Saturday, November 22, 2014

When Opportunity knocked, I said, go away

America is the Land of Opportunity. While we seek opportunity, sometimes it is thrust right at us and even when the chance to get ahead is this obvious, we might fail to see what fate has dropped in our lap, gift wrapped.

Years ago, during my call up from the Army reserves for Desert Storm (the easy war against Iraq), in the latter part of my deployment I was stationed in Washington, DC. My boss, another reservist, a lieutenant colonel from Utah, suggested that while we were in DC, we should visit our congressional representatives and say hello.

At the time, I lived in California. I called my local congressman and senators, all Democrats. Interestingly, the common response from every office was, "Are you calling to contribute to the congressman's campaign?" Well, no. "Then why are you bothering us?" When I explained that I was returning from the war overseas, the reaction was a big yawn. My congressman from Fresno did agree to meet and I arrived all spiffy in my Class As. One of his assistants told me the congressman was running late. And late. Later still. He never bothered to show up.

My boss had better luck arranging visits with his reps, all Republicans I have to add and none of them asked if we were there to contribute money. I tagged along to visit Senator Orrin Hatch, then the third-most powerful man in the US Senate. Senator Hatch's office looked like an executive suite in a five-star hotel. His secretary was an older, very professional woman who wore a red dress and lots of gold jewelry. She led us to the senator's inner sanctum. I remember black leather furniture, glass cabinets filled with expensive gratuities, and a trophy wall of photos showing the senator with celebrities and honchos of every stripe.

This was the first time I'd ever had a private meeting with such a political big shot. Senator Hatch oozed power and charisma and yet he made it seem like the colonel and I were doing him a favor by taking time out of our lives to visit him. Man, this guy was slick.

He asked my boss and me if there was a favor he could do for us.

Now, to put this in perspective. Lobbyists pay hundreds of thousands of dollars just to sit with a man like Senator Hatch. Not only did we have an hour of his time, he was asking us if there was something that we needed. Within a few weeks I was about to get mustered out and sent home, a jobless veteran. Could I have used a favor from one of the most powerful men in America?

Fuck yeah.

So what did the colonel and I do?

"No," we both answered, "we don't need no favors."

I'm sure that Senator Hatch secretly rolled his eyes at these two clueless goobers in front of him. So he asked again, "Are you sure I can't do something for you?" Wink, wink. Hint, hint.

Meanwhile, my inner Mario must have been picking his nose because the outer Mario answered. "No, I don't think so."

For a third time, Senator Orrin Hatch, a man with his hand on all kinds of levers in the US government, asked us, "Are you sure I can't do anything for you?"

And for the third time, the colonel and I shuffled our feet and replied, "Aw shucks, Senator, we don't need nuthin." Our time was up. We shook hands with our host and left. I imagine that after his secretary ushered us out the door, he said to her, "Goddamn, weren't those two a couple of dense dumb asses."

So dense that it didn't dawn on me until much later, when I was struggling to find any kind of work, that I once had a US Senator offer me the golden key of opportunity and I had said, "Thanks, but no thanks."


Sybil Johnson said...

Very interesting the difference between the Democratic and Republican senators.

Mario Acevedo said...

Sybil: At the time I was a Democrat so you can imagine how humiliating the experience was.

Sybil Johnson said...

I can understand that. I wonder if it's the same today.

Eileen Goudge said...

Great story, Mario. We've all been in those situations. The moment when you pull a blank and spend the next year kicking yourself. At least you had your faith in government officials (partially) restored. That might've made me switch parties.

Sybil Johnson said...

Hmm, just looked at the labels on this post. Some interesting choices there. :=>