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The People’s Servants

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Josh came into the Roosevelt Room to a familiar soundtrack of people shushing each other, the rustling of papers, chairs scraping the floor as they pulled up to the great conference table and, beneath everything, a series of low groans, which he ignored. He peered at the assembled company over his bifocals, which, he had told himself repeatedly, made him look distinguished and not old. He cleared his throat.

“Andrew Jackson,” he began, and the brightest minds of their generation abruptly turned into middle-schoolers: audible sighs, heads dropping into hands, a veritable frenzy of eye-rolling; everything short of paper airplanes. “Andrew Jackson,” he repeated, in his I-will-take-no-shit-from-thee voice, “in the main foyer of his White House, had a big block of cheese. The block of cheese was huge, over two tons—“

(“This is serious?” Lou whispered to Sam. “This is seriously a thing?”

“Oh, yes,” Sam replied gravely.)

“--and it was there for any and all who might be hungry,” Josh continued. “Jackson wanted the White House to belong to the people, so from time to time he opened his doors to those who wished an audience. And it is in the spirit of Andrew Jackson that I –“

(The door opened and Donna hurried in, breathless, and threw herself into the nearest chair. “Did I miss it?” she asked, looking around. “I don’t want to miss it!”

“You didn’t miss it,” Sam told her.)

“--from time to time, ask senior staff to have face to face meetings with—“

(“You know what would make Big Block of Cheese Day better?” Donna mused. “Cheese. Some actual cheese: everybody likes cheese. Why don’t—“ Josh glared at her. “Sorry.”)

Meetings. With people from organizations that have a difficult time getting our attention.”

(“Because they’re totally crackers?” Lou muttered.

“Crackers go with cheese,” Donna pointed out. “What else would you have with cheese?”

“Grapes?” Ainsley suggested.

Donna grinned and pointed at her. “Girl, I like how you—“)

“Margaret is passing around your—Margaret!” Josh yelled, and she hurried in and started passing out the day’s schedules. “Margaret is giving you your meetings, which have been meticulously chosen for you based on—I dunno, a Ouija board or something.” He shrugged.

(“I’ve got The International Institute of Space Law,” Lou said. “What the fuck is Space Law?”

“Oh, I’d take that,” Sam said. “It’s interesting – they advocate for laws governing space travel. Right now, they’re trying to get a new space travel liability law passed.”

“Because it’s not like space travel is dangerous or anything.” Lou rolled her eyes.

“Right. Here, I’ve got the Jefferson Statehood Project,” Sam said, offering the file. “Trade?”

Lou squinted suspiciously at the file. “And they are?”

“They want to form a new state out of northern California and southern Oregon. Free markets, limited government. I dealt with them a lot when I was running for Congress. You know that thing that Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win?”

“Yeah?” Lou asked.

“We’re still at the ‘laughing at them’ stage.” Lou snatched his folder, and handed hers over.)

Josh raised his voice and continued: “I know the more jaded among you see this as something beneath you. But I assure you that listening to the voices of passionate Americans—“

“I like it,” Amy Gardner said; she was frowning down at her schedule. The room fell silent.

“Hey. I wasn’t finished,” Josh said.

“Sorry.” Amy slouched in her chair; she didn’t look at all sorry.

Josh just stood there, blinking.

“Passionate Americans,” Donna and Sam murmured, simultaneously.

“Right. Listening to the voices of passionate Americans is beneath no one. And surely not the people’s servants,” Josh finished. Donna clapped.

“I like it,” Amy said, standing up. “I’ve got meetings with Women’s Options D.C. and a coven of Dianic Wiccans.”

“Feels like old times,” Josh said. “Don’t forget your broomstick.”

“PETA wants to start a Lobster Empathy Center,” Otto said on his way out; there were murmurs of sympathy.

“Give them a pen,” Josh told him, and then yelled after him: “Hell, give ‘em two pens and get them the hell out of here. Now I want lobster,” he said to Donna. “You want lobster?”

“I could do lobster. Do you want me to get us a reservation at that place near the thing?”

“Yeah.” Josh paused to shove his bifocals back up and sign the document Margaret had just put in front of him. She could of course sign it herself but she was getting old for federal prison. “Tell them we’ll be there at eight unless something happens with the government.”

“What could happen?” Donna asked, and kissed his nose when he looked up. "Fine," she said. "I'll go outside and spit."

“Josh,” Sam said, coming over with his folder, “don’t get me wrong, I’m completely converted to the cause of cheese, but I have to push my schedule back an hour. I have an appointment this morning with a girl. I’d like to hire her.”

“Sam, I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Josh said, stepping closer and lowering his voice, “but we haven’t called girls ‘girls’ since 1985. Seriously: ask the coven of Dianic Wiccans.”

“She’s fourteen. “ Sam frowned. “Or—well—she used to be.”

“Didn’t we all use to be?”

“Her name is Winifred Hooper.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I met her when she was interning at the G.A.O. She’s just gotten a Ph.D. in public policy analysis from Harvard.”

“Well, quick: snatch her up before she takes a job that earns actual money.”

“Vote Hemp,” Ronna said, glaring at Josh as she passed.

“Hey, I did! Besides, they’re practically mainstream.” Josh turned back to Sam, frowning. “Intern at the G.A.O.,” he said, rapidly flicking his fingers. “Winifred Hooper. It’s ringing a bell, but I can’t quite—“ He stopped, grinned, popped his hands together. “Oh-ho-ho, Winifred Hooper, the intern at the G.A.O.! The one who spanked you—“

“She didn’t spank me,” Sam replied quickly.

“She totally—“

“And even if she did, I don’t think the coven of Dianic Wiccans would approve of that language, do you?”

“Wait, and now you want to hire her?” Josh thought about this. “I guess that makes sense. Donna, Amy, Lou, Ainsley—we’ve pretty much built an administration out of women who’ve kicked our asses. “ He smiled and slapped Sam’s shoulder. “Go hire Winnie Cooper.”

“Hooper. Right,” said Sam. “Will do. And don’t call her Winnie – she spits.”

“Okay. I wonder if that place near the thing does a cheese plate,” Josh mused. “Margaret!” and he wandered out of the Roosevelt Room toward what would always, in his heart, be Leo’s office.