Pen vs. sword

outside the Verizon Center in DCOver the years, the neighborhoods in DC in its northwest quadrant, though they were mostly stable, suffered from a little geography creep. Georgetown, annexed as a town when the District of Columbia was formed, is in the same place, to be sure, but its eastern boundary gets a little fuzzy as it mixes with Foggy Bottom, nearer to the GW University campus. Similarly Chinatown has shrunk a bit along its southern edge of H Street, flexing out more into 6th and 5th Streets, like one of those viscous-liquid-in-plastic-tubing toys that are sold in bins in cheap and touristy stores.

These tiny movements made some otherwise incongruous pairings possible, like the arrival of Fado, an Irish pub, right at the Chinatown arch. Fado was a fun place to go out of a slew of taverns I would never set foot into, because it had very comfortable seating, no smoking, Guinness on tap at the most perfect temperature possible on Earth, and Monday Night Pub Quiz. I will also note here that when Ireland and England met in the championship game of the rugby something-or-other, I was there at 5:30 in the morning to watch it with some coworkers, and  I have loved blood sausage ever since.

But Pub Quiz was the place we returned, despite any kind of weather, horrible conditions for parking, and throngs of suit-clad people just leaving the nearby court buildings. There was no limit to the size of one’s team: sometimes I saw 20 people crammed around a chipped, dark wood table, all staring at the picture round’s piece of paper, shouting to each other about what the answers should read. I am amazed at what 15 years and $25,000 in cosmetic surgery can do to change a person’s appearance after having their senior picture snapped.

There also were no restrictions on team names. And since it was DC, a lot of these names tried to incorporate/mock politics. I can recall the following, roughly seven years later: 14,000 Pages and No Character Development (a reference to the report President Bush delivered to the UN to justify invading Iraq), Faceless Bureaucrats (poor sots), It’s Cold as Balls Outside (from one February game), and The Flip-Floppers (I think we all know that reference). We played a full seven rounds of 10 questions each, and the whole enchilada took about 3 hours out of our lives, time during which we collectively drank something like 4 kegs worth of beer, for there were a lot of teams there. I refused to drink more than two pints on any given Monday because hey, I needed my wits about me. But they did come complete with little shamrocks carved into the froth, when the bartenders had enough time to add flourish, that is.

I’m sure Pub Quiz still continues at Fado but as I’m not there, well, I can’t be certain the game is as grand and well attended as it was in the early-to-mid-aughts. I hope it is. The best I ever did with any team I participated was second place, and we were ecstatic just for that, each receiving an official Pub Quiz™ bottle opener. Mine is still on my keychain.

Out here in Seattle they have a trivia game—to be sure, there must be more than one going—at a certain women’s bar in Capitol Hill, the DuPont Circle of Seattle. I’ve been to it in years past, never wanting to miss a chance at plucking useless facts out of the air if I can. But since we’ve moved at the beginning of this month, we’ve gone every week. The first week we came in fourth, the next week it was third, and we’ve moved up one place every time. Third place winners receive a stick figure drawing of their team, which is sweet and a nice touch by the trivia master, who clearly enjoys running this game.

It’s a more straightforward game than the one at Fado, consisting of four rounds with one picture round. And while Fado gave a points update after every round, this game just does a tally at the end. It also doesn’t take the watching-paint-dry-in-the-rainforest time that the Fado game takes, so there’s a plus.

We won the stick figure drawing two weeks into our playing, and were excited to see what we’d get back when we returned the next week. But there was something off about it, and the trivia master seemed apologetic, despite not telling us the story of what had happened.

Well, there we all are, Susanne lecturing, which I’m sure is an accurate representation of how she teaches, our friend Jody looking for civil rights, our Jewish friend being very…Jewish, and me, typing away with, wait a minute! I have no face! I have a hole for a head! What’s up with that?

I inquired, quietly, about the void in the parchment. The trivia master offered apologies, she didn’t have enough time to redraw the picture. That didn’t answer my question, but I ascertained that I wasn’t going to get any closure here. I took the picture, feeling somewhat awkward but not sure why, and showed the rest of the gang. They loved their depictions, and we chuckled, but I think we all, to a greater or lesser degree, wondered what was up with The Hole. It wasn’t just a hole at some random point on the page; it was centered precisely over my face. It was subtle, but not. We forgot about the drawing and settled into that week’s game.

I’d planned, since before we’d gotten our rendering, to get it laminated so we could bring it with us on successive weeks for good luck, and now I figured I couldn’t back away from that just because I wasn’t really in the picture. Don’t make it about yourself, I told myself. But I’d determined that I would get rid of The Hole by setting in a new picture and taping it to the back, so it would show through. I couldn’t just laminate over the The Hole and leave it there for time immemorial.

It just so happened I had to send a fax out, so I took the drawing and The Hole with me, and explained my little project to the clerk at the office supply store.

“Why don’t you have a head,” she asked, mulling over the paper.

“I don’t actually know,” I said. “I don’t like it, though.”

