Northern Exposures:

Clinton Does the Democratic Primaries

When I was young, the hotel cocktail lounge beside the bus station was the only place you could go for a little company, and the truck drivers from Laconia and a similar-looking woman with a crewcut. There is an ACT UP chapter in Manchester now, a network of out gays if not a whole community.

There is still no alternative statewide paper in which to rebut insane accusations and slander that appear in the Union Leader, but the influx of new s from CNN and other sources has miniaturized the paper's impact. Simply to say marginally competitive with the Maine cable channels and the Globe, the Union Leader and WMUR-Manchester have to report the unpleasant minority news that used to suppress, even if the paper's editorials—mainly crayoned by geriatric Loeb protégé James J. Finnegan—continue to sound like bulletins from a psychiatric ward.

But the era when William Loeb's campaigns against local college presidents could hound them out of the state—for allowing gay organizations on campus, or sponsoring "Communist" lectures, as happened with Loeb's untiring persecution of Thomas Bonner at UNH from 1971-1974—is over.


I drive to Keene one bleary morning with a Martha and the Vandellas tape blasting in the car, up Route 3 to Pinardville, down 101 to Milford, Milford to Peterborough. Just before Dublin the Tsongas signs start appearing on the trees and fence posts and mailboxes, I wake up feeling sorry I met you, and hoping soon, that I'll forget you, when I look in the mirror to comb my hair—

Well Tsongas has very thinning hair, but this is the least of his problems. In a tiny conference room at The Keene Sentinel, surrounded by a restrained crowd of at least 10 people, the candidate is defending his record in Massachusetts, not that anyone is attacking it, and expounding a fairly conservative philosophy of government, conservative but compassionate, and I know he can't help his face but it's full of little moues and funny tics and because I arrive late I am practically sitting in a large potted plant just outside the conference room hoping he will raise his voice above a steady drone. Paul Tsongas looks like somebody who could do a fairly credible Lamont Cranston imitation if he really let his hair down, such as it is, but this morning he's stuck on a tone of infinite reasonableness and gentle self-mockery.

"Look," he says after a half hour, "I'm a Greek from Massachusetts who's had cancer, so I've got to either be really serious about what I'm doing or else I'm crazy."

This is followed by an unfortunate moment of silence. Note to press corps: if you find yourself in Keene next week, Lindy's Diner has terrific oyster stew.


Floor bass slides up to me and says hey,'re screwing up the quota, you're doing your piece work too fast, now you get off your mustang, Sally, you aint going nowhere - Patti Smith

There was bound to come a nadir, a point below which the tedium of the campaign trail could not dip without degenerating into chaos. I am a student of chaos, absurdity, and life's little ironies. Moved to tears one morning by a CNN report on unemployed factory workers in West Virginia, I then bring my cousin Kathy some lunch my mother's prepared; Kathy has just opened a tax accounting service in town, having left her job at a law firm that lost its major corporate client. Kathy is one of the least neurotic, most industrious people I have ever known. I tell her all about these poor laid-off steelworkers.

"Well," she says, "remember when we were kids in the '60s? And all we wanted was to do something in life where we wouldn't have to work in a factory?"

Of course she's right. It's possible to listen to these visiting politicians jaw on about restoring New Hampshire's industrial base without remembering the sheer meaningless misery most of our relatives endured, day in, day out, some for twenty or thirty years, gluing on shoe soles or soldering circuit boards, an unending pointlessness for which no amount of quarterly raises and benefits packages could ever compensate. The idea that 40 to 60 hours a week of monotony was good enough for us, for our class of people, was sufficiently appalling to propel us both into college and out of town.

But we came from that factory world, a little more directly than most of the people we know, which is why Kathy and I , in our different styles, have nothing but contempt for New Hampshire yuppies. And why, I suppose, the Conservation Center in Concord, a perfectly benign, tree-rescuing operation in a solar-heated, light and airy facility of dressed knotty pine, activates my class hatred in a way that Phillips Exeter Academy doesn't. I know I'm as smart as any given graduate of Phillips Exeter, but I will never be rich enough to spend all day worrying about acid rain and printing brochures about it on recycled paper.

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