Diary of a Saloon Owner: 2005


Entries for August

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31st...Who can't watch the images from the gulf coast without suffering despair? As so many of us are, I'm hearing from friends who have homes in New Orleans, who weren't there or who evacuated, two who saw their home on TV with the roof ripped off, but mostly they know nothing. There's no one to call, no place to go. But that, really, is the least of it. They have means. They will survive. They right now have beds and a roof over their heads and warm meals and plumbing, but what about the poor? The people who couldn't get out in the first place? They seem to be the prevalent image on television. And while there are ghastly images of greed and looting and full frontl crime, which add up to ratings on TV, we're probably not seeing the law abiding citizens who also have lost everything.
I'm not writing about anything everyone doesn't already know. So I'll move on. Here in Washington we're okay, though our local Exxon, at Wisconsin and Q Street, is out of gas. Across the street, at the "cheap" service station, plus is $3.59 a gallon. But at least they had gas. What will it be like tomorrow?
At Nathans we continue the project of cleaning up the books and the office. Every day we make headway. Props to Linens of the Week owner ALAN BUBES, who visited us today to hug it out as we try to chip away at our unacceptable (to me) debt to his company. We'll pay it down, but it certainly was thoughtful of him to stop by.
CHEF LORE continues to work on creating the fried pickles I'm hoping to have available soon. The recipe we're liking the most comes from ELVIS PRESLEY, so I'm thinking will call them "Elvis Pickles." They are sooo good. I have to be careful not to eat them all day. Maybe we should offer them with the house made chips when the new Q&A season begins. That's an idea.
Black Op did something wonderful for me today and, as I've said before, I want it to work out on his watch so I can thank him loudly from roof tops, tree tops and possibly the top of the Washington Monument. Let's all do voodoo. Black Op is an individual who understands the value of hugging it out.
I have a safe house here in DC. It's where I sneak off to when I don't want to be found. When I want to momentarily remove myself from the daily drama. It's called Makoto restaurant on MacArthur Blvd. Typically I sit at the sushi bar and read or listen to music and savor a box lunch, as I did today with Spencer, though we sat at a table. For months I'd been telling him I wanted to get him in there for an unforgettable treat, and today was the day. He swooned, especially for the clam broth, and the soft shelled crabs, and the perfect Orange Roughy, and the amazing lacquered salmon. Oh, my my. Later we saw "Red Eye," which was like, really, not good,and certainly not scary. The beautiful sunset, with the fushcia and orange clouds against a deep blue sky, saw me at Costco, getting restaurant supplies. Tip: it's not crowded at 7:30 p.m.,probably
because most people have better things to do. Well, anything for the biz.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 30TH...Poor New Orleans. The news gets worse by the hour. Now the 17th St. Canal levee is coming apart and the city is being slowly flooded. If you would like to get involved, volunteer, send money, or help in any way you can, the link for the American Red Cross Katrina relief effort is:
There are other ways to get involved, but the ARC is a good beginning. The reports from Gulfport and Biloxi are equally distressing, especially with the news that in one county alone approximately 80 people perished in the storm.
Whenever I lament making homebase in the boring mid-
Atlantic, the consolation is we have boring weather, too: rarely is the weather the kind that makes news on the Weather Channel or a special edition of "Storm Stories." We can get hurricanes, but they are way diminished by the time they reach us; flooding is not on a monumental scale; tornadoes happen but are rare; earthquakes are rumored as a geological possibility but don't really score on the Richter scale. Snow doesn't happen the way it used to. We do get the occasional Biblical thunderstorm, and that level of storm is in the forecast today. However, my friends who live on the coasts of California, Florida, in New Orleans, in darkest and coldest Maine, in foggy and moist Seattle, in the tornado belt of the Midwest, all say the same thing: they would never exchange their occasional threatening weather or geological turbulence for our beastly humidity.