“Yeah, that’s not good,” she said. She brought over white paper and some tape and clipped out a small piece to go on the back.

What I drew made me look a little monkeyish, or at least a bit like George W. Bush, but no matter, it was better than The Hole. My new friend taped it to the back and said the laminating and faxing would take just a few minutes. I walked around the store and looked for the new Sharpie Liquid Pencil, but to my disappointment, I didn’t find it. I will of course communicate to everyone I know when I find it, because it is, apparently, like magic in plastic.

I picked up the laminated art and lo and behold, there I was, smiling at my little typewriter, type type typing away.

“I bet this is your weirdest request of the day,” I said.

“Oh, no, it really isn’t,” she told me. That her eyes opened wide when she said this made we wonder just how far out the normal distribution curve of weird her requests were. Perhaps I don’t want to know.

Last night I made my way back to trivia and brought the laminate with me, The Hole neatly patched. I showed the trivia master, who was thrilled to see someone had preserved her handiwork. I also showed her I’d drawn in a new face for myself, and she told me she’d have done the same, clapping a hand on my shoulder for good measure. Nothing says genuine sincerity like a hand-to-shoulder clap. My teammates were impressed as well, and we giggled about our characterizations.

Then the waitress stopped by our table to take our drink orders. She asked for our IDs.

“Do we really have to show our IDs every week,” I asked, knowing she knew who we were.

“I have to check that they’re not expired,” she said, and then told me that she was going to name me Grumpasaurus Rex, because I was always grumpy.

I certainly didn’t feel grumpy. I just thought that pulling out my ID every week was a little silly, and I happen to have the worst picture on my license known to anyone west of the Mississippi River, so I am not fond of the regular reminders that it exists. But grumpy wasn’t on my list of emotions for that moment. Just a very light irritation, like 1 or 2 on a scale of 10. Hell, 1 or 2 is what DC residents feel just upon waking. It’s not a big deal.

“That’s why I stabbed out your face in the picture,” she went on to tell me, “because you were so snippy the week before.”

Oh my God. The waitress had stabbed out my face? This is why The Hole came into existence? The waitress I take care to be nice to? Thought I was snippy? Snippy doesn’t tip well, I thought. Not the way I tip. And I currently make $14.25 an hour. What on earth?

“I was snippy,” I asked her, trying to understand. Grasping, really, at figuring out what had transpired.

“I wasn’t the only one who noticed,” she said, carrying on this conversation as if it made any sense.

“What did I say? I don’t remember being snippy.” Irritation levels had progressed, rather quickly, to 4.4.

Apparently I’d made some offhand joke about who was serving us our drinks the first week we’d come in, because it was some other server who’d brought them to us. I think it was something along the lines of, “Oh, she’s too good to serve us?”

I see now, living in the anti-confrontational Seattle, how residents might not understand that brand of humor. I would expect just a punch on the shoulder and a command to shut up, and that would be that.

Instead she stabbed out my face on a piece of paper. That just strikes me as worse, somehow, especially as this is supposed to be a professional relationship we’re having. And then it struck me [sic] that there was a two-week time lapse between my supposed offense and the act of bringing The Hole into all of this. And somewhere in between, a conversation had taken place about me and said snippiness, and it was decided by at least one person that stabbing at a piece of paper was an appropriate way to handle whatever discomfort I’d generated in this place of repute. Irritation levels at 6.7. Approaching DC Beltway status.

Then the waitress wanted to “hug it out,” and she brought me a drink on the house, pushing me over my two-drink limit, but I didn’t say anything, lest I look ungrateful. I had, at least, learned the Seattle Solution to conflict. Hugs and pear cider. Through the course of the night, she hugged me no fewer than three times. Perhaps this was some hazing ritual I’d never heard of before.

This was a lot to take in and still get mentally set for the trivia game. I sat back for most of it, contributing but feeling entirely too self-conscious, suddenly not confident that I had any adeptness at interacting with other humans. We tied for first place and then lost the tie-breaker. We came as close as possible to winning without taking the title. It felt like we’d missed an overtime kick.

I brought the Laminated Sheet that Could home with me and put it back on the fridge, where it had lived the last week. My smiling, renovated face looked at me, frozen and translucent.

I don’t care if I look like a monkey.

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2 Comments on “Pen vs. sword”

  1. Jen
    August 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    This is fascinating! I love it when you write about your perceptions of a place and certain moments that seem to take on much wider significance. I had never thought of the NW as being particularly passive-aggressive before. I will have to mull this over for awhile — interesting food for thought.

  2. evmaroon
    August 25, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    Ha, Jen! When I first moved to Walla Walla, I posted about the less direct people of the Northwest, I think by relaying an example in the supermarket. At the time I couldn’t figure out why Northwesterners wouldn’t speak up if say, I was spending too much time mulling which can of beans to buy, for in the Northeast, they’ll say excuse me or just push a person aside for their bean supplies. What I didn’t realize immediately upon relocating, however, was that while they may stand behind me silently, they are cursing me in their heads, and that is a detail I almost wish I hadn’t learned. Almost.

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