I ENCOUNTERED my no-longer-young Eastside amigo, Fats Drobnak, on the Canton promenade the other morning. Cheery he was not.
"Your glum demeanor is both sensed and shared, Fats," I began. "October's gone and the national pastime's fall classic was not played. Appalling."
"Not all bad," he replied. "It didn't look like the Birds was gonna make it to the World Serious no how and least this way the Yanks can't win it all which they might've."
"Nonetheless, autumn will be bereft of the spice of competition for you, right?"
"Wrong. There's the elections."
"Oh? I wasn't aware of your interest in the balloting."
"You kiddin'? I put in my first vote for the president on a troop ship in '44 durin' WW II -- The Big One -- and never missed since."
"That would be Franklin Roosevelt?"
"The mark of a good citizen. And would you repeat that vote today if you could?"
"Easy call. Before he come along back in the Depression, the government wouldn't stir to help nobody and they was plenty who needed it. My old man included."
"Odd. Many seeking office today argue that government is the problem, not the solution."
"Then why they tryin' to get elected? If they hate it so much, why they spendin' so much dough includin' a lot of their own to get in it?"
"Point well taken, Fats. Are you still a Democrat?"
"What the hell am I, rich? Course I'm a Democrat, though some of 'em who calls themselves such sound like the other side to me. Those Republicans, always been for the fat cats of which I ain't one."
"But is partisanship best not avoided?"
"I ain't sayin' there wasn't a few good ones. When it came to Teddy McKeldin, I pulled the lever every time though I'd never admit it to the guys over my way. The way he talked, sounded like FDR to me. Tommy the Elder might've had a stroke if he knew."
"And today are there none who deserve a look?"
"Like who? Mrs. Sauerkraut? You check out the GOP contract scam? Taxes down, bucks for lockups and guns up, and the budget s'pose to balance. How? Magic?
We been down that road with Ronnie the Actor. If Clara ran the house that way her TV and my sofa'd be out on Grundy Street toot sweet."
"But, according to the polls, many citizens disagree with you."
"Sure, they do, mostly for three reasons. 1. They can't count. 2. They don't mind if they leave their grandkids in hock up to their ears. 3. This is the main one: they believe in free eats. When I was comin' up, there'd be harboiled eggs and pretzels in Hollantown bars, no charge, but that was a long time ago."
"No, I play 'em. But I know the track skims the vigorish and in the long haul I'm a loser. Government ain't a day at the races, it's serious business. People buyin' that Sauerbraten lady's story want somethin' for nothin'. Don't work that way."
"You mean Mrs. Sauerbrey?"
"Whatever. Tell you how Glendooley can lock it up. She claims she'll knock down taxes 24 percent, right? Let him double it. Just before the vote, when she ain't got time to come back with even more, he hits the tube with a 48 percent chop and breezes big in the stretch."
"Ridiculous. He seems like a decent, serious sort."
"Yeah, but with people lookin' for freebies, decency might not be enough."
"In the long run, though, does it really matter who wins?"
"Hey, last time I looked Hollantown was still in Balmer an' I don't think that lady knows if we're livin' or how. The kids need learnin', the pohleece are scramblin' to keep up, and that don't get paid for with two bits out of every buck not comin' in from the state. Ronnie, he had a printin' press over in D.C. to keep us afloat. Ain't none in the mayor's office and yet we gotta pick up the tab. Our property taxes are already double where that lady lives. Ain't that enough? So, yeah, it makes one helluva difference. Leastwise, that's my opinion."
"Quite a speech, Fats, but it's a free country. You on your way home? I'll drop you off."
"Naw. I'll just look a while at the Patapsico. Calms the nerves, which needs doin' right about now."
Milton Bates writes from Baltimore.