From an Essex laundromat to a Washington barbershop, the president, the intern and the independent counsel are the talk of the town


September 14, 1998|By Ken Fuson Too many apologies

WASHINGTON — Come here, Mr. President, to Essex, to the narrow laundromat squeezed between the Avenue News and the Lutheran Mission Society Center on Eastern Avenue.

You will hear no jokes about dirty laundry, or aphorisms about how it will all come out in the wash, or questions about how best to clean soiled blue dresses. Instead, you will hear 58-year-old Louis Hock from Perry Hall, who is on your side.

"I'll tell you what I think," Hock bellows, a cigarette pinched between two fingers, a red U.S. Marine Corps baseball cap on his head. "What a man does in his private life is his own business."

He's not finished.

"I voted for Clinton and I'd vote for him again," says Hock, a truck driver. "I say it's nobody's business. They're trying to wreck his family. Leave the man to do his job. John F. Kennedy got away with it."

Nods all around. John Collins, 40, of Middle River, a truck-driving friend of Hock's, says, "I think they're pushing the issue too far."

"It's the Republicans who are pushing it," Hock says. "They want him out of there."

Brian Scandora of Dundalk, a 40-year-old restaurant worker, thinks that won't happen. He says Clinton has done a good job and the voters will protect him.

"It's no problem with me, as long as it doesn't interfere with the job. What might save him is the people don't want him out."

Hock stubs out his cigarette. "Too many people worry about what other people are doing," he says. "They ought to lift the carpet up in their own homes."

Stay here, Mr. President, among your friends. Don't venture toward the back of the laundromat, where Larry Carbone, 72, is folding his clothes. A retired brewery worker from Essex, Carbone is weary of hearing the national political debate transformed into letters to Penthouse.

"Run him out and start all over," Carbone says. "Just get it off the television and out of the newspapers. It makes me very disgusted."

His clothes clean and folded, Carbone is ready to begin a new week. If only it were that easy in the White House. WASHINGTON -- Absolut and cranberry in one hand, cigarette in the other, dancing among friends in Garrett's Bar on M Street in Georgetown Saturday, Sally Smith has to shout over the jukebox to share her thoughts on President Clinton and his numerous "I'm sorry's."

"Apologizing 20 times a day is out of control!" says the 25-year-old Republican from South Dakota, whose political experience includes a stint working for a senator from her home state. "He should have lied to the end and stayed with his story. You take that kind of stuff to the grave."

A moment later, she stops dancing long enough to clarify. "I don't say lying is good, but if you apologize so many times in a week, that isn't good. Everyone thinks you're a fool."

Upstairs, Tim Randall, 26, is tending bar below a photocopied picture of Monica Lewinsky and a handwritten chalkboard sign that reads: " 'Sexual Relations' Night in the Parlor: Grab a cigar from G'town Tobacco." Also advertised are a number of drink specials whose suggestive names seemed suddenly modest next to the contents of the Starr report.

Randall, a self-described recovering New Yorker who has lived in Washington for eight years, says everyone from his cab driver to his customers agrees that "this lurid, detailed report is public meat."

"I don't want to know that much about anybody I'm not in bed with," he says. "It's too much. The investigation went on long enough, and now this."

He's been serving drinks for six hours, he says. Earlier in the evening, when there was "more coherent" conversation at the bar, chatter about the Starr report abounded, he says.

"It's the hot topic forever," he says. "It's like talking about the weather in this town."

Judith Forman

'Give the man a chance'

It's an evening about promoting neighborhood rejuvenation. But as community activists at a Baltimore fund-raiser sift through their thoughts about the Starr report, it's as if they're describing the achy queasiness that precedes the flu: They are apprehensive of how bad it might get, and desperately hoping it would all go away.

"Right now, I'm hurting for this country. I've felt physically sick about all this," says educator JoAnn Cason, interim director of the New Schools Initiative for the city school system.

"I think President Clinton is doing the job we elected him to do. He made a big mistake, there was a lot of arrogance on his part. But he's human. And we, as a country, do not have time for all of this foolishness.

"I don't condone what he did, but resign? No. Impeach him? No! And I really hurt for the president's family that we would all be reading that salacious material."

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