Annie and Margaret are grappling with an obsession, and its name is Clint Eastwood. It will take more than an autograph, but not much, to tame it. Therapy isn't an option.
Annie, the more daring of the two, places her impenetrable resolve in the middle of a 100-strong throng near the stage at the National Arboretum, standing in self-manufactured puddles of sweat. She is ready to pounce the moment flint-eyed Clint is freed from the constraints of ceremony, this one honoring finalists in the Interior Department's "Take Pride in America" campaign. Autograph book in one hand, courage in the other, she's ready, an Eastwoodophile with a mission: Grab a sliver of his glitter and hold it tight forever.
That she does. As Eastwood completes his obligation, shaking hands with finalists and looking every bit a representative of the nation's forests -- tall, true, rugged, tan -- Annie goes to work. She rushes to the stage, compressing two tiny Boy Scouts in her way, and grabs Eastwood by the shoulder. His attention gathered, she spins him toward Margaret, poised below the proscenium. "Smile, honey!" she coos in his ear. Eastwood does, Margaret snaps, and Annie is promptly told by a security guard to remove her presence and attitude from the stage, thank you very much. Pride damaged, but mission completed.
Annie and Margaret (no last names, please) and many,many like them were among 1,000 jammed into the billowing white tent on the grounds of the arboretum to honor the finalists of the first "Take Pride in America" campaign, launched by President Reagan in his 1986 State of the Union message, when he called upon all citizens to "take pride in their outstanding public lands and historic sites." According to the Interior Department, 127 finalists from 39 states and 106 communities were selected for outstanding -- largely volunteer -- efforts to maintain or improve natural resources.
The rewards lavished on the finalists by the Interior Department were not financial or material, though most went home with "Take Pride" lapel pins. The governmental pat on the back for a job well done was largely verbal, expressed in grand speeches by Interior Secretary Donald Hodel and Vice President George Bush, who appeared with his wife Barbara, spoke of family vacations and purple mountains' majesty, then quickly departed in a puff of humidity.
Though Bush and Eastwood and actor Lou Gossett attracted attention (the latter two are linked by a series of gruff public service announcements espousing the importance of keeping wild areas clean), they were almost overshadowed by the heat -- intense, unrelenting, hostile.
"It's hotter than a big dog in here," said Susan Carter, here from Oklahoma to pick up her finalist's recognition. "I thought we'd come here to cool off, but that's not going to happen. Excuse me."
She walked up a set of stairs to the stage, posed with Eastwood, then returned to her thoughts.
"You know," she said, looking around the tent while one of 18 large electric fans teased her hair, "you have to do something catchy like this -- with a song and celebrities and everything -- to get people to pay attention. That's what it takes anymore."
In front of the stage, actress Sondra Locke, friend of Eastwood, seemed more concerned with the heat than the message.
"I don't believe this," she said, sweltering in a cre`me business suit. "When they said it would be hot, I didn't understand it would be this hot."
Even stoic Eastwood was at the boiling point. "It is hot, isn't it?" he said, one of the few comments he uttered all morning.
As the ceremony progressed, heads in the gathering began to nod. Eyelids grew heavy. Steam rose from Gossett's shirt. But Maxine Hullah was having the time of her life.
"You're damn right," she said, taking picture after picture of the pomp and circumstance while announcing that she was from Franklin Grove ("10 miles from Reagan's home") in Illinois ("Reagan's state"). "This is the thrill of a lifetime."
Hullah and her husband were to meet with the president in the White House Rose Garden, where he would further honor those involved in "Pride in America." There, she said, she would have a surprise for him.
"I have a picture of Reagan taken in 1941 at a party to honor Louella Parsons," she said, absolutely glowing. "I'm going to see if he will autograph it." She paused. "I think he will."
Later, at the ceremony in the Rose Garden, where Reagan, Eastwood and Gossett honored the 38 "Pride" winners, patriotism and love of the land ran wild.
"Today we are honoring praiseworthy people who are giving God a hand," Reagan said, and spoke of the importance of keeping parks and wildlife preserves free from litter. Vandals who break laws regarding preservation, he said, should know that they must "clean up their act or get out of town." With that remark, the crowd broke its reverential silence by cheering boisterously.
So upbeat was the mood that Reagan refused to answer questions afterward on the Persian Gulf and Mikhail Gorbachev. "Not today," he said. "You may have questions, but I don't have any answers."
After the crowd had thinned, Hullah and her photograph were nowhere to be found. Neither were Annie and Margaret.
Eastwood, quiet and sequoialike, seemed relieved.