Heard on the Hill: Get Off My Cloud

Posted August 1, 2008 at 5:28pm

Hurling rotten tomatoes is a classic response to bad theater — and apparently, the gesture applies to art, too.

Somebody out there clearly doesn’t care for the priceless modern sculpture “Mountains and Clouds,” the soaring work of art located in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building. During a recent cleaning of the nine-story piece, crews found an old tomato had been thrown on top of the clouds, along with other bits of rubbish that included paper airplanes and rubber bands.

“It’s just a shame,” Senate

Curator Diane Skvarla told HOH. “I know it’s probably fun for people to throw things on it. [But] why would anyone do that?”

The last piece designed by sculptor Alexander Calder, “Mountains and Clouds” is painted black, with four organically shaped clouds hanging from the ceiling and five triangular mountains of varying heights below. But the mammoth sculpture is also delicate; even a light touch could hurt its surface.

It’s also really tough to clean, Skvarla said. When officials cleaned it this summer, a crew member had to be suspended in a hang-gliding harness from the ceiling, while others held wires to ensure he reached everything.

Senate officials now are asking Hart employees to treat the sculpture with respect (i.e., no more tomatoes) and urging staffers to keep visitors away from the artwork. They’re also designing a routine cleaning schedule for the piece and coming up with ways to prevent folks from causing further damage, said collections manager Deborah Wood, adding: “If it looks nice, people are less inclined to think it’s OK to deface it.”

Or hurl a piece of fruit at it.

Tongue-Tied. Many a staffer has harbored a secret Senatorial crush on Maria Cantwell. One Senate aide, though, blew his big chance to make a good impression on the Washington Democrat, whom he’d long admired from afar.

Cantwell has been getting across-the-aisle praise for working with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) to strike a deal on renewable-energy legislation. But little did she know, she was getting a bit more clandestine admiration from Ensign’s military legislative assistant, Mike Ragsdale, a former Navy intelligence officer.

Ragsdale’s crush on the junior Senator from Washington was well-known among his colleagues. So much so that when Ragsdale was preparing to leave Capitol Hill for a job at the FBI, his buddies — with the help of their boss — orchestrated a little send-off stunt to let Ragsdale finally meet his idol.

On Wednesday, Ragsdale was sitting with a few fellow aides on one of the staffer benches on the Senate floor. Cantwell, who had been roped into the joke by Ensign, approached him. “Hey, are you Mike? Mike Ragsdale?” Cantwell asked, in “kind of a flirty tone,” according to one witness.

The attention from the brunette apparently rendered the usually unflappable Ragsdale (um, the guy was a Navy interrogator) speechless, according to amused onlookers. His brilliant piece of repartee: “Uhhh …”

“It was totally awkward,” one of the spectators laughed. “He was so flustered.”

After a few uncomfortable minutes of Ragsdale stammering incomprehensibly and Cantwell thanking him for his work on the bill, they were mercifully rescued by another staffer who helped ease the flow of conversation.

“With the rush of work as we wind down for recess and the long hours we all worked in the closing weeks, it’s nice to inject a little humor and send off our friend Mike ‘Ragswell’ in style,” says one aide close to the plot.

Boehner: Not Dead Yet. House Minority Leader John Boehner says rumors of his imminent demise are highly exaggerated. The Ohio Republican brushed off comments by Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), who said on the floor Wednesday that Boehner was killing himself with cigarettes.

“I feel fine,” Boehner said in a brief interview Thursday. “I hope he’s wrong.”

Last HOH checked, he was still kicking (his recess loafers).

Cleaning House. Who said Democrats aren’t cleaning up Washington? The Senate last week was aiming to pass a bill “supporting the goals and ideals of international sanitation day.”

The bill, which was “hotlined” on Friday, actually has a serious purpose: supporting a United Nations-backed goal of halving the number of people living without clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. Which is just next to recess.

Beer: It’s What’s for Recess. Maybe this is what Republicans mean when they talk about renewable energy sources.

As House Republicans were launching a demonstration on the House floor to call attention to energy policy, an HOH tipster spotted four cases of beer being delivered to the offices of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). The beer, which arrived just after noon on Friday, was for a few staffers’ birthdays, says a Boehner spokesman, who made sure to note to HOH that while the floor action was going on, there’s “no beer for anyone for the time being.”

Briefly Quoted. “Basically the convention for me is a lot of heavy drinking.”

— Well-known teetotaler Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), deadpanning a response to a reporter’s question about what he would be doing at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Steven T. Dennis and Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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