The first time I met John Boehner, after winning that special election to replace the late Nathan Malkin and rushing down to Washington to do a job for which I was little prepared (but very eager), was a revelation. For one thing, I hadn’t suspected a new Democratic arrival would be summoned to meet the leader of the Republican majority. I guess I’d forgotten he was speaker of THE HOUSE, of which I was now a part (I’m a redundant support beam). Sometimes, to be quite honest, it seems like HE forgets.
But I was welcomed — it was an orientation of sorts — into a room wherein he, in friendly but perfunctory manner, introduced himself while, mostly, paying attention to his personal activities. I don’t think he even looked at me, but then, he was also doing something he considered more important. He was painting himself, while we talked, with a viscous, orange/brown lacquer of some kind, using (I was surprised to note) a long wooden stick, like a back scratcher, but with a small brush on the end in lieu of etched fingers of bamboo.
I wasn’t interested in wasting time there anyway. I know this was something like an enlisted man fraternizing with a lady officer in the military, but I had arranged a date, in a cluttered janitorial closet in the bowels of The Capitol, with Mary Landrieu.
It may have been labeled a janitorial closet but the space, neither on the Senate side of the building nor physically beholden to the House, contained little in the way of cleaning supplies. Truth be told, it could easily have served as a Coney Island appetizing shop. ‘Neath our toes was a multi-layered collection of discarded condoms dating back to the mid, perhaps late, 1850s. They appeared to be made of lace or bustle material and merely looking at them made the memory of Grandma’s doilies yelp with dormant entendres that had just about given up on being heard.
I suppose the shoe-level forest of petrified protection could have served as a necessary reminder, but I had no need of condoms, not simply because Senator Landrieu had used her last egg at a Loozyana crawdad boil several years earlier but because, in a nod to her marriage and some kind of technical Christian propriety upon which she insisted, remained limited to above the waist contact.
My mind wandered to Steny Hoyer’s root beer.
What kind of a name is Steny, anyway? I suppose I could ask him. Or Google it. For some reason, I experience it as a diminution of something Greek.
I don’t know him very well, but I see him as Joe Biden’s tougher brother, the guy who beat up the kids who didn’t fall for the smile. Not that he’s mean, though, just tough. Sometimes, it looks as if he and Jim Clyburn are really working as Nancy Pelosi’s bodyguards. I guess he learned to be that way all those years ago in the rough and tumble sandlot, protecting Joe. That’s the scenario I’ve whipped up, anyhow. I’ve come to think of him as “Uncle Steny.”
He has this tradition of giving each new member of the Democratic caucus a root beer in each of the member’s first thirty days. Since I’m the only guy in his first thirty days, all of Uncle Steny’s ice cold root beer, complete with properly bent straws, comes to me, in great, longneck, Mexican-style bottles, made, I’ll bet, with real sugar. I don’t even know if they have root beer in Mexico, but if they do, Uncle Steny probably got several cases as a thank you gift back when NAFTA kicked in and has carefully doled them out to new members ever since. This would be unimaginable if the recipient were, say, Utah Senator Mike Lee. who’d hole up in his quarters and plow, alone, through every bottle in every case. They’d find him several days later, dead in his rooming house, lying in a pool of his own carbonation.
Nah. Probably he’d save one bottle for his besty, Rafael Cruz, which would serve as the wafer thin mint he never had, preventing his expulsive demise. Oh, to have such a pal as Rafael, just down from Canada, who can sit at the uncool table with you, pretending better than you ever could that the cool kids’ table was full of losers and your table was the place to eat mayonnaise-laden peanut butter sandwiches just like real Americans do.
I refocused on the Louisiana senator’s breasts.
It seems Ms. Landrieu’s desire to employ rituals that limited any sense she may have been cheating, in the eyes of God, her husband or the press, had led her to add another dimension to the above the waist rule. She did not entirely remove her shirt, merely loosening it to allow access. Her breasts remained, if gently, sheathed.
I can’t say I hated this.
