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When I enter the Tombs and face the U-shaped bar, nobody looks at me. Maybe it’s because I forgot my uniform. I am wearing a ’70s thrift-store shirt with missing buttons, and my khakis are ripped and cut off—not pressed just so. And instead of Hill-issue loafers, I have a pair of beat-up Chucks. Because I don’t fit in, I don’t fit in. No one offers to sell me a beer. No one looks interested in sharing

a table. My feet start to stutter

and pace.

I end up shifting to a corner under a 30-inch television set blasting a Bulls game and wonder how to penetrate this preening mass of fresh intern meat flown in from Vermont, New York, and Memphis. The junior executives cram into suspicious clusters in booths and at tables, woven together by Polo blazers, silk scarves, tans, and ID badges. I feel as if I’ve interrupted a Dockers commercial.

Although the alcohol seems to be flowing, the crowd is drunker still on fantasy. It’s the same allure that drives aspiring actors to crash parties in L.A. The proximity to power has its effects: These interns are 30 copy machines away from any real authority, but they are willing to change political philosophies on a dime and take a short lunch to get noticed. Maybe they will be spotted next to the coffee machine (“You’re the next Susan Molinari!”) or in the dusty archive room at the Library of Congress. Maybe it will be at this Georgetown bar—a favorite of image prince Andre Agassi—on this Wednesday night. The Tombs is the intern War Room, and Beltway wannabeism is the only thing on the menu. In between ginning up their delusions of grandeur, the interns grouse about their jobs—and why shouldn’t they? They work for free, fer crissakes.

The White House intern with the fake name is trying to lie his way out of an interview. Sitting in the back of the Tombs, “Charles Fenet” or “Greg Fromdorf” wants to do some spinning of his own. “Actually, we’re not White House interns,” he asserts with a devilish laugh. His fellow interns, who also deny that they are interns, just giggle into their frosty mugs.

Mr. Junior White House looks as if he was born with fully motorized ambition. He has all the right features: the square jaw, the cheekbones, the news-anchor hair, and the neatly pressed Capitol Hill khaki slacks. The women at his side, who deny that they are interns, exude an equally polished first impression: fake ‘n’ bake tans, Friends-cum-Mary Tyler Moore hair flips, and whitened teeth. The Mary Tyler Moores aren’t giving away much, either. They talk with chalk in one hand and blackboard eraser in the other—each sentence is carefully analyzed and then wiped away with a giggle or an “off the record.”

One of the Marys finally cracks: “We’re White House interns. We just can’t comment,” she says before putting the wall back up. Are you allowed to comment? “No comment,” she returns, giggling. Where did you learn to say “no comment”? “No comment!” More giggles. The denials persist down to the liquid in their glasses. “We’re drinking apple juice,” one Mary snaps.

Before I shove off, Jim Candido, a Friend of the Interns (FOI), taps my shoulder. He eases out of his seat, cupping his hand to his mouth to whisper; finally, some dirt is about to be dumped. “They just work the copy machine,” he says conspiratorially. “They are very self-important. I think it’s funny, but it’s a lot of attitude. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but coffee making is, like, their main job.”

But as I chip away at the room, I notice there are a couple of weak spots in the cone of silence: Republicans and drunks. These are the ones with their sleeves rolled up and their blazers long gone. When I approach, notebook in hand, their eyes light up. They want to test their media prowess on me. They want to know where I went to school and how long I’ve been writing. They want to check my ID.

Sitting at the corner of the bar, a Red Cross intern has a declaration to make. She loves Dan Quayle and worships Elizabeth Dole. “It’s something I believe,” she says, apparently not enough to give her real name. She wants to be called “Jenny.” “I believe in [her] mission. I’m a strong supporter of Elizabeth Dole.”

This prompts a few cracks from a friend and Hill intern. “I love Liddy,” he shouts sarcastically.

Jenny quickly and firmly corrects him: “She doesn’t like to be called ‘Liddy.’”

He’s just jealous. He didn’t get the right internship. Working as a lackey for Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.), he predicts that his boss will not be re-elected. Why? Because he has nothing to do. “Her office is really disorganized,” he says. “I spend half of the day wondering whether I have a thing to do. It’s like, ‘Do this and I’ll see you after lunch.’”

I’m beginning to rethink this whole intern-mystique thing, but then I bump into George Morrison. An intern with Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), he is still wearing his blue Polo blazer, white Gap pants, and a Senate badge pasted with his impressive visage. Nursing a pitcher of Bud Lite, the power just, well, emanates from him. Or maybe it’s just sweat. Morrison moves in for a media encounter of the intimate sort—I think the sweat on his forehead may drip on me. He admits he gets off on the proximity to elected wonkery. “It hits me when I’m sitting in the Senate office,” explains the University of Virginia student. “It’s a heady feeling….I think, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m sitting in the fifth most senior Democrat’s office and I’m working here.’ It’s a major ego boost for me. But I’ve always been a bit of an egoist.”

He admits, “We don’t do shit,” but just being near the senator is enough. “Fritz Hollings is a brilliant man,” says Morrison, who recently finished his intern tour of duty. “He’s not hard to deal with from what I know.”

In addition to the heart of the mainstream, the fringes are well represented at the Tombs as well. An intern at the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation starts railing at Clinton. He thinks the president’s knee operation was a ruse to get that “mark” off his penis to protect him from Paula Jones. As he runs the conspiracy for me, I notice him fidgeting with his fake silver Tag Heuer. He says he has a real one, but his parents are making him leave it at home. He can’t wear it, not in this city. “I will not venture beyond Georgetown and Capitol Hill,” he asserts. “When I get to the 9:30 Club, I feel like I’m leaving the Saigon Embassy in 1975.”

All the ambient seriousness baffles bouncer Matt Rader, who interned on the Hill three years ago. A beefy guy with Brady Anderson sideburns and gelled hair, Rader’s most memorable encounters were with other interns.

“Most of the scene is lots of hooking up,” he brags. “I hooked up with two or three [one-night stands], and that was in the six-week cycle. For some of my friends, I’d say it was at least once a week.”

Heather Carey, 21, doesn’t have time for that kind of fooling around. She’s an intern waiting to happen. Walking into the bar, she asserts that she gave up a summer in New York City to find an internship on the Hill. “I hope they need help,” Carey says. “The last time I went in, I got three job offers.”

Maybe it’s the skin-tight magenta dress. Maybe not. She looks like every other intern—tanned to the fingertips, Mary Tyler Moore flip, and a body that would look great in front of a copy machine. She’s already got the spin part down.

“If you’re going to describe me, you better make me sound good, OK?,” she instructs. She knows how to work the rest of the room, too. Within five minutes, a job possibility with some subcommittee comes up .

Carey insists it’s all about opportunity. And, of course, the right attitude.

As I leave the bar, she flashes her best business face: “Don’t jinx me.”CP