Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My first day and beyond

Wow. I am, like, sooooooo exhausted.

It's been a rough first few days.

I don't know if I can describe the overwhelming, body-swallowing feeling of panic that you have when you first step into a Congressional office as an intern and don't know what you're doing.

I came into the office at 8:55 a.m. Monday morning, totally and completely petrified. I didn't know what to expect, I was scared to meet the staff, I didn't know who the other interns are at all, and I didn't know what I'm supposed to do once I actually get inside and sit down. I said hello to the receptionist and identified myself as a new intern. She smiled back at me and extended her hand for me to shake. I sat down on the couch and read through the intern handbook that the receptionist had handed to me. It was all sort of blurry . . . how to answer the phone . . . how to sort the mail . . . how to schedule a tour of the Capitol . . . (This booklet is essentially the intern bible, since we refer to it all the time when we need to know procedure.)

Anyway, we chatted for a little bit and then she asked me if I had any questions. I felt like asking her to hold my hand and tell me exactly what to do, because I felt really, really lost. The trouble was, of course I couldn't ask her to do that - I just had to wing it!

I sat down at the intern desk, completely clueless about what to do next. Thankfully, the other intern in the office had been there the year before. From now on, I'll call him Patrick. He was really great - right away he started showing me around the office and pointing out the different things an intern would need to do. Patrick is from Boston, but goes to some university in South Carolina (don't ask). While Patrick was tutoring me, two other interns were taking a couple of constituents on a tour of the Capitol. I met them when they came back. Sean looked just like Patrick - big, blond and Irish. Jerry was a big guy, dark (I found out later that he's Persian). (By the way, these are all pseudonyms. And the receptionist's name is Kelly. Also a pseudonym.)

Anyway, I won't bore you with the excrutiating details. Here's a list of what I did the first day, Monday:
Wrote a tribute to a constituent for the Congressional record (how cool??.) The constituent was turning ninety and had apparently voted in every local and national election since becoming of voting age.

Researched two issues - alcohol tax and water quality (oh my gosh, talk about an initial disaster. The water quality one took me FOREVER because I wasn't sure what I should use as a resource. The next one was easier, since I remembered that there's Congressional Research Service - an amazing resource of accurate, nonpartisan information that is provided to all of Congress.)

Answered the phone (like a zillion times. I'm a pro now!)

Ate lunch in the Rayburn cafeteria by myself, which was sort of sad, but my friend from Israel called to see how I was doing and that cheered me up enormously

Made the cover page for a packet of press clips – every week, the press secretary gathers any articles that have the Congressman's name in them or where he's quoted and compiles them. Then - and this was AWESOME - the press secretary asked me and Sean to work with him on a project to collect non-Congressman-related issues that are about hot topics. This might sound sort of stupid, but any time a paid staffer asks you to do something it's considered a major honor.

People were dressed VERY casually – jeans and sneakers, except for the interns, who were dressed more formally. The reason for this was that the Congressman wasn't going to be in (I think he was in California, but I'm not sure).

Got my ID - me and two other interns waited on line for an hour to get it

Went on tour of the Capitol with two interns (we went up to the gallery and Democratic cloakroom, where legislation gets dropped off)

Entered the legislative director's contact info into Microsoft outlook off of business cards

Drafted a floor statement for H.Con.Res.152!!!!!! This is a resolution recognizing the 40th anniversary of the 6-day war. Basically, this was how I got the job - when I finished entering the LD's contact info into the computer, I gave him back his business cards. He seemed really surprised that I had done it so quickly. Fast forward about five minutes: the LD came over to where I was sitting and asked me if I had any particular interests. I said foreign affairs, specifically Israel, and he sort of ruminated for a minute, then called out to the press secretary (PS), "Hey PS! Should we let her write a floor statement?"
I was FLOORED, to say the least. Anyway, I wrote the floor statement and they really liked it.

Answered phones

Drafted letter to constituent about tax on beer

When I was sitting at the front desk, I met the Larouche people – wackos! This is a lobbying group that is full of "brainwashed teenagers," as Patrick put it. They're EXTREMELY liberal and basically came to the office to let me know that Dick Cheney should be impeached. I was like, riiiiiiiight.

