Please, Don’t Let It Be Tripp
“Who’s next?” Jack Franklin asked his assistant, a volunteer, who was angling for a White House job, any White House job. That’s how it goes when presidential campaigns are successful, even ones that weren’t supposed to be: every volunteer, friend and campaign contributor tried to parlay his or her time and money into a job with the new Administration. This kid had been volunteering since he graduated from college last spring and joined what, at the time, was a borderline candidacy by a border-state Congressman. Jack had no doubt he would do well with the new Administration--the kid was capable, connected and seemed to have evolved beyond the need for sleep. Still, finding this guy a job this was not Jack’s problem to solve, despite the e-mail from the kid’s father, a total pain-in-the-ass, with a seemingly bottomless checkbook, who wanted to make sure junior was taken care of. As the new President’s incoming Chief of Staff, Jack was responsible for vetting the most important positions in the new Administration--the President’s Cabinet. Actually, the most important positions were scheduler and that woman who remembers everyone’s names, but those positions were already filled.
“Gale Richards,” the kid said, reading from a three ring binder he carried with him everywhere these days. The peaceful transition of power in the United States from one President to the next was a democratic marvel, but a logistical nightmare. Over the course of two and half months, an incoming President has to fill thousands of positions across the Federal government, put together a budget of over a trillion dollars and plan an inauguration party, when really what everyone could use is a few days off on a beach somewhere. Jack had a staff of fifty people all of whom desperately needed a beer, twelve hours of sleep and then probably another beer. He looked longingly at the bottom drawer of his desk where a fine bottle of scotch sat waiting for the right moment to come out. 9:15 am was probably not that moment.
“At least it’s someone I like,” Jack thought, letting the scotch dream die a slow death. “What’s on her list?” he asked, refocusing.
Before meeting with the Chief of Staff, certain close friends of the recently elected President were asked to submit a wish list of jobs in the Administration. People whose primary means of support was financial rather than intellectual usually peppered their list with Ambassadorships to places like France and Spain where they could take their families on a low stress four-year vacation paid for by the American taxpayer. Others, like Gale Richards, were targeted for the thankless work of actually running the country.
Richards’ resume would make even the most jaded corporate headhunter salivate. She had an undergrad degree from Cornell followed by a law degree from Georgetown, which she received while working part time for the Senate Majority Leader. After a short stint with a Washington, DC law firm, she joined a small start-up as the fourth employee and general counsel. A decade later she never had to work again, so decided to spend her time and money on political causes and politicians.
One of the first politicians to benefit from her largess was a little-known congressman from New Mexico with a gift for sounding perfectly rational, while spewing utter gibberish; a fact painfully obvious to a slight minority of the population upon further reflection and sobering up. Somewhere between gibberish and reflection, Gale made a donation and apparently wasn't yet willing to admit she made a mistake. Well, the unknown politician was known now and despite some buyer's remorse, Jack intended for that not to mean the end of a 240 year democracy, if he could help it.
"She only put one thing down,” the kid responded. “NOAA. That’s the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”
“I know what NOAA stands for, but that’s ridiculous. The woman could almost have her choice of Cabinet positions. The President wants her at State. He's going to be pissing off and on every country we used to be friends with and needs someone to put out the fires." Metaphors were not Jack's strong suit. "She must be joking. Send her in."
After five minutes, Jack sighed and got up from his desk. Volunteers looking for fulltime work suck. He found Gale Richards deep in conversation with the kid. He watched with admiration, as she had clearly created a bubble of personality around the poor guy and he was clearly smitten in a finally-someone-who-could-get-me-out-of-this-drudgery kind of way. Richards was her usual imposing self appearing to be late-forties, when sixty was closer to the mark. Her hair was more white than gray, short and obviously professional managed. She was wearing a basic dark gray suit that was well tailored and probably cost more than the President had spent on clothes his entire life. Jack made a mental note to never let them stand next to each other when there was good lighting, or maybe during the day at all. He felt a headache coming on.
In a five-minute conversation with his assistant, Richards had cemented the kid's loyalty. She was a special breed, which was why the President wanted her at the State Department dealing with the egos and eccentricities of the world’s leaders, not predicting the damn weather at some second tier agency.
“Gale, any chance of me getting a moment of your time today?” Jack called out, interrupting the conversation across the room.
Richards turned, gave the kid a collegial squeeze on the shoulder that somehow passes as supportive when women do it to younger men and creepy the other way around, and walked the rest of the way into the office.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Jack. I’m always interested in who Henry has following him around and it’s the volunteers that give you the best read. So innocent and idealistic--you know, clueless. You’re not going to subject that poor guy to the White House are you?” Richards asked.
