By Betsy Rothstein - 07/21/08 05:53 PM EDT
Lawmakers rarely know what to make of Joe Pantoliano, better known as Joey Pants, the actor who played Ralph Cifaretto, Janice’s boyfriend, on HBO’s “The Sopranos.” Like his character, he has a penchant for foul language and candidly speaks his mind.
But they like him. And these days, they want to hear what he has to say, as he brings to Capitol Hill an issue that is a win-win for everyone: improved awareness of and treatment for depression and all forms of brain disease.
Pantoliano, who suffers from clinical depression, visited several lawmakers last week. He had lunch Thursday at the Capitol Hill Club, where he ate vanilla ice cream and chatted up lawmakers passing by.
“We want this issue to be as cool as erectile dysfunction,” he told Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who initially did not know how to respond. Mack eventually laughed, shook the actor’s hand and, more seriously, said, “There’s not a family in America who isn’t dealing with it.” (Depression, that is.)
Pantoliano spoke of a meeting he had with “Denny Stoyer,” mixing up House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s (D-Md.) name. After his handlers announced who else he had met with, he joked, “I couldn’t pick ’em out of a lineup.”
Something that struck him about his meetings was that several of the lawmakers’ wives wanted to sit in. “I had some [lawmakers] talk to me about their own depression,” he said, declining to name names.
Of his own mental health, he remarked, “I don’t feel crazy. I’m not responsible for 80 percent of the s--t that comes out of my mouth.”
By mid-afternoon he joined Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) in his Capitol suite for a meeting about his organization, No Kidding Me Too, which aims to demystify depression and all related diseases.
“I didn’t know my mother was bipolar,” he told Clyburn. “I just thought she was a crazy Italian woman.”
Pantoliano spoke about the 12-step program he attends and took Clyburn through several of the 12 steps and their deeper meanings. He told him that members of Congress are covered for several talk therapy visits each year. To which Clyburn laughed and replied, “I think it’s needed, too. I didn’t know we had that.”
In the end, Clyburn, who spoke minimally during the meeting, expressed his support for mental health parity legislation. He then invited Pantoliano to visit his district to discuss mental health issues with his constituents; Pantoliano agreed to the trip.
In the meantime, the actor is completing a documentary on brain diseases called “Hope’s Messengers.” He’s also offering a reward to anyone who can find the Tumi black leather computer bag that was taken three weeks ago when he visited the D.C. VA Hospital. In the bag was Pantoliano’s Mac Powerbook, valuable pens and a chocolate lizard wallet his father gave him 30 years ago.
The reward: $1,000. (All help solving the caper can be sent to ITK at email@example.com.)
Rangel remarks on Ortiz’s foot in a language he doesn’t understand
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) noticed Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) hobbling around in a new medical boot during a recent elevator ride in the Capitol and expressed his well wishes to his colleague in Spanish.
“Tu pata es muy mal,” Rangel said to Ortiz. Ortiz, who is fairly fluent and likes to teach his colleagues the language, then helped Rangel with his Spanish vocabulary. He suggested the Ways and Means Committee chairman use the word pie for foot instead of pata, which is more colloquial and can also refer to the paw of an animal.
We’re not sure, however, if Ortiz addressed Rangel’s “to be” ser-estar verb confusion, which often trips up novice Spanish speakers. He also praised Rangel for his effort.
“Your Spanish is wonderful,” Ortiz told his colleague.
Rangel later admitted that his Spanish is not so bueno. “No entiendo nada,” he told ITK, explaining that Ortiz often gives him a hard time about his Spanish “because I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.”
Ortiz spokesman Danny Guerra said the congressman recently went to the Capitol physician with foot problems. The doctor discovered a small fracture and Ortiz left the medical office in a boot that he will wear for two more weeks.
PETA protesters no match for the ‘Queen of Wein’
Over the years, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) protest of the American Meat Institute’s annual hot dog barbecue on the Hill has become a reliable spectacle of women dressed in lettuce bikinis and purposeful offerings of vegetarian food.
But thanks to a calendar miscue this year, PETA showed up a week early for the protest.
Demonstrators were spotted last Wednesday, July 16, when this year’s beef hot dog lunch is this Wednesday, July 23. On hand will be former baseball players “Bucky” Dent, Bruce Sutter and Oscar Gamble.
American Meat Institute Senior Vice President for Public Affairs Janet Riley (a woman who proudly uses the nickname the “Queen of Wein”) explained that this year’s date for the hot dog lunch — which usually attracts hordes of meat-loving staffers and lawmakers — is different from years past.
“Normally it’s the third Wednesday of July, and this year it’s the fourth Wednesday of July,” she said.
PETA spokeswoman Heather Carlson said PETA’s National Veggie Dog Day was never meant to coincide with the meat industry’s hotdog lunch even though it has collided in years past.
In an e-mail, Carlson said the event, in which a Playboy playmate dressed in a lettuce bikini passed out veggie dogs, was successful. “She wanted policymakers to remember that veggie dogs contain zero cholesterol and roughly one-third of the fat contained in meat hot dogs, which can clog the arteries to all your organs, so they pretty much work like ‘veggie Viagra,’” she wrote.
Rep. Ryan celebrates 35th birthday with a night out
Last Wednesday night Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) painted the town red with colleagues and staff to celebrate his 35th birthday. The venue they chose: Bar Louie. A few of Ryan’s close colleagues showed up, including Democratic Reps. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Jason Altmire (Pa.) and Patrick Murphy (Pa.).
“I can’t recall anything out of the ordinary,” said one birthday party attendee. “A lot of food and drink — and probably a few headaches today.”
Earlier in the day, staff celebrated with a Carvel whale cake that read: “To a whale of a man!” We can’t imagine why the tall and slender Ryan would garner such a cake. An aide explained that it’s a slogan for the cake known as “Fudgie the Whale.” (We’re fine with not knowing any more than that.)