MONDAY, AUGUST 29TH...Can't believe summer is almost over. Today Spencer and I drove by Ray's The Steaks, where we celebrated his last day of 7th grade in June. I was shocked. Wasn't that just a few days ago? Meanwhile at Nathans, my staff are winning my heart as they jump through hoops, do backflips and headstands, keep a smile on their faces and do whatever else needs to be done as we get through this patch of turbulence. It's too complex to try to aerate here, but even if I tried nothing I said would come out right. Eventually I'll be able to report on these past of couple of weeks but for right now suffice it to shout: EVERY DAY IS A MONDAY!!!
The new Zagat is out and I'm sort of pleased with our write-up. Since I was summarily dropped from Zagat after Howard died, simply being included means a lot to me. I like almost everything about the entry except the part where they say "culinary skeptics stick to drinking here." Well, we are a bar. We don't pretend to be Per Se, but the food is good, reliable, American comfort food. And then there's the terrific burgers. And I'm nuts for the clams casino, and the bruschetta, and the house made fettucini with alfredo sauce and steamed lobster. We are, in all the meaningful ways, your corner pub, or bistro, or cafe.
I'm especially pleased that Zagat noted the new decor in the back dining room, though our decor rating didn't budget a digit beyond the 16 it has been all these years they called the place "threadbare." After the hosing I got courtesy of the debt bestowed by my husband it's a miracle there is even a thread to be bare. Given that, the place looks good. Certainly no one can call it plastic or prefab or nouveau. Its got the kind of patina and character we swoon for in countless European cities and villages. Would I like a new coat of paint? Yes. Would I like to revarnish the bar? Yes. Would I like to put new red leather on the torn banquettes in the back room? Yes. But I'm a sole proprietor, there are no secret investors or silent backers. It's just me. And so, when there's money in the bank it first goes to taxes, payroll, rent, taxes, liquor bills, taxes, other bills, taxes and then, with the fumes that remain, I fantasize about fresh paint and varnish.
But what matters is we are in Zagat, it's a friendly assessment, and I hope it will get newcomers to give the place a try.
Tonight I stopped in for carry-out sushi at Chopsticks next to Nathans. This is an adorable nook of a sushi bar well worth trying. I think I'm addicted to the Maguro tuna sashimi, and the seared tuna and the fresh salmon sashimi, not to forget the Shumai (steamed vegetable dumplings) and the Veggie white roll. The address is 1073 Wisconsin Avenue. The phone is 338.6161.
And if you haven't yet been to the newly opened Polo store on Wisconsin Avenue, give it a look. It's a fun place to wander through and, if you have the $$$$, to do some fall shopping. They used to say about the designs of Hubert Givenchy that you could put a hooker in one of his dresses and, voila, she'd look like a Park Avenue lady. Much the same can be said of Ralph Lauren (and remember, it sounds like law-ren not law-REN.) Instantly the wearer has Middleburg-East Hampton-Jackson Hole cred. That's the American way.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 28TH...However gray, moist and warm our weather may be today, consider the awfulness of being ordered to evacuate your home because it is in the path of a Category 5 hurricane? Imagine the challenges of evacuation coupled with the anxiety of leaving your home behind? I'm a weather fiend. I was up till 2 a.m. surfing Katrina/New Orleans message boards, trying to get a sense of what it's like for the people there. Reading one man's list of all his preparations to hang in and endure the storm made me gasp.
I'm conflicted by my fascination with this storm. It diverts me from the real world - Iraq, Nathans - but it's far too serious and threatening to enjoy as a diversion. I can't imagine what this night will be like for the people who stayed behind in coastal areas. At 6 o'clock, watching live shots from the waterfront near Biloxi, where many people still walked the beach, I wanted to strap a camera to one of them to watch the ordeal that awaits them. Don't they know? Don't they listen to the news?
The Sunday morning chat shows paid lip service to the storm in order to focus real attention on Iraq and the big question: Is this Vietnam? One of the more interesting answers came from one of the generals talking to Russert on Meet. Don't ask me which one, but he said the festering cesspool of future terrorism wasn't there until we invaded and bungled the occupation. I would like to get one of these generals for a Q&A lunch and will make that a focus of tomorrow's many projects.
Worked a lot today on the redesign of the website with designer TERI MURPHY. It should be up by the end of the week. In the process our server, Interland, managed to lose the entire mailing list. SOOOO. If you want to remain on the mailing list, please drop a quick email to carol@
because I know have to rebuild the list and don't want to miss one of you.
Gotta go watch the VMA's, and Rome, and Entourage and Comeback and then stay up half the night with Katrina. If you want to surf the message boards start with this link:
http://www.wwltv.com, and go to "weather forums." If you want specific NOAA info, go to:
http://www.srh.noaa.govforecasts/LAZ062.php?zo=1 These are informed, helpful sites. Of course, most of the people who will be stuck in the storm's path, the ones who couldn't evacuate, or didn't know how, or didn't have the means, will be the disadvantaged, the homeless.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 27TH...If CINDY SHEEHAN is the "antiwar mom," I wonder if Nathans could be an "antiwar bar?" It's a question on my mind this weekend.
..."Keep your wits sharp and your focus concentrated on what's right in front of you..." That's the message for me and other Cancerians in today's horoscope, and powerful words indeed given events of the past week from hell. The burden isn't so much the business, or the lack of business right now, but the fact that more than 60 people depend on Nathans, and therefore me, for their livelihood. That fact is with me all the time and weighs enormously in every decision I make. There are completely different choices I would make if I weren't a solo parent, and the provider for so many people, some of them also parents. Plus, I have no safety net. This is not a two-income household. My parents, aunts, uncles are gone. There is no inheritance. No fat savings. No life insurance. No stocks, no bonds. It's difficult to get back to high ground after an IRS ordeal. Under these kinds of circumstances, therefore, focus and concentration are essential. A good attitude, too, and a sense of humor. I'm an optimist. I actually believe storms can be weathered, corners can be turned, the sun will come out tomorrow.
Two relevant conversations with other small business owners in the past couple of days. One, a woman who owns a store, said, "Yeah, it's been rough summer for us, but fortunately my husband has a steady income." That's sweet, I thought. Then a man wo owns a small company told me, "I'm conservative with the money. When we are flush I put as much as possible away for the dry spells." That's smart, I thought. I remember what it was like to have a husband who subsidized me - for 20 years. We had separate checking accounts, credit cards, and all of that. I earned my own money and did my own financing, but I always knew, back there, that I had a cushion, a safety net. It's smart, too, to sock away $$$ for whatever, but in the restaurant business there always is a surprise that comes along to snag that small pot of emergency security....
Unfortunately, so much is going on -- it feels like October rather than the last week of August -- it's been near impossible to focus on what matters most to me: the Q&A Lunches. Five are booked, but I've got a lot more to do. Typically right now I would be a booking fiend, but there hasn't been time or will. My focus is on one thing and one thing only - navigating through Labor Day.
A wonderful reunion on Thursday with MIRIAM FISHER, a partner at Morgan Lewis. Miriam worked with SHELDON COHEN on my Innocent Spouse defense in 97-98, and won my case with the IRS. Basically, she helped save my life. We had not had time together in a few years, and after dropping Spencer and his buddy Alex at the Nats-Cincinatti game, I sat down for lunch with Miriam at the nearby Montmartre Restaurant, which is just such a wonderful place.If you ever have even the slightest tax problem, before you do anything, call Miriam Fisher, and tell her I told you to.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24TH...Beautiful morning. It's the August surprise; suddenly, the weather turns dryer this time of year. It will get humid again, especially in September, but typically we get this little break at the end of August. So, what to do today? While I'm with lawyers why doesn't everyone else get out and have lunch with a friend? If only some of them come to Nathans, we will have a good day. We're running a Rum Punch special. It's my recipe. Orange juice, pineapple juice, a splash of grenadine, bitters, a wedge of lime, and you're on a West Indian beach. When I lived in Nelson's Dockyard in Antiqua I was the "rum punch make-ah," on various nights, inviting friends to the boatlocker where I lived. Always there would be a big pot of rum punch and ice cubes. In addition to the above recipe, I would add the spice water from West Indian mace and nutmeg I'd stewed earlier in the day. Other tasty summer drinks include white sangria, Campari with Pelligrino and just a splash of fresh orange juice and the orange peel, and the best rose, Bandol or Domaines Ott. Love 'em. Or, go to the farmers market today in Rose Park, buy some peaches, take them home, cut them into wedges, stew them in spring water with a little bit of sugar until just merged, strain, macerate, chill, and then scoop some of the puree into a flute of champagne. Voila, a Georgetown Bellini. Don't forget to get some fresh corn for dinner, some lillies for the table, and then hunt town an affordable pint of Maryland jumbo lump crab meat (I had to go to Eastern Market to find it), and saute this with butter and the the corn and some fresh diced peppers, a little celery, onion, shallots. If you are an Old Bay fiend, add a pinch or two. Toss a big green salad with the mixed lettuces at Rose Park, make a plate of sliced heirloom tomatoes, also from Rose Park, and really....with this weather....does it get any better?

But try to have lunch at Nathans, if not dinner. Thank you.
More, after lawyering. Really, I should teach at course at a law school on "How to Have Lawyers in Your Life."
It's not that I dislike them, but I dislike the fact that if you have lawyers in your life it means your life is way too complicated.

