Blowing It All Out Of Proportion

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October 30, 2005|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Playing professor for a day at Towson University last week, Bob Ehrlich picked a bunch of newspaper stories apart line by line to show students how he'd been done wrong. But the governor left out the best example - the biggest political reportage scandal since Judy Miller first let Scooter Libby go off the record.

I refer, of course, to Inflatagate.

It began a week ago in this space, with a column on the big inflatable pumpkin and other Halloween decorations outside the governor's mansion. Clearly it was meant to destroy the Ehrlich administration if not the holiday itself.

"One of the many charms of living in historic Annapolis is the tradition of old-timers giving newcomers the heads-up about holiday decorations," the column began. "Before the moving van pulls away, many a new Annapolitan learns that at Christmas, only white lights will do."

Hmmm. Sounds like those Annapolitans are a persnickety lot when it comes to decorations, buttinskys really. So why describe that as charming?

I'm just throwing this out there, but could the column possibly have been tongue-in-cheek?

The piece goes on to describe the decorations as "a little, well, Arbutus."

What's the meaning of the word "Arbutus" here?

The governor's hometown? Yes.

A blue-collar community where inflatable holiday decorations are more common than in historic districts? Yes.

A town that's the butt of many snobby jokes because it's blue collar, has inflatable decorations and is the governor's hometown? Well, to be honest, yes.

Here's where things get really nasty. It goes on to compare the holiday display to the snowman JFK had built for little Caroline and John at the White House.

Not that Camelot bunk again! What good is it beating out KKT for the right to decorate Government House if people are going to slur you with comparisons to her Massachusetts liberal uncle?

No wonder the gov was complaining about it on talk radio. No wonder the first lady said the whole thing was "a shame more than anything" on the TV news. And no wonder 6-year-old Drew Ehrlich sent out a press release saying, "My baby brother Josh and I love our Halloween decorations."

Or were they just joshing, too?

The spirit of Halloween alive in Arbutus

Now we know the new third rail of American politics is inflatable pumpkins.

Think any old-line Annapolitans called complaining that I poked fun at their strict decorating mores? Nope.

But Arbutus had plenty to say.

"You must [have] had a miserable childhood," one reader wrote.

"One would think, considering her mugshot in the newspaper, she, of all people, would welcome any holiday that encourages the donning of masks," another wrote. "Might I suggest a giant inflatable pumpkin head?"

Then came the call from Clem Kaikis, co-owner of Paul's Restaurant, where a group called the Arbutus Roundtable gathers regularly to talk politics and grill politicians. He offered to give me a ride around Arbutus.

I braced myself for a good tongue-lashing and a string of houses with nothing but organic, free-range gourds out front. What I got instead was a warm welcome and an unabashed tour of Arbutus inflatables.

"I want to show you another Dracula," Kaikis said at one point during his 90-minute tour.

He wanted me to see it all. The inflatable pumpkin with the witch's hat on Circle Drive. The Frankenstein blow-up on Southwestern Boulevard. The witches and spider webs on Dolores Avenue, the street where Bob Ehrlich grew up and where his parents still live.

Kaikis also wanted me to see that Arbutus is a proud town with nicely kept homes and a ton of community spirit.

"This," he said, "is Halloween in a beautiful town."

Kaikis even invited me to join the Arbutus Roundtable tomorrow - Halloween. Yikes! Better wear my pumpkin head.

Sometimes, you shouldn't say anything at all

When your mother preached the merits of being on time, this is probably what she wanted you to avoid:

Del. Emmett Burns was 40 minutes late a few days ago for a hearing of the Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse in Annapolis, a reporter covering it tells me.

The Baltimore County Democrat entered in the middle of testimony by Peter Luongo, the director of the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. Luongo was talking about a recent study that found many people arrested for DWI in Maryland were not completing treatment for alcohol abuse as directed.

After sitting silently for a few minutes, Burns interrupted suddenly and sharply: "Thurgood Marshall."

Luongo stopped and gave Burns a confused, quizzical smile. He was about to proceed with his testimony when Burns, staring Luongo down, cut him off again with his preacher's baritone: "BWI Thurgood Marshall."

Burns, who sponsored the bill to rename Baltimore-Washington International Airport for the first African-American Supreme Court justice, had misheard "DWI" for "BWI" and was upbraiding Luongo for failing to use the airport's new full name.

Understandable in a sense. Though why would a committee on drug abuse be talking about the airport?

The mistake soon dawned on some in the room and they began snickering. But the bell didn't go off for Burns until after Luongo had resumed his testimony.

"Oh, sorry," he said, suddenly interrupting again. "DWI."

If Burns was chagrined, there was no sign of it. A few minutes later, as testimony continued, he had his cell phone at his ear.

Now what would Mom say about that?

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