I can see by my watch, without taking my hand off the ripped tatters of paper I’m collecting from the waste basket, that it’s 11:30 in the morning. The president had just woken up, looked at his daily briefing, screamed out a flurry of obscenities about Jake Tapper, then ripped the one-page document to shreds. I’m wondering what it’s going to be like this evening, especially if the president spent his afternoon reading Twitter instead of taking his nap.
The news cycle generally determines how badly the documents get torn up. If the president has just watched Fox & Friends or gotten off the phone with Hannity, he’s in a good mood and will generally just give the page one long tear down the center. Me and the other aides call these “onesies” since it only takes one piece of tape to put them back together. If I’m being honest, these are sort of boring. Putting these back together requires no skill, no test of one’s mental discipline, no crawling around the White House on all fours.
On bad days, like when Mueller drops a new indictment, he’ll really go to town. I’ve seen him tear a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 copy paper into well over 80 pieces. These are where you really earn your keep. Looking at each tiny, flimsy shard scattered all over the floor of the Oval Office, many of them translucent with Big Mac grease. The hours go by slowly as I toil away, recreating this jigsaw puzzle of national security secrets and flattering pictures of the president having a good hair day.
I didn’t expect this to be my path when I finally got my PhD in foreign policy from the Harvard Kennedy School. But that just shows you how life is like a twisty mountain road. One day you think you’re going to be advising the leader of the free world on the Middle East. Then, all of a sudden, you’re getting shouted at by Rudy Giuliani while you try to tape back together Jared Kushner’s security clearance form.
The main skill, when you’re taping mangled bits of classified information back together, is to keep watch out for the serrated blade on the Tape Dispenser. Here in the White House, we spare no expense and these blades are as sharp as steak knives. One small lapse in attention and you could find yourself with a few stitches. But, the road of life, as they say, has potholes. My potholes just so happen to be bleeding an alarming amount of blood out of my thumb and onto on the pristine white carpeting of the West Wing.
Sometimes, I’ll look down at the droplets of blood, stark against the carpet. How they remind me of the dotted lines on the pavement of a North Dakota highway. A trail laid out in front of you, and behind you. And also behind you, the president is screaming at a television and ripping up another document.
I take a deep breath, and reach again for my tape dispenser. But who knows. Maybe this time, I’ll use a glue stick instead. This stretch of highway is wide open.
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