Tag Archives: DC

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.

If land or by Seattle

Everett contemplates a volcano

I contemplate a volcano

It was in the parking log at Costco where a woman, looking wholly bereft of home and afflicted of something came right up to me as if I were an old friend and asked if I could help her out by giving her money. I had been completely focused on how to get twenty pounds of flour into a space the size of one small Pomeranian, which assuredly is no easy task. So I nearly jumped from hearing her inquiry, and it took me longer than it should have to explain that I didn’t actually have any cash on me, sorry. She shuffled off, not unlike a zombie, and I realized she could have been a posterchild for the anti-meth campaigns of the Pacific Northwest. My heart went out to her, and even so, I was a bit unnerved.

It occurred to me after this incident that different places have different expectations for interacting with strangers. In DC it’s either tourists who are chronically clueless about their surroundings, laden with a map of the city or not, or it’s someone panhandling. The lobbyists, lawyers, government workers, hotel staff, cab drivers, administrative assistants, Metro drivers, and other commuters all keep to themselves, wanting no part of any conversation with anyone else. I rode the Metro for years, and very infrequently did I ever hear two people conversing who hadn’t boarded together. MP3 players were the best thing to happen to the silent travelers of DC—suddenly everyone had an easy means for ignoring the world around them.

So people looking for money from the hands of strangers kept, for the most part, personal distance, and requests were limited to the actual sidewalk or on public transportation. I think that’s why I was startled here in Seattle. I actually had to spend the better part of a second realizing that this wasn’t an old friend or acquaintance of mine, because she walked right up to me, and I in turn was right up against my open vehicle. It was her lack of recognition for whatever vulnerability I had at that moment that started my first sense of anxiety.

But for my part, I was just as destabilizing to her, because as soon as I recognized that all she wanted was money, which I was actually out of, having just left Costco, I went immediately into my DC-generated response when I don’t have cash to donate, which is, “I don’t have any money on me, sorry.” In DC this ends the exchange, 7 times out of 10 the requester will then ask God to bless me or tell me to have a nice day, and then I’ll wonder how much of their request was tinged with a need for human interaction and a measure of dignity that someone will talk to them. This woman, on the other hand, seemed shocked that I’d make eye contact with her, much less have a quick answer.

It occurs to me that people are less straightforward in Seattle than in DC, so people looking for handouts need to be more in their face. But the other big adjustment seems to be about sobriety: I can’t remember even a single instance of a non-sober person asking me for money in DC. Not a one. But everyone in Seattle who has asked for money has seemed to have an affect for one reason or another. And there seem to be many more homeless folks here than back out east, and I have no idea why that is. I’m sure there are experts out there who analyze such things, who advocate for this solution or that, but I don’t know who they are or what their positions amount to. But I’ve never thought about how different cultural expectations for civility play into how people on the margins express themselves. And clearly, there’s some kind of effect or panhandling would look the same no matter the geography.

For our part, I’m very glad to once again have a home. We might have been without a fixed location for two months by choice, but I don’t for a minute want to lose sight of the millions of people who have lost their houses or who are without their own home but who desperately need their own place. We are very lucky people.


On the ever-growing list of Things that Make DC and Walla Walla Different, let’s add Halloween.

Halloween in DC is hit or miss. You may get three very young trick-or-treaters in half homemade costumes with helicopter parents standing behind them, looking nervous to be out after dark with their precious ones. One gets the impression that they badgered their otherwise overprotective caretakers to let them out of the house for the promise of bite-sized waxy chocolate, and that only the most vocal, pushy kids and the most pushover adults are the ones making the trek. Or one may get no knocks at the door, even if the light is on outside, and there’s a fake ghost on the foot-wide lawn, looking especially scary next to two broken 40 ounces and one used condom—because of course context is everything. The last possibility in DC is that one will get gaggles of middle school and high school kids, all dressed in white t-shirts and torn jeans in a far reach for “zombie.” And then one has to drop the candy into their pillowcases or they’ll grab three and four bars each, causing one to run out of candy all too quickly and leaving one to cower in the corner of the kitchen, far from the front door, pretending not to be home. And that gets old fast.

In Walla Walla, trick or treating is limited to the arranged rendezvous with candy. Kids are orchestrated by well meaning adults in some central location, like a dorm on the Whitman campus, which is then decorated to communicate that for this night only, ghosts are on the prowl in the dorm that would surely, on any other day, fire up the college students’ parents to demand at least partial refunds of their room and board payments. There are also trick and treat events in some of the nursing homes in town, on a two-block strip of Main Street, etc. But house-to-house soliciting, as far as I can tell, is limited to Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they’re not seeking confections so much as offering eternal life.

To sum it up, Susanne and I got stuck with a boatload of candy last year, and she brought it to her office in hopes of limiting the damage to our pancreases and transferring the potential dental issues to the students and staff.

We bought no candy this year, expecting that once again, only two kids will show up at our house. At that rate, I can rummage through the kitchen and come up with some Orbit gum and an old Peppermint Patty from that Thai restaurant on 9th Avenue, no worries.

In the list of differences, I went to one and only one costume party in DC, but out here in Walla Walla, they seem to be a dime a dozen. However little the children dress up to gather candy from strangers, the adults go nuts pretending to be someone else. I can’t blame them—I’d like to be someone else out here, too, other than an unemployed, has-few-prospects, wanna be novelist who is tongue in cheek running for City Council, but that’s beside the point. The point is, they like a good costume party in this town.