LATER...Remember that ad, "never let them see you sweat?" Sometimes, I relate entirely too well. But on a lovely day like today it was easier not to let myself get dragged down by the woes of being a saloon owner. There are people who have it much worse. There always are. I think of the loved ones of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the ones who get the knock on the door, and my problems seem silly. I think of CINDY SHEEHAN, brave enough to be the figurehead of an antiwar movement, and feel like such a lightweight. I'm wondering tonight, where's SAM BROWN? I knew Sam Brown and David Hawk in the old days when they launched the Vietnam Moratorium, and became among the more effective leaders of that antiwar movement. They are needed now, or at least the new Sam Brown and DAVID HAWK.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 23RD...I'm an American, a patriot, a mother, a taxpayer, an independent voter, a supporter of my country and the people who run it - in most regards. I understand and endorse the war on terrorism but I still can't figure how invading Iraq has anything to do with that, no matter how many times administration officials wag their fingers at TV cameras. I don't think it helps the President's cause when he makes statements like he did today: in criticizing Cindy Sheehan and her fledgling protest movement he said that he thinks the protest movement stands alone, that the people he talks to support the war. Duh. No one who opposes the war is allowed in to see him. What does he think? The White House could be the new Neverland.

MONDAY, AUGUST 22ND...Sometimes in everyone's life there is a day when the balls in the air just seem to be too many, and that at any moment they will go off balance, spin out of control and crash to pieces on the ground. These are the times when balancing skills are essential. It has to do with focus, perspective, and calm. It helps to be a little bit of a mercenary, too, in that getting through the crisis requires doing what has to be done. By all means, keep the balls in the air and don't let the audience know the act is about to deconstruct. In small business ownership this is not a unique experience, which prompts the question: why would anyone in their right mind own a small business? It's probably okay when it's started by the owner from the ground up, but may I say it can suck when it's inherited? Two tips: try not to let the pathos show, and find humor wherever possible.

Did everyone read the stories in the Times and the Post yesterday about the new bankruptcy laws? They go into effect October 17th, and if you are even remotely considering bankruptcy, now is the time to phone a lawyer and get it sorted out. These new laws were lobbied for and won by the credit card industry, which is tired of being sucked dry by people who abuse credit. Another reason is that bankruptcy has been a safe harbor for gamblers, fathers who don't pay child support, and millionaires who don't want to pay mounting bills. But it's not a walk in the park. It's troubling when people say, "Oh, bankruptcy isn't what it used to be. People go bankrupt all the time and get on with their lives." That reminds of when Howard got pneumonia and people said, "Oh, pneumonia isn't what it used to be. People get it all the time and go on to live healthy lives." In both cases, not true.

Of course, the credit card industry encourages debt. Much or our economic system encourages debt. The simple rule is either don't have credit cards or pay them in full. Debit cards are wonderful. They solve the cash problem and the debt problem all in one piece of plastic.

Stopped by Neyla tonight for some Lebanese cuisine on the terrace. Finished with the best cup of alternative coffee in the city: Neyla's "white" coffee of rose water and almond oil.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 21...Definite signs today that the autumn season is just around the corner. Parents and college age children swarmed Nathans as our own Georgetown version of the French retour begins. It's time to move into the dorms and get ready for the start of classes at the area universities, and it won't be long before the school bells will ring at the local grade schools, too. Even though it was steamy hot, we began to see more local rather than tourist faces in the crowd. Same thing last night at the bar.
But back to brunch. We were slammed, as they say in the business. In the weeds. This is good and bad. Good in the sense of more customers are better than fewer, but bad because the level of service gets stretched thin. We're always ready, but no one is ever THAT ready, especially when a wedding party of 20 arrives and all want to be seated and served at the same time. I was in the kitchen taking pictures for the website, and it was frantic. At times like that I try to stay out of the way and let the pro's do their jobs. We were short staffed, too, which doesn't help. In a small operation one missing link matters. I overheard only one woman complain about not being seated fast enough. I'm torn. As the owner I want to swoop in and make her happy, but there were no seats open, there was a line of 12 people, and I don't want to second guess my staff who are trying to get it done. So she walked out, angry. When it rains it pours, but I'll take a busy day anytime, and more to come, we hope.
The Dupont Circle farmers market was swell today. Bought heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic, brought them home, tossed them with some good olive oil, cooked up whole wheat linguini, mixed it altogether, served it cold for lunch, along with rosemary foccacia bread.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 20TH...Though television paid me a ton of money in my past life I don't have much inclination to sit on the sofa and stare at it. However, on Sunday night there's nothing better than to stay glued to HBO. In our home, the faves, in no particular order, are Entourage, Six Feet Under, The Comeback, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos. Spencer particularly likes Curb because he thinks Mom is a female LARRY DAVID (which underscores my suspicion I'm a pain in the **S). Tomorrow night is Six Feet's last show. If it's anything like last week's awesome hour it will mean fasten your seat belts, because that episode was high voltage all the way through, and it reminded us why so many viewers got hooked in the first place. Thank goodness The Comeback has appeared on the screen this season. It's squirmy-irresistible, a true push-pull, and so on the money re the behind the scenes of aging celeb life, which contrasts sharply with the behind the scenes of ascending celeb life as portrayed in Entourage. LISA KUDROW in Comeback and JEREMY PIVEN in Entourage are the two best reasons to have HBO and to watch it on Sunday. If you don't, or you won't, or you can't, then go to Nathans, of course.

It's not possible to live in above ground America and not be aware of the drama involving the marriage of BRAD PITT and JENNIFER ANISTON and, on the sidelines sort of, ANGELINA JOLIE. I have no horse in that race. Pitt seems to be an attractive dim bulb who becomes dependent on women, and Jolie and Aniston are, you know, actresses. However, feeling lazy last night, I read the VANITY FAIR cover story on Aniston and it was one of the strangest actress interviews ever in that it was so unhaltingly sad and pathetic. Doesn't she have a publicist? Aren't their limits? It went on and on and on and on, the same thing over and over, as if she wanted to pull off the scab on her broken heart and expose to all of us the pain, loss and humiliation that just won't heal, and VF decided to go along until the recording device or the pages ran out. Really, movies are so much better when less is known about the private lives of the cast.
Who wants to look and an actress o the screen and be thinking of her at home crying. Too sad.

On the subject of movies, there's a group of good ones at the Loews Georgetown, which always makes me happy. Good movies at the local cinema give a boost to our business, especially when they are films that appeal to age 21 and older.
It's a lot of fun to see a movie and have a bite at Nathans before or after. We have the ideal menu. We can tell, too, when we're pulling in a movie crowd.

Last night I had a good 2-hour meeting with BLACK OP. Who knows where this will go, but it energizes the spirit to be in the company of a sharpshooter, which means sharp brain who hits the target. For the first time in several years of lease problems I left a meeting with some hope...

