaned over and pointed as she explained the directions again.
"Yes, I see," I said with sincere appreciation.

Just then a door opened and the person I'd come to see entered the lobby, interrupting my cartographic inquiry. He and I spoke in a small conference room for about 15 minutes. There was someone else he wanted me to meet but, checking his Blackberry, he reported that this person did not seem to be returning his calls and text messages.

What is it with these young people in Washington nowadays? Must all communication be conducted by Blackberry and iPhone? Does it never occur to them that in certain circumstances the best method might be to do a little walking and knock on somebody's door?

"Listen, if you know where this guy's at, I say we go get him," I suggested, but he balked.

We talked some more -- I'll tell you about it in an upcoming story -- and then I mentioned my appointment in another building.

"What time do you get off work here? Maybe we could meet for beers and burgers later." Alas, no -- his girlfriend was returning from New York and they needed to catch up.

Drat. Well, another appointment awaited on the other side of the Capitol and who knew how long it would take to get there? The fellow walked me back into the lobby, and was prepared to take his leave, but I suggested he step out into the hallway with me.

"This Iran thing is sucking up all the media oxygen right now, but that won't last forever," I said, and explained what I intended to do. He agreed that more people ought to be doing it my way.

Was he just trying to humor me? Does he think I'm . . . OK, eccentric would be the polite way to say it, but "eccentric" is for rich folks. I'm just plain crazy.

No one could argue with that, but crazy works, if it's the right kind of crazy. Walking up First Street toward Constitution Avenue, then cutting across the Capitol grounds toward Independence Avenue as if I knew exactly where I was going, I called my next appointment to inform her of my ETA. Then I immediately called another source, who also knows Capitol Hill like the back of his hand, arranging to have coffee Wednesday morning before Grover's meeting.

The high temperature was 85 in D.C. Monday, and I was wearing a blue blazer, striped silk tie, button-down blue shirt, olive slacks and black leather shows. Crazy, but sharply dressed.

Considerations of honor require that a Georgian never complain about summer heat within earshot of a Yankee, and my next appointment was one such. So while going through the magnetometers -- damn those terrorists, for imposing all these bothersome security hassles on a patriotic American journalist -- I soaked up the air-conditioning and concentrated on becoming mentally cool. On the elevator up, I buttoned the blazer and wiped the sweat off my face.

Down the corridor, around the corner, into the office, poke my head in and ask to see the person with whom I had the appointment. She emerges wearing a T-shirt and shorts, since her next appointment is at the gym for an African dance class, to be followed by a jog around the Mall.

What is it with these young people in Washington nowadays? Exercise! I'd walked about seven blocks already since parking my car at Union Station, but that was mere transportation -- utilitarian pedestrianism -- whereas one can't exercise without donning shorts and paying a gym fee.

Exercise is a form of conspicuous consumption, an ostentation of leisure: Look, I'm exercising! To qualify as exercise, the activity must never take the form of anything useful, remunerative or commonplace -- pushing a lawnmower or moving furniture may have cardiovascular benefits, but are too plebian to be considered exercise. The roofer who totes shingles and swings a hammer for eight hours a day is not exercising, nor can the adult entertainer who does table dances between her stage routines on the stripper pole be said to exercise.

Well, never mind the sociological observations. I'm shown around the office and introduced. There's a water cooler, so I get a cup of that. Then I offer to walk the health-conscious staffer to her gym appointment -- another four blocks for me, but I'm not exercising, because it's about finding out how the staffer can help me get the story. (Useful and perhaps remunerative, if less commonplace than it once was.)

The staffer gets to her gym, and I non-exercise three blocks up to the Tune Inn on Pennsylvania for a burger, fries and beverage. CNN is reporting the Metro crash, but my eyes are on the stock market news -- the Dow's off 200 points. Call Jimmie and ask him to post the "Wall Street P.M." report at And, oh, yeah -- the Metro crash, too.

Am I indifferent to death and grievous injury in a train wreck? No. But the slumping market is relevant to my business on Capitol Hill, you see. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is the genius who's on the hook for the neo-Keynesian "bailout" that is manifestly failing to achieve its objectives as economic policy. (It Won't Work.)

Geithner also appears to be on the hook for the suspicious shenanigans with TARP Special Inspector General Neil Barofsky. Heh heh heh. How would you like the be a Treasury secretary presiding over a stock market sell-off while, at the same time, you've got people on Capitol Hill poking around a potential scandal with your fingerprints all over it?

There's plenty enough room under the Obama bus for Geithner, you see, and he's starting to look like an increasingly convenient fall guy. So even if my Capitol Hill trip Monday wasn't as fruitful as I'd hoped, the story continues developing, and I'm steadily accumulating more face-time with possible sources.

Maybe I wasn't exercising as I walked back to Union Station, but I was certainly smiling. Ain't no school like the Old School. And you'd be surprised what scandalous facts an experienced journalist can uncover.

All I need is a map.


  1. As a loyal reader, i pledge one thousand dollars for every administration official above "staffer" that R.S. McCain brings down. Who else is in?

  2. Thanks, I really enjoyed your account of your day.

  3. You go, Stacy. You and your shoe leather will leave those young whippersnappers in the dust. I bet they don't even know what 'curmudgeon' means.

  4. The "volume of fire quote" is due to my office mate, a Marine.

  5. Little Timmy heading under the bus, eh? To be replaced by yet another effete kid-Czar? It's becoming more and more obvious that the problem is the freakin' bus. Enough with the free Learners' Permit with a dozen Camels box-tops.

    Is there a way to mount a campaign to have the driver replaced ahead of schedule?

  6. There IS quite a difference between mere exercising and your exorcising.

  7. Steve - are you putting a bounty on a few "administrators". Should we Call "dog" to get to the bottom of this?

  8. That's your novel right there. The Clancy/Patterson/Thor page turner.

    instead of the IG's being fired.. a series of mysterious events leads to the IG's dying off as if on acciedent. One intrepid reporter knows better. and he has the extra show leather to get around town.

    I'm thinking Micheal Bay directing the movie adaptation.

  9. Unlike so many other so-called 'reporters', you have has been out there wearing down the show leather pounding the pavement in the naked city we can DC, tracking down leads, and talking to people in the know.

    Quoted from and linked to at:

    WWU-AM your source for the best IG-Gate linkage

  10. I've spent enough time at that big vacation spa outside'a Columbus -- you know, the one with the funny green dress code -- to know 85 ain't hot fo' a jawjuh boy...

  11. Whether 85 is hot really depends on what the Georgia boy has been doing.