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At Double T, Eggs and a Side of Incredulity

Waitress Candi Deskin (center) discusses the impeachment trial with patrons David Foard and Pat Bohnenberg at the Double T Diner. (Tim Sloan — The Post)

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  • By Phil McCombs
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 8, 1999; Page B1

    ROSEDALE, Md. – As dawn broke yesterday over the Double T Diner, here where the Pulaski Highway cuts east across the smoky fringe of Baltimore's vast industrial grid, you'd never have guessed anything unusual was afoot.

    A mere 40 miles away, under the pristine U.S. Capitol dome – a sleek world utterly removed from this gritty working landscape – a great drama of national life would soon commence, the impeachment trial of a president.

    Here at the Double T, you could hear the clink of a coffee cup.

    People gazed quietly into their pancakes.

    George Marmaras, one of the owners, was chatting with some guy about kitchen cabinets. One of his phrases – "beautiful stuff" – seemed to roll gently down the length of the counter along with Candi Deskin, a waitress, who was going around pouring refills.

    Over in a booth, four men in the faded blue uniforms of a pipe-cleaning outfit bantered with another waitress.

    "Wild women down there," one could be heard to say.

    "Mountain girls!" another suggested.

    The waitress erupted in laughter.

    They weren't talking about events in Washington. There is sex, it appears, even outside Washington.

    This fact – of the universality of sex, of lying about it and of all its other complicated ins and outs – made what's happening in Washington seem silly, at least to most folks in the Double T.

    These are people who have themselves lived rich and complicated lives; there has been sex involved, and though it has been messy and difficult at times the idea of impeaching someone over such matters and throwing him out of the presidency strikes most of them as strictly nuts.

    "I never heard of a man getting impeached for getting laid," is the way waitress Deskin flatly put it. "And it wasn't even that," she added emphatically, "it was just foreplay."

    "I'm 45 years in this country," said her boss Marmaras, 67, when asked about the impeachment, "I'm an American citizen and my business is a success and the stock market is going up and I say, 'No! Leave the man alone to finish the two years, to do his job!' He's doing a tremendous job. It's his business, him and his wife. They say 'lie.' Whaddaya mean, lie? I'd be doing the same thing if I was in his position."

    There's no need here in the Double T, it seems, even to mention the president's actual name – William Jefferson Clinton. They'll do that in the Senate shortly. By the way, Marmaras quickly added on a topic of infinitely more interest to him than Washington politics: "I'm opening a new diner up on Joppa Road. Would you like to see it?"

    Sure, how 'bout later?

    As the morning continues, impeachment talk along the Double T's counter begins and then grows heated among old-timers and other regulars. This is not, everyone insists, just because a reporter and a photographer happen to be present, but because there is one guy who comes here – one guy only, alone among half a dozen or so – who thinks the president should be convicted.

    They fight with him all the time about it.

    He is John Langdon, 75, a retired airplane mechanic, gray and chipper and hunkered down alone at the counter over his plate of sausage and eggs and hash browns.

    "I hope they give him 50 years," he mumbled.

    Jail time, he means. For President Clinton.

    This was in reply to comments by Fred Vogelgesang, 71, a retired industrial instrumentation man, about Republicans "having it in for the president" ever since he was first elected.

    "Hyde actually impregnated the woman, and he's going to sit in judgment!" Vogelgesang had declared, intermingling his facts (actually it was Rep. Dan Burton whose affair resulted in a child, not Henry Hyde).

    "That's what you call a damn hypocrite!" George Delano, 84, a retired engineer who claims Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a third cousin, had joined in. "I know. I've been around in my lifetime. I've seen married men, what they've done all their lives and how they've lived. It's just the natural thing."

    It was Vogelgesang and Delano against lone John Langdon, and pretty soon even the waitresses joined in against him.

    "John can't get any, he's jealous because [the president] is getting all the girls," Deskin declared. She was having fun.

    Langdon stood his ground. "He's no good, he's just out for himself," he replied, this being his view of the president. "He's nothin' but a wimp! What'd he do in the draft? He ran away! But he put me in there." He was having fun, too, but like Deskin he also clearly meant what he said.

    "This is all bull pucky!" the waitress shot back. "I'd like to see him run again, and I'd vote for him."

    "I'd vote for any damn thing but a Republican," Delano said. "I ain't never voted Republican in my life, and I never will."

    "I agree," said another waitress, Janet Filler.

    "I agree," said Deskin. "Except Liddy Dole. I met her and I'd vote for her. As for Ken Starr, he is a very vicious, deceptive, lowlife person. He has no compassion, he has no concern for Hillary and Chelsea."

    Langdon: "Oh, go back and scrub the floor, will you?"

    It got worse. Colorful, descriptive phrases flew from Deskin's lips. Coffee was spilled, a bracelet ripped from a wrist.

    No blood was shed, however.

    In all, it was a wonderful and obviously oft-repeated little drama that they presented – their own, not the president's and Monica's but the Double T special version, a play-within-the-play – and you couldn't help but wonder if there isn't some human need for political farce that may account for the president's continued high rating in the polls.

    Maybe the ghost of Aristophanes has signed on with Clinton; Sophoclean this ain't.

    On the other hand, maybe people are just fed up. Maybe they want the great national drama, or comedy, to be done. Many in the Double T felt that way yesterday.

    "I'm so tired of it, really," said a spiffy salesman of electrical equipment, the only man in the place wearing a tie. "I just want it to be over. I don't listen to it any more." He wouldn't give his name.

    Cliff Brinkley, 47, a merchant marine from Chesapeake, Va., sips his morning coffee at the Double T Diner
    Cliff Brinkley, 47, a merchant marine from Chesapeake, Va., sips his morning coffee at the diner. (Tim Sloan -- The Post)

    Cliff Brinkley, a merchant seaman rugged in his work clothes and with about four days' growth of whiskers, agreed.

    "If his wife forgives him, why can't everybody else?" Brinkley wondered. "I don't see her taking him up in front of courts and stuff. I mean, the man said he was sorry, so let it go. What he did was wrong, but it didn't interfere with his job."

    What's interesting about Brinkley is that he's a Republican who voted for Reagan – remember Newt Gingrich and his "Contract With America" made possible in substantial part by working-class white guys, guys like Brinkley, who were tired of tax-and-spend liberals? He still "doesn't like" Clinton on a personal level.

    "But he's about the best thing we have right now, so I'll go with him."

    Won't all this end up hurting the GOP? Brinkley doesn't think so.

    "It'll blow over. Even now nobody gives a damn."

    Eddie Reinhardt, 84 – with his 47-year-old wife, Dorothy – entered the Double T late in the morning. He's famous around these parts. Born and raised here. Trucked in the concrete to build the Pulaski Highway back in '37.

    "In '29 we had a 1,500-gallon still out in the woods back there," he recalled. "I'm a retired welder, I guess you'd call me. I'm 84 years old and today I'm out splitting firewood and I have to laugh, because there's kids 20 years old can't do that, but" – his transition is seamless – "get off the president's back, leave him alone, dammit!"

    There's real anger in those cold blue eyes under that thick thatch of pure white hair.

    "Get it over with! I'm sick of it!

    "Sick!

    "Sick!

    "Sick!"

    Hmmmm. Maybe it's time to take a look at that new diner George Marmaras is building – you know, the one up on Joppa Road?


    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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