The set up; the constituent.

Karen.

There’s only one bathroom on this floor. It’s unisex, the door doesn’t always lock, and you’re supposed to slide the “OPEN” over to “IN USE” before you go in. I’m always paranoid that I’ll forget, but that paranoia comes from the natural shame all of us have, no matter how many times we read Everybody Poops when we were five. Taking a shit in a tiny public bathroom, tucked in the corner with no ventilation invokes some serious shit shame issues.

I make my way to the tiny bathroom, closing the door to my office quietly. The other legislative aides on this floor seem to like the silence that fills the hall nine to five every day. If that’s not the case, they don’t let on. Their doors are all half open as I walk quietly by, stealing glances into each of the offices as I do.

Senator Glass’s aide is sorting papers into three separate stacks, her penny-sized, copper eyes looking over her round glasses to read the first few lines before setting it in a stack. I’m convinced she just sorts the same stacks of papers over and over again, since I see her doing this once a day – there’s no way Senator Glass get’s that many letters during interim session.

In the next door, Leah, Senator Mierzowski’s aide, is holding the phone up to her ear while she fiddles with the computer, her long acrylics tapping the keys slowly and deliberately. She eyes me as I walk by and turns her over-lipsticked lips up in a crude “I can’t be bothered to risk laugh lines for you” kind of smile as she waves her typing fingers at me. I wave back, but don’t slow my pace.

The last door is the only one that’s consistently closed. Senator Carter’s aide doesn’t even pretend to be working; he holes himself in the Senator’s office, curls up on the couch and watches DVDs all day. I haven’t even seen him since session ended three months ago.

Finally, the lonely, ill-ventilated bathroom. I slide the sign so that it reads the bathroom’s occupado and do my thing.

On my way back to my office, a funny thing happens. Olga, Senator Glass’s aide, calls out, “Karen!” I freeze. I turn on my heels to see her, stacks of paper pushed aside.

“Hey, Olga,” I say back to her. I tentatively approach the door, wondering in the back of my mind if maybe it’s a trap. What would she be trapping me for? You never know. It could be an initiation thing. There’s no way of knowing. “What’s up?”

She folds her tiny hands in front of her, then smiles. “I was just wondering if you were seeing anyone?” She smiled expectantly, waiting for the simple “yes” or “no.” I freeze the moment – there’s Olga, whom I’ve talked to maybe three or four times in the four months I’ve been here, looking up at me with her penny-eyes, the faded pink lipstick still staining her smile. Her short black hair is a little askew, nothing new since the heat started kicking in last month. And she wants to know if I’m seeing someone.

To give her a break, it should be a simple enough question. And, if the question were “are you in a relationship with someone?” or “are you interested in getting to know someone else?” it’d be a simple, flat and out no. So I lay out her intentions: is she trying to set me up with someone? If so, then yes, I’m seeing someone. Is she simply trying to get to know me? If so, definitely no. The second this religious, Republican office gets wind that you’re still sort of seeing your ex while simultaneously sleeping with that guy from Portland, you become the pariah and the rumors will be about you.

So which is it? Which way to you answer? Which is worse, being set up with some weird Republican loser, or becoming known as the sexually carefree heathen?

“Not really,” is the answer I decide on. “No one special right now.”

Her smile turns into excitement. “Well, maybe you could do me a favor, then?” Luckily, before I have time to do the obligatory nod, which isn’t in my nature anyway, she goes on. “My nephew Jeremiah is in from California, and I have just tried and tried to get out of the book club meeting I’m hosting this evening, but since I agreed to host over a month ago, the president just isn’t having any of it.”

Here it is. The set-up.

“Now, I know it’s a terrible burden, but I think you would like him. He’s a good-looking guy, just graduated from the University of Oregon,” she smiles proudly, and I pre-emptively wince for the words I know are coming next. “He’s a good Christian boy, and a really great Republican leader.”

Internal: “Fuck.”

