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Jewish World Review April 20, 2001/ 27 Nissan, 5761


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Consumer Reports

The old homestead -- AT THE White House, I was surprised, and rather appalled, at the slovenly attire of 95 percent of the tourists. People in shorts, flip-flops, ugly t-shirts advertising sports teams or products like "Grandma Millie's Slippery Ribs," sweatpants, halter tops, sneakers and even hair rollers. Granted, both Junior and MUGGER III were fidgeting with their rep ties and blazers, but it seemed to Mrs. M and me that the White House is a cultural cathedral that warrants a certain degree of respect, no matter who the occupant is. If that's old-school, set me up with an 11 a.m. lunch reservation with Jimmy Carter, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and Jerry Ford-although I refuse to applaud them for the toothless op-eds they write for daily newspapers on issues like impeachment, campaign-finance and electoral reform.

The tour was short, but I was transfixed by the portraits (especially those of JFK and James Monroe) and busts of the presidents, the gardens and the cluster of official rooms. Junior was particularly enamored of the picture of William Howard Taft, since he got to remind me-for the 45th time-that Teddy Roosevelt's successor was really the Walrus, not John Lennon or Paul McCartney. It was downright weird when the guide told the well-known story about William Henry Harrison making his long inauguration speech in 1841 without benefit of a topcoat, catching pneumonia and dying a month later, and half the assembled crowd giggled uncontrollably.

Funny stuff.

Later in the day, while Mrs. M and Junior were off at the Smithsonian-Archie Bunker's favorite chair was a highlight-MUGGER III and I patrolled the streets of Georgetown, slipping in and out of the small bookstores, the boutiques, the antique shops and the giant mall. Georgetown is like an antiseptic Soho. Even though some turf is staked out by a number of well-scrubbed young bums, advertising their alleged battles with AIDS on crudely written cardboard signs, there's little garbage in the streets and no nasty edge at all. I don't share the rest of the country's fixation about New York's inherent rudeness, but the gentler pace in DC is something to behold. For example, I stopped in for a coffee at a luncheonette, and the guy said he'd just turned off the machine, so the cup was on the house.

My six-year-old's favorite stop, by far, was Comics and Beyond, where they stocked a zany shelf of Japanese action figures, and he spent about half an hour chewing the fat with a worker, who was garbed in a long-sleeved Superman shirt, about the PlayStation game Mega Man.

On the same strip of M St. we found Watch World, where a young woman was of enormous help in guiding the boys to the "right" digital accessories. Junior was set on a powder-blue Baby-G number, which I had a real problem with, because of the name. She assured us-and I'm convinced she didn't do so just to make a sale-that Baby-G is a "hot" brand, but that blue wouldn't do for a boy. So they both got black watches. Whether or not this line is "in" or "out" in Manhattan I have no idea, not being a regular reader of Lucky or the back 75 percent of New York, but the boys were happy. At one point on this walk, they wanted ice cream, and to my horror we ended up at a Ben & Jerry's, the first time I've ever patronized any of the chain's outlets. What the hell, I figured, we were in Bush's town, so a little bit of twisted Vermont socialism with huge dollar signs wouldn't leave traumatic blots on their impressionable minds.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2000, Russ Smith