Monday, September 27, 2004

Be a geek, make a letterbox

"And I think how beautiful it was then, through that void, to draw lines and parabolas, pick out the precise point, the intersection between space and time where the event would spring forth, undeniable in the prominence of its glow; whereas now events come flowing down without interruption, like cement being poured, one column next to the other, one within the other, separated by black and incongruous headlines, legible in many ways but intrinsically illegible, a doughy mass of events without form or direction, which surrounds, submerges, crushes all reasoning."
--Italo Calvino, How Much Shall We Bet?

You're surrounded by signifiers and you don't even know it. Anytime you visit a monument or public marker in DC, you're probably standing in the middle of a clue for a letterbox. For somebody out there, the number of buttons on Thomas Jefferson's coat is highly significant, because it represents the number of paces to take in a north-westerly direction to intersect with her next clue. In fact I count maybe 25 or 30 active ones right now. It's so cute - it seems that a lot of people make them as a way of publicizing their favorite historical figure.

I haven't made one yet, but I probably will someday. Any suggestions?

Shop at the Idle Time Books $1 outside cart

LOCATION: 18th St in Adams Morgan, just below Columbia Rd EQUIPMENT: Yourself, $1, irony

The Idle Time bookstore always has such interesting stuff in their $1 cart, especially if you are one of those ironic yuppie bachelors who hoards Bible Bars and furnishes your apartment with Jesus lamps, glow-in-the-dark American flags, and coffee table books about bad hair. My past scores: an anthropology book about the Dobe! Kung tribe in Africa*, a psychedelically-illustrated book about transcendental meditation by a 60s yoga cult leader, a book called "The Corporate Environment"** with a not-sarcastic illustration of little automaton people fitting into boxes on the cover, and the autobiography of LaToya Jackson. And they're open late, so a perfect chance for a harmless drunken impulse purchase on the way home from Tryst.

*Richard Lee was questioning one of his friends from the Dobe! Kung tribe about how they had lived before they were able to trade with the nearby village. For example, what had they done before they could barter for iron cooking pots? His friend looked him solemnly in the eye. "Well, everyone knows that you cannot live without iron cooking pots. So, we must have died."

**Representative quote: "It needs to be recognized that whilst management's commitment to enterprise policies is normally unconditional, under industrial capitalism non-managerial employees are not always as firmly committed. They bring to organizations their own values and beliefs about the nature of work, and its place in their lives, which are not always congruent with those of their managerial leaders. For many of them work is merely instrumental, a means to non-work ends; it is not an end in itself. It is one of the skills of management to provide an organizational climate which encourages employees commitement to enterprise goals..." In other words, the birth of Flair.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Swing on the pole at a Scantily Clad house party

LOCATION: 18th and Kalorama TIME: Saturday night, sometime next year EQUIPMENT: Yourself, someone to pass along the invitation to you (shouldn't be too difficult since I noticed about 500 people on the Evite). OPTIONAL: Hot friend from your improv comedy workshop wearing her favorite pair of SpongeBob SquarePants underwear

As it turns out, sometimes there are nice house parties in DC. Within half an hour my friend Jaiva and I were swinging around the pole they'd installed in the living room and slipping money into each others' underwear with our teeth. Jaiva actually climbed all the way up to the ceiling and kicked the chandelier, at which point the pole (hastily installed) came unscrewed and majestically swayed down to deposit her on the ground. I also met a dominatrix from Oakland called Stacey who gave me a flogging (if you've never tried it, best massage ever!) I explained to onlookers that she was whipping me because I'd fucked her husband. "He was so good in bed! You trained him well." "You dirty slut! He's mine, all mine!" And I met a very nice ex-gymnast who likes Ashtanga yoga and did a handstand session with him while listening to the Beatles. We gave each other drunken high-fives. "Yeah! Yoga rocks!" I'm sure that Patanjali was in his grave spinning like a top.

At the end of the night they had this hokey thing where everyone voted on the most outrageous person there. Jaiva and I didn't try - we were in it for the love, not the glory, and anyway we were searching for one of my shoes. (Note to my roommate: I'm sorry, dollface! I looked everywhere - I'll buy you a new pair.) Four different people came up to ask if we'd been disqualified ("for being professionals"). "Listen dude," Jaiva kept snapping, "I'm a research scientist."

Then I went home and cleaned my kitchen.

