Working at the capitol had some upsides. There were lots of parties. We went out almost every night. It was only sort of fun because everyone was always talking about politics. I mean, didn't they have any other interests? I got so tired of hearing about mowing between the medians to avoid jumping fires, whether New Mexico should continue to be an open range state and my favorite, how much gambling should be allowed on Indian lands.
But it was free food, usually shrimp, little sandwiches, and some veggies. I pretty much lived on party food for the entire session. Some of the parties had really great stuff like caviar on toast points. Those were the really ritzy lobbyist parties. The Indian Gaming Commission had Chateau Briand sandwiches -- yummy! I knew that each party was to influence the senators and representatives, maybe even us lowly analysts, but I didn't receive any indoctrination on a single issue. Mostly because if anyone tried to talk to me about anything remotely related to the Round House I scurried away. Didn't they know I was there for free food?
Some of the lobbyists came around with little gifts while we were at the Round House. Silly things, like a miniature screwdriver set from someone lobbying about construction. I had one on my desk when Joe dropped by.
"What is that?" He demanded belligerently.
"One of the lobbyists gave it to me. Isn't it cute?"
"Find him and give it back right now!" He roared.
"I don't even deal with that issue. I just happened to be in the room when he dropped these off for the Senators in this area. It was a courtesy gift. I told him that I couldn't take it, but he said that he had extras. I am not going to return it. That is too rude."
Joe snatched it from me. "Fine, I'll return it. If you take another thing from a lobbyist, I'm going to fire you." He stomped out of the room.
The secretary who sat across from me let out a low whistle. "What is wrong with him?"
"I wish I knew. It doesn't matter what I do, he's always angry. He seems to think that I am trying to undermine his authority."
"How could you possibly do that? You are up here on the third floor, far away from any of the 'important' people. You don't have a job with any influence, no offense."
"None taken. I don't get it. He's been after me since the first day. I try to stay out of his way, but he comes up here looking for a fight. I don't know what to do."
"Well, it doesn't matter now. The session will be half over at the end of this week. That should calm him down. It really starts to wind down after that because no new bills can be introduced. They focus on the ones that are out of committee. Pretty much everything else gets 'tabled, ' which means the bill is basically dead. It is all smooth sailing by then."
I gave her a weak smile. "Thanks. I hope you are right about his attitude. I don't think I can take many more episodes like that."
On Friday, Joe called a meeting of all the analysts.
"Today is the last day that bills can be introduced. As such, the services that you all provide will be imperative to the Senators starting on Monday. They will have questions about the bills. You will be available at any time to answer any of these questions. As such, no one will be allowed to leave the building while we are in session. No more going out for breakfast, lunch or coffee. No leaving the building for any reason during the hours of the session for any reason. Is that clear?"
Everyone was thunderstruck. Everyone at the session knew that when the middle of the session came, the work basically dried up. There was nothing really to do. Sure, we were available, but all the bills had been through committee. If a senator had a question, he had it answered by now. He wasn't waiting until it came up on the floor. By now, we all knew which bills were really in play. We pretty much knew what was going to pass and what was going to fail. There were a few things that were tight, but overall, it was clear. So, suggesting that we would need to be available was ridiculous.
"Joe," I cleared my throat, "we are not going to be allowed to leave and bring lunch back?" Yes, there was a cafeteria, but the selection was limited -- if I was being kind. I could only eat so many bowls of chicken enchilada soup. I would be the size of a house if I subsisted on their other choices of French fries, sloppy joes or sausage pizza slices.
"Correct. You will eat at the cafeteria. You will be available whenever you are needed."
"Don't you think we could trade off just so that one of us could get lunch for the group?"
"Are you really that concerned with lunch?" He exploded at me.
"Yes, actually I am. I don't want to eat at the cafeteria every day. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance. I just thought that as long as there were analysts on hand, anyone could just quickly go and get lunch for anyone who wants something."
"NO! Each of you will be here during the entire day. Do I need to be clearer?"
There were lots of mumbled, "No's" and shuffling of feet.
"You are dismissed."
Jane, Rick and I went back to our exile on the third floor.
"Wow, he is on such a power trip." Jane murmured, shaking her head. "No one asks us anything now, what are we going to do all day in our office without even a cup of decent coffee?"
