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A Cry for Help:
The Jillian Bandes Story

A very special episode.

12:00 AM, Jul 21, 2006 • By JILLIAN BANDES
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LET'S BE HONEST HERE: The life of a summer intern is not all that glamorous. Sure, it's a lot better than working the pool refreshment stand at your neighborhood golf club, and its light years ahead of taking summer school classes while reshelving books at the library. But in regular practice, summer interns are typically underpaid, overworked, used, abused, and battered, as holds with my experiences here at The Weekly Standard since I arrived in May. The life of an intern, among other things, is a day-to-day battle.

We fight for money, whether from our internship or elsewhere; and perhaps most importantly, for housing, which costs, on average, between $700 and $1,000 a month for a place within any proximity to work. The Washington Post reports that between 15,000 and 20,000 interns descending upon the District each summer and with only 5,000 dormitory beds available from local universities, the scramble for a place to rest your head isn't a dreamy situation.

I lost some sleep over the housing issue when I learned of my acceptance to an internship at the Standard. The internship is unpaid, but I was lucky enough to have also been accepted into the National Journalism Center's intern program, which provides me with a $1,500 stipend. It's great and I'm lucky and thankful, but with $1,500, where was I supposed to live? Alas, a seemingly sweet deal emerged. A second cousin, with whom I was friendly, resided in the D.C. area and offered her place to me for the summer. Sure, I would be living on her floor--nearly underneath the dining room table, actually--but it was gloriously free. Better yet, I had the companionship and guidance of a hip, young cousin who knew the town and was willing to take me under her wing.

SO I MOVED IN. After packing my car full of suitcases, rolling up my mattress pad, and stuffing a few pillows in the front seat, I drove up from my sleepy college town to the vast metropolis of D.C. and parked in front of my cousin's comfortable, two-bedroom apartment that she shared with one other roommate.

At first, things were great. We rode bikes together and spent weeknights out with her friends; I loved it. Sure, the floor was a little hard and I was sometimes woken up by the washing of the breakfast dishes in the kitchen next to the dining room. But "Jill's Nest"--our name for my mattress-pad-on-the-floor--made for great pub talk, the companionship was invaluable, and the place was cozy and clean. Unfortunately, a little more than halfway through the summer, my cousin and I had a bit of a spat, and despite a wholehearted resolution, I found it most comfortable to move out.

Problem was, where exactly would I go?

I HAD PREVIOUSLY PLANNED ON paying a visit to another cousin who lived in the city, if only for a few days; by extending my stay to a week I was in the clear at least midway through July. I figured by that time I could scour and call university housing departments to find another residence for my remaining weeks in town. But CraigsList bore no fruit and the universities were all full.

I contemplated a cheap motel, but the parents wouldn't have it. The homeless shelter was right around the corner, which I thought it would make for a good story, but Nick Flynn cornered that market with Another Bullshit Night in Suck City last year. And my car, with a beautiful hatchback trunk, would've been perfect for camping out, at least for a few nights. Roll out the mattress pad, and it probably would've been on par with the dining room floor, actually.

But my desire to avoid the District police led me to abandon that idea and instead coordinate a massive couch-surfing game plan. One friend has generously given me his futon for a couple of days, and another friend will lend me her floor, where I will gratefully unroll my mattress pad and pillows. Meantime, I've scanned my cell phone's address book for every possible option, kept my closet in my car, and eaten every meal out. For the next few weeks, I am basically living off the seat of my pants.

It's a bit nomadic, but at the same time, it's an adventure: A mini road trip through the city, a good story to tell my friends back at school, and a newfound appreciation of the comforts of home. I'm sure that when I look back on this summer's experiences--interviewing congressmen, spending nights out on the town, and working at the Standard--I will have much to appreciate. But high on my list will be a new sense of self-reliance and appreciation for the generosity of the people I know.

And besides that, I'm not exactly Matt Foley living in a van down by the river. Now that would be sad. And funny.

Jillian Bandes is an intern at The Weekly Standard.