An avid explorer of natural caverns and ardent admirer of blindmen, I enjoyed the carnal braille spelunking aspect of these explorations. And I’ll be eternally grateful her ass was exempted from the lower reaches prohibition as it would be sad to be in a closet with someone whose father was named Moon and not get to touch her ass. Nevertheless, when she got called to a vote, I was ready to move on.
I needed to get back to New York to attend my first “town hall” meeting, which was scaring me.
Why am I here? Here in this place in life, I mean.
Here, in more immediate reality, is a bus heading up I-95, past the White Marsh shopping center, north of Baltimore. Yes, a bus.
I didn’t want to take the train. Someone might recognize me. Not the public, necessarily, I’m not an egotist (though, truth be told, I’m the best, most important non-egotist there is), but one of my new congressional colleagues or a staffer or journalist or something. And what am I going to tell them? That my election was an accident and I have no plans to speak of? That I’m not even conversant with the needs of my district?
Maybe I could tell them about the poster I saw the night I crashed on the floor of the apartment Louie Gohmert took over from Todd Akin after Akin left Congress at the beginning of the year. Unironically taped to the wall was a diagram of women’s reproductive anatomy that was the gynecological equivalent of the New Yorker cover featuring a Gothamite’s view of the world.
According to the diagram, used by doctors in many of the southern states and parts of the west, beyond the vagina lurks a rape dam, wee beasties, car keys and, of course, New Jersey.
This information came in handy when the time came to drive home.
Okay, we’re crossing into Delaware. Leaves are not yet “deep autumn.” Don’t know if they ever get there on this stretch of less-than-lonely highway.
Man, I know they’re going to ask me about the shutdown. “I thought it was great,” I’ll say. For Christ’s sake, I’m not Republican, why do they ask me questions for which they need no answers? Imaginary questions, I mean. Haven’t been asked too many questions, really.
Gonna get asked ’em at the town hall, though. They’re all about the questions, right? What am I, John Quincy Adams? What’s with the town halls? It’s like the triumph of the flinty New Englanders.
I imagine colonial New Englanders would be horrified to learn their participatory institution has been mastered and maneuvered by descendants of their slaveholding southern brethren who used it to whip up the anti-Obamacare shutdown frenzy.
They’re dead, though. Colonial New Englanders.
Except Olympia Snowe.
I’m in a smelly room, waiting to begin the town hall. There’s a TV on, an old black and white with a box enabling it to process digital. I wish it was operating off a coat hanger and foil, the way these babies are supposed to. I know they’re not broadcasting on those analogue channels anymore, but I’d like to see any subversive messages now hidden in the fuzz.
Gotta call it fuzz. Can’t call it interference, since, these days, it doesn’t have anything to interfere with. If a pirate transmitted video over one of the old channels, THAT would be interference. In any event, I’d have to dismantle a whole setup to see whether my fuzz thesis might be borne out ’cause the technologically inconsistent organizers of this event have the set connected to cable, which is funny, a little.
Tiny black and white cable people are telling me about (yet) a(nother) shooting in progress at some naval recruitment base and how authorities have found surveillance footage of a 14-year-old pushing down the school hallway a recycling bin which may have contained the teacher they think he killed. Out the window, a roofer is jumping between an apartment roof and a brownstone roof, standing, in the wind, on the precarious and crumble-prone overhang at the top of the larger structure.
I don’t feel so good.
Oy. They’re calling me. Not even any water bottles here, only those conical, soft, paper cups that don’t even fit in a car’s soft drink holder.
“Alright. I’m COMing.”
I wonder, do I want to you to know I’m in a bar, in Williamsburg, drinking away my embarrassment over the town hall? Look, I think Nate did a good job representing my district (I still can’t write “my district” without shaking), but he was from a different era and his death was so sudden, likewise my replacing him, that I haven’t had time to replace his staff.
And they are not, with me, simpatico.
Sakes alive, I’m not confused about what I believe. Why do I need someone whispering in my ear like I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus? I once saw Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, presiding over the opening of a department store alone. The mayor of fucking London. No security. No aides except a guy with a clipboard.
