IN THE AFTERMATH of the political sex scandals of 1976, cautiously amorous congressmen are now more cautious than ever. This unfortune stalemate in socializing has led the capital's choicest young women to look elsewhere for entertainment.
Sweeping now to the fore as the most suitable social standins are reformers and consumer activists, chaps President Carter described as "the type Ralph Nader would approve of" when he announced he would appoint a number of activists to key administration posts.
It is a current assumption that while every congressman is a salacious satyr, every consumerist is a celibate saint. To counter this erroneous notion.I introduce to you to the pro bono boys. "Pro bono" is Latin meaning "for good," and the pro bobo boy works for the good of humankind. This does not mean he plays the cornet in the Salvation Army, collects for the United Way, or sits on the board of his local "Y" The pro bobo boy lobbies. He litigates. He maneuvers policy decisions, and manipulates public opinion. He is the protector of the oppressed and the enemy of the powerful. But what is his appeal to women?
His is a romantic image . . . a white knight for our times who slays anit-consumer legislation instead of fire-breathing dragons. Truth is his banner and he brandishes the sword of suspicion against what he distrusts. He wears no gleaming metal, scorning the dress and manners of the noble gentry, opinion-molders and decisionmakers. Quixotic by nature, he has joined the Crusades; his mission is to raise the consciousness of the unsaved-and-unaware by revealing coruption and the abuse of power. He is, however, unsure that his legions are with his small band of not-so-merry men he rides alone, assuming a demeanor of noble futility.
The pro bobo prince picks his prey carefully. His love interest is never "just anyone," but someone who can "do him some good." Even if she knows absolutely nothing about his area of concern, he will soon start her licking envelopes or sorting through potential grantors at the Foundation Center.
Of primary interest to him are newswomen. He cultivates their favors in the most charming way, hopeful that the consequence of yesterday's dalliance will be a helpful story in tomorrow's dailies. The pro bono prince also loves to love his enemy. That is, he makes an extra effort to acquire female friends who work in the specific area he seeks to reform. The most desired "just-a-good-friend" is a woman of information and influence, an attorney for a greedy corporation, say, or a Grade 13 in a government agency that the white knight believes in bed with an evil industry. "Strange bedfellows" is the name of the game here.
The fair maiden's reward is the heady thrill of "consorting with the enemy," particularly if she resents her powerless position within the establishment. Theirs is a relatively healthy friendship, if friendship can be defined as mutual exploitation.
Here is how a susceptible and idealistic young woman gets her libido lobbied pro bono style. The scene is a late dinner in an inexpensive Connecticut Avenue restaurant right up from Washington's Dupont Circle. The pro bono prince wears a jacket with narrow lapels, pants too baggy in the seat, and droopy white socks with wingtip shoes. Beside him is his knapsack, packed with papers and vital government reports. His dinner partner is the smartly dressed young woman carrying the leather briefcase.
His mealtime tirade about food additives, carcinogens waiters' wages and why-do-the-cattle-eat-the-people-grain depresses her, and consequently she has little to say. He asks her in his accusatory tone, "Don't you care about anything?" Of course she does, but still she feels guilty, and strangely vulnerable. Earlier that evening he had insulted her, but she only felt strangely stricken: "You Jewish Princesses are so discriminating, so demanding. You won't put up with much garbage, will you? If you chicks devoted as much time to reform as you do to returning shoes at Saks, we could have a real consumer revolution in this country!"
Ordinarily she would size him up, chew him out and spit him back in his place. He is not close to being as good-looking as she, makes at best a third of her salary, and never even has the opportunity to hustle the political pit-bunnies at Capitol Hill parties. Instead he chalks up eighteen hours a day working pro bono.
Throughout their dinner conversation he makes no personal comment . . . he could have had this conversation with anyone. He talks mostly about his work, and his dedication to it, about how so much of his project now remains to be done before a deadline to file. It is well into the evening and he tells her repeatedly how he plans to stay up all night and work.
When the check comes, she pays. The pro bono boy expects this. For his part, he swaggers back to the table, leaves a precise fifteen per cent tip, and tells himself that he's even with his date - who after all works for a government agency, while he toils in the public interest.
Then the pro bono seduction begins. On the way out of the restaurant he reluctantly shrugs and sighs about how it's going to be a rough night ahead, so he'd better wrap up his little break. She remembers the stories she has heard about him, how he had once worked five days and four nights during one of his work-a-thons by gluing his eyes wide open with two prescriptions of benzedrine. Once his heart stopped, and his loyal secretary - so dedicated that she goes for long period with no pay - is said to have beat on his chest to revive him. Everyone knows that story, and people feel somehow indebted to such a man. On the way out of the restaurant she places her hand on his arm and suggests she go back to his office with him "to help."
