Democracy in America

From the Fresh-Up Lounge to the Frenetic Floor

NEW YORK--Like a Pentagon flunky delivering the daily body count, Norma Lee stands amid the drifting clouds of hair spray, raising her voice a little so it will carry over the killer-bee whine of the foot-massaging machines. "Sunday--89 reporters groomed, 51 men and 38 women. Monday--131 reporters groomed, more than half of them men."

This, then, is the scene outside the Democratic convention--an endless cavalcade of politicking, oratory and hair care. The networks can show you quite a bit but they haven't taken their cameras to the eighth floor of the Statler Hilton, home of the Bristol Myers-Clairol Press Fresh-Up Lounge.

The idea that became the Fresh-Up Lounge first visited Lee a few months before the 1968 Democratic convention. "Back then, it was for women only. I thought to myself, "men have their bars, so women need some place to go and relax,' " she explains. "A different company, that's all I say," sponsored her effort in Chicago, at a time when grooming meant something political. "But now, men are just as involved in fashion as women," she says, directing yet another reporter, clutching a complimentary can of Miller, into the bedroom/salon.

"It's so nice to see men finally beginning to take care of their hair," Mary Crosby, chief of the eight-man styling team, said as she worked on one midwestern reporter. "I hate messy hair, I just hate it," Crosby added, pointing to the pink-caped men hunkered down in front of lighted mirrors as proof of their emancipation from old-fashioned prejudices against $30 haircuts.

But there are still a few shreds of the masculinity left. "Get that camera out of here, one newspaper man shouted when another reporter produced a Nikon. "My friends back home, not to mention my editor, would solder me if they knew I was here." And so the photographer left, but not before picking up a "Hospitality Bag" filled with free samples of products from hairspray to No-Doz. In the corner, Norma Lee is explaining one more time that business, or hospitality, is booming. "So far today, we've had over 100, more than half of them men..."


All the TV cameras came to the convention rally of the campus democrats of America, but they didn't stay long--in fact, two-thirds of the audience left as soon as the organizers announced that "featured guest" Chip Carter was too busy lobbying for the MX missile to show up.

The Campus Democrats of America is the "official student wing of the Democratic party." Its press kit teatures a one-paragraph clipping from page 51 of The New York Times of June 3, 1979, the early date at which the CDA decided to endorse President Carter for re-election. There is also a letter with the salutation "Dear fellow Democrats," which points out that one of the organization's seven goals is to "create a win psychology." A memo paid for by the Democratic National Committee mentions proudly that when President Carter called for draft registration, "the CDA immediately saw the propriety of the president's stance and voiced its support for registration." The newsletter adds that "the culmination of CDA's work occurred when CDA president Bernie Friedman was selected to be the youth representative at the White House signing of the registration proclamation. In recognition of his outstanding work, he received a personal greeting and a thank you from the president."

During the series of addresses that opened the CDA rally, the following information was gleaned:

"1980 is the beginning of a new decade." --President Friedman

"I'll be going back to school in a few weeks."   --Charles Leznick, head of Yale students for Carter

"Many students today are into serious capitalism, and that is a good thing."   --Charles Mannet, chairman of the Democratic National Committee finance council

"Young people are not millionaires."   --Christ Gershon, political director of operating engineers international union

"I can't believe we sat through this and Chip Carter isn't going to come."   --An NBC reporter

There are other facets of the conventions the TV cameras ignore--the railroad press lounge in the Garden basement, for example, where employees of the railway lobby distribute free beer, sandwiches, and advice about the need for more government subsidies to the rail industry. But the biggest distortion of the TV broadcasts is their ability to add excitement where it doesn't exist, and paradoxically, to miss the spirit during the few moments of true emotion.

For the most part, the convention floor is full-people sit in their flag-red folding chairs and chat, sleep, or read The Times. But the network crews, self-contained TV stations complete with backpack transmitters, constantly criss-cross the floor in search of some small scandal. When one stops, the others gather. Like blood beginning to clot, the aisle where Garrick Utley halts suddenly attracts Lesly Stahl, Sam Donaldson, and their assorted assistants. Tuesday afternoon, while most of the delegates stared unseeingly at the podium or talked with someone in an adjacent delegation, Sander Vanocur decided that the Massachusetts delegation needed visiting. Pretty soon, the Bay State section was full of more electronics and lights than Xenon's, the boisterous disco that last night hosted the Carter victory party. "It's all because of the blue phone and the red phone," a delegation aide explained enthusiastically. "The blue phone goes to the Kennedy trailer; the red one to the podium. To have them both in the same place--it's a very rare combination.

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