Annapolis -- Now that you've learned where the hopper is, and what the difference is between a second and third reader, here are some survival tools to get you through your bewildering first session in Annapolis.
* Senators Only: Never ever refer to the House of Delegates as the "Lower House." The penalty for this is to have one of your own delegates run against you in the next election. The correct reference is "other chamber."
* Delegates Only: In the presence of a senator always refer to the Senate as the "Upper Chamber." The benefits for this politically correct usage are incalculable. Like fair treatment for your own pet bills.
* Don't put your shiny new legislative license plate on your car. You run the risk of being heckled by strangers and pelted with rotten fruit every time there's bad news. You may also, inadvertently of course, exceed the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, or accidentally cut off another motorist, or lend your car to someone who commits such a violation. These violations are against the law. I know it's unfair, but you are now under a microscope. Think of what you would do with a "flaunting illegal conduct" if you were running against an incumbent. And that's what you are now -- one of them! As soon as you are sworn in you will be sworn at. You will be an incumbent.
* Don't lord it over staff. They're the people who do most of the heavy lifting, and they can destroy you without your even knowing it if you're not careful. Lobbyists learned this a long time ago.
* Senators only: speak up forcefully, on anything, within the first two weeks. You are expected to have an individual persona.
* Delegates only: Read about Argentina under Juan and Evita Peron. You are not expected to speak up on anything for at least two years. This is known as "the committee system."
* Do not respond to all those party invitations. There will be between 3 and 5 each night. Just show up at the usual places if you want to. This is not an obligation. You do not have to eat at these places. Go to mingle with colleagues, staff and constituents. Then have dinner with friends. Or better yet, go home!
* Don't be afraid of the press. You got elected, didn't you? If you think your job is confusing, try writing a story every day about all that chaos. You have no right to complain if you don't at least try to communicate.
* I know you're worried about being seen with lobbyists. That's good. Worry a lot. And remember that those people from the governor's office and the executive departments are also lobbyists. Try seeing these people in your office during the day, and offer them a cup of coffee. That also frees up your evenings, and your mornings, and your afternoons.
* Above all else, answer your constituent mail and phone calls first. This is more important than being schmoozed by the governor or anyone else.
OK -- you're set. Get ready for a combination magic carpet ride and roller coaster. You're now a part of history. Make the most of it.
State Sen. Howard A. Denis, R-Montgomery County, is retiring after 18 years.