My Arlen Specter story

Sen. Arlen Specter

Sen. Arlen Specter (Photo credit: Talk Radio News Service)

I wrote this some time ago and thought I had published it.  As the former Senator from Pennsylvania recently passed away and I never had published it, I am now.

Several lifetimes ago,  I worked for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  One thing young staffers get to do is deal with constituents — in person, on the phone and through their always well thought out and researched correspondence.  I firmly believe if our founding fathers were to travel in time to now and judged us solely on the people who visit and call their Congressional representatives, we would have a vastly different form of government.

One evening, a very peculiar woman came in.   She was convinced that anyone born in California (or Hawaii) could vote in France.  She also thought I was 45 years old.  I am not even that old now — several lifetimes later — so you can appreciate how well that went over with me.  She wasn’t too scary but she liked mu boss and made that clear.  What she said on her way out was how much she hated Senator Specter and she was going to give him a piece of her mind (Is it snarky of me to note that this was more than she could afford to give?).

One idea that I cling to, even when I am not sure why, is that people who get involved in politics do so because they care about the country.  In that respect, Hill staffers have several things in common; a strong work ethic, long hours, low pay, a hatred of all things related to the Close Up foundation.  So, when this woman, made that comment, I called Senator Specter’s office immediately (he was a Republican then.)

Me: Hi this is Alyson from Senator Feinstein’s office.  A really freaky woman was just in here and she is headed your way.  Just wanted to let you know.

Specter staffer: You do know our senator is a Republican, right?

Me:  That doesn’t matter right now.  Crazy person, coming to your office any minute.

They took my advice seriously and locked their front door — it was around 6:00 pm so that made some sense.  The woman in question shook the glass doors so much that they called the Capitol police.

The next morning, I received 15 pounds of Hershey chocolate of several flavors.  The note read; Thanks for yesterday, we would not have done the same for you.  WTF?  You wouldn’t?  Really?  REALLY?  Guess not.

We need to treat each other better.


How Stephen King changed my life

Stephen King signature.

Stephen King signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are only a handful of people who have really influenced my life in lasting ways.  My grandmother, Judy Chadwick Clarke, tops the list.  After family, there’s President Bill Clinton (you cannot work for someone as long as I worked for him and not be impacted — for the much better).  Probably Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) — my first job out of college was working for her, as I have said before.  Many of the people who have made an impression did so during adulthood so their contribution was limited in some respects.

The same cannot be said of Stephen King.  His contribution changed the entire trajectory of my life and  made my current career possible.  Thank you, Mr. King.

My family is made up of a lot of readers.  Percentage wise, I think there are more librarians than any other profession but that could be a skewed view based on Judy (I always called my grandmother by her first name), who was one.  Even the non-librarians read and as things are, I am the least educated member of my family (BA in French from Stony Brook University, pre-med certificate from Georgetown) — unless you consider my cousin Abbie’s child Knut and he is a baby.  I am pretty sure he has at least a maters in something by now.  Probably particle physics or economics.

If you are thinking, wow, you sure are lazy compared to them.  Yeah, I am.  That goes way back.  When I was in elementary school I hated to do any schoolwork and dreaded reading.  Not because I didn’t like to read but the drivel they gave me bored me to tears and if you’ve read my posts about the wonderful adventure that was my childhood, you understand that I had enough to cry about without letting shitty books do it.  So, I never read anything they gave me.  This, in turn, made the school think I couldn’t read and it was not an idea I was in any hurry to disuade them from.  They put me in the reading class basically for kids who should have been drooling in the corner.  I don’t think I did any homework for at least a year, maybe two.

In retrospect, I am not sure how the educators at my school were so oblivious– and the Three Village School District where I went is considered a really good one.  Look it up.  While you’re at it, look up the Wikipedia entry for Stony Brook the town.  You’ll see a familiar name under “famous people from here.”  Kevin James went to my high school (graduated before me).  But the name I am talking about, of course, is mine.  My parents were divorcing and that just wasn’t done back then.  Plus there was the whole fake kidnapping issue that my father kept harping about (the time my mom took me to Iceland for the summer and he said I had been kidnapped) and maybe they just didn’t want to deal with me.  It was easier to just let me do my think, whatever the hell that was, than actually pay some attention.  I sound bitter – and I am about a lot of things but this isn’t one of them.  I didn’t bother them (much) and they didn’t bother me (much).

Meanwhile, I went on reading and learning in my own way.  I liked to read quite a bit.  On one visit

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. King was the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

with my mother I begged her to buy me a Stephen King book — The Shining.  She did, after making me promise to read Agatha Christie, which I never did and never have.  Those books bore me, too.  And if you are an Agatha Christie fan, save your hate tweets and emails (or don’t, I love getting hate mail), just not gonna get into it now.

Anyway, I was all about Stephen King.  As soon as I would finish one book, my mom would send another (side note, if you really want to get the full horror effect of ‘Salem’s Lot, read it by candle light under the skylight in your attic bedroom after a hurricane has knocked out the power to your town.  Seriously.  I hung garlic and crosses around my room for months.  Damn vampires aren’t getting to me that easy.  Fuckers.).

This Stephen King obsession began when I was in the fifth grade.  I think it was that first book, The Shining, that I brought to school.  My terrified teacher, and I wish I could remember her name because she was the first I ever had who took an actual interest in my work and me, asked What are you doing with that book?!?!  I like to think I answered something smart-assy like, Well, I am not burning it, if that’s what you’re asking.  I am not sure that’s what I said or not but it sounds like me, so what the hell?  That’s what I said.  And unless you were there, bite me.

