Hard to Be Humble Inside the Beltway

BOSTON. — Boston. -- Everybody going to work in Washington for the first time, repeat after me: "I look funny in my underwear, and I pay my bills."

Say it again, slowly. Wander around your house while saying it. Check out the places on the wall that need paint. Open the desk drawer and pick through the flotsam and jetsam of normal life -- rubber bands, broken pencils, odd keys, dog collars, birthday candles and directions for the VCR.


"I look funny in my underwear, and I pay my bills." Write it down. Put it in your wallet. Make a tape. Include a description of your last trip to the grocery store: "The bananas were a little green and I waited in the checkout line for 20 minutes."

Kick the tires on the car. Get in, drive to the most congested area of town and try to find a parking space. Record your frustration on the piece of paper that's going into your wallet. Put it on the tape. Play it once a day while packing for the nation's capital, and twice a day after you get there.


"I look funny in my underwear and I pay my bills." Remember that line as the suits get fancier, which they will, particularly if you've been elected to the Senate. The hair will look better too. You'll start walking with a certain bearing as you head for the elevators reserved for members of Congress and then out to the special parking lots.

The Capitol Hill cops will stop traffic for you if there's a vote. People will wave. The Washington Post's "Style" section will run your picture. Everybody will tell you how significant that is and that pretty soon Sally Quinn will be inviting you to one of her parties.

You know what to say. Read it right from the paper in the wallet if you have to. Don't forget the part about the green bananas.

A few hours after you arrive, colleagues will start explaining that the national debt is a fine thing. They will say that it's the way

the government functions, no matter what nonsense was

spouted on the campaign trail.

"Welcome to the real world," they'll say.

"I know the real world," you can tell them, taking out the paper from the wallet. "The real world is a friend of mine. And you, sir, are from Neptune."


That's when you may have to say goodbye to federal money for a new hospital wing back home, but the people will love you for it. Some of them will, anyway.

Remember, you don't want to be in this job forever.

All of this goes double for Bill Clinton, who should try to get back to his favorite McDonald's in Little Rock at least once a month.

It'll be tough with the White House schedule, the Secret Service and the whole place wanting to shake his hand. But I think if people were cool about a governor eating fries in a booth, then they can get used to a president eating them. Especially if he shows up wearing the ugly jogging shorts.

"That's the president of the United States having a Happy Meal in his underwear, son. He hasn't turned into a zombie yet. The republic is OK."

Washington specializes in turning people into zombies. "D.C. Syndrome," it's called, and you know you've got it if you wake up in the morning and want to have breakfast with a committee.


Individuals dissolve into a blur of job titles -- joint chiefs, secretaries, assistant secretaries, task-force leaders, special commissioners, not-so-special commissioners, aides, aides and more aides.

Nobody is just plain Fred anymore. That's why new people coming to the nation's capital need to go home a lot -- to talk to Fred. Long-term D.C. residents shouldn't bother because they've forgotten how and don't even know the way out of town anymore. They spell the name FRED and think it's a program in the Energy Department.

"I look funny in my underwear and I pay my bills." You do and you can and you will. Don't forget. America is counting on it.

Susan Trausch is a Boston Globe columnist.