One sure-fire way to out yourself as a tourist is to break the unspoken rules of the city: The City Etiquette. I've made it my mission to study DC's Etiquette. Here's what I've noticed:
1. If you're on an escalator and you need to stand, you stand on the right. Need to walk? The left is all yours. This is always the rule on the metro. Where it gets confusing? Escalators anywhere else. The mall? Movie theatre? Your guess is as good as mine. But for God's sake, don't give yourself away as a tourist by standing on the left in the metro.
2. Speaking of the metro, the train cars have two seats next to each other, an aisle, then another two seats. This means you sit next to a lot of strangers. Bad etiquette? Someone who sits in the aisle seat, leaving the window seat "open"...but socially inaccessible.
3. A busy sidewalk is a busy sidewalk is a busy sidewalk...but in DC, sidewalks get REALLY busy. So the best place to stop and pull out your map/cell phone/water bottle is generally not the middle of one.
4. On the west coast, acceptable stranger glancing distance is generally about 10 feet. Here? More like 20. Or not at all. Most of the time, you don't even acknowledge that there are other people around if possible.
Gotta go...back to blending in.
America’s Crush on Obama Fades.
Healthcare Reform – Where the f* is my stimulus money?? – Trade Sanctions Will Stop North Korea!
Politicians’ Affairs Uphold Sanctity of Marriage.
A New Report Shows Americans are Still Really Fat.
RIP: Farrah Fawcett/Michael Jackson/Ed McMahon/Billy Mays/Walter Cronkite/Taco Bell dog: yo quiero…I can’t, it’s too soon.
After dinner we have drinks with Kelly. Kelly bought some Bailey’s special and I forget that I’m supposed to be drinking it slow until I catch her eye over the rim of my juice glass and realize I am really putting it away, drinking it like it’s water. It just tastes so good, like coffee and vanilla and cream! I forgot. I am embarrassed. And now it is too late because in the middle of telling my favorite joke I slur over the word ‘buffalo’. It comes out ‘bullfflo’ and I am so embarrassed I don’t even get to the punchline. There is silence for a minute and she asks if I’m alright and I nod my head, sharp—too sharp?—and she turns to Kelly and asks about her garden. I am grateful she can ask about things like Kelly’s garden because those are the normal questions and I can never think to ask them.
She’s at work and I’m out walking on my own. In the sunshine, and I am so happy to be visiting her in this place, this wonderful city. I am walking along the street and I smile at the people and I sing a song in my head. I look at my feet in their tennis shoes clopping along the sidewalk and I imagine I am a horse and this road isn’t paved yet. It reminds me of my sister and how she always wanted to play Stallions and it makes me laugh out loud which startles me and I clamp my hand over my mouth and look quickly around to see if anyone noticed.
At lunch she is wearing a low-cut top and I can’t stop staring at her cleavage. I can’t believe the fact of it. She’s tired and is looking at the people walking past on the street and I’m looking at her cleavage and the sugar packets in front of me and imagining how it would feel: the resistance of paper on paper as I pull a packet out of the middle of the tray; the easy heft as I underhand it right into the space between her breasts and the shirt. Then I imagine the way she’d look at me and I’m not sure anymore if it would make her laugh so I put my hands on the table instead, palms down, hard.
“Your fingers,” she says. I look down and they are twitching, like normal. Nervous fingers, is what I tell her. Truth is, they move all the time like that, thumping against tablecloths, thrumming on my steering wheel, tapping on my own lap—and I don’t know why. I sit on my hands.
At the airport she hugs me in the car. She wants to know if I have my ID, if I’m sure about what time my flight is. She already made me double-check before we got in the car so I tell her everything is alright. I thank her for the visit. Tell her I love her.
“Call me if you need anything,” she says as I heft my bag onto the sidewalk. I tell her I will. I am already thinking about the M&Ms I’m going to buy and hoping I don’t have to sit next to anyone who might want to talk.
“I love you, mom,” she says before I close the door. “I’m so glad you came out.”
