Washington Post Column
Wednesday, October 26, 1988; Page C14


The campaign is bumming you out, as the kids like to say. You decide on a lunch-hour stroll through Lafayette Park. The view of the White House never fails to inspire, even if the two would-be inhabitants wouldn't know the meaning of the word.

Whoever designed the Lafayette paths must have had amblers like you in mind. You can proceed straight down the spine of the park, directly toward the White House. But no other path in the place carries you along a direct route. You discover a parabola here, a banana there. You must veer, you must slipslide. Is it a plot to slow the purposeful souls who seem to be everywhere these days? Silently, you hope so.

Then, just like that, there is no more silence. A large, woolly-bearded fellow is thrusting a handbill at you. You take it. At the same moment, you notice the cookie-sized pin attached to his vest.

NIXON'S THE ONE, it says.

"You must have had to look deep in the closet for that one," you say.

"Deep, hell," says the man. "I'm not talking about Nixon in '68. I'm talking about Nixon in '88."

This is what Robert Frost meant by The Road Not Taken. You can choose the right fork, a quick step away from this fellow, a conversation that never gets out of first gear, and a sandwich at the carry-out on 15th Street. Or you can choose the left fork, an extended talk, probably one-sided, probably leading no place, probably with a true-believing nutcake.

You choose left (didn't Mama always say life was to be lived?). You point out to the man that Nixon isn't on the ballot in any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia, and write-in presidential candidates have never done awfully well.

"You must be a lawyer," the man says.

You laugh the best laugh of the day so far. "Do I look that crazy?" you ask. "I'm just curious about why a guy like you, a guy with a dream, doesn't ever think about practical considerations."

"You know what practical considerations give us?" the man thunders. "Bush and Dukakis, that's what practical considerations give us!" And he stomps his foot once, hard, in a gesture of total fury that scatters all pigeons within 30 yards.

Nutcake or prophet? You vote for half-and-half and decide to keep talking.

"You're putting me on, right?" you say to the man. "I mean, Richard Nixon has a bit of a history, if you know what I mean."

"Of course he does," the man says. "But he also understands that same word: history. When he came into office, he knew from the first day that the big difference he could make would be in foreign affairs. Don't we need the same thing today? Wouldn't you feel better if Nixon and not Bush was starin' down ol' Gorbachev?"

You have to agree with that. But the Nixon backer has to agree with this: If he ran seriously in 1988, the former president would be hashed in the press and ignored at the polls.

"People have been counting Richard Nixon out all his life," says the man. He waves goodbye and walks off down a curving path before you can remind him of the constitutional ban on electing the same president more than twice.

Nutcake or prophet? Sometimes, in Lafayette Park, it's tough to tell.

Sam Intrater starts a list of Things That I Would Love to See (But I Doubt I'll Live Long Enough).

1) A mass murderer who isn't called a nice, quiet guy in the day-after newspaper stories.

2) An aging football player who has just been cut from the team and who doesn't say: "I know that I still have a couple of good years left in me."

3) A presidential campaign in which neither side claims its candidate is doing great, despite what the polls say.

I'd add these:

4) A checkout line at the grocery store that doesn't close the second I try to get in it.

5) A repair person who knows the meaning of the word "tomorrow."

6) A VCR that an imbecile like me can figure out.

Philadelphia is the home of scungilli, manicotti and the best white pizza I know. Perhaps that explains this story, submitted by Warren Snaider of Northwest.

A man from Philly visited a friend of Warren's who lives in Rosslyn. The Philadelphian asked to see the real Washington. The Rosslyn man suggested a walking tour. The Philadelphian was delighted.

The two men crossed Key Bridge. They walked through Georgetown, north into Burleith, then east for a couple of miles, through Embassy Row, Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan and several other neighborhoods. Then they retraced their steps.

Back at his place, the Rosslyn man asked his friend what he thought of the tour.

"Of all the neighborhoods we visited," the Philadelphian said, "I liked Calamari the best."