Rule by Opinionated Insomniacs

RICK HOROWITZ

February 11, 1993|By RICK HOROWITZ

The first results of the day were in, and the numbers were running 3-to-1 against Raisin Bran. Mrs. Peeples was bored with it, she said, and the kids never liked it anyway.

''The people have spoken,'' said Congressman Peeples. He'd been looking forward to Raisin Bran, truth be told, but there was no denying this sudden groundswell for Frosted Flakes. Besides, he was too tired to argue -- about his breakfast, or even about his tie (a solid 2-to-1 for paisley over striped; Susie didn't like either of them).

He'd had another bad night. It was like -- well, it was like he was hearing voices.

''You were hearing voices,'' said Mrs. Peeples. ''You fell asleep with the radio on. And you just kept tossing.''

This never used to happen. Congressman Peeples used to hit the pillow, go out like a light, sleep like a baby. Not anymore. Not since he started listening to the call-in shows.

''I have to know what they're saying,'' he'd explain. ''Have to.'' It was like eating peanuts: Just one more call. And one more call. And one more call. They ran all night, the shows did. Someplace on the dial, he could always find another one. ''I never knew there were so many opinionated insomniacs,'' he'd say.

Not just insomniacs. The shows also ran all day; it was all he could do to find some nice music on the car radio on his way to work, the way he used to. In fact, he'd pretty much stopped looking for nice music and started tuning in the morning call-ins, too. What if the mood had changed overnight? He had to know.

''Got those numbers for me?'' This was Congressman Peeples in his office, to one of his staffers.

''Right here, Congressman. OMB and CBO both have new deficit projections out this morning, and we may have to -- ''

''Not those numbers. The other numbers.''

''Well, sir, I think we're still holding solid there. The calls are running at least 3-to-2 for the bean soup. Iced tea over coffee, about the same margin.''

''And the main course?''

''Still a toss-up. Could be chef's salad, could be the turkey. We should have harder numbers for you by lunchtime.''

''Be sure you do,'' said Congressman Peeples. ''I'm going over to the floor.'' He took the printouts, with all the latest phone counts on all the hottest issues. They were still with him, he was glad to see, on that amendment he'd be offering. It never hurt to be popular.

'' . . . one of the most pressing matters before us today. I'd say the third-most -- actually, it's running neck-and-neck for second-most pressing, and it's not even that far behind first-most pressing -- so anyway, after long and careful consideration of this subject, I urge my colleagues to cast a strong vote in fa-- ''

There was a tug at Congressman Peeples' sleeve. He looked down, and a page handed him a new pile of printouts from his office with a note attached: ''TIDE TURNS! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!''

'' -- to cast a strong vote against my amendment.''

It was almost unanimous; the pages had been bringing printouts to the other members, too. Somebody must have said something on the radio. People were stirred up.

''Well, I just think'' -- this was on one of the call-ins later that very night -- ''we should let those congressmen do their jobs and use their judgment the way we elected them to, instead of them switching sides every time more calls come in. Otherwise, we might as well have a scoreboard up there instead of real live -- ''

''Dear, could you -- what are you doing under the bed?!'' Mrs. Peeples looked amazed. Congressman Peeples dropped the handkerchief, tossed the phone toward the nightstand.

''Hello?'' said the voice at the other end. ''Hello? Well, let's go to our next call. Arlington? You're on the air. . . .''

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist.

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