She has beer in her fridge and a statuette of Moe from "The Three Stooges" on top of her TV, and she thinks the people who parrot "just say no" are just plain wrong.
Can this be one of the founders of Mothers Against Drunk Driving? A great reserve of righteousness drove this grass-roots group, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary today, to phenomenal success. Almost single-handedly, MADD's legions have made sobriety not only fashionable but politically correct, flinging their tales of personal tragedy before cringing judges and legislatures.
But when Cindi Lamb Manns told her particular tale yesterday she sounded like neither the Church Lady nor Carry Nation.
"I was pissed!" she said, launching into the oft-told tale of her 1979 head-on collision with a drunk driver, which severely injured her and caused her infant daughter Laura, who eventually died, to be paralyzed.
"I asked myself, 'How could it happen?' My face is half ripped off, my daughter can't move or touch or feel, my husband divorces me," she said, smoking, her husky voice galloping along through the litany of cosmic insults.
"The guy who did it, six weeks afterwards, he's arrested in a bar, he has no license, no insurance, it was not his car. He was on probation at the time for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon. I said, 'This is crazy.' "
Lamb Manns clearly has that mad streak that inspired the name of the group, but it's tempered with a blue-collar brand of common sense and wisecracks. The 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny riverfront formstone house not far from the steel plants and industry of east Baltimore and is no longer associated with MADD, seems a bit weary of the perpetual gravity of the group and the way it has spawned such zealotry.
"People would call me up at 3 o'clock in the morning and say, 'Oh my little girl was hit ... ' and they wanted me to come in on a white horse and save everything," she said. "I couldn't take it anymore.
"It's very therapeutic for people, if you can channel that anger into something constructive, that's great," she said, trailing off. "I don't know, I haven't been with them for seven or eight years."
She also felt at odds with the increasing censoriousness of the group, the feeling on the part of some members that consumption of any alcohol is inherently wrong. She volunteered, in fact, to be photographed yesterday underneath an ornamental bottle of Kahlua liqueur hanging on a wall in her house. She offered, only half jokingly, to get a beer bottle for a prop.
"On Phil Donahue, I said, 'I drink beer,' and people went, 'Oh my God, I can't believe it,' I got a lot of flak for that," she said. "The thing I have always stressed in all this is moderation. I'm not my brother's keeper... . You can't just say 'just say no' and expect people to change. You've got to be realistic, there will always be bars and beer."
Still, Lamb Manns is proud of her work with MADD, a classic kitchen-table grass-roots group that now boasts 2.8 million members and 400 chapters worldwide. The group claims responsibility for lowering drunk driving deaths by 20 percent since 1980, saving an estimated 39,000 lives. The group is launching a campaign today to have drunk driving deaths reduced by another 20 percent by the year 2000.
"I look at you or my other daughter or my son or somebody who's the biggest jerk in the world and think, maybe you're one of the 39,000," said Lamb Manns, who is coming down to the Capitol steps today to participate in the ceremonies.
It was, perhaps, this down-to-earth humor that gave Lamb Manns the credibility she needed to make MADD a success, the strength to care for her paralyzed daughter for six years and the desire, ultimately, to distance herself from the group.
"I'm not a serious person," she said, several times, volunteering the information that, a perpetual ham as a child, she was crowned Miss Chautauqua County Princess at the age of 8. She is serious and proud, however, when she describes the parents who raised her in Jamestown, N.Y.
"My father does the best tile work of anybody around" and "My mother is the greatest person in the world and my best friend," she said, showing off the family pictures in the living room of her Edgemere house, which faces onto the Back River.
She and her first husband, Laura's father, divorced shortly after the accident. A son, Allan, lives with him. Her stepdaughter, 13-year-old Jennifer, lives with her and her second husband, Raymond, who has a transmission repair business in Baltimore.
