Junior Minnick, who established his leadership credentials here one night last spring by threatening to rearrange the face of Luiz Simmons, an uppity freshman legislator, was back at the scene of puissant glory, his feet firmly planted on the oozy floor of Fran O'Brien's as, behind him, paunchy figures bobbed and weaved to the midnight beat of "Macho Man."
The joint on Main Street was littered with assorted characters in Junior's tribe on this typical Monday night of The Session. At a stool by the front window, his gaze fixed determinedly on a two-foot potted plant out on the sidewalk -- the same plant he would attempt to climb 10 minutes late -- sat the inimitable Francis White, an engineer whose most notable design involved moving into a new district to get elected.
Out on the dance floor, up-and-coming insurance lobbyist Jay Schwartz was getting down as they say, boogeying his way around a collection of pols, among them Casper (The Rug) Taylor, he being the honorable vice chairman of a House committee before which Schwartz regularly appears and, as it goes, his Annapolis roomie in years past.
At a table not far from where Junior situated his fireplug frame, Steve Silveman, the wire-rimmed whiz kid who serves as subaltern and gumshoe fact-finder to the irrepressibly earnest Simmons, was sprewing forth reports of intrigue in his peculiar rataplan style, oblivious of Minnecks's shadow and the whirligigs all about him.
What a potent mixture of smoke, liquor, music, romance, lightheadedness and mindless chatter engulfs Franny's on a Monday night when the general assemblers of "Murlin" come to town. It is common for human beings to party and get drunk at the end of a work week. The lawmakers in Annapolis do it the other way around.
By tradition, they trundle up to the marbled State House every Monday night from January to April, take the roll, introduce a few bills, mingle in the hallways with the everpresent posse of dead-serious citizens wearing "Pro-Choice" and "Pro-Life" buttons, and the slip out the side door and down the red-cobbled path to their unofficial hangout.
This is not to say that all 188 delegates and senators are closet hedonists. Scores of righteous legislators have never stepped past the doorman at Franny's. There is, for instance, Idamae Garrott, the white-haired good-government patriot of Wheaton whose lonely visage can be seen moving slowly but surely from her House office late at night, loaded down with paperwork.
And there are some old-timers, mostly from Baltimore and western Maryland, who have better things to do on a Monday night than fight for air at Franny's. They can be found situated comfortably around a mahogany table near the lobby of the Annapolis Hilton, smoking stogies and offering an inexhaustible supply of knowing smiles.
Joe (The Senator) Bonvegna, he of the delightfully innocent moonface mug, is the unchallenged master of the knowing smile. As such, he hold down a position of respect at the Hilton roundtable, which is to say that when The Senator finally maneuvers his dancing-bear body out of the brown leather chair it seems as though the father is retiring for bed.
There is no such line of authority over at Fran O'Brien's. There, politicians, lackeys, lobbyists, secretaries, groupies -- even governors -- are equals. When Gov. Harry Hughes, whose favorite color is, fittingly, gray, makes an appearance at Franny's, he becomes lost in the crowd, usually surrounded by no more than two or three weary souls who have given up their pursuit of . . . other things.
In a peculiar way, for all the noise and laughter, the common demoninator at Franny's is guilt. It permeates the place, hanging as heavily as the smoke from the low ceiling. There is the ambition-ladled guilt of a veteran legislator who tries to convince himself that he is too smart to be in the same old office in the same old Annapolis but now is starting to realize that maybe he is nothing but a minor-leaguer. And the sold-out guilt of a woman delegate who began her career as a reformer but now wears fur coats and toadies to the line of the lobbyists. And the old-fashioned guilt-guilt of an adult away from home and tempted to stray.
"Most of us are Catholics, you know," said one delegate, assuming that those seven words explained it all.
Of course, there are other ways for politicians to express the Annapolis angst, Samuel (Sudden Sam) Bogley, the state's esteemed lieutenant governor, being proof of that. While his compatriots waded waist-deep in the boozy bar life below, Sudden Sam sat in his second-floor State House office, brooding.
"I never know what's going on up here," said the man Harry Hughes chose as his partner out of last-minute desperation two years ago."I never know unless I accidentially stumble into a meeting where they're making a policy decision and I overhear something."
It has been said of Sudden Sam that he is so gentle he would pick dead cats off the road. But Sam Bogley is not Catholic. His wife and children are, and he wants to be, but he doesn't think he is worthy. Such is life in a place where they prepare for a week of work by dancing to "Macho Man" on Monday midnights.