Democratic presidential candidate Paul E. Tsongas motioned toward a dried flower arrangement on a small table.
The action came during his talk about the tough task of translating his 85-page pamphlet of economic ideas into 30-second campaign commercials. The television ads are so good, he promised, that viewers will be unable to forget them.
"If you don't remember those ads," the former Massachusetts senator chirped in Annapolis yesterday, "I'll eat those flowers."
But, in one of those self-deprecating moments that could become the saving grace of a candidate steeped in intellectual thought and dry rhetoric, Tsongas turned to an aide and quickly added: "Can we get these flowers out of here now?"
For a man who claims he wants to be known "as the candidate who understands economics," a little wit won't hurt his image-building.
"I think it's important to show that someone from Massachusetts has a sense of humor," Tsongas said in one of many references to his debt-ridden home state.
In Maryland for two low-key campaign stops -- a breakfast in Montgomery County and an afternoon chat with about 30 Democrats in Annapolis -- Tsongas, the only candidate to formally announce for next year's Democratic presidential primary, said it isn't easy to get name recognition when he doesn't hold a political office.
Tsongas served two terms in Congress and announced his retirement in 1984, a year after he had been diagnosed with cancer. He joined a Boston law firm.
With his cancer in remission, Tsongas embarked on a campaign mixing liberal stances on abortion and civil rights with conservative positions on business and trade.
"My doctors will attest to my physical health," he said, "but not to my mental health. That will have to come later."