The one where I punked the Vice President’s Chief of Staff

While in law school, I worked at The Nature Company at the Mall of America on breaks. The store manager, Kathy, was a fellow political junkie who just happened to have been formerly engaged to Tony. Tony was at the time Vice President Al Gore’s scheduler. I went to law school in Richmond, Virginia – and when Kathy called to tell me she’d be in DC in April, I gladly accepted an invitation to tag along. I’d get a tour of the White House!

I showed up at the OEOB security gate, and was waived through. Remarkably, I was free to roam the halls of the OEOB. (I assume they do things a bit differently now.) Look! Warren Christopher! Hey – isn’t that Janet Reno?! For a 22 year-old who adored politics, it was too good to be true.

I found Tony’s office upstairs, and his first words to me (we’d never met) were, “Can you act?” I’m pretty sure my first answer was “No” (well, after lots of confused stammering), but he persisted. “Not act, so much as just ask questions and not laugh.” It was only then that I realized I was in the White House on April Fool’s Day. And that there was no saying “No” to Tony.

Tony and the rest of the staff had planned an elaborate prank: their boss, Jack Quinn (Al Gore’s Chief of Staff), was a big Utz Pretzel fan. I was to play the Utz Pretzel representative, there to inquire about Quinn’s love of all things Utz.

Into the Vice President’s Ceremonial Room I went to wait, until Jack Quinn was ushered in. Yes, it’s as imposing as it looks.

They had a script – 20 or more questions (the only question I remember: “Would you say peanut M&Ms are to President Clinton as Utz Pretzels are to Jack Quinn?” His answer: “Not many people know that President Clinton doesn’t like peanut M&Ms, so… no.”) designed to test even the most patient of men.

To his credit, he put up with the whole thing. Last thing I heard as his staff let him in on the joke: “Who was that?!”

And now you know why I’ll never work in Washington, DC.

(And Mr. Quinn, if you’re out there: sorry. Tony made me do it.)

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