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Fruited Plains

When I moved to the DC area, I packed many power suits and business cards, envisioning cocktail parties and luncheons and such phrases as, "Well, you know what they're like in the Office of the Principal Deputy Assistant Undersecretary for Natural Resources"... all the trappings of Nearness To Democracy. This, then, was how I would put my degree in political science to work: The consumption of hors devours at the very center of government.

The first such opportunity took place this week at a reception hosted by the University of Airplanes. It went down at the Rayburn House Office Building, which is extremely important to the consumption of hors devours at the very center of government, and therefore presented all sorts of opportunities to self-humiliate.

Josh The Pilot and I made good use of our time, self-humiliating before we even entered the building, because we could not figure out how to enter the building. We approached from the back side, and at first weren't even sure we were at the correct building, because although DC is often very good about labeling itself and its mighty seats of power, no matter how much that seat resembles a very large grade school preparing for Concrete Celebration Week, it often fails to label itself on all four sides.


So we found ourselves cupping our hands around our faces and breathing upon a locked glass door, on the other side of which many beribboned military officers were exchanging email addresses and things-blowing-up stories (excellent open bar, btw, with hard liquor. Semper fi.) This was not, sadly, our reception.

Once we found our way in, I received a stinging lesson on the power of Being In Charge within Congress. The last time I was in the Rayburn Building, it was to visit the office of my hometown's Congressman, Steve "Cup Man" Chabot. Cup Man, as a majority-power Republican, was ensconced in a plush office with a plush view. But now? Behold the might of the GOP:


They were in the basement, two hallways from the cafeteria and chair-to-chair with a community Xerox machine and the mop closet. Enjoy gazing upon the box of the shared office printer.

copy-of-clock.jpgOur reception room featured this awesome clock, which had lights and a buzzer and lit and buzzed at regular intervals to let the members of Congress know that they were needed on the House floor for a vote This made me feel, as an American, highly comforted, that my Congressman, no matter where he might be in the building, was available at all times to vote on some issue vital to national security, including National Wild Federation Turkey Day legislation.

In the Beltway, life is all about receptions-- who's invited, who comes, and who doesn't. My very inclusion in this particular to-do ranked it somewhere below the Annual Reunion of Lettuce-Tearers In the Cafeteria of the Department of the Interior, and slightly above the two guys on an escalator at the Federal Triangle Metro stop screaming "HEY!" at one another.

It was really cute, therefore, that the University of Airplanes also invited the former Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration:


Marion did not show.

Josh the Pilot walked very quickly through the Rayburn Building, because he was (1) not wearing high heels and (2) wanted to get to the reception before all the food was gone, because, as a non-political science major, he did not fully comprehend that this would be one of those deals in which the food comes to you. As if one could expect the former Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to stand in a buffet line, as a mere peasant might!

copy-of-food.jpgSo the caterers began circulating with the finger foods, which included tiny heartbreaking lamb chops, white things on a cracker, scary things on a cracker, little balls of chicken, Unidentifiable Red Crap on a Stick, furry raspberries, and my personal favorite, bits of potato on an edible spoon. I bit off a spoon handle and called it a night, but not before I also found the pastry table, which offered shiny little cakes that fell apart on human contact. Given the fact that I hate people (but not, of course, you) and am highly agitated in social situations, I became paralyzed with fear of the caterers, who were forever showing up with more scary things on a cracker for me to tremulously turn down, because I just knew, after a while, that I was hurting their feelings with my constant refusal of their trays bearing yet more chicken balls. Fortunately, however, I found a lovely old friend to occupy me:


The reception was on behalf of Rep John Mica, a ranking member of the Transportation andcopy-of-award.jpg Infrastructure Committee, and for his service the President of the University of Airplanes presented him with a pointy piece of Sucesssories, upon the receipt of which the Congressman declared for five minutes that he had never seen a more wonderful pointy piece of Sucessories in all his life, and then he ran away.

At this point everybody realized that there wasn't a camera at hand, and, as I had previously been undertaking the vital journalistic duty of taking pictures of the furry raspberries, I was tapped for pixel contribution. So one of the officials commandeered my camera, and Josh undertook the distinct honor of holding the box which held the piece of Sucessories. Oh, indeed, democracy would have fallen apart entirely if it weren't for us.

When it was time to go--we knew it was time to go because the guy with the wine stopped coming around--Josh and I returned to the entrance we'd found after our original wanderings, which was, helpfully, blocked. At the door we found other members of the reception, and so we formed a survivor's band, plaintively wandering the halls of the Rayburn Building without any wine until one of the Representatives--from Texas, I believe-- came upon us as he exited his office, recognized us for the terrorist threat we were, and directed us out. And that, my friends, is your tax dollars at work.

called to order at: mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (4)


I have no idea what the above letters mean - but my college daughter texts me that particular phrase often, so it must be good.

March 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHollee Chadwick Spicer

I went to a fancy dinner this week at work. Now please understand I work for "plaid clad rednecks with guns" as one member describes our club. There was liver pate, smoked oysters, herring and goldfish crackers. I stuck with the goldfish. It is amazing that the older I get the more I want comfort food and not that fancy stuff.

Glad to see I am not the only one who turns down chicken balls and "crap on a stick"

At least we had an open bar with hard liquor.

March 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKell Belle

Unidentifiable Red Crap On A Stick! That's my favorite color of Unidentifiable Crap On A Stick!

I'm not sure I want to click on Congressman Chabot's link, as "Cup Man" is one of those nicknames I may not want explained. He sounds like Larry Craig's sidekick: "It's a bird! It's a plane! It's WIDE STANCE!" zhooop! "And CUP MAN!"

Glad you got to experience the glamour of D.C. power conferences. I'm sure you're totally in Representative Mica's Rolodex. Also, I like JTP's suit; it looks like he just flew everyone there in a plane and then went from the cockpit right to the reception.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermike, whore d'oeuvres

Thanks, Mike! Sigh, it will be a long time, if ever, before the airplanes I fly will be allowed into National Airport.

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJosh The Pilot
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