THURSDAY, AUGUST 18TH...It was a good night at Nathans. Good, not great, but we feel like we've been holding our own so far this summer. But, honestly, we can't wait for middle September. Vito is not feeling well - exhaustion - and we're all urging him to rest and get better. He's been dealing with the family challenges that face all of us with aging parents, and he's been trying to attend to his mother and Nathans at the same time. It's tough, and we're grateful, but we need him rested...so, Vito, get well.
--Understandably, antiwar leader Cindy Sheehan had to leave her post at Crawford to go to the bedside of her ailing mother. Let's hope the people who arrived in Crawford to stand beside Sheehan remain there even if she can't return. A protest movement is an American privilege, and this one is all the more moving since so many of the protestors are the loved ones of soldiers who got killed in Iraq.

EARLIER...As I write this, JANET, DAVID and CAROLINE BRUCE are loading their baggage into a car to head to Dulles airport and Shanghai, China, where they arrive sometime Friday evening. A whole bunch of their friends gathered at Citronelle last night to wish them a happy voyage. There are several pics form the party on this "My Georgetown" link. I share them because it was a quintessential Georgetown evening - friends gathering in a local spot for drinks, talk, laughter, and a little bit of sadness, too, as the Bruces take off on a new chapter in the ongoing family adventure. The Bruces always gave the best parties here in our little burg, and last night they continued the tradition. Our loss, Shanghai's gain.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17TH...Do we need a better indicator that Mayor Williams plans to run for re-election than the news that Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans will not run? Instead, Jack plans to run for the chairmanship of the City Council. Okay, but I hoped he would run for mayor, because the more viable candidates out on the hustings the better the race, and the voter is the winner. Is it a slam dunk for Williams? I don't know. People say a white man can't win the mayor's job in DC? Is that true? Does it have to be true? Aren't we past that yet? Shouldn't the important issue be electing the best mayor for the city and the citizens and put aside whether the candidates' skin is white, black, green or purple? We all know the answer to that.
Black Op and I have a private, secret conversation scheduled for today. Fingers crossed for encouragement, progress.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 16TH...Why aren't people balking at higher gas prices? Is it that they have no choice but to pump and pay whatever the price per gallon? As a small business owner, I worry about it. At Nathans we haven't felt the impact yet. In fact, business is a little better than a year ago. But when the price reaches $3.00 a gallon will the public begin to stay home and drive only for work and necessities? Or will it have to be $4 or $5 before that happens? At some point, it will make a difference in my bottom line, and the bottom line for other businesses larger and smaller. Our local gas station, the Georgetown Exxon, tries to keep a cap on the price, but they can't do it forever. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath before looking at the final price on a fill up.
The September issues of the fashion magazines say black is the new black and that waist high trousers are the look to have. I, for one, am tired of low riders and bare abdomens. It's not that I find the look offensive or too revealing, just that it's gone on too long and seems really tired and over, like cargo pants and flip flops. I'm ready for something new, but can't imagine what it will be. Having the waist back, while not exactly new, will seem refreshing. When we were in the West it was stunning to see all the women who wore their jeans with normal waists, tops tucked in and a good belt. No bare bellies anywhere in sight. Ditto the men, who wore the crotches of trousers and shorts at the crotch, rather than drifting down somewhere near their hipbones. Even Diddy and Jay-Z, who helped originate the gangsta-rappa-track suit look, now wear tailored suits rather than low riders (except probably for videos). Change is good, and fashion as a whole is ready for a change.

Now, I'm going to go put on my low rider cargo pants and go to dinner.

MONDAY, AUGUST 15TH...I call this person "Black Op" and in turn I'm called by another code name, but a meaningful individual has entered the picture who wants to help me sort out the issues with Nathans need for a new lease. It's difficult to describe my reaction when this person first volunteered their services -- after all I've been through it's difficult to go over the top about anything - but that night, after our phone conversation, I thanked some higher powers. We've never met face to face, but we email and talk. What I like is that Black Op thinks outside of the box, is the first to admit skepticism about ultimate success, but still got right into the challenges before us. It's the kind of turn of events that happens only in novels. But my life isn't a novel, alas, and I need real world solutions. Stay tuned. To the best of my discretionary ability, I will report on our progress here.
And yes, I agree, this happens only in Washington.

My friends JANET and DAVID BRUCE have sold their P Street home, have packed up their worldly possessions, and on Thursday will board a jetliner and relocate to Shanghai, China. It's a brave and exciting decision - to simply uproot and relocate to the other side of the world. David has lived there before with his parents, and Janet and their daughter Caroline have visited, but now they will go and try to put down roots and be residents. Tonight we shared one of many of their farewell dinners, at Citronelle. Moving around the planet is a healthy thing to do, and I wish we all did it more often.

Today, going through some old pictures, I came upon a shot I took of JOE POZELL last summer. I called it "Attitude," and it's Joe facing down a motorist who didn't want to stop when Joe politely asked him to. The pic, as they say, speaks 1,000 words. It is, understandably, my picture of the day.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14TH...Is Vice President DICK CHENEY buying a house on San Domingo Creek outside of St. Michael's, Md., almost within spitting distance of the weekend retreat of Defense Secretary DONALD "RUMMY" RUMSFELD? There's reason to believe it is true: real estate agent chatter, contractor chatter, resident chatter, though officially all of them are in denial mode. Residents have spotted Mrs. Cheney, mysterious intimidating vehicles, and other indications of a possible purchase. In fact, rumor has it that Mrs. Cheney already is interviewing people to handle the renovation. If it's true, does this indicate a greater likelihood Cheney plans to stick around DC? In other words, a run for the top job? Because he has nice digs in Wyoming and doesn't really need to stay here, unless it's just for the hunting, or a waterside weekend alternative to Camp David. Inquiring minds wnat to know???
From the news: most Washington officials don't earn my admiration, but one who does is MICHAEL JACOBSON, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. When I was in network TV, I used to book him on shows whenever possible, my favorite being the time he went on the air with a vile of hardened animal fat to show what humans ingest when they eat a fast food hamburger. I also plastered my office walls with CSPI food posters. (No, not rock stars; yes, food posters). I've tried to get him for a Q&A Lunch, but he doesn't return my calls. That doesn't diminish my respect. This week he said New York City "deserves a medal" for declaring war on restaurants that serve foods containing trans fats. While it's true that people should be responsible for what they eat, there is an awful lot of fake and padded food out there, much of it served by restaurants seeking short-cuts and cost-savings. There's a middle ground here somewhere. Restaurants should strive for freshness and customers should probably accept the hike in prices that would result. There are magazines that come into Nathans every day that are supported by the processed food industry. The first time I thumbed through a few of them I was revolted: ad after ad for fake food, made - more often than not - with trans fats and saturated fat. The public is completely unaware how much restaurant food is processed, packaged, reformulated, made out of one substance to look like something else, radiated, zapped and otherwise petrified in order to arrive quickly, efficiently and affordably at the table looking and tasting like real food.
When his first son was born PRINCE CHARLES said, I believe, that it did not matter to him whether William was smart but it did matter whether he had good manners because no matter what, in any situation, manners would pull him through. That's stayed with me and was pulled from memory today when I read a piece in the NYTimes about an upturn in the etiquette business. It seems rudeness is out of favor. Hooray. I just want the people who are waiting for the elevator to please let me get off before they come barging in. That would be a good beginning....

