I crowd-sourced a list of New Intern Dos-and-Don’ts late one night on Air Force One, after spending a week rescuing over-confident under-prepared undergraduates from the wrath of the Chief of Staff. I tried asking Donna for advice, but she only got as far as "don't wear your badge off campus” before having to go and defuse the latest round of Lyman Vs. Lou: Sarcasm Smackdown.
Really, once you've worked in the West Wing for more than a couple of weeks, you only need the badge to get through security. The Secret Service recognise you by then, it doesn't matter what the senior staff call you because you'll always answer and never correct them, and you don't want any of the press knowing your name anyway. But the badges mean a lot to people.
They've improved a lot since I started working for President Santos. Back when he was just Matt, in New Hampshire, we had bits of laminated copier paper on these godawful lanyards that were so cheap the dye bled colour onto all of our clothes. We hated them, and the hideous blue never washed out of what was in my case one of only two decent suit jackets, but every single one of us who was actually there, back when it all started, still has their faded, stained badge somewhere in their office.
After the blue dye incident (which lead to Josh cursing – the really bad kind - within earshot of someone who fortunately remained a major donor), we switched to chains, which really meant we wore our badges paper-clipped to our shirt pockets and left bits of broken crappy chains all over Iowa and South Carolina.
By Super Tuesday, most of us had managed to snag half decent lanyards from various events, Josh had only confiscated a handful of them for having unsuitable branding on them, and our badges were (mostly) waterproof.
Then there were the utterly ridiculous oversized Convention passes. We all looked like unaccompanied minors in the care of a particularly irresponsible airline crew. Still, I know of at least two people who have theirs in a frame. It was a pretty unforgettable three days.
After that everything got pretty polished, but because of what happened on election day, there isn’t a lot of Santos-McGarry paraphernalia on display around here.
Now, our IDs hang from chains again, but they’re much sturdier. The rumour is that they’re specially designed by the Secret Service to only break if you’re getting strangled. I don’t quite see how that would work. Mine’s certainly strong enough to hold my badge, a pen and my glasses plus whatever Otto attaches to it when I’m not paying attention, idiot.
Except for Donna. Donna’s name badge now hangs on what Sam drunkenly let slip is a staggeringly expensive necklace from Tiffany. Weirdly, Josh gave it to her a week before Valentine’s Day. A few people bought Otto’s theory that it was a “stealth engagement ring”, but as Lou pointed out, stealth isn’t Josh’s strong suit. “Not that there’s anyone left in the District who could possibly not already know, but when Donna’s officially off the market, he’s going to want to make that abundantly, several carats hand-cut clear,” I think were her exact words. She then muttered something that sounded like “about as unsubtle as a leash” but everyone knows she thinks they’re the most adorable thing to happen since Bon Jovi babysat Miranda and Peter at Halloween.
Then someone hit on the genius plan of buying Margaret lunch. And it turned out the story of Donna’s first staff badge is almost nauseatingly cute. We’d all already heard about her walking into his office that day – and speculated endlessly about what would have happened if she’d picked someone else’s (the “true love conquers all” theory is pretty popular, but I can’t help but think that if Toby Ziegler or CJ Cregg had scooped her up before Josh did, it might never have occurred to anyone that Matt Santos should run for President, and then where would we all be?) – but it was only recently (when they moved in together over Christmas) that Josh discovered she’d kept the badge this whole time.
“It was in her jewellery box, you see. She…” Margaret paused then and pinched her lips together, which we’re learning means she’s trying not to cry. “She told him it was the first piece of jewellery anyone had ever given her.”
Now, it would have been pretty neat if he’d had a ring ready to go at that point – talk about perfect timing – but handing her her badge as they’re running around getting ready in the morning, on the anniversary of the day she started working for him (the first time), and her not noticing until two hours later when the First Lady compliments her on it that it’s a diamond necklace and not the same supposedly-strangulation-safe chain – that’s like something out of a movie, and so completely typically them. And, to give the man some credit, a little bit stealthy too. Josh Lyman is, after all, a man of occasion.