“Me too,” I say, and stand and wave at her as she drives away.
On Chesapeake Bay
Tug at my heart.
Gasoline, salt, metal and steam –
Great booming bellies –
Do they remind me of home?
Of pitchy logs on trucks
Of cheap portside beer
Of seeing that maybe I’m the driftwood –
not the water
as I had previously thought.
I was walking home from Union Station tonight, and I was stunned by the beauty of the columns of the Supreme Court. Staggered by the way the Capitol Dome was lit up. Knocked out by the panels of lighted windows in the Senate office building.
But then I heard water rushing. I looked down and saw a sewer grate.
And then I remembered again.
This Two-Person Kayak Is Getting Lonely
I play soccer when the fields aren’t too soggy and softball when the sun’s out. Being as I live in Bellingham, that means I don’t get to play either very much – so then I play the accordion. Or the piano. Or my stove. …okay, I know you can’t technically play a stove, but if you could see the sweet dishes I whip-up (seasoned with herbs from my garden) on any given weeknight you’d liken it to an awesome jam band in the middle of some serious jamming. Not annoying jam band music, though – think Widespread Panic.
I’m an environmentalist-urban-planner chick who shaves her pits. I work hard (and I love what I do) so I can play hard. I need someone who can keep up. Bonus points for speaking a foreign language and being able to pick up and go at the drop of a hat – or a cheap fare on Southwest – wherever we can get. I’ll pack my hiking boots, pocket phrasebook and bottle opener; you get the toothpaste and Mad Libs.
Let’s fill our Camelbacks with wine and bike along the Sound! I’ll be the one with red hair about 10 feet in front of you.
Kayak camping. Live music. Working on my house. Happy hour. Yoga. Planning my next adventure.
Being in love in a play is very confusing.
I bring a bundle of nerves and experiences and associations with me onto that stage every night. I bring my beating heart and my skin and my voice. I bring the moment as it exists in me and I in it—I was very conscious of it tonight, poured into my tights and wrapped into my blue dress with the snaps (not zipper) at the back, my hair piled on top of my head and pearl earrings hanging from my ears—
And my costar does the same thing. And I know certain things about him. I know he is tired. I know he feels like his hair is too long. I know he spent the night on our friend’s couch because Lakewood is a lot closer than Seattle and you can really substitute any of these details for any of the men I’ve played opposite because none of them really matters. What matters is that when we get up there, in front of God and our cast and the interchangeable audiences, we are reaching for something—something from our guts, from the past, from our imaginations—something that will ultimately let us reach at each other and create that thing that our cast and the interchangeable audiences (and maybe God: I thought so at one point in my life, anyway) are there to see. It is like love and it is like drugs and it is a lot like lying but some of it is real.
And that’s where it gets confusing.
Every play I do: no matter if my costar has bad skin, or bad breath, or is a bad actor, or is gay, or is a woman—part of me always, always, falls desperately in love with them. And it is confusing because the THEM I fall in love with is always a mix of me and them and everything else that has nothing to do with me or them. In this show it was a mix of my ex boyfriend and my dog dying and my costar’s dead wife and the personal meaning of the production in my life and the smell of Tacoma and the seam in the stage that I ran my fingers against each time, that little ridge nudging against my fingertips.
And I wonder what it’s like for him. Is it the way our voices meet in space and mix their little vibrations of sound? Is it the bewitching smell of the Aqua Net in my hair as he leans over to whisper in my ear backstage? Is it the way I taste when he kisses me? Or is it none of those things—is it his dead wife? Is it his new girlfriend in the audience? Is it the fact that Lakewood is a lot closer than Seattle? Part of the way I feel about him in that moment will always be a mystery, because it is composed of the way he feels about me: and I will never know what that is. What parts of me and his life and the moment make it up. What it means to him.
But it doesn’t stop there.
My love is voracious. It is deep and it is wide and it has spread itself all over this show. It is in the way I know, with my body, that the audience is with me, and I can feel their energy as intimately as I can sometimes feel my own heartbeat.
