Office Space: A Lighter Side of Stevens

Posted June 17, 2008 at 4:28pm

The first thing that catches your eye when walking into Sen. Ted Stevens’ office isn’t the giant totem pole in the corner or even the reindeer antlers on the wall. It’s a small collection of green action figures on a window sill.

[IMGCAP(1)]“That’s a little joke — they call me ‘the Hulk,’” the Alaska Republican said with a laugh.

Over the years, the Senator has accumulated a small collection of memorabilia bearing the superhero’s likeness.

“I wear a Hulk tie,” Stevens said. “I used to wear it when I thought it would give me luck on the floor. Then one day it didn’t work and I don’t wear it very much anymore. People give me various things that say ‘Hulk.’”

The action figures are joined by a Hulk telephone and even a stone figurine sitting on the edge of Stevens’ desk in the Hart Senate Office Building. One day Marvel — the comic book company that published the Hulk — went so far as to send a man dressed as the superhero to Capitol Hill, Stevens said.

“We had him over in the Mansfield Room and I invited Senators to come up off the floor,” Stevens said. “You’d be surprised, almost every Senator came to have their picture taken with the Hulk.”

In fact, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) went so far as to have his picture with Stevens and the superhero framed and put on display in his conference room.

Behind his desk, Stevens has decided to pay tribute to another inspiration for one of his nicknames. A stuffed Tasmanian Devil, a gift from former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), is perched on a shelf.

“He called me ‘Taz,’” Stevens said. “Everybody has a nickname around here. Hollings called me ‘Avalanche’ and I called him ‘Tidewater,’” he said of former Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.). “We all have strange names for each other.”

If nothing else, Stevens’ office shows an often-unseen playful side. One can get a glimpse of the most senior Republican Senator’s past by browsing a collection of black-and-white photos of him on the beach. It’s hard to believe that the 84-year-old lawmaker is a former beach bum who once spent his days out on the water catching waves rather than arguing on the Senate floor. But if the photos aren’t enough to convince visitors, the 13-foot storm surfboard in the corner of his personal office should.

“I surfed from ’38 to ’50,” he said, eyeing the 103-pound board. “I lived with my aunt and uncle in California. I was a lifeguard at the beach and that was fun times.”

Stevens said that when he first brought the board to his office, his wife, Catherine, stuck a sign on it that read, “It’s true that a surfing bum can get a job if he tries.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Stevens loved riding waves so much that he even made time to hit the beach when his naval ship stopped in Hawaii on the way back from China in the 1940s.

The photos include some of Stevens’ beach friends. “That fellow there,” he said, pointing to a photo, “they called him ‘Duke.’ He was one of the famous surfers in Hawaii and he came over to California to teach some of us how to surf in the ’30s.”

While bearing many personal touches, Stevens’ office is also filled with artifacts and mementos from the El Dorado of the North. Behind his desk, the top of a totem pole from Ketchikan is displayed. Stevens said his wife bought the piece at an auction over a decade ago (the bottom of the pole had decayed before the Stevenses bought it).

A few pieces of baleen — sieve-like plates that whales use for filter feeding — hang above the entrance to the office. One features etchings of a polar bear, a fish and a whale.

“In the days gone by, hunters would etch a message on the baleen and leave it for people to tell them what they had caught or how they had done it in that area of fishing or hunting,” he said.

The Senator also has two full totem poles in his office, each weighing about 800 pounds. The pieces are so heavy that engineers needed to examine the office and tell Stevens’ staff where they could place the poles without damaging the structure of the building.

One totem is on loan from an Alaskan tribe, while the other, the Eagle and Orca Totem Pole, is owned by Stevens and his wife. The pole is hand-carved from a piece of Red Cedar that was taken from Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. It took a dozen men to move the 12-foot pole into the office.

Despite the fact that Stevens’ office holds an eclectic mix of artifacts from his own life and his home state, the Senator doesn’t seem to think it is all that unusual.

“It’s sort of a museum, isn’t it?” Stevens said. “But everyone has these little things around the office I’m sure.”

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