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"CAN YOU GO up to the firehouse and hand out leaflets?"
"Well, actually, you see, I'm with a newspaper and I should probably..."
"Yes or no?"
"Take a sandwich so you don't starve to death. You'll be there till the polls close."
So I walked up four blocks from the "Thrrriftee" Cleaners McGovern Headquarters to the firehouse that was the official polling place for Ward 10. Politics is a bad marriage; it treats those already won over like fools, and those to be won over like queens for a day. When they thought I was a voter. I was inundated with "Endicott Peabody for Vice Pres... Vance Hartke, champion of social sec...George make American happen ag...Trust Muskie...pencil to write in Mills...right this way...Sam's the Man...re-elect."
"I'm not a voter."
"You with McGovern? Hold this sign and hand out these."
"No. I'm not. I'm with the press. I'm a photographer."
I went inside to see the polls, the place from which the New Hampshire voter shocks the nation every four years. Booths in lines of eight, no machines, with a fire engine and a real brass pole going up through a hole in the roof. Around three o'clock they had a fire somewhere and the electoral process was momentarily suspended in favor of bells and high rubber boots. The poll watchers mostly watched each other, and the people in charge knew every voter's name before he had said it.
"Endicott Peabody, running for Vice President."
"Are you the same Peabody who was Harvard's last All-American and who used to be governor of Massachusetts?"
"Yes," and he turned to say the same thing to an old man who didn't understand. There is a sadness about a man who has lost and doesn't give up; he brings out the same emotion as Ben Hogan skying to an 80 in the last round after shooting a third round 66 in the Masters a few years ago. Only Peabody didn't have the grace of a faded star. His over madeup wife in a shiny silver coat handed out sheets and said. "My husband's running for Vice President." Meanwhile her husband was saying to the green-eyed McGovern girl that he'd be glad to "chase your skirt anytime, honey."
The green-eyed girl was from Worcester, a freshman at Clark, who lived at home and liked a silent German movie whose title she couldn't recall. I took her picture, and she took mine, and we waited for candidates and movie stars to show up. The Yorty lady gave me a button and promised that Sam would be here before the polls closed. Sam never made it, although his red, white, and blue traveling trailer did. As the Yorty lady stepped up into the van she shook my hand, looked at me and said, "I'll never forget you son. And don't lose those gloves; you don't find those in garbage cans, you know."
Vance Hartke did make it to the firehouse. He was preceeded by about five minutes worth of sound truck jibber. "Vance Hartke, author of such-and-such Vance Hartke, champion of civil rights. Vance Hartke, friend of the veteran," and so on. The name is strange to begin with, and upon repetition it starts to sound like a call to arms: vance hartkee' The senator arrived with his chesterfield coat, one wife and three of ten kids, two of whom seemed absorbed in a 7-up. The Hartke people all wore styrofoam skimmers and balloons, but the Senator seemed annoyed when one of the nats was put on his own head.
"How's the recount going Senator?"
"Fine, we just want to get it over with to show I have an even bigger margin."
The candidate never refers to himself as I, and he never says anything is doubtful So "we" went to talk to the boys in the backroom of the firehouse, and meanwhile Shirley MacLame stole his audience outside. She is quite beautiful, more so than on the screen and even her alootness was more appealing than a candidate's underwhelming warmth. A man who is running for President is something natural, a common man. A movie star is something entirely different. She smiled dutifully at my camera and signed an autograph for the green-eyed girl, and was off without ever leaving her car. Then Vance came back out, but everyone was gone.
"I wish those other guys would get here." It was cold and the boy with the Mills pencils was suffering.
"This politics has no action. I'm only doing this because they pay me and my old man says Mills is a strong fella." He was about 17 and had no front teeth. "If you want action you should come down to the Guard Armory on Saturday and see the roller derby. There's action for you. They beat each other up, kicking with skates, they got women doing it, everything. And they do real fancy ballroom type stuff too. Roller skating is a real sport for you."
We gave up on any more candidates, about half an hour before the polls closed, and walked back down to the McGovern headquarters. The green-eyed girl and I got recruited to paint a sign that was supposed to say something inspiring like "ON TO WISCONSIN," not something humorous like "MUSKIE SUCKS," the man told us. We succeeded in hiding it from the press, but it never did make national TV.
That night McGovern came into a crowded ballroom at the Howard Johnsons after two hours of sweaty waiting and told the nation what all thus meant. He left quickly, and hardly anyone stayed around to count the votes. The man in front of me had two sixes of Schlitz, and after he gave them away he had won my support for any elective office he might seek.
Earlier in the day I stood with the student coordinator of the McGovern campaign and looked at one of the small, white, neat neighborhoods of Manchester.
"It's kind of frightening all the power they have today, you know?" he said.
"I don't know. It's kind of frightening all the power they don't have."
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