Brent’s high school roommate and I got off to a bit of a rocky start the first time we met. I’d heard a lot about Alston, the arch conservative best friend who joined my husband in all sorts of adolescent hijinks – from breaking into the school dining hall to forging a career as a New York avant garde performing artist, from angering the Guatemalan deities to nearly causing an international incident on the Israel-Jordan border.
I met Alston at the surprise birthday party that I threw for Brent six months after we started dating. He and another high school friend came up from DC for the festivities. This was in the fall of 2006, and Alston had just been hired as a speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld.
To commemorate the occasion – and wish him luck on his latest venture – I got him a present: a pocket copy of the US Constitution (so he would remember that such a document existed as he was writing for the Secretary of Defense).
He wasn’t so sure what to make of me.
Over the past couple years, Alston and I have learned to appreciate each other. We’ve even become friends, bonding over ailing grandparents, drunken weddings, running injuries, and most recently, the Jewish girl from Alaska that he just started dating. He managed to get back at me for our slightly awkward first encounter, when he stayed at our house for a weekend last spring. Upon returning to Philly (Brent and I were out of town the first night he was here), we found two t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Someone at the Pentagon Loves Me.”
“Payback,” he informed me later with his signature smile.
This afternoon, Brent and I met Alston at a creperie in Pentagon City for a quick lunch and a long-anticipated tour of the grounds. Once Rumsfeld got the axe, Alston became a writer for Bob Gates, and has stayed on with the new administration. He’s gained instant street cred since January 20th, he told us. Where six months ago, he was persona non grata, now he gets swarmed at parties; everyone wants to meet a member of the Obama White House.
After making our way through security and getting our very own Pentagon photo IDs (sadly, we had to turn them in at the end of the day), we headed over to his office in the Public Affairs wing. Apparently it was a quiet day at the DoD, because Alston was able to spend nearly two hours wandering around with us.
We walked by walls of photos of old white men. We saw displays chronicling the military’s successes, its humanitarian efforts, and its technological advances. We visited the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and wandered past signs for the in-house CVS, jeweler, optometrist, and flower shop. We even got to check out a hotdog-stand-turned-luncheonette, where rumor has it, during the Cold War, the Russians suspected there to be top secret mid-day meetings because their high tech satellites picked up increased activity at that site everyday at noon.
My favorite part were the hallways adorned with historical newspaper headlines and photos of war correspondents on location during the Vietnam and First Gulf Wars.
We almost got to take pictures in the briefing room, but just as we got there, a press conference was being called. I wanted to go in, introduce myself as “Abby, from ‘Have Dental Floss, Will Travel,'” and ask a question. But Alston didn’t think it would be such a good idea.
And though we didn’t buy anymore t-shirts, we did come away with some cool souvenirs: books from the Press Corps throwaway pile!