I’ve always hated talking on the phone. And sucked at it, if I’m honest.
I have a long history of awkward calls, panicking and hanging up if someone actually answers, praying to get voicemail, ALWAYS letting my phone go to voicemail to the point that I’m not my husband’s emergency contact. He knows I won’t pick up the phone. I think it’s to do with being introverted, not being able to see and feel the person but just hear their voice. It messes me up. This is normal behavior, right? I mean, for me, given MY standards of normal.
In a long history of phone awkwardness, never was I more awkward than that time I hung up on Hillary Clinton. It was another dimension of awful.
Not intentionally. I have tremendous respect for the First Lady of the United States, whoever she is and whatever party she represents. I’m not a Hillary person, but I respect her as an individual. I just forgot all of this when I was on the phone with her.
I was in college, 1999. I had a summer internship at the Clinton White House. I loved government (who says that? Me – my 20 year old self) and wanted to get into it. I filled out an application and was accepted into the Office of the Millennium, the office that emerged when someone reminded Clinton he was going to preside over The Millennium, and he had better throw a damn good party.
That was our job: to throw the parties. Except, it was summertime, so I did not get to attend any millennial parties. I heard they were quite nice.
What was it like being a White House Intern?
It was nothing like that.
I did not work in the West Wing. Or the East Wing. Or even the White House… I didn’t work in the Old Executive Office Building either — the other building you see occasionally on TV. Pretty much everyone who is not in the White House has their office in the OEOB.
Which, now I think about it, I’m OK with. We were basically a party-planning office, so it was best we didn’t get in the way of the real government work that was being done elsewhere.
I worked in a building within walking distance to the White House. You didn’t need a badge to get into my building. Or an ID. In fact, all you needed were hands to open the door. And if you didn’t have hands, I’m sure someone would have just opened it for you, let you in, and given you a pamphlet about the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Almost all the calls we got were from people who went to www.whitehouse.com, looking to complain about taxes or potholes and finding not their friendly government, but a porn site. They would then call the real White House, be passed through to us, and announced, “Did you know your site has porn on it? That’s just like Clinton? What are you going to do about it?”
“Yes, thank you, sir/ma’am you want www.whitehouse.GOV. No, it is not affiliated with this Administration. No, we are not making money off it. I’m sorry you won’t be voting for the President again.” Oh wait, it’s his second term, we don’t need your vote. Get lost.
So no, my experience as an intern was not remotely like Charlie’s.
My job was to listen to speeches and type them up. The technical word is “transcribe.” I transcribed the hell out of quite a few speeches.
I also did “copying,” “collating,” and occasional “binder clipping.” I could see the White House from our building — or at least, I could see the protestors outside. They were there every day too, and unpaid, like me. I wondered if one could intern with a protest movement. I’d probably be closer to the action.
Funny enough, my boss’s name was also Ellen. This becomes important in a few seconds.
One day, I was covering for Boss Ellen’s assistant who was out with the flu, playing hooky, or just dead — I cannot remember. I got a break from the copier (and it got a break from me).
It was going fine, relatively fine, when Boss Ellen got a phone call on her line. I answered it for her outside her office.
Me: “Hello, Ellen’s Office.”
On the phone: “Hey Ellen, it’s Hillary. What do you think about…”
The First Lady was calling me! She knows my name! She wants to know what I think!
Me: “HOLY SHIT. IT’S YOU!!!”
I just swore at the First Lady of the United States
PANIC. SLAM DOWN PHONE.
I just hung up on the First Lady of the United States.
It is as bad as it sounds.
When the only people you’ve been talking to are senior citizens telling you about porn sites, you get a bit rusty with normal phone chat. Also, I generally hate talking on the phone. Did I mention?
Overwhelmed by the awesomeness of talking to the First Lady, thinking she meant me directly when she said “Ellen,” I reacted in the only way possible which is to immediately get SO GODDAM ANGRY and of course, swear at her. Then, in shock, I slammed down the phone, because if I was no longer on the phone, it never happened. Realizing that I had done that, I then yelled out an even worse obscenity to the entire office.
The rest unraveled pretty quickly:
My boss yelled, ”What is going on out there!?”
The First Lady’s aide called back immediately, also yelling. I apologized. She ignored me, ”Put us through, please?”
Quite a bit of yelling all around. Except Hillary. I’m sure she was laughing. Having tea. Toast.
I put the call through.
My boss never mentioned it to me. I was too embarrassed to look at her. I went back to my old friend, the copier. (Like, that second, I’m pretty sure I left her office for the rest of the day).
In retrospect, think – I fear – that this might have been my ‘flight’ moment.
I’m afraid of what that says about me. I’ve always considered myself brave, in fact that might be the singular adjective I use to describe me. Brave. And yet . . . yikes.
Maybe when someone is in trouble it’s different. Maybe when it’s against natural forces, threats – I’m ok. Great even. I have a bit of a savior/fixer complex.
Maybe I was just SO relaxed that I fell apart. Then again, I’ve always been terribly afraid of the telephone. Not sure why I got SO GODDAM ANGRY at her though. Must have been fear. I wonder if this is what Bill feels on a regular basis. Russia?
I never did meet Hillary Clinton. Which is too bad; I think she should have been very nice about that time I swore at her and then hung up. I have a feeling that she gets that a lot.
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