That’s why it’s so hard to leave. It’s walking away from a world where my only job is to feel good. To love these people and to laugh with them and to draw on everything I’ve got and everything they’ve got and things we don’t even understand we have to make something together. It can be easy to get caught up in thinking that exercise means something. I guess what it comes down to is: it means something if you make it mean something. It is not inherently meaningful. And that idea breaks something in me. It liberates something in me too. Like a phoenix from the ashes of my dreamt-up future that I watched burn to the ground, I am resurrected with each second.
She walked out the front door of her apartment building – a good, sturdy, brick building, honest in its lines and its purpose – and breathed in the muggy air. The battle her lungs fought to skim any oxygen off that thick, vaporous inhale was good, she thought: it reminded her that being alive was effort.
She loved the streets outside of her building. Each brick, laid by a human hand years ago, was like a testament to the aspiration of the human spirit: these hands had faith that there would one day be a need to move large machines down this road. These hands made way for progress. These hands cleared large spaces so she could see, upon reaching the street and turning her head to the right, the Capitol Building: the ultimate testament to the aspiration of the human spirit. She seemed unaware of her body as it responded to that sight: the dome, soaring above the city, crested with the statue of a man. The gaunt lines of her face softened, the long angles of her legs, her fingers, quiet for once, at her sides. It was a body built to suit any purpose she put before it. And right now, this afternoon of the Fourth of July, that purpose was to buy beer.
The bricked street outside her apartment was already crawling with people. As she turned from the Capitol Building, she unconsciously adopted a posture of defense, the long lines of her body angling themselves, blade-like, towards her destination. These were not the humans that the brick-layers and dome-builders had pictured - those hard men being baked in the sun so many years ago, their backs bent over their work; these couldn’t be the people those men had pictured to keep themselves going. The child with red popsicle smears on his face, screaming at his mother for more; the mother, meaty arms hanging from the armholes of her sweat-stained shirt, listlessly passing him whatever he wanted; the father, stoop-shouldered, dragging a blue plastic cooler on wheels behind him with his gut hanging over the front of his khaki shorts; she wanted to scream at them: GET OFF THIS ROAD! DON’T LOOK AT THAT BUILDING! Instead, her mouth settled into a determined line, and she walked east.
She liked the store on the corner. She liked the simplicity, liked the way the owner kept it clean. She had never spoken to the owner, save a passing hello or thank you. He was a quiet man who lived above the store and had moved to America when he was 19. He moved here to work, and she liked that. She appreciated the honest exchange of his goods for her money. The store, even today, was free of any adornment save for clean products on clean shelves. The bell over her head rang as she pushed open the door. The owner was behind the counter, counting out change to a young man in a pink polo shirt wearing flashy cologne she could smell from ten feet away. “Happy fourth, dude,” he said: the owner simply nodded and shut the register. She caught his eye and inclined her head in acknowledgment. He returned her nod and turned to his next customer.
‘Happy fourth of July?’ she thought, moving to the back of the store. That this young man with the gelled-up hair should have the audacity to claim the victory of a war fought and won by the blood of men for his freedom, to harness that great sacrifice and power for an ideal, attach the word happy to the front and use it as a casual greeting made her grit her teeth. How dare he, she thought. Victories should only be shared between those fully conscious of their weight and cost. Any other usage was a bromide.
In the back of the store, she pulled open the fridge. The cold air pouring out and over her skin made her smile: this is what men can do, she thought. Somewhere, a great generator was running, and this generator converted nature to power, transmitted it across miles and imprisoned it here, where its sole function was to keep her beer cold.
She set the six pack down on the counter. The owner punched some numbers into the machine; she laid her money down on the counter, as if in sacrifice on a holy altar.
“You going to watch the fireworks today, Miss?”
She was surprised: he had never addressed her outside the framework of their transactions. “I don’t believe in fireworks,” she responded. “They are a frivolous expenditure, an unnecessary distraction and an unfit tribute.”
