Somewhere in the bustling bowels beneath the Capitol building, sometime around noon, my trousers exploded and the button that had once so dutifully bundled my junk together suddenly shot off down the hall and went skittering betwixt the clickity-clacketing wingtips of any number of our fair nation's elected officials. Then, as gravity would have it, my pants fell down. That was when I decided that I didn't have a future in politics. This cockamamie vaudevillian bullshit, I knew, would happen to me every day that I remained on The Hill. Or for as long as The Hill would have me. The Republicans would've been better off hiring Mr. Bean.
I was finished. Kaput. Less than a month in, it was time for me to retire. Still, my dong was hanging out in a very public place and for eminently prosecutable reasons, an escape had to be made. So I sequestered myself in the most secluded basement bathroom I could find and listened to Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filibust ass in the stall next to mine while I tried to MacGyver my pants back together with a broken keyring and half a tab of prechewed Dentyne chewing gum. Were there any emergency tailors lurking in the depths of D.C.'s Fraggle Rockian underground, I wondered. Certainly, I figured, I couldn't be the only man on Capitol Hill having trouble keeping his pants up – but that's what interns were for. And I, alas, was the intern.
My engineering efforts having failed colossally (and stickily), I sucked in my gut and adopted the Napoleon stance – i.e., the Untreated Ulcer Swagger – then I made my hunchbacked way out through several security checkpoints with one arm clenched around my waist and the opposite hand resolutely cupping my balls. This drew some looks, sure, but once I'd made it outside, out into D.C. proper, I was just one of a million other half-dressed derelicts cupping their balls: a privileged one in fact, with two whole pantlegs to his busted-ass pants and a Van Heusen™ necktie to cover up the delicate bits.
I caught the subway home looking mighty glum, indeed. Nobody in the office knew that I was gone, or that I wasn't coming back. I had no idea what to tell them, or whether I should tell them anything at all. Maybe I should just steal away in the night. That had always worked for me in the past. Or maybe there was still time to fix things. Call in. Apologize. Say you got sick. Brush it off. Get some sleep. Put on a new pair of pants and turn up bright and early the next morning. But the button thing. Always a button, always an unzippable zipper, always a banana peel when you least expect it. That shit happens to me all the time. It doesn't happen to John Boehner or the thousands of Princeton grads lining up to puff on his metaphorical cigarette. Whatever Paul McCartney has to say on the matter, fools don't make it on The Hill. But what was to be done if I didn't make it? What in the ever-loving hell was to be done next? I'd thrown everything I had into D.C. and watched it spiral down into a black hole, like one of those plastic charity vortexes you see at the mall. Fuck me. I put my head in my hands and swallowed back a delicious flare of gastric acid. The train shudder-whooshed into a tunnel and I watched through my fingers the bright white sidelights streak by like flashes of a future that I – through idiocy? through laziness? through some sort of subconscious moral rectitude? – was now banishing to a dark and irretrievable past. All knowingly. All willingly. All because of a fucking button. I'd gained weight. I chewed the inside of my cheek and looked up. An old black fellow seated in the seat in front of me seemed to be reading my reverie.
"Rough day?" he asked.
"Life kind of sucks at the moment," I said, "to be perfectly honest."
"It's never life that sucks," he said. "We always have the power to change things. It's all in your mind. It's all up to you. Remember that, son."
I told him I would. I thanked him and shook his hand. Then it was my stop, so I got up and clutched my balls and embraced my artificial ulcer and shuffled off the train like a sack of potatoes on stilts. Witnessing an exit like that, I'm thinking maybe the guy changed his mind.
That afternoon, I tendered my resignation over the phone. And so my paid internship became an unpaid one. I'd fallen off The Hill.
It wasn't a wasted trip. I learned some things. I learned, for instance, that politicians very seldom (if ever) actually write their own material; speeches, press releases, op-eds; no, the writing is almost entirely left to staffers like me. On the other hand, I learned (and was pleasantly surprised to learn) that most representatives actually do take time to read the mail they receive from their constituents, so long as the letters are not written in shit. I learned that most members of the House cannot afford to live in Washington D.C.; when they are in town (which is not altogether all that often) not a few of them spend their nights on tiny little futons that fold out into their tiny little office closets. Quite a few politicians are hapless drunks – how they keep this under wraps media-wise is something I never did figure out. John Boehner's office is the one closest to the designated outdoor smoking zone. Can't say I blame the guy. The House chamber or the Senate chamber, or at any rate whichever chamber it is where the President of the United States makes his State of the Union Address – that chamber is an optical illusion. It belongs on the side of the Interstate, next to Carhenge and The World's Largest Ball of Aluminum Foil. I shit you not. The room puts on at least 15,000 square feet when seen on television. It is actually very, very small in real life. You couldn't host a Magic: The Gathering tournament in there. Also: there are gas masks and various paranoiac anti-terrorism prophylactics stashed in little tote bags tucked under the seats. House and Senate votes are cast via a machine that hasn't been upgraded since the late 1980's by my guesstimation. On the machine, there are three square plastic buttons – red, yellow, green – "Yea," "Nay," and "Meh" – and I imagine they flash excitedly and play the original Pac-Man theme when pressed. Voting also involves inserting a dusty gray plastic game cartridge into a warped wooden slot – not sure how that works, or whether it works at all. When you come right down to it, the overall aesthetic of our representational democracy lies somewhere between the original Atari, gas station slot machines, and a 1987 Plymouth station wagon tricked out with woodgrain everything. What else did I learn? Well. Come CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) season, the "Casual Encounters" section of the D.C. craigslist is clogged with anonymous personal ads soliciting all manner of clandestine conservative buttsex. I did not partake, but I can tell you it's legit. The bars in D.C. abide by all sorts of byzantine drinking rules – you can't stand up; you can't sit down; you can't wear two items of clothing that belong to two different colors starting with the same letter – and these rules make drinking very difficult. Just because I learned all this crap doesn't mean that I understand it. But perhaps most significantly (for me at least), I learned that I am very good at sitting down at a keyboard and cranking out mass amounts of bullshit in a very short time, bullshit that argues in favor of all manner of harebrained and horrific and hateful things – and most creepily of all, I learned that this aforementioned bullshit of mine, written without an iota of sincerity on my part, was effusively adored by certain circles of voters who (were they not a kind of dominant and well-funded minority in America) would almost certainly be institutionalized. But now I'm politicizing again. And like I told you: I've retired from all that.
Where were we? So. I left The Hill. I did not leave with my tail between my legs as you might expect, but with my tail wagging at the thought of going somewhere else. At the end of my month in D.C., I coughed up the rent and caught an Amtrak back to Omaha. Days later, I learned that I'd been accepted for a volunteer teaching gig in Georgia: The Country. I had no money, no other options, and no real desire to do much of anything else. A week later, I was in Georgia. And that is when shit got interesting. To say the least.