I’d always imagined that if I were to meet a U.S. President, it would be a cold, ceremonial type of situation. When I accepted my White House internship in the winter of 1994, after finally busting through all the red tape of the application process, I had no reason to think differently.
I was placed in what was considered to be one of the best internship slots—George Stephanopoulos’s office. Except it wasn’t really his office, not at first. I was in a windowless office on the top floor of the huge haunted-house-looking Old Executive Office Building (OEOB). (Because the White House is so small, most of the White House offices are physically in the OEOB.) It had a lot of file cabinets—and tons of mail that us “chosen” few interns had to answer, on George’s behalf. The mail could easily be divided into these categories: people who wanted dates with George; people who were concerned about issues of the day (e.g., gays in the military); and people who were concerned about aliens spying on them and thus needed to wear tin foil on their heads and write letters in multiple colored markers.
I don’t want to brag, but I was good at answering those letters. So good, in fact, that they started using me in George’s real office, in the White House proper, to answer the phones and handle other administrative tasks that had real-world deadlines.
It was on one of these days that I was sitting at George’s assistant’s desk, taking a message from someone important, like Cokie Roberts, concentrating very hard on getting that message correct, when all of the sudden, I felt this presence near me and before I could tell what it was, I hear “BOO!” and I look up, and it’s the president. Yup, Bill Clinton, right next to me. Shocked, I sat right back in my seat and tried to process what just happened. The president wandered back to the Oval Office and George walked over to me, “Did the president just scare you?” “Yes.” “He’s been doing that a lot lately.”