“For the moment, I’m not letting him go anywhere. I’ve got a few fairly important positions to fill and can use the help,” he said. They shook hands and Richards took a seat in one of the high back leather chairs that faced Franklin’s desk. There were small tears on the arms and the leather was old and fading.
“The space is lovely,” Richards commented nonetheless, waving her hand to encompass the large corner office with views of the best downtown Washington, DC parking garages.
“It's shit and you know it. All part of Henry's, excuse me, the President's hand-me-down approach to interior design. And we’re still paying through the nose for it,” Franklin commented with the righteous indignation of a man whose last furniture concern was whether couches or tables were a higher priority on the G4 Gulfstream he owned.
“It’s amazing the government continues to operate at all during these transitions. It's not like your getting any help from the lame ducks. I'd be worried they're spending their time booby trapping the place,” Richards said only half, maybe thirty percent kidding.
“I'm counting on it. We'll be sending in the interns first, just in case.”*
“I have no doubt you will.”
Pleasantries concluded, pawns deployed, Franklin moved to the task at hand. “The President wants you at State, Gale. You’d be a natural and your reputation will open doors, or at least not have them slammed in your face, without you having to say a word. The United States’ reputation on the other hand is shit around the world and you know Henry's campaign was largely to blame for that. I'm not expecting you to fix it, just try and keep it from getting worse; and I'll try to get him distracted with something local to give you some room to maneuver. Jesus, if he refers to another world leader as that guy with the funny accent . . . We need you on this one.”
Richards started to speak and then paused as though rethinking how to respond. “I was going to ask if you’d received my memo, but considering your reputation as a stickler for details, I’m going to assume you have it and are just being a dick.”
“You really want to be a weatherman?” Jack asked incredulously. “I thought you were joking. You are joking, right?”
“Actually, no." And she didn't even have the courtesy to seem embarrassed. "I’ve done all I can possibly do, or to be honest about it, am willing to do, to help Henry. He is perfectly capable of screwing things up without me. Find someone else to clean up his messes around the world. I think I'm pretty safe in saying that he owes me more than the other way around. In fact, I know he feels this way based on my conversation with him before I came over here this morning.”
"In case I was a dick about it."
"Your words. Good ones, though."
Jack ground his teeth in frustration upon hearing that Richards had gone over his head and that the President had failed to warn his Chief of Staff of the breech of protocol. He tried to hide his annoyance behind a fixed smile, but Richards wasn't fooled.
“Now, Jack, don’t get pissed off at the leader of the free world for not calling you. I deliberately waited until the last minute so he wouldn’t be able to give you the heads up.”
“So I should just be upset with you for going over my head,” Franklin said matter-of-factly.
“That, and my jet's nicer than yours."
"Now who's being a dick?" Jack laughed to cover his bruised ego. He was clearly outmatched.
“Seriously, why in God’s name do you want to run some backwater agency that the American public probably doesn’t know exists? Hell, I’ve worked in Washington for thirty years and I couldn’t even tell you where NOAA’s offices are located.”
“Fourteenth & Constitution, in the Commerce Building,” the kid yelled from the other room unaware that 'do you want fries with that' were likely to be the next words out of his mouth by the time Jack finished with him. Gale just smiled and jumped to his rescue.
“Look, Jack, I could bore you with my reasons . . .” she started.
“Bore me,” Franklin said.
Richards sighed and leaned forward, her hands gesturing in front of her.
“Did you know I was a science major in college?” she asked. When Jack just gave her blank stare, she continued.
“Anyway, I’ve always had an interest in science, in particular environmental science. Call it a hobby if you will, but how the Earth’s atmosphere protects and sustains life, how weather patterns affect cultures, how nature’s fury can destroy even the strongest man-made structures. It’s humbling when you really think about it.
"Don’t give me that look, Jack. I’m not crazy. I’ve worked my entire life within the system trying to make money, give my family opportunities others don’t have and help my friends advance their careers. I want this for me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something I'm excited about before retiring. It's pointless to argue with me, Jack. Henry already cleared it and promised not to try and defund NOAA for at least four years, which as you are probably painfully aware is likely to be the extent of the American public's tolerance for Henry's brand of politics.”
After a moment of silence, Jack asked, “Does the Senate even have to confirm the Administrator of NOAA?”
“Yes, sir, they do,” the kid added. Ah, innocence.
"Oh, and I'll take the bundle of enthusiasm as my first hire," Gale jumped in. "What's his name?"
"That would be Wallace Elijah Welker, III."
"Holy shit. That's a pretentious mouthful. Please, don't let it be Tripp."
Jack smiled and felt just a little better.
*No interns were actually harmed in the writing of this chapter.