“What would a fitting tribute be?”
“The sight of a man with purpose.”
She pocketed her change, slipped the plastic handles of the bag into her hand and walked out.
I am new to the company, so most of these people don't know me—or only know me a little bit. One of the stories that plays out often in my doorway theatre is Get To Know You. On their way from one end of the hall to another, they pause, lean on the doorframe, and look me in the eye: Where'd you go to college? What are you working on? I hear you're new to DC? I take my hands off the keyboard (or out of the Cheezit box, as the case may be), and answer: Chapman University! Tech Writing! True! We nod, we smile, we find similarities, and they disengage to step back on the conveyor belt of the hallway.
Another popular installment in Doorway Theatre is the Non-Sequitur. As a new employee, I am relatively neutral territory. They assume that I don't have some sort of pre-conceived opinion about them; so Tom (names have been changed to protect the annoying) can bitch loudly about Sheila/Alyssa/Matt and knows I'll think he's in the right. Dan can comment on the smell of the office (it is weirdly unpleasant) and I'll think he's hilarious. Jill can shake her head at the antics of Tom and Dave and I'll share her the stuff I put up with! shrug. And I can sit behind my desk and judge, judge, judge.
My personal favorite Doorway Theatre show is the Nothing To See Here. That's where we don’t look at each other. I may close whatever offensive browser window is open and sit up straighter, he'll stop humming that song he started humming further down the hall – we won't look at each other. NO MATTER WHAT. Because we're too busy. There's Nothing To See Here.
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: 2009-06-30, 7:43AM EDT
Can you write copy that sells? If the answer is yes--or you think you have what it takes--read on. We're a small publishing house based in Baltimore, and we're looking to bring new talent to our in-house copy team. If you're ready for the experience and challenge of a lifetime, send me a short sales letter that pitches readers on the publication of your choosing (think Wall Street Journal, Mens Health, etc) and why they should buy it, right now. All applicants will be considered. We offer a competitive compensation and health care package, in addition to a relaxed, friendly environment.
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July 1, 2009
1234 Main Street
City, STATE 12345
Stop wasting your time.
You're going to do it anyway. You can't really help it. Print is all around, and it eye-rapes you constantly. Yeah, maybe you were asking for it: dragging your eyes around, all hungry-like; maybe all the useless facts and wasted hours your brain spends on absorbing billboards and spam emails are kind of your fault. I'm just saying – if it's something that's going to happen to you anyway, why not be taken advantage of by a publication that will actually do something positive for you?
I'm talking about Men's Health Magazine.
Let's be honest: all you're going to do at first is look at the pictures. It's okay – everybody does. That's how I started! Just an average dude, wanting to get something back for the hours of pointless reading I was doing anyway. But I knew eventually I'd get more out of it. Here's the threefold Men's Health Magazine promise to you:
· Look Awesome – Of course you care about your abs. Health supplements? Totally reading that article! Yeah: you're one of THEM now.
· You've Got Mail – There's more than just bills in that mailbox now, mister.
· Learn stuff – It's going to take some time. But eventually? Your brain will exceed its fullness levels and a tiny drain will open up at the base (doctors call this the evacuoma gland, and some celebrities are having theirs stapled to lose weight – but you already knew that based on the insidious banner ads eating up space on your favorite blogs, didn't you? SEE?). Out of that drain will pour all the crap about Jon & Kate's messy divorce, how many calories are in two servings of Chex Mix, and the special Comcast is running right now. Then your brain will be replenished with stuff only the manliest men know.
If you take advantage of this limited-time offer, you'll not only save money, space in your brain, and self respect: you'll save hours of your life that otherwise would have been squandered on useless crap. And you'll get laid.
In addition, if you refer a friend, I will personally deliver your first copy of Men's Health Magazine so I can high-five you on the beginning of your path to awesomeness. Oh, who am I? I'm Chuck Norris, and I'm a subscriber.