And he may have been working for the department store.
So, I did this thing solo. And when they asked what my agenda was, now that I’ve ascended into the legislative sub-heavens, I said, in addition to mentions of a few things I was in favor of, that I’d kind of like to get in on whatever that technically legal corruption is that enables congressmen to get rich.
“Congressman, what do you think about the government shutdown?”
“I think it was great.”
“Wow. You GOT that. You’re a hipper crowd than I expected. I expected fulminating lunatics like you see on the news. But I guess those town halls are south of the Macy/Gimbel line.”
“Are you disappointed by the problems with the rollout of Obamacare?”
“Nah. It gives the right something to dance about that won’t really change anything and in the meantime, they’re not out dismantling everything that’s good and pure in the name of a Constitution they seem to have read only in a bad English translation of an earlier translation into Laotian.”
“You bring up something I’ve been wondering about, Congressman, whether our representatives have even read the document they’re sworn to uphold. Sir…have YOU read the Constitution?”
“Sure. In the original Laotian.”
“Seriously, though, have you ever actually read our foundation document?”
“Um… (long pause) Parts of it.”
“The GOOD parts.”
“One thing I know is there’s nothing in it that prevents a sitting congressman from getting rich. Why should only rural congressmen get rich guy welfare for, like, owning a farm? I’m gonna get me a rooftop farm like they have in Bushwick, then let those guvamint dollars come rollin’ at me, while the unworthy Food Stamp recipients shiver like Dickensian urchins.”
No audible reaction.
“You didn’t get that one?”
“Have I told you how much I look forward to meeting some of the more attractive MSNBC pundits?”
I also said some stuff that wasn’t stupid or flip, like (and these mimic parallels others have drawn, but I’ve never specifically heard them) how the right wants to protect kids before they’re born, but doesn’t want to help them get day care, pre-k or Special K once they’re popped.
Wait, that one sounds familiar. I’m like the George Harrison of political plagiarism. I THOUGHT I originated the thing, but didn’t. At least I’m man enough to admit it. No “This Song” from me.
But how about this one?
The opposition is opposed to regulating medical care for the borned, yet fetus-touching regulations are all the rage in regressive statehouses throughout this purple-mountained land.
Are there even any purple mountains in the United S of A? Anywhere?
Jesus, these guys can’t stop lying.
Here I am busting this purple mountain thing wide open and all the media can see is a guy who wants to get rich and hasn’t read the entire Constitution.
Not in English, anyway.
Shit, I’m giddy in that way you get when you’re stressed and embarrassed and seemingly deprived of oxygen. When you become sillier and sillier in vain hope of salvaging dignity through abandon, but desperation is all that comes through.
I don’t even know anymore if my sense of what happened in that meeting was true. But no matter how stupid I was to go it alone, cutting out my staff had one benefit. I’m pretty sure nobody contacted the press. Thus I was merely a lunkheaded tree in a constituent forest. No one will ever know I was there.
SECOND lucky layer of protection: Obama helicoptered into Brooklyn at the same time, swinging into Prospect Park like Sinatra in a Jack Benny special. The press would much rather cover an embattled president eating cheesecake than little, old me. Ooh, I think this girl recognizes me. She’s coming toward me and smiling.
“No. I don’t need a drink.”
I’m having a lot of anonymity moments these days, which would be depressing if they didn’t somehow benefit me.
They don’t always benefit me. A few minutes ago, I was refused entry to the congressional lunchroom ’cause they thought I was just some wandering schmoe. It took a lot of fancy document fishing to prove to them I was a duly-elected congressschmoe. But yesterday, when I sat in the crowd watching the shallow grilling of Kathleen Sebelius, I was glad no one realized I was, in some sense, an interested party. Truth is, it wasn’t that interesting and it was no party.
Inspirational to some, however, as it seems to have given the visiting schoolkids ideas for a host of keen costumes on this terrifying day. While walking down the hallways of the Capitol this morning, I encountered a multitude of bone-chilling Halloween outfits.