We went to one last Saturday and have another to attend next Saturday. Last year I wore my Eeyore costume that I had purchased in 2002 for the one and only costume party I attended in DC. It is head to toe blue fleece, complete with floppy ears, depressed looking mane, and tail held on by a few strands of string. It also includes a little press pad in the top left paw (paw!) that says alternately, “Hello, I’m Eeyore,” and “Thanks for noticing me.” The thing gets so hot that I can’t wear anything underneath it other than some boxer shorts and a tank top. We’re talking stifling—the kind of heat surrounding one’s body that gives one the urge to run outside into a blizzard or make snow angels for 3o minutes, whilst banging the paws against the ground, to the beat of “Hello, I’m Eeyore,” and “Thanks for noticing me.”

I’d agreed to lend out this costume for the party this next Saturday, not realizing that I myself was obligated to attend. I’m a little bemused that anyone else would want to dress up as Eeyore, even knowing that the costume has been worn some number of times by a sweaty man in just his boxers, but whatever. What is life without risks, anyway?

This led Susanne and me to go to the K-Mart—which we affectionately call the “Sad Mart,” because it’s so dilapidated, with few customers actually shopping (as opposed to standing in front of a sales fixture, staring mindlessly, as if the nursing home dropped them off for a few hours so they could go “outside”). We looked through the costumes that they had for sale, knowing we couldn’t repeat the Magnum, P.I. and Perry Mason outfits of last weekend. It would be like wearing the same dress to two inauguration balls!

The costume perusing quickly devolved into shock as we saw what they had stocked on the shelves. An inflatable ballerina costume, because everyone loves obese ballerinas. An inflatable ninja costume, because why not mix in a little Orientalism while we’re being fat-phobic? And then, I gasped, and Susanne rushed over to look at what I was seeing.Woman/Man costume

The Woman/Man costume. Split right down the middle. Someone had watched too much Victor/Victoria. But seriously? Who would wear that, and why?

Please notice that the Woman/Man wig is sold separately. Since it can be worn for so many other occasions. If you don’t buy the wig, what else do you wear with this albatross?

“That says a lot about something,” I said.

We moved on, giggling at the human-sized whoopi cushion costume. Alas, it did not actually make a farting noise, probably because there is no left paw for a small speaker. I suppose the idea of whoopi cushions with paws is too frightening to deal with anyway.

So, I don’t have a costume for Saturday. Maybe I’ll go as a zombie councilman. Or affix several tumbleweeds to my clothing and give people small scrapes all evening. Or I could just wear a tank top and boxers and tell people I’m wearing an invisible Eeyore costume. I’m sure any of those ideas will work.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Five statements from the crystal ball of the obvious


wasserman political cartoon

wasserman political cartoon

Intrepid readers of this blog will recall that before Election Day I made some crack about CNN showing some crude holograms as part of it’s “Watch Us!” election coverage. I said it in jest and with a jaundiced eye, and then lo and behold, there is Wolf Blitzer having a rather inane conversation with a “virtual” reporter — about the technology and not the election. Whether said “holograms” were real or not, I was prescient. So with such completely uninspiring obviousness, here are a few other “predictions:”

1. Obamania will be fading fast by the end of the first 100 days. The message about hope is great, the enthusiasm is fantastic, and you can’t live in DC for more than a decade and not feel like the obvious differences between Obama and the outgoing administration hit you like a truck pileup on the Beltway. But to enact his ideas he simply has to govern from the center, which is going to strike some — vehicle carnage aside — as inauthentic at some point. It isn’t necessarily the case, but there will be some folks who see this as a selling out — and it’s just a matter of time when people feel like Obama’s pulled a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or a welfare reform bill that we weren’t expecting.

2. The Daily Show will be no more — Jon Stewart for one isn’t going to want to continue walking the tightrope of making fun of the people in power in a politically “incorrect” way without getting TOO incorrect about it, for one. But without the 8-foot wide pipe of shit that was the Bush White House giving Comedy Central such excellent material, we’re going to need a new kind of political humor. Jon is going to jump ship to more mainstream broadcast comedy — probably after Jay Leno’s next gig fails right out of the gate. Long live Conan.

3. Reversals to the tightening of reproductive rights laws is either going to happen quietly and successfully, or is going to be the once and future “gay marriage” of the religious right. I’ve seen it only on the margins of reporting so far that Obama will reverse the global gag rule — that to get federal funding for family planning practitioners have to first and foremost talk about abstinence-only practices — and given that this is something they’re planning in the first week in office, signals that there is some Hillary agenda being taken up within the administration. So if they’re serious about rescinding that executive order, will they go the next step and try to get some more permanent legislation passed? If that’s the case, how will they work that on the Hill? With fanfare or under cover of night?

4. Michelle Obama is only going to First Lady us for so long before the Real Michelle stands up — and by that I mean that you cannot possibly contain this smart lady within the narrow confines of the duties and office of First Lady for long. While I think the President (I’m only jumping the title gun by a couple of hours here) is anxious not to repeat any Clintonian mistakes, like putting her in charge of health care, I do think she’ll get some kind of policy duty. She’s not going to be content with picking out furniture, talking about the girls’ school choice, and continuing Laura’s quite boring legacy of the National Book Expo on the Mall.

5. The $850B stimulus bill is not going to pass in the way we think it will today. Already there are rumblings about how it’s not going to help anyone in the near future. If that logic catches wind in the Capitol, who’s going to vote for it? Obama will likely get a lot more traction on job creation than in having to constantly spin the stimulus as something other than a “typical” Democrat tax and spend program. But again, I’m as jaded as a cheap Obama statue currently being sold in a small mobile vehicle parked 100 years from the Washington Monument….

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