If you've ever watched the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" Christmas special, you know about the Island of Misfit Toys.
The island is a sanctum for mutant toys no one wants. There's a Charlie-in-the-Box (not a Jack-in-the-Box), a toy bird that swims and can't fly and a train with square wheels.
Capitol Hill has misfits too: lawmakers who are still members of Congress, but were either defeated for re-election or retired. But the problem is, they're still in office until January. And Congress is meeting in a lame-duck session. The lawmakers still have to vote, do constituent work and attend hearings. But they've been stripped of their opulent, high-ceilinged offices to make room for the freshman class.
It's like congressional purgatory. Or as an aide to one retiring lawmaker called it, "a holding cell."
So where do the lawmakers go? Capitol Hill's version of the Island of Misfit Toys.
It's room B339 of the Rayburn House Office Building, described euphemistically on the room's nameplate as the "Departing Member Service Center."
The new quarters is really a banquet room that's been converted into something resembling an Indian call center. It features a series of nondescript, tiny cubicles, wedged together between two fireplaces at either end. One member per cubicle. And each cubicle is stocked with one phone, one computer, one chair.
The cubicles aren't advertised by lawmaker and state. But by number.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, is in cubby No. 1 -- perhaps assigned No. 1 because he lost his primary in late June to Rep.-elect Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a full four months before other members of Congress were defeated in November.
Seniority is everything on Capitol Hill. Even in defeat.
"I haven't been over there," Cannon said, referring to the Island of Misfit Toys.
And sure enough, it doesn't appear he has. A yellow, legal pad sits squarely on top of his computer in cubby No. 1. An unopened ink pen rests atop that.
Cannon toted a briefcase with him as he walked over to vote Wednesday night.
"This is how you can tell if a member lost," Cannon told me, holding up a briefcase as he walked into the Speaker's Lobby. "We all carry briefcases. Without an office, I'm now a member of the 'Briefcase Caucus.'"
Who knew that Samsonite was the congressional equivalent of the Scarlet Letter?
The accoutrements of each cubicle vary. Some have a stockpile of paper clips. Others, a stapler. I noticed that a cup in the cubicle of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., contained two highlighters. Meantime, a similar cup for a defeated freshman member only held one. Hunter was elected in 1980. Again, the perks of seniority.
Even in their exits, lawmakers execute tiny but discernible power grabs.
Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., was assigned cubicle No. 33. But congressional stationery and envelopes bearing Hulshof's signature are filed away in cubby No. 35, assigned to Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C. Like Cannon's, Hayes' cubicle didn't look like it had ever been visited by its assigned occupant. So perhaps Hulshof took advantage of the under-utilized real estate.
A few aides mill about the room.
A phone rings. A woman hunkered down behind a cubicle wall answers.
"Jim Ramstad's office," she says, referring to retiring Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn.
Somehow saying "Jim Ramstad's cubicle" doesn't hold the same congressional presence.
I traverse the room. The cubicle belonging to Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., bears a Post-It note that reads "Pick up mail."
An envelope from the White House rests on the desk in the cubicle of Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss.
Meantime, a smaller envelope from Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., sits idly in the cubicle of Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev.
It's so simple. A lawmaker and his or her desk.
This is how it used to be more than 100 years ago on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers didn't have staff. And they didn't have offices. Their desk on the House floor was their office. Kind of like it is here in Rayburn B339.
I find a memo lying on the floor. It indicates that the Departing Member Service Center closes each day at 5 p.m. unless there are votes.
There are no votes this day. And a few minutes later, the lights start to flicker out.
Perhaps a metaphor in more ways than one for the departing members of the 110th Congress.
Chad Pergram covers Congress for FOX News. He's won an Edward R. Murrow Award and the Joan Barone Award for his reporting on Capitol Hill.