SATURDAY, AUGUST 13TH...It's not pleasant to be in a walking town in searing, moist heat, but nonetheless we are in Colonial Williamsburg, where it is usually a joy to walk, morning, noon and night. I first came here when I was 5, and a couple more times as a teenager, and at least fifty times as a married adult, because this was among my husband's favorite places on the planet. He was a history buff, and a particular fan of the American 18th century, and so we got involved with CW. I wish I could remember even half of what he taught me, to pass on to Spencer, but it's tough. There was so much - about why, when, how, who, what. Last night and this evening we walked through gardens and up and down bricked sidewalks, with me gushing what bits and pieces of legend, myth and fact came to mind. In the dark, in the cemetary yard of Bruton Parish Church, I said, "this is where he wanted his ashes scattered...but he wanted to be at Oak Hill, too, and since Oak Hill is closer to home he's there, but this old graveyard was special to him." We stood outside the George Wythe house, too, a handsome Georgian that has out buildings and gardens which form an almost perfect urban "plantation." Today we drove to Yorktown, which has new waterfront development that could be a lesson for the Georgetown waterfront. There are gorgeous old buildings in Yorktown.
I'm glad we stopped here. I've changed and Williamsburg has changed. For one thing, some interesting new restaurants have opened: the Fat Canary, the Blue Talon, to name two. It used to be the finest dining in town was the Regency Room at the Inn, but that's not the case anymore. The RR is still lovely, and a kick with ballroom dancers taking to the parquet floor on Friday and Saturday nights, but it's not the only game in town, and the food borders on being too rich. I learned that Paul Austin, the wine manager, died suddenly a year ago in a diving accident off Bermuda. This was sad news to me. He used to be a Nathans manager.

There was a lively farmers market in the center of town this morning. Being Virginia, it was a festival of local produce and other farm products. All I could do was look, because we'd already picked up peaches and honey along the road, as well as some delicacies from a place that specializes in Smithfield hams.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 12TH...Wednesday afternoon it was DC strip clubs, and by the same time on Thursday I was in the bathwater warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Wrightsville Beach, NC. The salty water was frothy with rollicking waves. It was an undeniable treat to dive into them, to body surf, to be utterly waterlogged by sunset. More than that, it was a reunion with my son, after two weeks of him being away with his friend Alex and Alex' parents at the beach. I missed him. It was odd not to have my son around, but also odd to be alone. I've been taking care of a man -- first the father, now the son -- for almost 30 years, and to be without a roommate left me adrift. The dog, the bird and I banged around, ate healthy and tossed and turned through the night. It was a glimpse into the future and a reckoning; singularity is not a long-term possibility.

Today we drove through rural North Carolina and Virginia. I can't help myself - any opportunity to get off the highway is welcomed. We drove through fields of tall corn, soybeans and lung cancer plants, with any available country music station as accopaniment. Hello, again, to Toby Keith, George Strait, Keith Urban and their colleagues. We bought juicy ripe peaches. We stopped into the The Surrey House in Surry, Va., for awesome ham biscuits, hush puppies, collard greens and apple fritters. Every item made us a ton heavier, especially coupled with the sweltering heat...but who can resist an indigenous meal? After all our travels through the other quadrants of the country, there was a sense of balance in rolling through a chunk of the south. We met a man who made blueberry and strawberry honey and, of course, bought two large jars. We took the ferry across the James River. These are parts of the world I know well, and it was fun to show them to Spencer and to tell him stories about the many trips his father and I made to this area. It's good to be be in the south when summer's bounty is ripe. I can't wait to introduce Nathans chef, LOREDONNA LUHRS, to the concept of fried pickles. Stay tuned: they'll be on our menu soon.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10TH...Strip clubs aren't my thing - smoke + loud music = ugh, but my curiousity knows no bounds. When a writer friend said she needed to visit a strip club for her new Washington murder mystery, and asked, "Will you please go with me?" how could I say no? I figured it would be an adventure, and it was. Another friend, who knows his way around the DC strip club scene, was our well-informed guide. Guide? Goodness, when he walked in the door everyone smiled, waved, and bowed. We were given the best tables at Good Guys and Camelot and most of the "girls" stopped by to have a drink and chat. This thrilled the novelist, who listened and occasionally took notes.

This is what I noticed: when the strippers take the stage they hang their handbags on a ledge or hook almost like any other woman arriving at work and putting her purse under or in her desk. It was odd but vaguely endearing. What was very odd was how each girl, before dancing, grabs a bottle of Windex and a cloth and washes down the mirrors and the brass rods and pole. It seemed they had to be maids as well as strippers (the perfect woman, right?) Between songs they just stand there, waiting for the jukebox to kick in. I thought there would be some hot dancing, but nah. They sort of undulate around, twirl, pivot, grind, and in slow motion. That's about it. Hard to tell if the beat of the song even mattered. They stay dressed (such as it is) for fewer than 3 minutes. Most of the performance is bare naked. Sometimes men come up to within inches of the dancers and stand gaping while the girls spread their legs. This is a long way from Gypsy Rose Lee. Good Guys was a little more basic, though the staff were friendly. Camelot was more upscale -- tablecloths, for example, more decor. But Good Guys had three stages and Camelot only one. The men slip the girls $1 bills, usually into their garters, but sometimes into their cleavage. Our friend was a cleavage guy, but he slipped them $20, making him the most popular fella in the room.

