Some cynics say that members of the House of Representatives spend a lot of time sleeping. If they do so on the floor and in committees, they can continue. But a new policy directive is sweeping the House gymnasium: you can nap there, but you can't sleep overnight.
As of last Tuesday, at the direction of Rep. Edward P. Boland (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Gymnasium Committee, no House member may spend the night in the "quiet rooms" of the gym any more. Not that many members are standing in line for the privilege of doing so -- or ever have. And not that Boland gave any explanation for his order. He didn't. "I have no idea," replied Boland's legislative director, Mike Sheehy, when asked what reason might have been lurking in his boss's head.
But just so you aren't left guessing, here's the reason: embarrassment. It was first caused by a story last October in Roll Call, the weekly newspaper that's the bible of the Hill.
Under the headline, "A Life of Eazzzzz," Roll Call described how freshman Rep. Richard Armey (R-Tex.) was spending most weekday nights in one of the 7-by-5-foot "quiet rooms" of the gym, each of which contains a bed and a chair, period.
When he first arrived in Washington, Armey slept in a rented $700-a-month apartment in Crystal City, Roll Call reported. But he found it depressing -- and he found the rush to catch the last Metro home equally depressing.
So Armey began to spend the night on a couch in his Rayburn Building office. But that ended, said Roll Call, when the "chatter and clatter" of the roving cleaning ladies consistently woke him up. Next stop, House gym -- where Armey was snoozing regularly, peacefully and hard-to-beat cheaply until Roll Call's piece was published.
It was soon followed by an article in The Washington Post, a virulent outbreak of phone calls from chuckling TV producers -- and a number of raised eyebrows around the Hill, where the watchword has always been, "Do whatever you want, as long as people don't snicker."
Now the snickers were audible -- and the practical jokes were terrible, even by Hill standards. One Hill source says a wise guy mailed Armey a Raggedy Ann doll. "So snookums won't get all wonesome in the middle of the dark, dark, scary night," the note is said to have said.
Boland's directive has put an end to all such stunts. But Boland may have taken aim at a problem that's no longer a problem.
According to Lew Hubbard, an assistant in the House gym, Armey "has pretty much stopped spending the night. I don't know if some of them took him aside or not."
Armey himself isn't saying. Asked to arrange an interview with the former gym-dweller, his communications director, Edward Gillespie, said: "We're just not interested in pursuing that. It's just not a high priority with us. Congressman Armey is a serious legislator."
Ah, Washington! Millions of lobbyists, millions of dollars and millions of voters sometimes can't move the Hill an inch. But write a 10-inch newspaper story about sleep, and you can work wonders.
Selfishness has hit new heights. Witness for the prosecution: a still-amazed Mike Vickers.
There was Mike one day last week, about to treat himself to a post-lunch ice cream cone in a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor at 1823 L St. NW. Doing the same just in front of Mike was a woman of about 30. Mike describes her as "your basic office creature."
The woman ordered a double scoop cone. Believe it or not, that costs a buck and a half these days. The woman fidgeted and fumbled, but could produce only 94 cents.
Time to be a good guy, Mike decided. He reached into his pocket, gathered a fistful of change and held it toward the woman. "Take what you need," he said.
What Mike meant, of course, was, "Take the 56 cents you need." But old double-scoop was thinking firmly -- and solely -- of Number One. She helped herself to $1.50 from Mike's palm, shoved her 94 cents back in her purse, said thanks and walked out.
Time to brighten this Monday with another Idea Whose Time Has Come, that continuing series of reader submissions without which the world cannot continue to spin. Today's spin-continuer is from Theresa A. Healy of McLean. She writes:
"In my many drives through the countryside in this area and in New England, I notice many roadside historical markers. I don't have time to stop at many of them, but I would like to know what they say. Can't the state or an historical association make arrangements for a radio broadcast which could be picked up by a car radio for perhaps 100 yards to either side of the marker?"
Sounds like a perfecto to me. Got another? Please mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.