"He is trying so hard to be a ruler, he doesn't understand what he is supposed to be doing," Rick remarked with annoyance. "His youth makes him feel unworthy, which he is, but no one can make up for it by being a tyrant. I guess he subscribes to Machiavelli: it is better feared than loved."
I nodded silently, feeling somehow responsible for all of their discomfort. I had a feeling he was doing all of this to get back at me.
That day, we went to our favorite lunch spot, Casa Se?a, as a farewell to decent food. They sang show tunes for tips during the meal. It had a great atmosphere. We got to know all the waiters, so they sang what we liked while we were there. That day, as we sat there, depressed over Joe's latest proclamation, the waiters began to sing that song from Les Misérables about marching on in poverty and rags. It went perfectly with our mood.
On Monday, I wandered into Rick and Jane's room.
"Hey! So what are we going to do now that we can't leave the building?" I wanted to know as I flopped into the chair next to Rick's desk.
Rick smiled, reached into his bag and pulled out a deck of cards. "Anyone for a little Rummy?" he asked like the Cheshire cat.
"Yeah, I love cards!" exclaimed Jane.
"Me too. Rick, you are a genius and our savior. Thanks so much."
From that day until the end of the session, we played cards. We learned a myriad of games -- gin, rummy, spades, even hearts. I even bought a book on card games to bring in. We soon had a following. Other people with nothing to do would stop by and play a hand or two. We all took turns with the cards. It was great fun.
We kept a lookout for Joe. Anytime we saw him coming, we would put the cards away and look busy. Rick typically picked up the phone and started talking, Jane would start typing, and I would be reading one of the bills on the floor that day. I sensed he knew something was up, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't sniff out what we were doing wrong.
We made it through a couple of weeks without being caught. On the Friday before the last week, we were playing a rousing game of spades when Joe sneaked in.
"A-ha! You all aren't working!" He was pointing at us and looking quite pleased with himself.
"Get off it," Rick retorted. "You know we don't have anything to do. We're here in the building all day, just like you asked, but I'd rather be tarred and feathered than sit here twiddling my thumbs. We're going to play cards, and that's the end of it."
Joe had turned a deep crimson. His mouth was open, and he was clearly trying to speak, but no words were coming out. Finally, he croaked, "Go to lunch, but don't take more than an hour." He wheeled around and headed out the door.
We all smiled at each other.
"Well, that will make the last week more fun," I said happily. I couldn't believe it! I was so pleased that someone had put Joe in his place. "Well done, Rick!"
"Absolutely," agreed Jane. "You are the greatest. Thanks for saving the rest of our time here."
Rick was obviously pleased with the praise. "No problem."
The last week went by without a whiff of Joe. Jane, Rick and I played cards, went out for lunch and had a really nice time. I was sad for our time together to be over, but I was really looking forward to the job being done.
On our last day, we all went out to the Saint Francis Hotel for tea. It was splendid. There was a huge fireplace with a warm, welcoming fire. We did our last meal right and ordered everything on the menu -- little tea sandwiches, followed by scones and cream, then we tried every dessert they had. By the end, we were stuffed.
After tea, we headed over to Jane's house because she had forgotten a book Rick had loaned her. When we arrived, a wicked idea began to play in my head.
"Why don't we play a little trick on Joe?" I suggested.
"What did you have in mind?" Jane queried.
"You're leaving at the end of the day, right? You're not sleeping here?"
"No, I'm going back to Albuquerque to stay at my Mom's. My flight back to Washington leaves at the crack of dawn tomorrow."
I smiled. "What if we get a few alarm clocks, hide them all over the house and set them at times from about four a.m. to seven a.m. I know Joe wants to sleep in. That way, he'll have to keep getting up and finding them to turn them off. Then when he's back in bed, another one will go off."
Both Jane and Rick looked at me. "I have to say, that is a brilliant idea." Rick said approvingly, looking very excited at the prospect.
"Let's do it," Jane said enthusiastically.
So, we did. We went to Wal-Mart and bought six alarm clocks. Then we hid them all over the house, setting them about half an hour apart. Finally, we closed and locked the door.
"Sweet dreams Joe." I mused as we piled into the car and back to the Round House.