Is victory really — as the movie “Apocalypse Now” told us — the “smell of napalm in the morning”?

No. Sometimes it’s just the smell of printers’ ink as you hold this paper to your nose and inhale the smell of the free press.

Just like the aroma of rain hitting the sidewalk on a hot summer’s afternoon, the fragrance of political victory is overwhelming and evocative, especially when it falls on your sidewalk.

It started when I was a child, and my brothers jumped up from the floor around the big Zenith radio when news of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1936 victory broke through. One brother grabbed me, and they tossed me back and forth like a baseball.

Then “Happy Days Are Here Again” flowed out of the radio, and the smell of bacon in the kitchen filled the air. It was the smell of victory. You don’t forget that smell.

There was a very scary stunner in 1948, when we thought we had Dewey in the White House.

God intervened and elected Truman, but somehow I felt no excitement about that day. In fact, politics played no role in my formative years until Nov. 8, 1960, when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president. Bam!

I was in New York in those years, trying to break into the theater world. The Kennedys and the crowd around them, including Marilyn Monroe, inhabited a sparkling glass ball filled with beautiful people somewhere in another part of the universe.

At the time I had a small part in an off-Broadway hit, completely detached from politics, and was hopelessly in love with an amber-haired girl from a Republican family in Maine, who only recently had been president of the Young Republican Club at Trinity College in Washington. Say what? Love is blind? You bet, buddy.

The night of that great victory, I got off early from my job at the Waldorf Astoria and She, from her job at NBC.

I waited for her in the bar at the Gotham Hotel. It was a madhouse. People were buying drinks for strangers.

She walked in with red nose and cheeks and snow in her hair. She floated in a cloud of Chanel and declared her switch to the Democratic Party. I was in love. She could have joined the Communist Party, and I would have helped her carry the banner.

These were for me the aromas of victory 1960. You don’t forget stuff like that.

And then darkness fell, and there was Jack and Medgar and Martin and then Bobby at the Ambassador in 1968. I was there. Let’s not talk about it.

Jimmy Carter came and went without raising my heartbeat and interest.

Willam Jefferson Clinton’s victory with saxophones and balloons was multi-colored, electric and fun. Then that Monica Lewinsky circus blended with the noise and acid bile of the Republican minority.

The party seemed over. The candles flickered. The bright colors faded and everything turned gray. Maybe, I thought, I was just getting old.

Then one magical day the gray light pulled back. Barack Obama walked out of the soiled fog, and the world found its pulse.

We all remember that night when American tourists and French citizens got together on the Esplanade du Trocadéro. The Eiffel Tower went red, white and blue with a kiss for Barack. French and European citizens came together with Americans when they released a red, white, and blue barrage of balloons in support of his election.

We remember that moment when the network cameras swept the crowd in Chicago, and Barack and Michelle floated on stage like a stained-glass Robin and Marian entering Sherwood Forest. Cameras caught thousands of upturned faces of color crying and cheering, and there was Jesse Jackson with tears flowing down his cheeks. Tears have supernatural power. Tears have weight. Tears can change the world. Believe me.

Now, in all corners of the Democratic Party, tears have dried up. Happy days are here again. Yes, the skies above are clear again. And what about that part of the song that says, “Howdy, gay times?” Imagine. Lyricist Jack Yellen wrote that in 1929.

But take caution. The music can go to dark organ tones very fast.

For now, let’s keep our eyes on the clear skies above us.

Forty pairs of black Oxfords and high heels are joyfully tapping down the halls of the House, and the winds of time are full of the smell of newly mowed grass, Chanel and gin.

And here in Maine, skies couldn’t be clearer. That miasma of dissent and bitterness has lifted, and Mainers have made history by seating the impressive Janet Mills, the first woman to become governor in our 198-year history. Say that to yourself: one hundred ninety-eight years. A woman. Say it again.

Gov. Mills is strewing new names and ideas like flower petals at a wedding. Am I excited again? You bet, buddy. I’ve lived through the good times and the bad, and I’m staying for the curtain call.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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