Between my junior and senior year of college, I spent a few weeks in Washington, D.C., as a congressional intern.
From the wall phone by the door in my St. Paul dorm room, I called to ask about the status of my application. My resume had arrived a little late, but was now on the top of the pile. I seemed qualified, they’d just had a cancellation. They told me when to arrive.
There was talk on key topics: Military cost overrun (sure, you don’t want fancy pens falling apart, but perhaps consider using pencils — plus they write in the cold); prayer in public schools (a student can say a quick prayer silently anywhere, anytime); and possibly downgrading a creek in my home district to a ditch (it didn’t happen, then anyway).
A delegation from my hometown came to Washington about the water issue. A classic picture was taken on the steps of the capitol and appeared in the local paper. I remember asking a friend how many people she saw with the congressman. Then I pointed out the edge of his daughter’s shoe where she sat on the steps behind us.
I remember little things like the taste of Postum, which the congressman kept in the office for less caffeine. Also that somebody told me he had them keep a jar of peanut butter in the Cannon House Office Building cafeteria so he could have a cheap lunch.
I remember wearing a blue dress with a white blazer, a narrow gold stretchy metal belt and a scarf that when knotted in the back draped just right in front.
I remember sharing a beer with one of the staff at a Fourth of July party and him reminding me to hold it by the neck of the bottle so it’d stay cool longer.
An even better life lesson was discovering that if I went around the corner from where I was staying to catch a bus downtown I’d be more likely to get a seat. Plus, it went by a statue that was consistently holding a bouquet of fresh flowers.
Some other interns and I went to a nice place in Georgetown where there was a small dance floor and lots of embassy guys. My companions weren’t sure how to get away from a couple fellows who’d decided to join us at our little table. In whispers, I offered to act upset, leave in a huff and they’d have to come find me. The plan was solidified. When I asked, “When?” I was told “Right now.” (in a southern accent). I finished my drink (Kahlua and cream, I think, probably abandoning filberts on ice cubes) smacked the thick glass down a little too hard, grabbed my purse and headed for the door. They met me moments later at the ice cream shop down the block. Such deception and conspiracy in Washington even then.
I did go to church while I was there. My one regret was not saying goodbye to a woman I did a little volunteer work for, typing up a chapter for a book she was writing. I dropped it off in the church office. The only thing I remember about the book was she described a character as having freckles shaped like cauliflower.
That summer was the first time I had a sub sandwich. I was most impressed — all the ingredient choices, including squirt bottles. And the way they did the bread. A triangular portion was sort of plucked out down the middle and the contents were all packed in the center — more to the edges, better condiment control.
Hopefully, lawmakers can get up a bit earlier, strategically turn a corner, look out the window a little longer and figure out a better way to break bread together.