The veteran political observers at the House of Dominoes were trying to decide over the weekend who they were going to vote for in the New Hampshire presidential primary.
They were about evenly divided between Kerry, the cadaverous war hero, and Clark, the NATO general, with one each for Dean, whom they were calling Ol' Yeller, and Lieberman, referred to in these insensitive confines, not at all pejoratively as far as I could tell, as Joe the Jew.
Edwards, Kucinich, Gephardt and Sharpton had no advocates present. There was concurrence that Sharpton had been a pretty good Saturday Night Live host but that as presidential timber he came up somewhere between willow and mesquite. I thought it interesting that Edwards, the only Southerner of the bunch that you can tell just by hearing him talk, had scared up not a bit of support here in reddest Necktown. Too much of the look of a whippersnapper would be my guess.
Anyway, I had to be the bearer of the bad news. Arkansas voters, no matter how wise or well-informed, aren't invited to cast ballots in New Hampshire's primary.
"How come?" Tool-and-Die T. demanded to know. "I fought and died overseas for our right to vote whenever and wherever there's an election that needs us. I don't appreciate them taking that right away any more than I appreciated them taking my guns."
"Who took your guns, Tool?" I said. "Or are you just quoting that NRA bulletin again?"
"Broke in and took all 38 of 'em," he said. "Deputy said if they crack the case I might get one or two of 'em back but don't hold my breath. Bunch of them old layabout hoodlum boys."
"You had 38 guns?"
"Counting the machine gun, yeah."
"One time he had a tank," Trapper D., Joe the Jew's solitary supporter in this gathering, said.
"Tank was my brother's," Tool said. "He just stored it in my shed out there when he got tired of hot-rodding it around. I never knew what come of it. Shed caught afire one night and next morning not a trace of the tank in the ashes. No telling how long it'd been gone."
How could thieves sneak in and steal a tank without somebody seeing or hearing something? I wondered.
"Beats me," Tool said. "But I didn't hear a thing. Wife said she didn't, either. They must've come when we was at church. Then the years passed and we never noticed till it come up missing in that fire."
"And your brother never came to check on it in all that time?"
"No, no, he never got out of the house much after the car fell on him that time when the jack slipped, and the rattlesnake bit him all up and down his leg while he was pinned under the car there. That preyed on his mind. He'd just sit in his chair all day, thinking. He'd get these pained expressions. Wouldn't even turn on the light."
"Didn't you say that was a German tank?" Trapper D. said. "One of them Panzers."
"He told me it was Russian," Tool-and-Die said. "I don't know how he come by it. He just showed up in it one day. Didn't have any ammo for the gun so you couldn't hunt deer with it or anything like that. We never found much of a use for it, to tell you the truth."
"They caught you with a Russian tank in your shed this day and time, they'd call you a terrorist and have you chained up eating dog food in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," Trapper said, and Tool said, "I've et worse."
I told Tool that I was sorry about his guns and the tank and his brother's bad luck and that the New Hampshire people probably would be too but they still wouldn't let him vote in their primary.
"The bastards," he said. "If the shoe was on the other foot, I'd tell them to come on down and vote all they wanted to in our'n."
" Yeah, well, the Granite State populi aren't moved to an excess of hospitality," I allowed.
The domino players wanted to go ahead with what they called their plebiscite, and I agreed to e-mail the results up to the authorities in Manchester and let them decide whether to add those Arkansas votes to their totals. There were only 11 of them, not enough to affect the outcome, and none of the 11 really cared if their votes were counted or not. The point of the exercise was the voting, not the counting, and, having voted, they were satisfied that they had held up their end of the democratic bargain that Tool had fought and died for "over there."
Before I left I huddled briefly with Trap for some etiquette counseling concerning the use of certain ethnic designations such as Joe the Jew in one's political discourse. He said he meant no disrespect and I said I knew he didn't, but still …
"I don't think you'd be saying 'George the Baptist,' referring to the president."
"Yeah, I would," he said. "George the Baptist and his daddy, George the Episcopalian. Before that, Reagan the Campbellite. Campbellites aren't pushy, they're live-and-let-live, and you have to like that. And before Reagan, let's see, Ford the … what?"
"Fairlane," one of the other domino players contributed.
I mentioned Kennedy the Catholic, and Trap said, "You can tell a lot about a man by his persuasion, and sometimes you can tell something about the persuasion by the man. Them Quakers probably won't ever get over Tricky Dick. He did worse by them than oats."
I still had qualms about Joe the Jew but you can't tell these guys anything.