In any case, that caused quite the stir as the school realized that I wasn’t as dumb as a box of rocks (that would come later, like now).  They moved me into the second highest reading level, which pissed me off at the time because there was actual work in  that class.   The class also introduced me to creative writing, which is a passion I have pursued ever since.  I have not left home without a pen and notebook since I was 11.  If you ever see me on the street, you can ask if I have one.  I do.  Don’t take my word for it.  By the time I got to high school, I was a pretty decent fiction writer — a persona I am desperately trying to recapture — and my teachers did wonders to nurture that in me.  I remain grateful to them as well.

The writing bug was not the only things Stephen King gave me.  His books did more to help me survive certain really bad years of my life than anything else.  Therapy (individual and family) didn’t do it.  While I have the honest hat on, I think part of the appeal of his books was I was able to confront demons in his fiction that I couldn’t in my real life.  Violence wasn’t an abstract concept for me back then, it was never more than a heart beat away.  Reading books like It let me fight back and win, every time.

Much of my professional career has included a lot of writing; press releases/statements, talking points,  briefing materials, blog posts, op-eds, newsletters, whatever press materials need to be produced — I have produced them.  In addition, I have maintained this brilliant blog for at least five years (I think, I could be wrong, I have been hit on the head a lot and am too lazy to look that up).  In 2011, I started getting paid to write political satire for the site — the first time I have ever been paid for comic writing of any kind.  I also write and perform stand-up comedy throughout Washington, DC and New York City.  The only other thing that I can do in such a public manner that I like almost as much is karaoke, which is one of the most awesome things.  I may break into Don’t stop believing right now.  I am at work so I won’t but you get the idea.

The only productive things I did as a kid really were read, write and work on campaigns.  None of that prevented me from spending the latter part of my teens doing way more drugs and alcohol that I should have (and I am still surprised that I am still alive, I have to be on life 8.5 by now) but when I left the abusive situation, all of that stopped and the positives in my life took the place of the negatives.  I can only imagine where I would have ended up had I never brought that book to school.  I would probably have stayed in that class for idiots and then when I discovered drugs and alcohol, that’s all I would have had and I would probably still be on Long Island.  My mind cannot even grasp how awesome that life would have been.

Thank you, Stephen King.  You really changed my life and I will never get to thank you enough.

PS.  The second best book on writing, after The Elements of Style, of course, is Stephen King’s On Writing.  I would also like to add that even as a kid, I LOVED his introductions.  They rock.

Farewell, Capitol Hill

Politics brought me to Washington, DC.  As I have told countless people, and National Public Radio (story here), I worked on my first campaign when I was eight.  I went door-to-door for a local NY Assemblyman who was running for Congress.  On election night, we went to the campaign headquarters to watch the results come in.  When the areas I canvassed had a huge turnout for my candidate, I thought it was because of my hard work (Who can resist a cute, little girl with red hair and freckles?  The mean woman at the end of the street with the mean and large German Shepard, that’s who.  She had her dog chase me from her property.) and was hooked.

My first job after college was on Capitol Hill — for Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca).   I have lived here most of my time in Washington, DC.  I am obsessed with Congress and the legislative process.   Will always believe that the Senate is like grad school where the House is kindergarten.  And if you have never gotten into watching C-Span coverage of the House of Representatives, well, it can be like a good tennis match.  Rafa Nadal v. Roger Federer good.

Life on the Hill has been a great experience.  This is like a small town in a, well, my frame of reference is New York so, in a small city.  People here really look out for each other.  Case in point, back when I had a landline, I returned from work to get the following messages:

  1. This is your neighborhood watch, we think we saw some suspicious people outside of your place.  Please be careful when you come home.
  2. There are definitely two people outside your apartment and we think there may be a third in the bushes.
  3. We went by again and there are the three people – it looks like they are waiting to rob you, or anyone else, when you get home.  We’re calling the police to report it.
  4. We called the police and they chased everyone away from your place.  They are also keeping a car on the block for the next few hours so you should be fine coming in.  Hope you have a nice night.

I remain relieved that I didn’t get home at anytime before message number four and it could be my inherent, dark personality but that whole exchange left me feeling like my neighbors had my back.  Another time, right after I was mugged, one of my neighbors (this happened right in front of my apartment) made it a point to keep his pitbull, “Precious,” outside in his yard around the time when I usually came home.  People would cross the street to not walk by that dog.

The community feel extends beyond my safety, of course.  When the best dive in the world, the Tune Inn, had a fire last summer, a bunch of us came out and helped clean the place.  We painstakingly took each item from the walls and cleaned it.  Yes, I enjoy my Jameson and like to have it there but that’s not what inspired me to help out.  This really does feel like a community and it was heartwarming to see so many people come out to help each other, that is the point of things, right?  If you go in, make sure you look at the Guy Fieri plaque in the front window.  Then look at the plaque just below it.  You may notice a familiar name. (Thank you, Lisa and Thomas.  I feel like I will always be a part of the Hill.)

So, from the feeling that my drinking water is infused with political knowledge to the fabric of neighbors helping each other and looking out for each other that makes this such a special place.  I make a point to be as impressed as possible when I look up at the Capitol Building because it is a beautiful thing.  This place brings out the Mr. Smith in me (I know you know this but I am referring to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

So, it was not without a heavy heart that I am moving from this magical place on the hill.  I need a change of scenery for personal reasons that I am sure I will explain in excruciating detail at some point and hope this will force me to do the big things I want to do this year but I love this place and the people who inhabit it.

Thank you, Capitol Hill.  I am not leaving, I am just going part-time!