On the day before all of the political geniuses who got us into this mess in the first place gather in Annapolis, Rick Kollinger makes one thing clear: He loves William Donald Schaefer and adores the eccentricities that make the governor of Maryland an editorial cartoonist's dream.
"Absolutely," Kollinger declares from his home in Easton. "I personally think he's got a real big heart and believes in all these social programs. But his flaws are . . ."
Across miles of telephone cable, there is a silence now while Kollinger searches for a vivid description of Schaefer. This is something he does for a living (of sorts). He pokes fun at the governor's expense, draws cartoons of him and makes up stories about him, and now he's created this calendar about Schaefer that has the governor reacting with barely controlled Vesuvian fury.
The calendar's a month-by-month parody of a man losing his marbles. Just fun, Kollinger says. Just trying to embarrass me, Schaefer says. Just trying to make a little money, Kollinger admits. Why not give the money to charity, Schaefer says.
"Yeah," Kollinger says, "I heard that on television. So I said, 'OK, I'll give my profits to a charity of Schaefer's if Schaefer will give his pay raise to a charity of mine.' "
He hasn't heard anything since. So he goes about selling this calendar -- 3,000 have sold at last count, without even venturing off the Eastern Shore -- and bracing himself for tomorrow's opening of the state legislature.
The calendar's a series of mock predictions for the upcoming year: Schaefer imposing taxes on "anything that is fun or could lead to fun"; Schaefer visiting Miami Beach, Nassau and St. Croix a "fact-finding" mission; Schaefer appropriating 20,000 seats
for his personal staff and bodyguards at the Orioles' opening game while fans chant "Don Must Go" and are all thereupon arrested.
"He's a funny guy," says Kollinger, 42, a free-lance editorial cartoonist whose work is carried in the Cambridge Banner. "I honestly like the guy. But he's like your deranged uncle you keep in your attic. You like him, but you don't want people to see him."
He says this with a little antic chuckle in his voice, but it's laughter that sends a signal: We have now moved into tricky territory with William Donald Schaefer.
It is one thing for anger to be directed at politicians. That's part of the game. But the anger has now turned to ridicule, which the governor seems perversely to encourage with his letters to constituents, his sending of photographs to those who demonstrate against him, and his trigger temper.
Not to mention, the depressingly bad state into which Maryland's economy has sunk, and the painful choices at hand beginning tomorrow: to raise taxes, to cut services, and maybe some of both.
There was a time when Schaefer approached legislative sessions with blustery confidence, a man filled not only with grand plans for big government projects but with the power to muscle his way past some reluctant legislators.
Those days seem to have passed. Legislators, a vulturous lot, not only sense the blood around Schaefer but know that public anger has slipped into that giddy zone beyond even that, where artists are drawing cartoons, and radio stations like Balti
more's WQSR-FM are running Christmas parodies ("Schaefer Got Run Over By A Reindeer"), and lots of people are laughing only because it's more socially acceptable than throwing things.
"I know," says Rick Kollinger, "and I'm sure the governor's very disappointed. Look, he saw himself as presidential timbre. He was in Time and Newsweek, the mayor of the '90s. But he's like a lot of big business guys who will invent a widget and make a fortune and then branch into something else and destroy a company."
This is overstatement, of course, but that's a cartoonist's stock in trade. Schaefer didn't put the state into this mess all by himself. There's trouble across the whole country, and there's been criminal indifference in Washington, and there are also state legislators who slept while the state was sinking into its current mess.
But it's Schaefer who's always made himself the lightning rod, andwhose public behavior invites all sorts of finger-pointing.
And this is why we now have Rick Kollinger selling his calendars on the Eastern Shore, and making plans to bring them across the bay.
"I haven't been over to the western shore yet," he says, "because every time I started out for Annapolis I get calls from Chestertown or Cambridge that they've run out and I've got to bring them more.
"People aren't buying the calendar along party lines. They just think it's funny. They think he's lost his mind. This latest thing about sending photographs to people is really creepy. I mean, he starts out bizarre, but then there gets to be this dark edge. And everything he does now just plays into the calendar's hands."
And, beginning tomorrow, when the '92 legislative session commences, the spotlight only gets brighter on William Donald Schaefer -- a man loved by Rick Kollinger not in spite of his eccentricities, but because of them.