Monday, June 30, 2003

Wha' Happened? vol. 3

First, a brief note: The impetus driving each issue of Wha' Happened? is a simple one. When I first moved to Our Nation's Capital, I was blissfully unaware of the goings-on of those people who live and work on that stretch of real estate known as Capitol Hill. In fact, when my first roommate here in D.C. told me that she worked "on the Hill" I believe I stared blankly at her. As the months progressed and more and more stories filtered my way detailing Hill culture, I felt it was my duty to share these details with my fellow non-initiates, lest they reach their mid-20s as clueless as I. So, in the spirit of spreading the good word, I bring you volume 3, or:

The Last Plantation
Some around these parts refer to Capitol Hill as "the last plantation." This scathing moniker encompasses everything from backwards gender roles, to race relations, to working conditions. My anonymous source maintains that she cannot wear a skirt that comes a millimeter above her knee without suffering obvious leers from the older gents in the halls of congress. Rumor has it that female staffers in Tom Delay's office are barred from wearing pants; they must be ladies in skirts at all times. While the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy scandal was a shock to the nation, staffers on the Hill are rather blase with the common knowledge of which congressman is sleeping with which intern/staffer. These congressmen office in D.C., you see, and only see their families back in the home state on some weekends and during recess. And while most offices in the private sector have liberalized dress codes and conducted informational sessions on sexual harassment, and concerned themselves with safe working environments, you can still work in an office in Capitol Hill as cramped as a studio apartment (with no ventilation), and have to type through the fog of your boss's chain smoking. The Republican National Committee's "clubhouse" allegedly features an all-black serving staff in waistcoats and white gloves.
Furthermore, my own undercover infiltration activities have revealed that government offices are as unsightly as the depressing cinder-block high schools to which we ship the students in need of "alternative education." The building that houses the National Education Association is quite possibly the ugliest building this side of Moscow. Government employees wear unattractive clothing, ugly ties, have unfortunate eyewear, and the male hair style of choice is the bouffant. I know that public sector employees do not get paid a lot. But I also know that I do not get paid a lot. My friends do not get paid a lot. And we manage to put ourselves together presentably. This is no excuse. I asked my anonymous source to explain the direct link between government employee and ick. She explained that in the upper echelons of politics, looking too good can be a detriment. The shabby look is supposed to convey a sense that these public servants are dedicated to their issues and their work rather than to their image. This is laughable to anybody who has actually meant a government employee. But sure enough, my source insists that if a man's haircut is too smart or if his ties are too expensive, he is regarded with a wary eye by the public. "Who's this fancy boy up in Warshington?" they imagine Middle America saying. "He ourghta spend less time in his fancy clothing stores and more time buildin guns! I'm not paying his salary so's he can go shoppin'!" And so on. Thus, visitors will continue to experience the reaction that my recent guest had to this fair city: "Ach! Why is everyone so ugly?"


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