TALES FROM THE VAULT: It was 1997. A Washington institute had awarded me a journalism fellowship, so I was in D.C. to attend its annual dinner. I knew that a few luminaries would be there, and I expected that many in the crowd would be a bit to my right, politically speaking. But I didn't expect the dinner speaker to be Malcolm "Steve" Forbes Jr., who had run for president just a year before.
Nor did I expect to meet him. But there I was, chatting with a colleague, when the institute's president tapped me on the shoulder. "Steve," he said, "this is Jesse Walker, the new fellow."
"Congratulations," said Forbes, smiling in that wobbly way of his. I shook his hand; I said something meant to be funny; he chuckled politely. It should have ended there, as neither of us really had anything to say to each other. But then some photographer said, "Let's get a picture of the two of you together. Pretend like you're talking."
I looked at Forbes. I couldn't think of anything more to say. So I said, "Talk talk talk talk talk."
"Blah blah blah," he replied. "Blah blah blah blah blah."
I glanced at the photographer. He was struggling to replace his film.
I looked at Forbes again. "I'm saying something witty now," I said, "and you're laughing."
He mimed a belly-laugh -- there was no sound, but it would look like laughter in a photo.
Still no flash. I glanced back at the photographer; he seemed to be having trouble with the camera.
"Talk talk talk talk talk," I repeated.
"Blah blah blah," Forbes obliged. And then, just as the dialogue was getting a bit too Ionesco, the photographer snapped a few shots.
My celebrity partner disappeared, and I turned back to the writer I'd been speaking with before. "You know," he said, "I've heard a rumor about Steve Forbes."
"What's that?" I asked.
"I hear he isn't much of a conversationalist."
posted by Jesse 7:17 PM
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