The strippers we talked to were polite, friendly, attractive and, mostly, young. Brandy was particularly so and the novelist and I told her we thought she was the "best dressed" because of her pretty diamond waist chain. I'm sure she thought we were from Mars, especially because we were drinking water. None of them use their real names, so when we met them they told us different names from their stage names. Using fake names is probably smart with some of the strange men in the audience. I actually watched the men as much, or more, than the dancers. They were every type, including a former city official who came over to say hello.Frankly, the scene wasn't sexy. If anything, it was antiseptic and routine. After a while I got bored and had to hide a few yawns. But the novelist was over the moon, having found exactly what she was looking for to embellish her book. Mission accomplished. Next she wants to visit a gay strip club. Hmmmm.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 9TH...The proverb of this evening is, "Don't go to a Vietnamese restaurant for a martini, and don't ask for spring rolls at an American bar." At least that seemed quite amusing to me and a dinner date as we started our evening at Nam Viet in Arlington, and decided the best drink for the food was Vietnamese beer. Also, we stumped the bartender with a request for a "dirty
martini. Hey, that's not what they do there. On the other hand, they served us a delicious meal of spring rolls, soft shelled crabs, steamed halibut with ginger and onions, and curried chicken in coconut broth. For dessert they brought out flaming bananas and bowls of vanilla ice cream. All good, from beginning to end, and we closed the place, lingering at our table, talking nonstop, until long after the other customers had departed. Then we went to Nathans so my friend could have a nightcap of a dirty martini...but no spring rolls, which prompted our silly proverb. Jenn reported a good dinner business tonight, which was a delight and a surprise because of the rainy weather. The bar was quiet at 11 p.m., but we could hear the juke box music. Sadly, as the owner, I actually prefer the bar when it's not too full.

The shuttle is back safely and we're thankful for that. I surprised myself this morning. At the moment the craft landed I got tears in my eyes. I'm a silly sucker for moments that matter. But could NASA please get this shuttle business sorted out because it's true, we need the space program. Too late for us, but a century from now humans will likely travel to other planets the way they now visit Walmart.

MONDAY, AUGUST 8TH...Something wonderful happened to me today. I can't say what it was, but perhaps my happy vibe will teleport through the WWW and reach anyone who is reading this. It started with a friend who had a good idea, who put me in touch with a friend of his, and then I talked to that friend and it was one of those rare, potentially life-altering moments. on the other hand, it could just be a blip, but even as a blip it feels like a sweet blip.

Then, this evening, watching the new GREEN DAY antiwar video, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, the tide will turn on this Iraq war. Maybe CINDY SHEEHAN will turn out to be the first citizen to loudly put their foot down and shout, "ENOUGH!" But others have to speak up and follow. The Green Day video, like the earier Eminem video, is poignant. It's not profound, but the fact it exists at all is important. Someone said to me, "It's not cool to be down on the military." I agree. No one should be down on the U.S. military. They are following orders, however mis-guided. To protest Iraq is not to be down on the military. Iraq is not about the war on terrorism, and our soldiers shouldn't be there.

Sad news with the death of PETER JENNINGS. When he last anchored ABC's World News and announced he had lung cancer, it didn't seem good, did it? His voice, the doubt in his eyes. Lung cancer is an awful death, and the treatments can be barbaric. Unfortunately it's one of those cancers that by the time it's found it is often too late. I have many friends who were close to Peter Jennings and they were devoted to him. Those who were in his orbit thought the world of him. We met once, on the steps of an Ellicott City, Md., courthouse in a trial involving black activist H.RAP BROWN. When I got between Peter and the front door he bashed me in the head with his microphone to get me out of the way. Journalism can be that way sometimes. And, after all, in his eyes I was a little runty wire service reporter. Another time, when I was in hot pursuit to "get" Peter for an interview on Larry King Live, part of the process included setting up a phone call between LARRY KING and Peter. This is routine on the show. I got Larry on the phone, and then got Peter on the phone and listened as Larry put in his own pitch. Now, typically in these kinds of calls, Larry would mention I was also on the line, but on this occasion the conversation started so fast that Larry didn't get a chance. Peter talked about women instead of interviews, plainly unaware I was monitoring his words, and I was reluctant to chime in and embarass him. So I listened. It was very amusing and quite a revealing glimpse into his personality, but it will remain private.

Is there a jinx on the anchor desk at ABC News? Jennings died of cancer. So did Harry Reasoner, Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson, all of them World News anchors.SUNDAY, AUGUST 7TH...

Mom Protesting Iraq War Meets Bush Aides
Associated Press Writer
CRAWFORD, Texas - The angry mother of a
fallen U.S. soldier staged a protest near
President Bush's ranch Saturday, demanding an
accounting from Bush of how he has conducted
the war in Iraq...

Mrs. Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Ca., has guts and she is officially my hero of the day, possibly even the week, the month and the year.

There's so much involved in owning a small business, and while much of it is high wire act, there's also an important part that's just walking in the front door unannounced and seeing what you see. The best is when everything you see is running better than you hoped. The opposite results in these kinds of observations:
1. wait staff shouldn't come walking out of the kitchen sucking on a straw that's stuck in a big whipped-cream topped coffee drink.
2. the dining room floor should be polished between service. just because we did a boffo brunch doesn't mean the dinner customers should suffer the dreary consequences. the floors should always sparkle.
3. managers should dress like managers, which means men should be in jacket and tie at all times on the floor, and women should be in dresses, or trousers with jackets or skirts with jackets. managers should dress like authority figures and not like people on their way to a picnic. it may sound severe on my part, but we are charging the customers real money. in return, they expect to be in a business that's run like a business.
4. the door to the office, in other words the room with the liquor, wine and the safe, should be shut and locked when the manager on duty exits, and no one should be in there unsupervised. again, this seems severe on my part, but, on the other hand, it prevents mysterious disappearances of high priced inventory.
These kinds of directives aren't often needed, but staff slack off in August. And I'm the mad saloon owner who wants the entire show to be like opening night every night. Silly me.

SATURDAY, AUGUST 6TH...I don't have the $$$$ to hang old art on my walls, or the means to move to a house with a water view, so instead I asked a local artist to paint a mural on my living room wall. It's a water view that could be the Rhode Island coast morphed with the Italian hills, and in the foreground is a trompe -l'oil porch with an armchair, reading glasses and book. From my living room I now have a beautiful view of the sea, and a couple of small islands, and a lighthouse, and a sailboat or two on the horizon, and it's always summer. Not bad. I mean, how many Georgetown houses boast an Atlantic Ocean view?

This afternoon my brother Bob visited. He wanted to see the American History Museum. So we went. It was disappointing because it has very little real stuff. I'm not going to belabor the point, but this museum is a good example why maybe there should be an admission charge for the Mall museums, at least this one, so the curators can buy some real stuff, rather than having only pics of same. The early transportation part is good, but the White House sections are not what they could be. It's like, "here's a chair that's similar to one that would have been in the White House." The First Lady dresses are always a draw, but I wish there were more of them like in the old days. Why not build a replica of the Oval Office rather than have the cheesy door with one handle missing that is supposed to be outside the Oval? The restoration of the flag is interesting, but where's the pendulum? When did it go away? Which is probably an indication of how since I was last there. My brother saw a sign that said, "Popular Culture." He grabbed my arm. "Let's go in there." It wasn't even a room, just a corner, with some sports uniforms and Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt. He sighed. "This is what happens when the money has to go to pay for a war." I took him to see the Eastern Market, which was terrific as always. Got some jumbo lump crabmeat, and veggies, and tasted peaches, nectarines, melon and boiled peanuts at the outside stalls.