One very clever kid came as Marsha Blackburn, shrilly navigating the corridors of power with unsettling authenticity. Another wore a latex iteration of the inner and outer decrepitude of freshman congressman Ted Yoho, once a veterinarian, now, himself, a howling lunatic, oblivious to the tangible details of the world around him. If Yoho operated on a canine’s spleen today, he would probably replace it with an alarm clock.
And I saw a little boy wearing one of those Steny Hoyer whole-head masks they advertise in the back of comic books. He was even carrying a root beer.
Now, they all seem to be in the lunchroom. Cheezits, they let a bunch of costumed kids in but they had to be convinced to let me enter. Wow, is that a Henry Waxman costume or is it Mel Blanc?
Boy, sometimes I’m really stupid. Those aren’t costumes. Those are the real reps.
I should have known.
Costumes could never be that scary.
Nevertheless, in a peoplescape defined, in ways concrete and subliminal, by stultifying conformity, the masquerade allows us to move through folks more exotic to eye and soul than the dull-edged clones we know even ourselves to be. That’s why I was glad to be back in New York last night, after a rugged day or two in session (we of the House work intermittently, but with pride). The bus from DC let me off downtown, so I figured I’d walk toward the Halloween parade, the better to soak up the sounds, smells and color of that venerable identity charade, if charade it be.
Now, usually, in costume crowds, I try to lose myself in the nuances, to be swept away by magic, to BELIEVE. But last night I was tired, so decided to enjoy the more effortlessly perceived reality of half-assed peacocks amidst the grit of the city night. I didn’t let it bother me, as it normally would, when I didn’t see a potentially interesting thing head on, like this guy who could have been Scooby Doo, but from the back and the side had goggly eyes that seemed too high on his head.
I thought, okay, maybe it’s merely a dog of the same breed as Scooby Doo. If I had forced myself to find HIS truth, I may have discovered only the Scooby I already knew. Instead, my ease (though not indifference) gave me the possibility of a veritable galaxy of alternate doggy Doos to enjoy and love.
Continuing to ignore canine details and incorrectly positioned hooves (not to mention horns), I made it to the origin point of the procession and was moved, pneumatically, by a human diorama, through the bottleneck of pretenders there. Then, like that (almost), I was done, ambulating beyond the borders of the throng to the more sparsely superheroed thoroughfares below.
My head, such as it was, was still spinning when an accented woman, with a smartphone she couldn’t understand, asked for assistance. Where, the befuddled lass in regular-folk garb asked, was Watts Street?
Sucked out of my head, but with too many pieces of me left inside, I couldn’t visualize, so just intuited. “It’s not this side of Canal, is it?”
She felt like it was.
Thing is, there are two Watts Streets in my mind, one in the west by the tunnel and another that branches off from Broome Street, near the empanadas. They are the same, of course, in different spots, but my fuzzed up cranium could not reconcile them and she needed to find the reconciliation point where, in reality, though not my skull, they met.
We moved away from each other. Then, with a biorhythmic jolt, I was back.
In New York City.
With the clarity of a native.
And, you know, native New Yorkers hate to be ignorant of the city’s details, HATE to be unable to give help. I ran to where I’d left her, but she was gone. I had failed her. And myself.
And my city.
As punishment, perhaps, I was — without even moving — thrust into a realm of mundanity. Where a masquerade had been, mere moments before, there were now only ordinary citizens in ordinary threads, one of whom spoke.
“Are you Andrew Lederer?”
“Congratulations on your election.”
“Did you really tell a town hall you never read the Constitution?”
He’d read about it in one of those small, neighborhood papers you find for free between the street door and the inner one at the supermarket or in boxes next to boxes on the sidewalk. Good guy, though. Didn’t mock or judge me and we joked about my idiocy together.