Fixed the tribute to the constituent (can you say b.s.?)

Went to a hearing on immigration. My Congressman was a witness - it was the first time I saw him/heard him live. I positioned myself strategically so that when C-Span focused on him, you could see the corner of my shoe and a little bit of my right hand.

Did research on a bunch of consituent letters for the legislative correspondent - scholarships for students with disabilities, tax paid on employer-provided tuition, the lack of contract for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection police, and one thing that I passed off to another intern about Lt. Cpl. Chessani (anyone heard of him?).

The LD gave me a job - to call all the Democratic offices in the House and find out the legislative aide in each office who deals with trade. There are 232 Democrats in the House. Ahem. That means a lot of phone calls.

There was some other stuff too, but I've forgotten it.

Went to a lecture with two other interns. The lecture was the first in a series of lectures specifically for interns. The speakers were the Secretary of the Senate and the Senate Historian, who both exuded an incredible sense of Senate superiority over the House. Hmph. While we were waiting for the speeches to start, one of the interns started asking me about my contact with boys. Here is the conversation:
Mike: So, where you go to school, are there any boys?
Me: Um, no. But my school has a boys' counterpart.
Mike: Oh. So do you guys ever mingle?
Me: Well, there are coed events.
Mike: Do you go to them?
Me: No. I don't really hang out with boys.
Mike: So you don't date?
Me: Well, I will only date for marriage, so I will only date when I feel ready to get married.
Anyway, the conversation continued in this vein. I think they basically learned that I'm off-limits, so they feel more comfortable around me. In fact, they tell me about their success in hitting on girls. Hmm. Kind of awkward.

Umm, what else happened? I made more phone calls to the Democratic offices (to find out the trade LA's name) and started entering business contacts for the Chief of Staff (CoS). She had many, many, many business cards. Answered the phone, distributed faxes, etc - all the usual stuff.

Ooh! I just remembered - we all had a meeting with the CoS. She basically told us to take advantage of being in Washington, if we want to take off a day to explore, go for it. The office is very happy to have us, blah blah, and the way that they like to communicate is through instant messaging so they don't have to keep getting up and they can say things privately to each other. Only catch: I don't have IM, and had kinda promised myself that I would never use it. Oh well. Now I have to, for the sake of my job. But I only use it during the day, for professional reasons.

Funny side note: one of the interns had seen a picture of the CoS on her window sill, and thought she was about 50. Um, that picture was of her mother, and the CoS herself is 31 and pretty. The boys were all really surprised.

I thought I wouldn't come in at all because my supervisor had promised us all a day off. But at the end of the day on Thursday, the foreign affairs legislative aide told me about an AIPAC briefing. Anyway, I thought I would go, so I decided to come in and go to the briefing, and then just leave right afterward. Of course, I forgot to go to the briefing, but here's what I did on Friday:

Entered in business contacts for the Chief of Staff (like over a hundred. It's the most tedious thing you can imagine.)

Entered constituents' name off a petition into the computer to see if we could dig up their addresses (it's a complicated program, so I won't bother to explain it. Suffice it to say that the program is designed to store the addresses of constituents that the office writes to, so we were entering the names off the petition to see if there was an address stored under the name. Again, supertedious.)

Researched the voting results on three bills for one of the staff. He needed to know who how the votes turned out and also how the "New Dems" had voted. I don't really know what the New Dems are. Maybe I'll check them up on Wikipedia.

Okay, I've been working on this post throughout the week, and I'm getting kind of nauseous of it. Hopefully I'll post every day about what I do, so it won't come in one big chunk like this.

Any questions or comments?


Scraps said...

Wow, it sounds like you've been really busy! And it's really cool that you got to draft a floor statement. :)

jackie said...'ve been a busy lady! keep us all posted!

the apple said...

Scraps - I know, right?!? I was so proud of it. And the legislative director didn't even have to edit the floor statement! How awesome!

Jackie - will do!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
the apple said...

Hey Anonymous,
sorry for deleting your comment, but you posted my real name, so that had to go. Also, you clearly know who I am, so can you write in your name next time? That way I can know who you are and can properly miss you!