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Art Imitates Life

Reality-checking Hollywood movies set in Washington is a favorite pastime of Hill folks, but anyone with quibbles about how the Senate is portrayed in the new thriller “Rendition” can’t blame one of its actors for at least trying to get those upper-chamber tics just right. Before stepping into the role of a Senate aide, actor Peter Sarsgaard consulted with Laurie Rubiner, the legislative director for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), for tips about what real life as a Senate staffer is all about.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sarsgaard — who appears in the movie alongside adorable co-stars Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal — and Rubiner have a mutual friend, and the actor reached out to the Clinton staffer while he was researching the part. Among the questions Sarsgaard had for Rubiner: Is it true that Senate staffers have their own desks on the Senate floor (nope!) and what’s the cafeteria lunch like in the Senate (um, stick to the Ivy, Peter)? And he apparently was fascinated by the concept of a cloakroom (they’re not just for cloaks anymore!).

Sarsgaard used only appropriate means in obtaining the information, Clinton’s staff assures HOH. “We don’t comment on our private conversations, but suffice it to say, any information the filmmakers acquired from Laurie was obtained through lawful methods and without any enhanced interrogation techniques necessary,” said Clinton press secretary Philippe Reines.

Though Sarsgaard’s character’s title isn’t specifically named in the movie, he appears to be a chief of staff or staff director for a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the fictionalized Senate setting, the chief of staff has a giant, airy, glassed-in office and a secretary. One Senate staffer who’s seen the movie laments that at least in terms of office space and perks, life in the Senate, sadly, doesn’t imitate art.

Flipping for the ‘Bird. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) might love being in Congress, but his passion for muscle cars, specifically Ford Thunderbirds, came along first. The retiring Regula, who announced he won’t seek re-election next year, bought a “torch red” 2003 Ford Thunderbird convertible about a month ago that’s figuring big in his post-Congress plans. HOH first read about Regula’s fondness for the “Retro Bird” in a New York Times article on Monday that cited the Congressman’s recent car purchase as one of the things he’s most looking forward to in his upcoming life as a retiree.

But the 82-year-old Congressman, who drives a pickup truck when he’s in Washington, swears he isn’t going through the kind of life crisis that usually prompts men to make impractical car purchases. This is actually his fourth Thunderbird convertible. His lust for ’Birds goes back to the early 1950s. He still hadn’t gotten over the fixation by 1973, when he drove his 1972 model to Washington to get sworn in as a member of Congress. Regula passed the car fetish down to his son, who refurbished the 1972 Thunderbird, and his 13-year-old grandson, whom Regula promised could take his newest car to the prom when he’s old enough to drive. “If I hadn’t been thinking of retiring I wouldn’t have made the purchase,” Regula said. “It sat out there for a month. Every time I would go by I would look at it and see it from the road on an elevated platform and think, ‘Gee, what a neat-looking car.’”

So far, Regula says he’s only had time to take the newest ’Bird out for a few laps on the weekend. But before he leaves Congress for good, he’s planning on taking it on its maiden long-distance voyage to Washington. “I haven’t really had a chance to give it a long spin,” he said.

Ghost, Witch, Biden or Craig. Plenty of clever Washingtonians donned Halloween costumes that were variations on the theme of Sen. Larry Craig. HOH spotted “Caution: Wide Stance” T-shirts, toe-tapping, and toilet paper at parties around town, all in homage to the Idaho Republican’s bathroom bust this summer as part of a gay-sex sting. One dedicated reveler, however, took the costume to its nth degree: Robert Brokamp, a writer specializing in retirement planning for Arlington-based personal-finance company, spent all day Wednesday in an incredibly elaborate Craig costume. The set-up included a large bathroom stall constructed out of a refrigerator box plus a few boards and nails, an upside-down trash can resembling a toilet, and accouterments to make the stall scene more realistic, like a plunger, air freshener, and a toilet brush. Touches like a fake hand reaching from under the stall and a men’s room sign completed the scene. Brokamp himself wore a suit and tie, sprayed his hair grey, and sported fake glasses. The Craig-style twist? His pants remained around his ankles (he doubled up on boxers though). Brokamp worked from his stall-cum-office all day, using a laptop and the company’s wireless Internet connection. The writer, who identifies himself politically as an independent, says he plans to hike up his pants when his kids arrive for the company’s holiday party. “I just told them I was a Senator,” he tells HOH. “They’re a little young for that.”

Meanwhile, across the river, another costume was making a splash at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) surprised the panel members by arriving dressed as their chairman, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). He wore a mask depicting Biden’s face and a “Biden for President” T-shirt under his suit. Entering the committee room from the rear entrance, he strolled through the gathered crowd to titters, hamming it up by flashing the Nixon-esque “double V” pose. Biden isn’t Hagel’s first costume victim: Aides tell HOH the impish Nebraskan has appeared on previous Halloweens in disguises resembling Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In impersonating Biden this Halloween, Hagel might have created a bone-chillingly spooky sight for many a Republican — two Joe Bidens.

Come as You Are. However creative some trick-or-treaters get, sometimes the best costumes aren’t really costumes at all. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), for example, is dressing up as himself — he was planning to go out for the holiday as a dark horse, he tells HOH. Dodd, whose long-shot presidential bid frequently prompts pundits to label him a “dark horse,” planned to don the costume to escort his two daughters on their trick-or-treating rounds, he said on Wednesday.

Maybe some sympathetic neighbors will tuck a few sweet campaign donations into their jack-o-lanterns along with the usual sugary fare.

Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.

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