The Contender

| May / June 2005

Why a Washington Post reporter traded the Capitol beat for a ringside seat

ONE DAY IN 1971 when I was 28 years old a hot apricot pit fell into my lap. It flipped out of my dessert saucer as I ate lunch with my bosses Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, and its now-deceased publisher, Katharine Graham. I was the goalpost, so to speak, and they were on the sidelines, one at each elbow. I'd seen trouble ahead as soon as an otherwise kindly server dished a hot apricot into my saucer. Never before had I been served anything so foreign, and I had no idea how to eat it. As I looked for clues from Bradlee and Graham, I made a wrong move with my spoon and the pit popped into my lap like an enemy grenade.

I knew I should do something, but what? As Graham and Bradlee pretended they weren't watching, the pit chomped its way through my career like Pac-man. After too many moments it finally occurred to me that I should pick up the pit with my fingers and place it in the saucer, which I did. But full recovery took many years. Each time I replayed the event in my mind it made me acutely aware that my father belonged to the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen union and I'd graduated from Southern Illinois University -- one of those directional schools that had been shaped out of a state-run teachers college.