For a couple of years, I saw so much of my father-in-law, you'd think he lived around the corner. The airlines were being deregulated, and Eddie had two or three visits to Washington a month to testify before Congress or appear before the Federal Aviation Administration. I was renovating my first house Mom's way, which meant as many unskilled volunteers and as few pros as possible. When he wanted to see a lot of Courtney and me, Eddie had to don a painter's cap. By day he was a CEO in a Paul Stuart suit, by night he was Joe Six-Pack, eating pizza out of a box, wielding a Red Devil scraper to strip wallpaper, and pulling up hundreds of tiny nails out of the hardwood floor that had been holding down shag carpet. My mother was on to something with her hammer and power drill. All the hours in that falling-down house brought Courtney and me to a closeness with Eddie that lasted until he died in 1990.
After the Legal Times and writing freelance pieces, I got a job at Esquire magazine as its Washington bureau chief, which meant wielding huge power over a bureau of one (me) at my own kitchen table. The high point of that job was when editor Adam Moss lit on the idea of compiling an Esquire Register — a collection of profiles of up-and-coming men under forty. For the length of that assignment, I was never lonely. After a small item appeared in The Washington Post's gossip column about the project, I even got a note from the father of one potential candidate, who wanted me to know his son was so brilliant, he could say "cow" and "moon" at a very early age.
Spurning the law was bad for my bank account but good for Courtney. Piecework fit nicely with motherhood. In the morning, I could roll out of bed to drive the car pool dressed like a grad student who'd overslept instead of a striving junior associate in a suit and heels. I wrote anywhere, anytime — on a yellow legal pad, sitting in the bleachers watching soccer, on a laptop in the pediatrician's office, at midnight at home. Editors, unlike senior partners, approve of you being a mile wide and an inch deep and don't feel cheated if you're not at the office until all hours, as long as you produce the requisite 1,500 words. The goal is not to master the minutiae of the Sherman Antitrust Act, but to master the issue at hand for as long as it takes to write about it that week.
I was usually home after school to claim the lost hours before dinner, when I turned the kitchen into a playground, sometimes letting Courtney roller-skate from the counter to the table, carrying plates. She started cooking by making pancakes, then scrambling eggs, then omelets. Before long, with the help of my mother, she learned to make pie dough, which still eludes me. My mother taught her so well that Courtney became the head baker at the Red Door Café at Kenyon College. When Courtney was eighteen, she won the Bloomingdale's cooking contest for baking one of my mother's desserts.
In the mid-1980s, I joined a start-up called the Washington Weekly, which seemed too good to be true, and was. It folded after a year.