I DON'T BELONG HERE. I haven't for years. When I first came to Capitol Hill to work for Congressman Nelson Cordell, it was different. But even Mario Andretti eventually gets bored driving two hundred miles an hour every single day. Especially when you're going in a circle. I've been going in circles for eight years. Time to finally leave the loop.
"We shouldn't be here," I insist as I stand at the urinal.
"What're you talking about?" Harris asks, unzipping his fly at the urinal next to mine. He has to crane his neck up to see my full lanky frame. At six feet four inches, I'm built like a palm tree and staring straight down at the top of his messy black hair. He knows I'm agitated, but as always, he's the perfect calm in the storm. "C'mon, Matthew, no one cares about the sign out front."
He thinks I'm worried about the bathroom. For once, he's wrong. This may be the rest room right across from the Floor of the House of Representatives, and it may have a sign on the door that says, Members Onlyas in Members of Congress . . . as in them . . . as in not usbut after all this time here, I'm well aware that even the most formal Members won't stop two staffers from taking a whiz.
"Forget the bathroom," I tell Harris. "I'm talking about the Capitol itself. We don't belong anymore. I mean, last week I celebrated eight years here, and what do I have to show for it? A shared office and a Congressman who, last week, pressed himself up against the Vice President to make sure he didn't get cropped out of the photo for the next day's newspaper. I'm thirty-two years oldit's just not fun anymore."
"Fun? You think this is about fun, Matthew? What would the Lorax say if he heard that?" he asks, motioning with his chin to the Dr. Seuss Lorax pin on the lapel of my navy blue suit. As usual, he knows just where the pressure points are. When I started doing environmental work for Congressman Cordell, my five-year-old nephew gave me the pin to let me know how proud he was. I am the LoraxI speak for the trees, he kept saying, reciting from memory the book I used to read to him. My nephew's now thirteen. Dr. Seuss is just a writer of kids' books to him, but for me, even though it's just a trinket . . . when I look at the tiny orange Lorax with the fluffy blond mustache . . . some things still matter.
"That's right," Harris says. "The Lorax always fights the good fight. He speaks for the trees. Even when it's not fun."
"You of all people shouldn't start with that."
"That's not a very Lorax response," he adds in full singsong voice. "Don't you think, LaRue?" he says, turning to the older black man who's permanently stationed at the shoeshine chair right behind us.
"Never heard of the Lorax," LaRue responds, his eyes locked on the small TV that plays C-SPAN above the door. "Always been a Horton Hears a Who guy myself." He looks off in the distance. "Cute little elephant . . ."
Before Harris can add another mile to the guilt trip, the swinging doors to the rest room bang open, and a man with a gray suit and red bow tie storms inside. I recognize him instantly: Congressman William E. Enemark from Coloradodean of the House, and Congress's longest-serving Member. Over the years, he's seen everything from desegregation and the Red Scare, to Vietnam and Watergate, to Lewinsky and Iraq. But as he hangs his jacket on the hand-carved coat-rack and rushes toward the wooden stall in back, he doesn't see us. And as we zip up our flies, Harris and I barely make an attempt to see him.
"That's my point," I whisper to Harris.
"What? Him?" he whispers back, motioning to Enemark's stall.
Copyright © 2004 by Forty-four Steps, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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