SCHMOOZING AND THE ART OF ZEN

Have you ever heard of the expression, “I am in the Zone (or is it Zen)?” You can substitute any pronoun and apply it to any walk of life. There are just sometimes in your life where you seem not to be able to do anything wrong. It does not happen frequently, but just enough times to let you see what life can be life at its fullest.
Most often it seems to be applied to sports. Baseball players talk about it when they hit the ball no matter where it is pitched, or the pitcher who can’t seem to do anything wrong no matter how he throws the ball. Quarterbacks, such as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning throw 15 or 20 passes in a row without even trying. It all goes spectacularly well.
Since I am not in sports anymore, I do not have those physical kinds of days (maybe sometimes in the gym when I can lift a heavier weight or ride the stationary bike for a longer time). I do have however, days when I am working in the Capitol, as a lobbyist for rural schools, that I have one of those, “Zone (Zen)” times.
The day starts off with a good parking place, on a low floor in the garage. I walk into the capitol and when I am reviewed by the police and the machine, all goes well and there seems to be goodwill towards me from both. I walk into the rotunda and there are a few legislators or other lobbyists standing there and they look at me and smile. If I am lucky, they will beckon to me to come over.
The conversations are not always about legislation or how the Governor is really screwing things up, but just regular human things. There are barbs and quips. It is apparent that I am a welcome part of the group. I even exude confidence enough to tell a joke or two. When I leave the group, I know that I am on my way to having a good day.
I go to one legislator’s office to hang up my coat. This legislator is from Clarion and she was actually in high school when my kids were (although a few years younger). If she is there, I can ask her questions about how things are in Clarion County. Since we know so many people together, the conversation lasts a while. She may ask me some legislative questions, but it is mostly human stuff.
The political day really begins when I go to a legislator’s office for a purpose. I very rarely make appointments. What usually happens is that the legislator is called to the floor and my appointment goes up in a puff of smoke. Funny thing, you can call a legislator off the floor of the house or senate and have a better chance of seeing him/her.
This time, I march into the office and the secretary (now legislative assistant) tells me that the Senator is not in and would I like to make an appointment. I ask if there are any times today. She looks at me like I have just twisted a ring tailed pheasant’s neck on her desk. I surmise that there are no times available till next year (that has actually happened to me).
At that moment, the Senator comes out of his office and says, “I really need to see Arnold, could you hold me calls and my appointments.” We enter the office and the Senator has much to tell me and ask me. He has a bill that is coming up and he wants to know what kind of hearing it will get in the education committee. Since I have not read the legislation, I defer to the Senator’s short description. I nod my head knowingly and tell him that I believe it will be a winner (or a loser).
Somehow, he is comforted by what I have said. Thirty minutes has passed when I leave the office with a smile on my face and a nod to the legislative assistant. I can only pray that the next series of meetings with lobbyists and legislators are just as successful.
I wend my way to my favorite place, a legislator’s office where the staff is incredibly helpful to me and allow me to hang out, use the phones, or the computers, and generally treat me as they would their office mates. The legislator and his staff are congruent in philosophy to mine. I get much information in that office, which I translate into words for the organization that I represent.
I learned very quickly when I began to lobby, that the most important people in the capitol were the staff members. I have known some of them for a long time. Legislators come and go Committee Chairs come and go. Administrations come and go. However, staff remains. They may switch from one office to another (only rarely crossing party line), but they stay until they retire.
On this Zone day, I must see a few legislators who are trying to either block some nefarious bill from the anti- public education people, or pass their own bills. I cannot seem to catch them, either in the hall or in their offices. They are on the floor of the House or Senate. I try to have them called off the floor. Sometimes that works. However, there are some days when chaos is the theme of the day and they can’t leave their seats for fear that the bad people will prevail.
Once, on a particularly Zen day, I just had to speak to a number of members of the House. I visited one of their offices. The young woman (more legislative assistant than secretary) told me that she had an idea. She marched me down to the area in which the members of the house enter the floor. She said something to the gatekeeper and walked me onto the House floor. The man in charge of the entryway then walked me over to where the pages were sitting (at the front of the House) and found a seat for me.
I was then looking over the entire House. The speaker of the House, Sam Smith came over to me and asked me what I was doing there. I have known Sam (from Punxsutawney in my old I.U.) since 1982. I could not resist and have him a bear hug. As I released him, Bill DeWeese, the minority leader walked over and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I needed to see some of the reps and could not see them in their offices or off the floor.
That was a signal for him to wave to the people I needed to see and have them come up front to speak with me. It probably looked strange from the peanut gallery, where visitors were sitting and to the rest of the house. I concluded my business and left the floor. I had done all that I needed for that day and was walking on clouds. Things don’t get much better.
I trotted back to the office of the woman who had gotten me into the House. I asked her what she had told the guardian of the House to let me in and sit me with the pages. She looked up at me and smiled and said, “Sometime it’s good to have boobs.”

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