Later that evening, while she is "helping" him, he lays on his clincher. "We shouldn't be doing this." From that moment on, she is completely his . . . she feels that gulity. He could tie her up with his skinny tie to his Salvation Army cot and beat her with his brogues. She'd still feel indebted to him.
Such is the power of the pro bono boy. No man of mere fame or fortune can fairly compete with such charisma, for whoever first said power is the ultimate aphrodisiac should try instead instilling a little guilt in his prey. Our hero drops his little guilt-provoking comments like the politico drops names. "I haven't had over three hours of sleep any night this week." He works hard to impress her with his powerlessness; "I had to take out a loan to make my rent payment this month." His yardstick for measuring success is downward mobility: "Do you know I make four times less than the average for my years in the profession?"
Paranoia in personal relationships goes hand in hand with the guilt. He'll say "We shouldn't be doing this" while having a toss on his cot, and afterwards he'll say with undue modesty, and a disarming tenderness: "Gee, I don't know what a wonderful girl like you is doing with someone like me. You seem so sincere, so genuinely interested. Now tell me, who do you really work for?"
Though aware of his own sexuality, cautiously sublimated through his work, he doesn't really enjoy sex, for fear he'll succumb to the pleasure principle and lose control. He has a sneaking suspicion that the joy of sex is habit-forming - after all, he hasn't seen conclusive evidence in any government or university study that proves the contrary. Sex could even get in the way of his real immediate gratification - the satisfactory accomplishment of his work-a-day deeds.
When he does allow himself to indulge, he remembers Maslow's maxim of working to the fullest extent of one's capability, and good consumerist that he is, will insist on either a helpful critique or ranking on scale of one to ten.
No mere bodily pleasure could possibly compare, however, with the satisfaction he gains from denying himself - or from withholding things. He only expresses satisfaction with himself when he feels he's "accomplished something," and is discontent when nothing seems to get done that day. He is religious about his work, and knows salvation can only be attained through his faith and good deeds. He never ceases his personal duel with the Devil: fancy clothes, elegant surroundings, steak dinners, and financial security and all evils to be avoided.
The pro bono boy will lose no time in boasting how he only lives on $3000 a year, or ticking off a list of deeds he's done to make capitalism less greedy. He loves to contrast his hole-in-the-wall office with the carpeted halls fo corporatedom. A pitfall such as the loss of some hoped-for foundation money doesn't daunt him: "America always kills its prophets and its poets," he'll sniff. Underlying such comments is an inherent sense of futility, an awareness of his and every individual's relative impotence in society. As a result, the pro bono boy has to build himself up in a way most other people don't.
Instrumental to his big build-up is his sneering at the great unsaved. The man from McLean who dresses in Italian knits and drives a Mercedes is an object of ridicule; so is the young man who lives in Georgetown, wears this year's clothes, and drives something unsafe at any speed. Scorning all this, he has created his own style - martyr machismo. Martyr machismo works hard at being the antithesis of style and status. Like Barbra Streisand's thrift shop period, the look is so studiously unconventional, so totally unassuming, that it never fails to bring attention to the wearer.
To affect an accurate aura of martyr machismo, one must replace his denim jeans with bottoms of old suits that look destined to be worn threadbare, then given away. The pants must be too short, and baggy in the seat and crotch. The elastic must be destroyed in the faded short socks, soup-stains noticeable on the skinny tie, and the shirtsleeves rolle up. The whole look is . . . concerned.
You can tell which of society's standards have gained the martyr's deepest ingrained respect by what he most conspicuously thumbs his nose at. His living quarters are devoid of the hated "things," like spatulas, hair blowers, blenders or television. There is a beanbag chair, maybe a Naugahyde sofa with the stuffing spilling out, an old metal office desk, and a radical-dumb poster on the wall, like "Bicycles are people, too."
There are many things not important enough for him to concern himself with. For instance, there is cooking, which he considers a time-wasting hobby or woman's work - not a necessity. A martyr eats cold soup or canned beans if he isn't a fastidious follower of the yogurt culture. And for any who question his self-sacrificing lifestyle, he has one set answer: that it is difficult for him to separate the personal and the political. However, the very habits and possessions the martyr has so diligently denied himself say a lot about what he believes is relevant. Why would he make such a show of scorn for all things material if he didn't on some level respect their importance?
Should you come across a pro bono boy, do not assume him to be anything but unpredictable. The private life of the public messiah can abound with machismo which does not jibe with what is expected of one so attuned to the pathos of humankind.
Conflict may be the mainstay of his existence, but from you he won't take it. He may be a foremost social critic, but don't criticize him.After all, he's doint so-o-o much. He may very well hike up his Citizen nader baggies and walk away. And you will feel, yes, guilty.