To enter inner sanctum of power, take a wrench

ROGER SIMON

May 21, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

My friend said that if I kept my mouth shut and didn't humiliate him, he would take me to an actual Washington salon.

I probably could stand to have my hair hennaed, I said. And maybe a pedicure.

L "Not a beauty sa-LON," he said. "I am speaking of a SAL-on."

A SAL-on?

"A place where the powerful gather to make deft and witty conversation," he said.

Oh, you mean a sal-OON! I said. I've been to those!

As it turns out, a SAL-on is nothing like a sal-OON. Unfortunately.

The salon my friend took me to looked like an ordinary Washington rowhouse from the outside. But the inside was filled with famous people.

I counted two Pulitzer Prize-winning columnists, the chairman of the Democratic Party, the exceptionally young producer of a TV network news show and three members of the White House staff.

You can always tell, by the way, who is working for Bill Clinton these days. They never speak the words "Bill" or "Clinton."

They always say: "The president told me yesterday. . . ."

This is called reverse familiarity. If you don't know the guy, you call him "Bill." If you do know the guy, you call him "the president."

Apparently, nobody but me calls him "Chubs."

All the people were standing around in tight little groups. My friend immediately deserted me and joined one. I tried, but all I found was a wall of shoulders.

So I looked around for a potted plant to stand under, when the hostess suddenly appeared with her hair dripping wet.

"Oh dear, I will have to call an electrician," she wailed. "The bathroom plug-thingees just won't work!"

One of the White House people in charge of determining whether we go to war in Bosnia went and took a look. He came back a moment later.

"It's one of those socket-thingees with the little pop-up switches," he said. "I wouldn't touch them."

"Oh, those," somebody in charge of helping Hillary fix health care in America said. ""We have those in the kitchen, and I just avoid them. I have no idea what they are even called."

GFIs, I said.

People began turning around. "Did the potted plant just speak?" a man asked.

I stepped out from under the foliage. GFIs, I said. Ground fault interrupters. They break the circuit if you drop your hair dryer in a sink full of water. And so you don't get fried.

The hostess stared at me agog. At least I think she was agog. It was hard to tell with all that wet hair covering her face. "How do you know these things?" she asked.

Instead of Classical Greek, I took Shop, I said.

"Do you think you could possibly . . ?" she said.

Sure, I said. And I went into her bathroom and pushed the reset button on the GFI. But it still wouldn't work. So I went out and asked where the circuit breaker box was.

"Oh, dear," the hostess said. "I don't think we have one. Is it possible to buy one this late at night?"

You probably call it the fuse box, I said.

She brightened. "Oh, I have a fuse box," she said and waved her hand in a vague fashion toward the kitchen. "It's in the pantry somewhere."

And so it was. Buried behind a forest of mops and brooms. I dug a path to it, opened it and reset her circuit breaker. Then I went back to the bathroom and reset her GFI and plugged in her hair dryer, and it worked just fine.

"You're all set," I said when I returned. "But you'd better hurry before you frizz up."

And then, as if by magic, all the closed circles of people in the room opened up to me.

"I can't find the spigot-thingee on the outside of my new house," the exceptionally young producer of a TV network news show said to me.

It's called a hose bib, I said. And you can trace it from the inside.

"I always have to jiggle the handle on my toilet to get it to stop running," a man in charge of inflation in America said. "Do I need a plumber?"

Not unless you have too much money, I said.

And I told him what to do. I then helped several other people with their basic household problems. And in so doing I learned a valuable lesson:

The powerful people in charge of our government, the people who are guiding our country and determining our future, are really just like you and me.

Only a little bit dumber.

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