Election Junkies Hit Rock-Bottom


Gail Boone's televisions have not been off since the presidential primaries.

And for the past 36 days, she says, she has barely left her San Diego home, except for dawn runs to the grocery store and occasional forays to a takeout taco stand.

Her hair is a mess, says the 69-year-old George W. Bush supporter, and she has gained 20 pounds since election night because of her jittery eating habits.

The retired homemaker hasn't done a thing about Christmas, although she has moved her ironing board into the living room in front of the television. And recently, she painted all the living room walls so she could feel like she was accomplishing something while she spent her life in front of the tube.

When she woke up Thursday morning to the reality that the presidential election was finally set in stone, she felt lost.

"This morning at 9, I thought, 'Jeez, my life is over," said Boone, whose previous television obsessions have included the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the impeachment of President Clinton. "I am so addicted to this. What am I going to do?"

With Al Gore's concession Wednesday night, the sizable portion of the electorate consumed by the nonstop five-week drama is now able to rise from couches, turn off their televisions, shed their Walkmen, log off the Internet, clear away mountains of yellowing newspapers, and finally walk outside to breathe fresh air.

For many, the constant clatter of hanging chads, long eyelashes, stop-and-start recounts and butterfly ballots has functioned like a drug, transforming their lives like a dangerous addiction.

Now they are unplugging themselves--cold turkey and without medical supervision or, at least as yet, support groups--and heading into withdrawal.

In a typical withdrawal pattern from drugs, symptoms are variable and may include anxiety, nervousness, irritability, sweating, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing. The pattern also includes an intense desire for more doses of the drug.

In the case of Indecision 2000, cable-TV addicts are hoping that coming down from the political high will give them a break from the nervousness, irritability and anxiety they have felt since the TV networks gave Florida to Gore, then to Bush, then to no one.

"I'm weaning myself," said Ashley Mooser, 37, a business consultant for the BBC who works from home in San Francisco. "I had CNN on all the time, and it got to the point where I had seen things 14 times and I still couldn't bear to turn it off."

Mooser found herself delaying dinners with friends to snag news analyses, and when she went to try on a wedding dress last week, a friend on a cell phone just outside the curtain transmitted minute-by-minute news.

Perhaps the ultimate, though, was when she quoted a James Baker speech verbatim to her fiance over the phone. "You have to stop," she says he told her.

For some, the end has not been a blessing but a curse.

Sunny Tiedemann of Bartlesville, Okla., says she has barely ventured out of the house since election night. She has learned to use her computer and television simultaneously and has begun her Christmas shopping on the Internet.

"I haven't done the baking or the decorating," said the 65-year-old fiction writer.

A self-described "chronic learner," she has taught herself the ins and outs of the various court opinions, and mastered obscure legal jargon. "The more complicated it got, the move involved I got," she said.

Reached Thursday morning, Tiedemann was still online, on a U.S. Supreme Court Web site. "I miss it, I really do," she said. "I'm going to check with the University of Oklahoma and see if they have a correspondence course on constitutional law. I wish someone in the administration would call me up and give me a job."

At Sunset Hall in Los Angeles, a retirement home for left-leaning political activists, CNN has been turned on around-the-clock since election day. On Wednesday night, they moved dinner up to 5:30 p.m. so they could see Gore speak at 6 p.m. Over wine and cheese in their tiny library--where a small statue of Lenin presides--83-year-old Flo Kushner simply refused to believe the election drama would end once and for all within the hour.

"I don't think the president is going to be elected this year," she said stubbornly. "They keep finding things to keep going."

But fellow resident Irja Lloyd, 81, said now that she can stop watching television, she can hit the streets instead. "I'm going to go out and protest," she said. "I'm going to go get people to register to vote. And I'm going to write letters to the Supreme Court. I'll have more to do."

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