Mid-day when we were at Nathans it was a busy bar, with shoppers and others coming in for a cool drink or some brunch.

This evening I made us a dinner of sauteed crabmeat, corn, diced green peppers, shallots, onions and celery - everything but the butter from Eastern Market.

Earlier - A quick hit on Costco this morning. We all know shopping at Costco is an art form, and all artists have their different style. Mine is to get there early or late, and always try to avoid the Pentagon lunch hour. Also, at check out I go to the lines on the far left or the far right, because for some reason they are the shortest. The deli owners, with their three carts piled to the rafters, seem to prefer the center aisles. But would it hurt Costco's populist rep to have at least one 15 items or fewer line? Anyway, I was on a mission. There's a wine they carry that is, to my taste, the wine of the summer. It's Chateau de Sancerre, 2003 vintage, and it's so special. It's light and tasty and goes with all the foods of summer, which typically trend more to sweet and salt and char. It's also $16.99 a bottle. Maybe you scratch your head and wonder why would a person who owns a restaurant go to Costco to buy wine? It's simple. Their prices are usually the same, and sometimes lower, than what we pay wholesale. For example, Dom Perignon at Costco costs our same wholesale price, about $95 per bottle. For the consumer who likes haute bubbly, it's a bargain. There's not a lot I buy at Costco, but I keep an eye on their wine department, love the flowers, use it for office products and DVD's, and toilet paper. Btw, they already are selling Halloween costumes. Oye Vey!!!

Regarding the Sancerre. It is the perfect match with clams casino, and the clams casino at Nathans are so good I typically have two orders at one sitting. Teeny, tiny sweet little darling clams, hot in a broth of their own juices and butter, with a crispy piece of bacon on top. The other night I dined on the two orders of CC, followed by a salad of fresh from the garden sliced tomatoes and red onions with a light drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. Is that summer, or what?

Today I continue the search for a cell phone. I'm so trying to be tough. I want a pay-as-you-go phone, and I want a deal. Already today I've been to one Verizon shop, one Cingular shop, the phone concession at Costco and ditto at Best Buy. The phones that are a genuine deal are always sold out, and "on order." They all have plenty of the phones that cost $150 and up. Oye Vey, again.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 5TH...Aren't we all ready for the heat to break? Isn't this enough? Truth is, often in August the mid-Atlantic gets a fresh breeze, usually from the northwest, that portends of fall weather. But it hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, here's what you can do to beat the heat:
1.Have some blackberry sorbet at Nathans.
2.Sneak into the Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool.
3. Buy a bag of ice, crush it, and have a friend smush it all over your body.
4. Have a tall glass of white sangria at Nathans.
5. Go ice skating at the indoor Mount Vernon rink off the G.W. Parkway outside Alexandria. There's one in Cabin John, Md., too.
6. Fill the bathtub with cold water and slide in.
7. Sleep nekked in front of a fan.
8. Go to the Loews on K Street and watch "March of the Penguins." Then spend the night in the theater.
7. Visit the National Gallery of Art and try to find all the winter pictures.
8. Catch the next flight to Sydney, Australia.
9. Enjoy a bowl of spicy gazpacho at Nathans.
10. Put your underwear in the freezer for 30 minutes before going out. Ditto with your bed linens before bedtime.

Last night had a terrific dinner at Nathans with three men who love, study and collect wine. It was so much fun to sit and blabber about the grape for a couple of hours, because in their company my wine obsession did not seem so out there. When I mentioned my love for old red burgundies that taste like a barnyard floor not one of them winced. In fact, they nodded. After dinner I marched them down the street to Mr. Smith's bar on M Street, where they had a man playing piano to accompany absolutely anyone who wanted to take the microphone and sing and song. It was a five-deep lively crowd. The saxaphone player was remarkable, and a good singer, too. Can't imagine that this fella has a day job, because he definitely seemed to swing in his late night groove. When I asked about it, one of the patrons told me this goes on every night at Mr. Smith's. None of us grabbed the microphone, but if I had a voice I'd probably still be there. If you're looking for a different kind of evening, have dinner at Nathans first and then hit Mr. Smith's, but come prepared with your lyrics and your voice on.

BTW, I hope you are reading this on nathansgeorgetown.com, because, remember, we changed domain names.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 4TH...Have spent my day being a good American. This means in the morning I did some honest work and then after lunch got down to the really important stuff: trying to get a new cell phone and trying to get a Mastercard. Now, hours later, I'm empty handed on both counts, but not for lack of trying. The cell phone pursuit was madness from beginning to end. I love having a cell phone (though mine is half dead) yet I have declared independence from the mind-twisting buying process, and the myriad plan schemes. At one point, at one of the shops, the salesman promised me a "big discount" that involved my paying $50 more than the retail price. He said I'd get it back in a rebate. I don't do rebates, because they rarely work out for the buyer and it's too late to go back and strangle the sales person, who already has moved on to their next job. Also, why accept MORE paper work? No, no, no. Then I tried to get a prepaid phone at another store and, after a long wait, the fella said he was out of everything but the $90 models. Oh, right. No sale, pal. Defeated, moved on to the A/C and my desk and Mastercard. A genuinely nice woman somewhere in the midwest talked me through all the options, answered all my questions, until we reached a point where neither one of us knew what we were talking about, because there were so many plans, so many APRs, so many caveats, that we both confessed to brain numbness, sighed, wished each other well, and ended the call after 45 minutes. So I went online and ordered the card with zero everything and we'll see.

Still scratching my head over the plane crash in Toronto and wondering why the Air France pilots didn't just circle over the storm or detour to another airport? Isn't that what they are supposed to do with weather nowadays? Talk about a lucky result.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 3rd...Given the day's awful news out of Iraq, it hardly seems appropriate to talk about an interlude of self-indulgent pleasure, but then again maybe it's a healthy diversion. I'd be part of the sidewalk by now if I let my body physically represent the way this misbegotten war bears down on me. All day today I was morose and angry, and wondering about the families of the more than 20 soldiers killed this week. And for what, I ask again? Then, I showed up at the Mandarin for my two hour "Time Treatment." As a writer I should know the difference, but I've always had trouble choosing whether to use sensuous or sensual though I know the latter has more to do with the act itself and the former is more, well, intellectual. My treatment was sensuous. I was lost in a bliss attack on my senses: the scent of spice, the feel of luxurious oils, the sound of tinkling bells and lutes, the warmth of towels and hot stones. As for sensual, I felt like I was being prepared to be presented to a lover for sex, though - alas - that was not on the tonight's docket.

