WASHINGTON — Washington--There are two things he cannot control:
The weather. And what he calls "the unknown unknown" -- a car that won't start, a mechanical failure of the White House gates, a cold aspic for lunch that melts into soup in the summer heat, a foreign minister who gets lost among the monuments and misses the departing helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base (it zTC has happened).
Such mishaps are "gua-ran-TEEEED," says Ambassador Joseph V. Reed, the ebullient and dapper U.S. chief of protocol, whose job it is to choreograph every handshake and spot of tea for the coming state visit of Queen Elizabeth II.
According to plan -- according to protocol -- the queen will be addressed as "your majesty" or "ma'am," her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as "your royal highness" or "sir." As the ranking visitor, Queen Elizabeth will be first in any receiving line, to be followed by Prince Philip; the British ambassador, her majesty's representative in the United States; and the foreign minister.
Americans will greet the royals with a handshake, as is our custom when meeting any man or woman. Curtsying, in this case, would be a protocol faux pas.
Also according to plan, the tide will be in on the Potomac as the Chief of Naval Operations delivers her majesty via barge to the wharf at Mount Vernon in Virginia. The sun will not yet have set (provided it is shining) as she entertains "prominent Americans" at a garden party at the British Embassy.
And the first of 21 guns will fire the moment the queen's car enters the gate at Arlington National Cemetery, the last one sounding precisely as the royal limo reaches the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the car door is opened. Bam!
"It's all done by stopwatch," explains Ambassador Reed, 53, one of President Bush's longtime buddies. "Rehearsal! Rehearsal! Rehearsal!"
Mr. Reed and his staff of nearly 90 have been rehearsing for the visit of the queen with their counterparts across the Atlantic for more than a year, coordinating motorcades, helicopter lineups, arrival ceremonies, dinners, receptions.
When the entourage finally arrives on May 14, Mr. Reed will have each party's every move scripted, "minute by minute, step by step," in a 100-plus-page book outlining the four days -- right down to how the queen and the duke, accompanied by President Bush, will enter Memorial Stadium to watch part of an Orioles game.
Because Queen Elizabeth is a head of state, but not a head of government, this visit will be heavy on pageantry and light on substantive bilateral discussions, as they say in State Department parlance. For instance, instead of proceeding into the White House to talk, as President Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev did after the Soviet leader arrived in Washington on his last visit here, the queen will head directly to the first of her stops, Arlington Cemetery, after her ceremonial South Lawn arrival.
Such a visit by a monarch requires even more attention to the minutiae of protocol than usual.
"It isn't, as many people perceive,frivolity," says Mr. Reed, a former ambassador to Morocco and undersecretary general at the United Nations, reportedly President Bush's first and only choice for the protocol post. "It's deadly serious. It's the stage for which diplomacy is conducted."
Few in the Bush administration seem as drawn to a stage setting as Joseph Verner Reed, a tall, lanky, flamboyant figure who favors Savile Row suits (he was listed as one of America's 10 best-dressed men in 1982) and expensive cuff links (the deft display of which earned him the nickname "Cuffs" at the U.N.) and is full of grand gestures, effusive greetings and ringmaster razzle-dazzle.
One moment he's presenting to a visitor one of his personalized ballpoint pens, emblazoned (in gold, naturally) with an American flag, U.S. seal and his name and title. The next minute he's bolting out of his chair to straighten a photo on the wall of pal George Bush, a fellow Yalie whom Mr. Reed has known since the two grew up together in Greenwich, Conn.
"Detail," the ambassador explains. "Someone once said when I was growing up that I was obsessed by detail, preoccupied.
Even his State Department office, blocks away from his Watergate home, is a flashy, spectacular showpiece -- flags, eagles in every size, shape and medium, a smattering of African touches and photos of Mr. Reed with everyone from Pope John Paul II to Barbara Bush to Henry Kissinger.
"You're a new ambassador from Czechoslovakia," he begins, setting a scene to explain the decorativeness of his digs. "You come barreling through the door. What do you see? America!" He points to a large eagle weather vane. "America!" He points across the room to another one.