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One reason is its high degree of specialization. Traditional capitals—London, Paris, Rome, Vienna—are centers of culture and commerce as well as government—filled with sensuous temptations and enticements to dalliance. The Washington ambience, by contrast, is a political pressure cooker—almost devoid of the soft lights and shadowed corners where small intimacies can flower into intimacy. It is slightly nerve-racking to be close to a man whose electronic "beeper" may go off any second to warn him that he is wanted at the White House; and those black overstuffed sofas in the offices on the Hill are not the most comfortable bowers of Venus.
Simple fatigue is another factor in the capital's sexual mores. Society Columnist Ymelda Dixon thinks that the men of power are simply pooped. "With the hours they put in, with the stresses they face, they're probably impotent from sheer exhaustion." Knowledgeable Swinger Barbara Howar agrees, and points out that another reason for the situation is that power is a sex substitute. One highly sexed and beautiful lady, who has much solid experience in both bedroom and board room, admits that a full day of power wielding leaves her so depleted that she wants nothing so much as to crawl between the sheets—alone.
For wives—or mistresses—Washington has never been a romantic place even in the Camelot days, and it is palpably less so today. In Martha Mitchell's view from the top, the city is certainly exciting, and some day it may be a matter of record. "Just as soon as we leave Washington," she says, she will start writing a book about it. "I am a sponge," she once said. "I have been soaking up material, and it's fabulous."
Fabulous it may be, but it is tough, too —transient and lonely. Martha Mitchell, whose husband often works 15 hours a day, knows the loneliness well, and sometimes the ruthless power city overwhelms the happy kid from Pine Bluff. "A lot of this takes a great deal out of me," she said recently, and these lonely low points are likely to generate some late-hour phone calls to friends, which the public never hears about.
But the next day, Martha is ready to face them all down again with her big laugh and pretty dimples and her yellow hair piled high—"little ol' Martha," as she likes to call herself, undaunted, silly, reveling in attention, and making the staid, Republican capital a livelier place.
* Nicholas Longworth, who served from 1925 until his death in 1931. * Other well-known Watergate residents: Transportation Secretary John Volpe, Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans and Protocol Chief Emil Mosbacher Jr. * Said Martha to an interviewer last September: "The academic society is responsible for all troubles in this country. They don't know what's going on. They don't have a right to talk. It makes me sick at my stomach. They're a bunch of sidewalk diplomats that don't know the score."