Gov. William Donald Schaefer looked around at all the festive holiday trappings and he was not a happy man. In a way, he volunteered, they reminded him of a recent trip to the men's room.
He had gone to use the washroom facilities at a fast-food outlet, he explained, when a man came in, told him a sad tale about how times are tough and asked for some money.
"I can't go into the men's room without someone following me in and telling me their problems," he said.
Times are tough, the governor agreed yesterday as he stood in the midst of holiday decorations inside the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis. Economic jitters are making people who have money afraid to spend it, he said. And more and more people can't afford even elementary necessities.
"I look at this place and see how beautiful it is," continued Schaefer, surrounded by twinkling lights, scented evergreens, beribboned mantelpieces and clattering toy trains.
"But I read the newspapers and I see donations to Toy-for-Tots are down," he said. "I see more people going on welfare. I see longer lines at the shelters. I see the shelters overcrowded. I see the colder weather coming."
Schaefer, not one to look on the bright side, said his seasonal funk has been with him since he served Thanksgiving meals at a Baltimore soup kitchen. "I saw the alcoholics," he said. "I saw the drug addicts. I saw families. I saw people who were mentally disturbed. I saw all the things that make me very sad. Very, very sad. So I'm sad."
Schaefer's glum mood began even before Thanksgiving, though. He has been upset because he garnered only about 60 percent of the vote in the Nov. 6 election.
Compounding his despair is more bad budget news scheduled to be announced today by the state Board of Revenue Estimates, which will lead to even deeper cuts in state programs.
If he were granted a holiday wish, the governor said, he would have people contribute food and toys, especially to the Harvest for the Hungry, a food-raising campaign launched by an employee with the Dean Witter Reynolds investment firm.
Schaefer said it was easier at times to help people when he was mayor of Baltimore. "I could go to every section of the city. I could rally people and they would do things. Down here I've got to go out and do it."
But, when a reporter asked if his gloominess gives him second thoughts about being governor, he answered: "Let me tell you something. I'm the best man. There's no one but me. Not even on the horizon."
So then the job does give him some satisfaction?
"Am I happy?" he replied. "No."