One for My Baby

Today’s primary election brings warm weather. When I head out of my bungalow around 11:30 it’s a balmy 37 degrees and the brief flurry we had this morning is gone.

There are no events, and I don’t feel like going to some high school to watch voters vote, but brunch at the Red Arrow is always appealing. When I arrive, and have to wait just a bit for a seat at the counter, some woman is giving a radio interview at the entrance end of the place, where the (few) tables are. Listening for a while, I find out it’s Lara Trump, wife of Eric and therefore daughter-in-law of Donald. I don’t pay much attention, as it’s the straight MAGA line, but one remark of hers strikes me. On the sad state of America, she says, “Every day we’re getting closer to George Orwell’s 1984.

Well, indeed we are getting closer — but how insidious that the remark comes from the very forces that are taking us there. Another example of turning an attack exactly around to aim it at the accuser, like charging Biden with ‘election interference’ for supposedly orchestrating litigation against candidate Trump. It is depressingly effective.

But gaining my seat at the counter, I can shrug off doom, at least temporarily. Today there is extra help behind the counter: a little girl named Paxton is assisting my server Robin. Paxton is cute, off from school today, and boundlessly energetic, and she’s learning the diner service ropes; I assume she is some employee’s or owner’s daughter. Robin lets her “make” my hot cocoa (you push a button on the machine) and add the whipped cream (which shoots out of a can). Controlling the whipped cream is not so easy, so I end up with lots of it, all over the handle of the mug too. No worries; it’s delicious anyway. As are the eggs, bacon, and pancakes. (The Red Arrow serves over five thousand strips of bacon a week! The mind reels.) In answer to my question, Paxton confirms she is in sixth grade.

The two folks next to me are a photographer and his assistant. I did not get his name, but the assistant is busy on her laptop, choosing and editing photos, captioning them, naming them, storing them – her fingers fly and different boxes and lists appear, shift, recede, reappear. Why would one need 80 different photos of Ron DeSantis? Presumably because one never knows which of the oh-so-slightly different shots some fickle editor will choose.

She has some of their equipment on the counter between us: a lens, a light bar with meter, and a white plastic thing that looks a bit like a kneepad. (I’m trying not to get pancake syrup on her lens.) Eventually I have to ask her what the white thing is; it is definitely low-tech and therefore possibly understandable. “That’s a light diffuser,” she tells me. Of course; I knew that. Don’t want the light to be, um, too undiffused. And it all seems to work, because I look at some of the larger photos she puts on her screen – these happen to be in color, unlike most – and they are gorgeous. Some young guy with a beard – is this Donald Junior? – but perfectly focused, lighted and tinted. This guy in the pictures, whoever he is, should be hanging around the Riviera, having a good time. Something as simple, these days, as taking a picture still is definitely improved in the hands of a pro.

After those two leave, along comes Chris Wallace of CNN and his assistant, who sits between us. They are off duty, not here to ask voters questions or take the pulse of the locals but just to have lunch. And, in a place where calories are plentiful, they are pretty sensible, like people who eat at a lot of places on the road and don’t want to become blimps. Wallace has a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, and she has something with quinoa in it. I ask them about logistics: obviously Wallace will be reporting from here, Manchester, this evening, but then when does he go back to DC, late tonight or can he travel tomorrow? They’re going tomorrow morning, flying out of the Manchester regional airport. Wallace notes that coming from Iowa to here is not bad, as the press does it over several days, but then everybody leaves here at the same time, the day after the primary, so the airport is packed tomorrow morning, and there aren’t that many flights. I ask if he’s going to South Carolina next and he says no – “I’m at an age where I can pick and choose my trips.” He looks to be in good shape – I’d have judged he is 65, but Googling him afterwards I find he’s 76. I tell him I’ll look for him on the tube tonight.

I leave a tip via my credit card but also give a real dollar to Paxton, who beams and thanks me. She’s got the whole drill down.

That evening when the polls close, 7 pm in Manchester, I head to a restaurant and bar called The Farm for a tv. (My bungalow is without broadcast or cable.) It’s the same spot I used for watching the football playoff games, or parts thereof. over the weekend. I’m having a beer and watching Texas and Oklahoma play basketball on ESPN, and after a while ask the bartender if he could put on a news station for a while. He says sure, if he can find one, and he mentions knowing I’d been there a couple times before. (I am surprised they noticed; I always think I’m inconspicuous almost to the point of invisibility.) He asks which one I’d like and I say, try MSNBC (sorry, Mr. Wallace). Eventually as he re-emerges, the channel control being someplace downstairs, he reports they don’t have MSNBC, how about CNBC? I’m not sure but say okay, try that. After some more time, CNBC comes on: it’s just interviews from the Davos conference, and ones filmed a week ago at that. I don’t really need to see Sergio Ermotti, CEO of USB, talking to someone, even if they are sitting outdoors in a beautiful setting of snow, pine trees, and mountains. I tell bartender Alex he can turn ESPN back on. Besides, by now I’ve received a text from my very good friend Donald announcing that he’s won New Hampshire. And one shouldn’t drink when one is depressed, so I’d better head back to my temporary abode where, besides there being no tv, there is no beer.

Nikki Haley, I see, has vowed to keep on battling. And she has not done badly here – at last check, she’s down by about 11 percentage points; Trump has won 11 delegates and she has won 8, with three still up for grabs. But this probably was her best shot for a win. Even as a two-term popular governor of South Carolina, she reportedly trails Donald by 30 points there. I am not surprised she lost here, and I won’t be surprised if she loses there. Or everywhere else.

Is it worth continuing? Easy for me to say yes, but I’m not going to suffer the personal attacks and the pressure to fall into line. Dear Nikki. At least fighting all the way to the convention would avert the humiliating moment of bending the knee to Orange Julius and having to endorse him, a fate cringingly embraced by many — lookin’ at you, Tim Scott, and you, Alfred E. Neuman (I mean, Ron DeSantis). And yes, there are cards on the table yet to be turned up: court cases especially. But polling indicates that even a felony conviction would not cut Trump’s GOP support enough to deny him the nomination.

It’s colder outside as I leave the bar; at least it feels that way. It’s not late, not even 10 pm yet. Certainly not 2:45 in the morning. But it feels late. I’m thinking of Johnny Mercer, from 80 years ago.

It's quarter to three
There's no one in the place
Except you and me.
So, set 'em up, Joe
I got a little story I think you should know.

We're drinkin', my friend, to the end
of a brief episode;
Make it one for my baby
And one more
For the road.

So dear readers, tomorrow I’ll head home from New Hampshire, from a primary week that, in truth, was less exciting than past ones, with fewer characters striding the stage, no plot twists and no happy ending. Still an experience not to be missed, but one that I hope will see better days. And the greater challenge still awaits, in November.

So thanks for the cheer
I hope you didn't mind
My bendin' your ear.
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