I don’t think too many people read those papers, but just in case, I checked in with my district office, which is — since I haven’t hired staff in the city yet, either — a woman or series of women at one of those old-school, theatrical answering services, like Judy Holliday worked at in “Bells are Ringing.” It’s probably the only one left in the city, the once-booming answering industry having long ago been rendered mostly redundant by marvelous mechanisms of superior reliability. Still, for us frauds who need to create the illusion of staff, the service remains invaluable.
It just occurred to me that being a minority rep (that is to say a representative whose party is in the minority, not, for instance, a Puerto Rican) is probably a lot like being vice-president. You have an important title and can walk around feeling big and making lots of noise, but really, you don’t have the power. The other guy does. This is especially true now that the House is under the yoke of the Hastert (non-)Rule, which even Hastert, revealing to the 8 percent of the population who’ve heard of him that he was still alive, rejects.
It speaks to the essential weakness of the modern-day Republican party that they’re even willing to invoke a procedure named for a guy named Denny. Denny’s not the name of a legislator or statesman, it’s the name of a soft rock promulgator, a surfer, or a sympathetic drug casualty. Even his predecessor’s moniker, Newt, while reptilian, at least speaks to a cold-blooded competence.
Yes, I know, a newt is an amphibian. But that fact would not help convey my intent. Anyway, the slithering newt may be amphibian, but the equally-slithering political Newt is clearly a reptile.
But what do I know? Go ask a political scientist. I only talk about this because, maybe, it informs my sense of myself — even with a seat in the House — as a shyster.
That, I think, is why I’ve been reluctant to hire a staff. I mean, what do I even do? I take the bus between Manhattan and DC.
And get to use a cloakroom without tipping the girl.
I almost forgot to remember it was the 5th of November.
Waking up, groggily, in the office I took over from my predecessor, I had no idea what time it was, let alone the day. I’d worked long into the night, then into the still-dark morning going over resumes from potential staffers and my first interview was going to be today, whatever day today actually turned out to be. My phone claimed it was now 8:25 PM, the 5th of November.
I had to feed the neighbor’s cats!
Here’s the deal. My New York office isn’t a storefront, it’s a ground floor suite in an old apartment building, the kind used typically by eye doctors or orthodontists. Nate officed here for about twenty-five years and the rent, despite yearly increases, is pretty cheap, so I decided to keep it.
But keeping it meant I’d have neighbors. Like, regular neighbors. People with kids, old ladies. Not bad for a representative, really, keeps you in touch with the needs of your constituents. But it comes with its own, er, smells.
Like the full nasal smack of cat shit when I opened Jesse’s door.
Nobody was dead or anything and the place had been recently cleaned, but one of Jesse’s cats won’t use the box after the other has, preferring instead to grace the floor.
It’s the bathroom floor, naturally. He’s no animal.
Still, the olfactory assault can be intense.
First time I encountered this, I went out and bought Jess a second shit pan and a bag of pussy dust, but his bathroom’s so tiny, there’s no room for two boxes and he found himself stepping into one when he went to piss in the night. My solution would have been to piss in the box and quickly return to sleep, but his was to remove one of the boxes and clean the misplaced shit.
Except when he’s out of town.
Which is when I have to do it.
Christ, I didn’t think that fecal smell would ever leave my nostrils, but the across-the-hall neighbor was making pot roast and pot roast apparently trumps cat shit in the game of nose (one of many ways nature, majestic in its compensatory mystery, protects apartment dwellers). My office greeter/filing person/phone answer possibility was coming at 9:45, a time arranged to accommodate her present job, so when I returned to the office, I opened a window to clear out the slept here smell.
And then I remembered why I REALLY had to remember that it was the 5th of November.
It was election day.
The polls closed at 9.
And though I wasn’t running for anything and the municipal offices were faits accomplis, it wouldn’t do for a sitting (sleeping?) congressman not to vote.
I knocked on pot roast’s door (we’d not met yet), asked the lady to let the applicant in, stuck a note on the front door saying ring pot roast’s buzzer, left a note on my desk saying I’d be back and I was off!.
Right after wolfing down some neighborly pot roast.
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