This is a tale of two offices and one bedroom.
The two offices are at the Consumer Specialty Products Association, a Washington trade group that represents the manufacturers of cleaning products, pesticides, disinfectants, air fresheners and the like.
The bedroom is in Alexandria. It’s shared by Phil and Brigid Klein, who happen to be, respectively, the CSPA’s executive vice president of legislative and public affairs and its general counsel and head of regulatory affairs.
Brigid and Phil live together, commute together, work together and have lunch together. They’ve done so for more than two decades. Brigid’s office is at one end of the hallway in the CSPA’s K Street NW office building. Phil’s is at the other end. Do they spend more time together than any other married couple in Washington?
Who knows. But one thing is for sure: Neither ever has to ask the other, “What did you do at work today, Honey?”
The two met at the CSPA in 1988 — back when it was called the Chemical Products Specialty Association — when Brigid was a junior staffer in the legislative department. Phil came in for a job interview. Brigid recommended against hiring him. That’s because her boss, learning that Phil was from Brigid’s home state of Minnesota, had tried to set them up.
“I said, ‘I don’t think you should hire the guy because you embarrassed me,’ ” said Brigid, 49. “Fortunately, I was overruled.”
Despite that shaky start, they began dating, a fact they kept from the association’s big boss, uncertain how he would react. But when Brigid went back to Minnesota for law school, they spilled their secret. A year later, they were married. When Brigid graduated from law school, she returned to the CSPA. That was 22 years ago.
“People do kid us about working together, but we’re still best friends,” said Phil, 57. “The reason we can work together and live together and have lunch together is because we really like each other.”
Oh, pul-eeze. I mean, I like My Lovely Wife — love her, even — but even I want some down time.
“If you sort of enjoy being around each other,” Phil started.
“It’s just not an issue,” Brigid finished. “It works for us. I know it doesn’t work for everybody.”
The two have a few rules. They don’t talk about work at home.
“When we’re at home, it’s about the family,” said Brigid. (The Kleins have two daughters, 19 and 15.)
And though they work at the same association, they handle separate sides of the laws that affect their members. Phil is a lobbyist, working with legislators to craft laws. Brigid is on the regulatory side.
“Once legislation is passed, it moves over to Brigid as it’s implemented,” Phil said. “We work a little bit together, but, for the most part, she’s on her side of the building and I’m down on my side.”
And they keep the lovey-dovey stuff to a minimum at the office. “I think we’re pretty good between 8:30 and 5,” Brigid said. “I tell people I’m not responsible for Phil.”
There are some benefits to having a husband and wife work together.
“We like to think they get the best and brightest of both of us,” Phil said.
For example, there was the time Phil got a work-related call at home around midnight. It wasn’t a question he could answer — but he knew someone who could. She was in bed next to him.
As someone who cut his teeth on associations in Washington, I’m fascinated by the specificity of the groups. If you make it, do it or enjoy it, there’s a trade association or professional society for you. There is even an association of the people who run associations, which sounds like something from a Borges novel.
The Consumer Specialty Products Association is turning 100 this year. It was started by a few of the companies that made those hand-pumped insecticide atomizers that were a fixture in old cartoons and Three Stooges shorts. Now, the group’s nearly 250 member companies make, distribute or sell everything from antimicrobial gels to scented candles in what has become a $100 billion industry.
Have you worked alongside your partner as long as Phil and Brigid? E-mail me the details. I’d love to hear how you do it.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.