There she was at the door. There she was, the one some said was the cause of it all. The one who dug in at the mansion, the one who demanded money that wasn't there and the bonds and the annual Buick. And, of course, there was the diamond bracelet.
She said, "come in," and she served coffee and she showed me through the place and she looked, I have to tell you, like a million bucks. Her name is Barbara Mandel and she is more than just alive and well in Baltimore. She is having a hell of a time.
This is what she says and this is what you'll have to believe. She was standing at the door in white pants and a blue-and-white striped blouse and it was apparent right off that she had lost weight - 17 pounds, she said. Her face is trim and her hair is shorter.
There is a picture of her in her study in which she is wearing her hair the same way and it is an old picture, one of those old pastel color shots, and it was taken when she was in high school. The dress is heavy and checkered and the coloring makes her cheeks seem too red, but the face is sweet and she looks more like that picture today than she ever has.
"So before you, you see an exciting woman who was playing tennis and golf and dating and having a very good time," she said. "It that all right?"
Downtown the jury was still out. Later in the day, Dale Hess, one of the defendants would be pacing back and forth in the lounge area of the court house, saying he was confident, not nervous, but pacing nonetheless. The lawyers were waiting, some of them making their vacation plans saying that things did not look good for their clients. In the evening, Marvin Mandel answered the phone in some secret room at the Hilton Hotel and said in a weak, nice voice, that he was feeling terrific and very confident and was all right, thank you.
So the world is full of people telling you things that you think are not true. And now Barbara Mandel was saying that she was a new woman - that she has no hate in her heart and she does not pine for Marvin Mandel and that issue was broken once, she has picked up the pieces herself and put them together in a new way that works better than it ever did before.
You might think for a second that this is not the case, but I think it is. What she wants to do some day, she says, is teach a course of divorced women. Call it something like "Survival Too."
"I would teach them to live again," she said. "There are many things that women don't understand. Finance. Money. How to diversify their assets. I went down to the whatchamacallits the other day. The stock market. The broker. I didn't understand all of it, but I know how to read the stock tables in the papers. I mean not that it matters. I have some blue chips, that's all."
There were rules to this chat. She would not talk of Jeanne Dorsey Mandel, the governor's wife, and she would not talk about the trial except to reaffirm her faith in her husband's innocence. She would not, of course, speak ill of him. She preferred instead to talk about herself. What she said is that she took 32 years of marriage, labeled it as something called "yesterday" and decided to concentrate on "today".
"I enjoyed being Mrs. Marvin Mandel," she said. "It didn't matter to me that he was the speaker or the governor. I enjoyed being Mrs. Marvin Mandel. I didn't mind giving up the title of First Lady. That didn't bother me. It was giving up the title of Mrs. Marvin Mandel. That was all I was. I was a wife, a mother, I am of that generation.
What do you do after 32 years of marriage? That's all you have - 32 years of Marriage. You know what you do. You make a new life for yourself. You sit down and do a lot of thinking. And then you realize one very important thing. That you are a person. That you could live in this life without being married and be very happy.
We were sitting on the couch and drinking coffee and I asked her how it felt to be portrayed as the shrew - the one who held per breath like a kid and threatened to yell to the press and who, in short, hired herself a lawyer to say to her husband, "Stick 'em up." The head shakes no. The face says it hurts to be viewed that way, but the head shakes no. "Ridiculous," she says. "I feel that when we had the agreement . . . he was able to afford what he offered me."
She talked as she had in the past about how she was Mandel's partner - how his political career was both his and hers. Later she would be able to stand out in the street in front of a restaurant where we had lunch and she could point to the block where one congressional district ended and another began.
So now she goes to Florida in the winter and she plays golf and tennis and she may or may not seek a career in television. She talks about doing something maybe in politics or maybe in public relations or maybe that course she was talking about for divorced women. For the moment, though, she would frankly prefer to play. It has taken her this long just to relax.
We go down to the Pimlico Hotel Restaurant which is a neighborhood place and there the people nod to her and she is shown right away to a table. The ladies there, the ones with hair that looks like silver fox and heavy rings on their fingers, stop their talking when she comes in and they smile if they know her or simply stare if they don't. She is a celebrity.
So we sit at the back table and she tells how she regrets nothing. Life has been fun. Life has been interesting. She has been to the White House and she has campaigned with Hubert Humphrey. And these, these were blessings. She talked on and it is clear that she misses the old political life, but it is just as clear that she has this mind-set, this way of looking at the past that is hard to put your finger on.
So you leave after a while and you drive back to the apartment house with the doormen and the answering service and let her out and you head downtown to the courthouse and the trial and the little world of newsmen and lawyers and the friends who are waiting for the outcome of the trial.
And on the way down you have to pass all these synogogues - lots of them. This is the old Jewish area of Baltimore. This is where Marvin Mandel and Barbara Mandel were raised, grew up and lived. And you think about that and how some people say that Marvin Mandel has gone "uptown," forgot who he is and where he came from and maybe there is something to that. I don't know.
But I thought also about what the orthodox do when someone dies or leaves the faith. They sit on hard barrels and they cover the mirrors.
So on this day when everyone was waiting for the jury and the verdict. Barbara Mandel was doing what she wanted to do. She might have played golf or she might have played tennis or she might have done something else. "It's not that she's not interested in the trial. She is.
It's just that she's already covered the mirrors.