This week, this tiny Finger Lakes town is giving the nation an etiquette lesson: what to do when a very important person you don't like very much decides to come for a visit. The answer: You smile, you shake hands, you are unfailingly gracious in your hospitality. Or, as 14-year-old Drew Stellmack put it, you "show some respect."
The population here--about 2,700 in the picturesque village, with 5,000 in the surrounding area--is about 3 to 1 Republican, but most folks say they're happy that Skaneateles (pronounced "Skanny AT-las") has been chosen as a vacation spot by the president.
They just wish it wasn't this president. Ronald Reagan would have been fabulous. Or George Bush. But Clinton? Well . . .
"I think people should be honored that the president is here," said Sandy Rademacher, a local businesswoman who was out in the park early this afternoon, playing fetch with her dog, Zachary. "I think people should respect the office even if they don't respect the man."
Skaneateles is a nice town, a polite town, a place where Doug Clark, owner of Doug's Fish Fry, has earned the town's wrath for announcing, publicly, that he would not serve Clinton in his establishment.
"A lot of people have stopped going there," explained young Drew, who was sitting on his bicycle just down the street from Doug's.
"A lot of my friends have told me that their parents said that, and I've heard a lot of adults say that, too. So people are standing up for the president, which is good. What [Clark] said wasn't right."
Drew moved to Skaneateles from nearby Marcellus two years ago, when he was in seventh grade. But he's already an expert at Skaneateles Nice. He's not a fan of President Clinton, who arrived here with the first family on Monday for the final five days of their summer vacation. Neither are his friends. Or most of his friends' parents. That doesn't mean, though, that he didn't line up outside the Sherwood Inn Monday night to shake the Clintons' hands as they arrived for dinner. Or that he has anything but complimentary things to say.
"I used to not like him," Drew said. "But when you meet him in person, it's like, 'Wow! It's the president! He rules our country!' So you show respect, which is what you should do."
And so, Clark's comment aside, rudeness has had to arrive from out of town. An elderly man wearing dirty jeans that were two sizes too large, yellow headphones the size of doughnuts, and a dusty baseball cap parked his Dodge Ram pickup truck with Florida plates right next to the town gazebo and left it there, complete with a huge anti-Clinton sign on the top. The sign, which prompted several tsks-tsks from passersby, read: "Skaneateles: Do You Know Where Your Daughters Are? BILL IS HERE!" One mother shepherding two girls down the street stopped with a stricken expression, first declaring, "Oh, that's so, so terrible!" then complaining that the local police "should give them a ticket!"
And they did. Because the time on the parking meter had expired. And when the truck's owner--who steadfastly refused to give his name--complained about the notice to two local police officials, they quite politely told him that there is two-hour parking here in Skaneateles, and they're quite sorry, but he must obey the law. After much grumbling, the man took his truck and pulled out of town.
That's not to say, though, that all residents of Skaneateles are anti-Clinton. Pat Snyder is proud to be a Democrat, proud to be a big Hillary Rodham Clinton fan, and she was in Johnny Angel's this afternoon eating a "Hillary Special"--a grilled bologna-and-cheese sandwich. Johnny Angyal, the proprietor, ordered 400 pounds of bologna for the occasion, and already has served up more than half that amount. He is a Republican with politics he vociferously describes as "far, far, far to the right." Nonetheless, in case presidential feet dared cross his door, he replaced the rubber mats in the entrance with two new red Oriental carpets he's so proud of that he's left the $925 price tags attached to them. (Angyal received a call warning that the first lady might show up, but she stayed out of the spotlight this afternoon.)
"Hey, everyone's welcome here!" Angyal said. "I think it's actually good for the community, and the young kids won't forget it."
Angyal's niece, 13-year-old Sarah Searing, already had her brush with presidential fame. Lucky enough to live across the street from the family of developer Thomas McDonald and wife Cathy, who are loaning their home to the Clintons, she saw the first family arrive on Monday. She got handshakes and autographs and pictures. She also watched as the Secret Service came rushing off the grounds after the first dog, Buddy, who ran onto East Lake Road, bringing traffic to a sudden halt.
"He was okay," Sarah reported, with a great sigh of relief.
For all their ambivalence about the president himself, the locals have been a star-struck group, lining the main streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of any first family member, and pleading for Clinton's attention with offers of saxophone gigs (at Morris's Grill) and special "Clinton Crunch" ice cream (at Blue Water Chill). At Valentine's Delicatessen--which sported a sign advertising "Best Pizza Outside the Beltway"--business was far brisker than usual. It's behavior far different from what the Clintons encountered in both Martha's Vineyard and the Hamptons, where celebrity-weary locals greeted their arrival with barely more than a shrug.
"They're just excited because it's a celebrity," said Pat O'Connor, Valentine's owner. "It doesn't matter whether it's Bill Clinton or Daffy Duck. And they're in the same category, really."
O'Connor is a lifelong Democrat who turned Republican three years ago, and does not feel too kindly toward Clinton. But as soon as "Daffy Duck" came out of his mouth, he flushed a bit in embarrassment, and worried out loud whether it was the wrong thing to say. All last week, he practiced what he was going to say if a reporter ever asked him how he felt about serving the Clintons. He wanted to be sure he got it exactly right. He wanted to be sure he managed to sound Skaneateles Nice.
"My attitude is that everyone's welcome here--first family, last family and everyone in between," O'Connor said with a flourish. "That's good, isn't it?"
CAPTION: Restaurateur John Angyal, who ordered 400 pounds of bologna for the Clintons' visit, with niece Sarah Searing.