And then it was over and time to drive home. But before departing I did make one last visit to the "tropical shower." It's a water feature the size of a small room, warm but so cool. You stand in it and press buttons for "tropical shower" and then "cool mist," and beside it is a blue wall that gushes shaved ice. The ice is to smush all over your body before the tropical shower. Also, there's an amethyst steam room, where you recline on sculpted blue tiles and look up at stars in a faux sky, while scented steam wafts around you and a giant hunk of amethyst...that I suppose gives off vibes.

These treatments are available for men and women. Also, they graciously let me use the gym to work-out before my treatment, which does not happen at the Four Seasons. It's a good option for an urban getaway. And then after meet your lover at Cityzen for dinner, or book a room and have the real deal.

Here at Nathans we have some good news. Time correspondent MATT COOPER, who testified before the grand jury in the Plame leak case, but who did not go to jail, has agreed to do a Q & A Lunch on Wednesday, October 26th.

For fans of MICHAEL DOUGLAS and film-making: "Sentinel" will be shooting in Georgetown again tonight on Thomas Jefferson Street. But no helicopters this time.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 2...Who needs Hollywood on the Potomac when you can have Hollywood on the C & O Canal? That's what we have tonight on Thomas Jefferson Street, with MICHAEL DOUGLAS, KEIFER SUTHERLAND, and EVA LONGORIA, a crew of dozens, helicopters, lights, camera and action. CRYSTAL PALMER, head of the DC Film Office, thoughtfully invited me to come to the set and to meet some of the players. The film is called "Sentinel," and it has Douglas as a Secret Service agent who has an affair with the first lady, KIM BASINGER. Sutherland is Douglas' ex-partner and Longoria is Sutherland's new partner. Got that? Next up will be the filming of "Invasion," starring NICOLE KIDMAN, whose character will be a Georgetowner. The production scouts are about to start prowling around for locations. But for now, tonight, if you hear helicopters overhead, it's a movie, NOT an invasion.

EARLIER...I'm a child of the space age. I remember all of it, and as a reporter I got to cover some of it.The space program, in a post-war world, was a symbol of American grace, power and sophistication: dominance won with skill rather than aggression. The astronauts were rock stars. My family gathered round the "rec room" black and white TV to watch launches, to be awed by unbeliebable live broadcasts from "outer space," FRANK BORMAN'S Christmas eve broadcast, as Apollo 8 orbited the moon, being particularly memorable. My pals and I were in a car enroute to a high school basketball game on January 27, 1967, when the news flash came over the radio that 3 astronauts had died in a fire on the launch pad, locked inside the command module for the first Apollo flight. It was a set-back, but it didn't daunt the spirit. Apollo 11's moon-landing was a spell-binding occasion. I watched from the Outer Banks, pulling the TV out of my motel room onto an oceanfront terrace so I could watch the landing on TV and the moon in the sky at the same time. As a reporter I got to interview JOHN GLENN, WALLY SCHIRRA, ALAN SHEPARD, and other astronauts. I covered the launch and troubled flight of Apollo 13, as well as the last Apollo moon mission, Number 17, a mesmerizing night launch. A trip to the Cape was a kick. I saw launches, but I also went to "Moe's Satellite Lounge" to see the "tassle tossers." It was a goofy combination of old Florida coastal gawdiness and high tech Jetson's 60's wave of the future, plus sex, bravado and booze - barbecue and strippers and scientists with coke-bottle eyeglasses and pocket protectors. It was celeb-packed, too. Before one launch, I sat at breakfast next to Jacques Cousteau. At another launch, I stood in front of Cary Grant. Launches got wall to wall coverage. Everybody cared. I imagine everybody will care again next Monday, when the space shuttle astronauts attempt to return to earth. It's scary awful, and sad, too, to read and watch reports of the risks facing that re-entry. I know they are professional test pilots and are prepared for this sort of challenge, but they are people, and have families, and they are miles above earth, and no one down here can promise them a safe return. In fact, on the front page of the NY Times NASA says it plans to abandon the "aging" space shuttle design principle and come up with something safer. That's cold comfort for the Discovery crew, and the American taxpayer.

MONDAY, AUGUST 1...It's late, and as I sit here sipping my decaf green tea I'm giddy. That's because Dr. William Haseltine has accepted an invitation to appear at a Q&A lunch (this is one of the invites I slipped in mailboxes yesterday). Look, I get high on brains, which means on Tuesday, October 4, I'll be as high as a kite. Come see the spectacle. No, actually, come hear a genuinely smart individual spread a little high I.Q. around the room, as we listen to him talk about figuring out our molecular structure and using that information to pave the way to an unlimited lifetime. Until we live forever, the science is about using the map of the human gene to create medicines that help us right now. Dr. Haseltine is the founder of Human Genome Sciences, and before that he was at Harvard for almost two decades, concurrently running the departments of Laboratory Biochemical Pharmacology and the Division of Human Retrovirology. Need I say more?

I've got my fingers crossed regarding two others who I hope come through this week. The new season is shaping up just beautifully, and I'm psyched. Maybe I'm fueled, too, by a yummy dinner at Equinox tonight. It was a friend's birthday and she gathered 12 of us in the private dining room, and Todd Gray, that dishy, gifted chef, served a pitch perfect summer dinner, with Maryland soft shelled crabs, North Carolina tuna, many sizes, colors and flavors of tomato, farm fresh lettuces, and more. All good.

This more than made up for an afternoon of Torture By Best Buy, as I dangled on the phone, patience pushed to desperation, hoping a human voice would pick up and connect with me to help resolve some delivery issues. OH-MY-GOD. It just wouldn't end! And, when I did get a human on the phone, I would quickly be put on hold for another 15 minutes, at least. Sometimes someone would simply pick up the phone and disconnect me. "We'll call right back," they'd say at another time, and then I would hover by the phone, waiting, hoping, begging it to ring. Nothing. Silence. After a while I'd call again and the entire revolting process would begin again. Had I hopped in the car, driven up there, and confronted someone face to face it would have consumed less time. So, thank you Birthday Girl, and Thank you, Todd Gray, for taking me away from this day-long hell. Oh, and the issue was never resolved. They won.

One other bright note: editor Tony Black today gave me a rough cut of the DVD of the Jane Stanton Hitchcock interview at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and apart from my discomfort with myself, it's just fab-o. Jane is a smash. We will do a final edit and have a working version by Wednesday. Can't wait.

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