External: “Oh, is he? He sounds great! Unfortunately, I think I have some campaign work – “

Her excited smile turns into a full-on beam. “Well, I took the liberty of calling Senator Daniels earlier. He said you could certainly take an evening off from the campaign if you like.”

Internal: “Fucking Senator. Of all the times he asks for 300 percent, this isn’t one of them. Figures.”

External: “Oh. Well, then, I guess if you need me to take him off your hands, I could take him out for coffee or something?” I know this is the polite thing to say. I just can’t fucking stop the polite thing from coming out of my mouth. Thanks a lot, Mom.

She unfolds her hands and bangs them on her desk. “Well, aren’t you the sweetest! I just know you’ll like him, Karen, he is such a gentleman. I’ll give him your number and have him call you now! Thanks a million, Karen, thanks a million.”

I nod with a plastic smile as I turn back around and head for my office. Here we go. Karen’s inability to say no when it’s unbelievably necessary strikes again.

I make my way through the two empty desks and collapse into the winged captain’s chair behind my own. I spin it, staring up at the ceiling. It stops after one spin, right where it should. I wish it would spin more.

It’s not the worst duty in the world – in fact, most of the girls I know up here at the state capitol would prefer an evening sipping coffee with a cute, good Christian Republican over stuffing fundraising envelopes any day.

But then, I’m not exactly like the other girls at the state capitol. I spin the chair harder this time.

What kind of name is Jeremiah anyway?

This is going to be fun to explain to the ex. Not like he isn’t on edge enough about my relationship with Stupid Portland Boy– now I have to go out with some other guy?

The chair does almost two full spins before stopping so that I’m facing the wall, the calendar. I’m coming up on five months here and I still spend every weekend either down in Portland or with Eric in Seattle. I spend the days here alone, the nights with campaign crew, and eat dinner from a box every night.

Maybe meeting this Jeremiah guy isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

The phone rings and I jump out of my skin. There he is. Prompt one, this Jeremiah.

“Senator Daniels’ office, this is Karen, how can I help you?” The boredom creeps out of my voice; I don’t even try to coat it with sugary sweetness anymore.

“Hey, Hello?” Oh, no. This is not good Christian Republican nephew. This is a constituent.

Sigh. “Hello, sir, what can I do for you?” I reach for a pen and notepad, praying it’s actually just a wrong number.

“Hello? Why…uh, is Senator Daniels around? I got an idea for him.” He’s shouting into the phone.

“I’m sorry, sir, the Senator is out right now. I’m his legislative assistant, is there anything I can help you with?”

“Well, yeah, I suppose you…yeah, you could help me. Hey, I had a…uh, a great idea!” I’ve talked to plenty of people like this before. Semi-lucid, distracted, confused, and, most importantly, full of ideas that will solve the billion dollar deficit, create world peace, and make everyone happy. They are both the highlight of my days and the bane of my existence.

“Well you know about how the Governor, she….well, you know, she, uh, raised the taxes this year?”

“Yes, sir, taxes were raised this session in an effort to close the multi-billion dollar deficit, but I can assure you that Senator Daniels voted against each of them. He’d have preferred to cut government spending and make other spending reforms to just raising taxes.” Sometimes I really can’t believe I spout this shit all day.

“Well, that’s stupid. I mean, taxes only got raised a few pennies on some things, you know, and I see pennies all over, on the floor and ground, and…and instead of raising the sales tax like a tenth of a penny, he shoulda just raised it a whole penny, maybe even two…hell, you know, I — I have six pennies I can donate right now if I knew where to take ’em.”

I recognize this guy. His name’s Bill. One time, he called me and kept me on the phone for 37 minutes. He told me about how his high school taught him Satanic rituals in 1966, about how his neighborhood watch is taking turns spying on his home, and about how the President is actually a Wookie. He used Bible trivia as transitions.

I lean back and open a game of Solitaire. I can’t fucking believe this is my life.

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