Bernie Sanders had them lined up down the block last Sunday, waiting to get into The Colonial Theatre, even though it was a dreary, slushy cold day in Keene.
He gave a rousing speech, I’m told, as I wasn’t there myself. But my good friend Allen Mendelson, a dead ringer for Bernie, strode down the aisle and the audience thought it was the man himself, breaking out in applause and whistling. I have a Facebook video to prove it. Mendelson mugged for the crowd, playing it to the hilt.
He was only the warmup act. Only in Keene does really funny stuff like that happen. God bless us.
Then the real Bernie appeared.
Bernie said a lot of stuff that was provocative, throwing red meat to a crowd made up mostly, I presume, of Democrats, with a heavy flavoring of what I’d call the far left. You got to give the man this: He swings for the fences. It was an hourlong stemwinder, as I read in The Sentinel’s account.
Strangely, the only national coverage of Bernie that I could find from Sunday emanated not from Keene, but from his appearance in Concord that same day. I guess the telegraph line was down somewhere on Temple Mountain, so news of his words here, even the fact that he was even here at all, went unrecorded nationally.
If a tree falls in Keene, does it still make a noise? To amend the phrasing of the old slogan for Las Vegas, what happens in Keene stays in Keene ... because nobody even cares enough to drive over the mountain and find out what’s occurring in what one friend of mind always calls “Banjo Country.”
Bernie speaking here and no word on the national news that it even happened somehow, in a very crazy way, reminded me of a scene from “Blazing Saddles,” in which there’s a noisy political rally in the town of Rock Ridge, a godforsaken little place in the wild west frontier.
A character by the name of Gabby Johnson, in scruffy beard, wild white hair and crooked, dirty cowboy hat gets up and says this:
“I wash born here, an I wash raished here, and dad gum it, I am gonna die here, an no sidewindin’, bushwackin’, hornswagglin’ cracker croaker is going rouin me bishen cutten.”
Everybody in the audience stands up, claps and screams. Then the rally’s leader calms them all down and says this:
“Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all in debt to Gabby Johnson for stating what needed to be said. I am particularly glad that these lovely children are here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed the courage little seen in this day and age.”
Now, I’m not making any editorial comment on what Bernie looked like or said to the Rock Ridge — I mean Keene — assemblage. I might even vote for him in the primary because he looks so much like my friend Allen. After all, I am a registered Democrat, which my friends find surprising.
My point is, can’t Keene draw a little more attention to itself? Can’t it edge away from being known as Banjo Country?
We’re 11 months away from the New Hampshire primary election, two months more than it takes to birth a baby, and already a half-dozen or more wannabe Democratic Party candidates have shown up here. It’s very likely that upward of 25 contenders will be competing for the Democratic nomination.
And all of them have to come to Keene multiple times. You know why? Because Cheshire County is the most liberal part of the state, perhaps matched only by the zip codes at the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College. But we’re the biggest enclave of liberals, bar none.
That means that in order to capture the Democratic primary win, the winner must — must — dominate in Cheshire County and the Monadnock Region. Their campaign managers know this, that if they don’t get us, they don’t carry the state.
So, if you figure 20 contenders each make up to six visits to the county, that’s a lot of campaign stops. Just about every diner, meeting hall, coffee shop, service club, grocery store, bank and dry cleaners here will have candidates showing up to press the flesh, wearing authentic, yet rented, flannel shirts and hats.
Now, that’s a lot of chances to garner some national publicity about our little idiosyncratic backwater of the state, if only we can metaphorically repair that old telegraph line over Temple Mountain.
I’m urging the poohbahs of the county Democratic Party to work with every one of these candidates’ campaign managers to have their candidate appear with a sign behind them that says “Cheshire County Welcomes Industry.” Okay, maybe to assuage their constituency it can read “Cheshire County Welcomes Green Industry.” Hey, even socialists need jobs.
It’s an economic development campaign on the cheap. Got to be better than the one we have.
This is a fact — up until our primary date — few other counties in the United States will have as many national politicians descending on them multiple times than Cheshire County.
Now, that’s the kind of frontier gibberish that might make sense.