It was her first husband's job that brought her to a small town near Frederick, Lamb Manns said. She was on her way to the grocery store in Frederick the morning the accident occurred. She sustained 16 broken bones and her daughter's neck was smashed against the dashboard of the family truck when she was thrown out of her car seat.
She is at a loss to explain exactly why she was so unwilling to let the tragedy go, why she launched into the phone calls, letter writing and press conferences.
"Maybe it's because I'm a New Yorker," she said. "Here in these Southern states, there's a good old boy attitude that 'If you want to drink your beer in your car you got a right to do it.' It's a 'Dukes of Hazzard' kind of thing."
Lamb Manns got together with Candy Lightner, a California woman whose daughter was killed by a repeat offender in 1980, and founded the group.
"Candy did the administration and a lot of the organizing and I did the public speaking," she said. A friend of Lightner's came up with the name that infuriates some male members -- MADD.
"The acronym just fit -- her friend said, 'You are always saying "Oh, I'm so mad," ' " Lamb Manns recalled. "I know there are fathers and sons mad about drunk driving, that's always been a problem."
Not only fathers and brothers but also reporters and politicians were crucial in the early success of the group, she said. Reps. Michael D. Barnes and Robert T. Matsui and Sen. Claiborne Pell took up MADD's call for legislation to stiffen penalties for drunk driving and raise the drinking age.
And, of course, the group had Lamb Manns's paralyzed daughter to bring with them to hearings.
"Laura Lamb was a visual like this country has never seen before," Lamb Manns said. "You can take all the pictures you want of gravestones, but here was this living child who was funny and smart and could do terrific Richard Nixon imitations."
But after about three years with the group, Lamb Manns said, she began to weary of it, in part because she needed to make money. She took a job as an advertising account executive with a Baltimore radio station. She also began acting at dinner theaters and doing television commercials.
Laura's condition was growing worse as well -- she had nerve damage, her epileptic seizures worsened, she had to be put on a respirator and she had a tracheotomy. Lamb Manns remembered trying to help her daughter and herself through those final days.
"I was suctioning her every 20 minutes, you had to drain this stuff out and you had to examine it and the tears were streaming down her face and I just sang a little song to her about "sucking up the boogers, boogers boogers," she said, laughing. "You've got all this death and destruction around you and you need some relief."
She learned that her daughter's condition had taken a final turn for the worse during the intermission of a comedy she was performing in, titled "Exit Who?" Lamb Manns finished the performance and raced to the hospital.
"That's when I knew I was an actress," she said. Lamb Manns's daughter died soon afterward.
Today, she spends her days studying at Towson State University to be a health sciences teacher and her evenings acting. (She is currently appearing in a dinner theater production of "Nunsense" in Baltimore.)
Acting seems a part of her persona. When the name "Stella" came up in conversation (Dolly Parton's sister Stella is singing a song for MADD at today's ceremonies) Lamb Manns couldn't resist doing a Marlon Brando imitation from "On the Waterfront." She has a framed, formal portrait of Lucille Ball on her wall. In fact, Lamb Manns seems a bit like the Lucy character Ball created. Her tousled blonde hair and wide eyes soften her brassy humor.
Sometimes she is confident about the good that MADD has done.
"When we first started, we thought, 'Oh, all we'll have to do is get the laws changed and that'll be it.' Then we thought, 'The judges, all we have to do is convince the judges and that's what we need.' Finally, we realized you have to really change attitudes."
Has that happened?
"Every place I go people are more conscious of drinking, what can happen. I see it in bartenders, there's so much more of it," she said.
At other times, she is a bit doubtful. Even the numbers, the 39,000 lives saved, doesn't quite console her.
"I realize and feel proud when I hear that, but it's difficult, it's, I don't know, it's still just numbers."
In the end, it all comes back to Laura. At the end of a day of speeches, interviews, morning talk shows, speaking cheerfully about what she wrought from her daughter's death, Lamb Manns predicted, "I'll go home and cry."