Sex, Bubba, pages, and me

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Is this getting weird or what? I'm starting to think I'm a real-life Forrest Gump. You know, the fictional character whom Hollywood put at most major recent events, especially scandals? Well, consider this:

I, too, was a House page, and guess what happened around my time in Washington? The Rep. Gerry Studds affair with a male page. With the Rep. Mark Foley raunchy E-mail and IM affair, it seems déjà vu all over again.

Or how about this: I was an altar boy way back when, and not at just any church, mind you. It was at a church in lovely Sudbury, Mass., where the worst of the worst predator priests served. Yup, that Father Joseph Birmingham at Our Lady of Fatima. And nope, nothing happened to me, but that was probably because my dad was a lector, and I had three bigger-brother altar boys looking out for me.

Then there's former President Bill Clinton, in the news last month for his outburst at Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Been there, done that, too. It was in 1996, and I was in the Rose Garden asking the president about keeping his word to those involved in the Travelgate scandal. No, it's not fun to be barked at by the president, though I did have cool crowing rights back in the newsroom.

Here's what bugs me about the current scandal, Foley's stupid and potentially criminal E-mails and lewd instant messages to former pages. It brings bad attention to a really great program. House and Senate pages nowadays are a bright group of kids who mostly get to Washington based on the grades. They can stay for three months or longer, live protected in a special dorm, and have their own school at the Library of Congress just for them. Many of those I've run into in the Capitol over the years are well grounded and focused.

Sorry to say, that wasn't always the case when I served in 1974–75. I got the job through a political connection in Missouri. In Washington, most of us were no angels: We fast found out which bars served teens, had our own apartments, and used the free long-distance line to call family and friends back home.

But those indiscretions aside, it was a great year to learn just how Washington and Congress work–something no college course came close to teaching me. The job was boring, delivering letters and stuff between Hill offices, but being so close to living history was exciting.

Also, it wasn't unusual for lawmakers to chat pages up or even act as mentors, though it seems to happen more now than it did when I was there. In fact, I just did a Washington Whisper on Los Angeles actress and former House page Courtney Fine, who's in a one-woman play and was asked to perform in the House by members who acted as her mentors.

Let's hope we can hear more of those stories soon.