Although I had a wonderful time at the party, I probably would have been just as enthusiastic if the theme was goofy chicken suits instead of lingerie. But it seems that the best way to convince young adults to be playful is with a sex theme. Perhaps that's because unlike our vitally important careers, world-shaking artistic ambitions, or all-important social dignity, we have no way of denying that sex is absolutely ridiculous.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Go to a Sunday chamber music concert at the Phillips Collection

LOCATION: 20th and P TIME: You know, museum open times. EQUIPMENT: Yourself, an aesthetic appreciation, tolerance for old-person smell

The Phillips Collection is charming - and you'd expect it to be, since it charges $8 and has to compete with all the other world class free art museums in D.C. It's in a lovely old house that has that European feeling of well-preserved still usable antiquity (made me think of the scene in the movie "Intimate Strangers" where he lovingly removes all the childhood toy cars off his father's ancient wood dresser to polish it every week.) There are these goofy old barometers in every room that make me think of something Duchamp might have thrown together with cogs and springs and Art Deco steel arrows.

My favorite thing about the exhibitions, though, are the captions on the paintings. I mean, when do you ever pay attention to those? Usually they offer completely irrelevant biographical information, or annoying misinterpretations of the painting, or they're just kind of vague. But whoever does the Phillips labels is fantastic. She talks about each piece in relationship to the other pieces in the collection, pointing out connections you might otherwise have missed, and useful didactics are well balanced with cute stories. (I liked the one in a Surrealism show about how Max Ernst, while still an unknown, was travelling through Europe during World War II trying to escape to America. He wrapped up one bulky canvas that he wasn't able to carry, and dropped it onto a ship headed for the States will the following label: "Max Ernst, c/o The Museum of Modern Art." The canvas made it there and they did indeed hold it for him.) (There was another exhibit of stuff from the Wadsworth museum in Hartford and the labels, as well as commenting on the paintings, wove in the story of the early career of Chick Austin, the founder of the museum - a delightful man who raised money for his experimental art purchases [he was the first to bring a Picasso to the States] by performing magic shows.)

The guestbook is also surprisingly fun: people sign it with their opinions of the exhibition, quotes from their favorite poet, philosophical rumination, and quick sketches of their own. Often little debates spring up from page to page.

Every Sunday at 5 pm there is a free chamber music concert in the big hall. It's an absolutely amazing place to hear classical music - besides the fantastic acoustics and intimate setting, you're surrounded by gorgeous paintings! It seems, however, that most people who share my opinion are over the age of 60. Whenever I go, I'm surrounded by legions of well-dressed, bright-eyed old people. They chat and joke and lean over to the people sitting behind them to introduce themselves and I've overheard the start of quite a few easy friendships and promises to catch that new opera - making me feel quite ashamed of my own generation's social skills, as we lurk around in dark corners at the noisy night clubs trying to look cool, sucking down booze to work up the nerve to even approach anyone.

So don't worry, my youth-obsessed compatriots - some old people discover a kind of subtle, well-balanced happiness that we can't even dream of, with our silly neuroses and our fears and ambitions. And personally, as I age, I'm looking forward to finding more people who are willing to accompany me to chamber music concerts at dignified art galleries. My only worry: old-person smell. Is it really so universal?

Monday, September 20, 2004

Thwack a tennis ball

LOCATION: Georgetown Park, 32nd & R st. EQUIPMENT: Tennis racquets, joie de vivre. OPTIONAL (if you're lucky): Magnificent classy friend who has packed little ziploc bags of strawberries and almonds.

There are a few open courts around DC, but the best are in the park in Georgetown at 32nd & R (next to Dumbarton Oaks, about which more later.) There are four courts, pretty good quality - likely to all be full on a sunny weekend day, but if you sit in the grass something usually opens up within half an hour.

I went to play on Sunday with a good friend. This is how you can tell the kind of person she is: our court opened up, and I ran to the bathroom; when I came back, she was all set up on one side of the court. We played an hour and a half, and I noticed that she would always wait for my serve on the left side of the court. I didn't pay it much mind - thought maybe she was favoring her forehand - until it dawned on me that the one little corner she waited in was the only part of her side that was shaded from the blazing sun. The dawning unfolded further: my side of the court was in complete shade.

This is the kind of detail that it's a lot easier not to notice when you're the comfortable one. "Oh my gosh," I said, "do you want to switch sides?" She nodded, "Yes...but are you sure you won't get a sunburn?" (!)

Dear reader, it was hot over there, and the sun shone into your eyes, making it hard to see the ball. Not miserable, but a very noticeable impediment. I thought back to our previous tennis games and I have no memories of noticing the sun in my eyes. Which implies that Mehr had probably subtly maneouvred herself onto the uncomfortable side of the court every single time, without letting me know.

When I do things like that, I usually spend the rest of the week smugly congratulating myself in private on my own niceness, thereby erasing most of the good karma through gloating. But I think that for Mehr, it's as natural as breathing - I'm sure if she reads this, she will protest that it's not a big deal. It's a nice way to live.

Date me on the internet

z balances wine Posted by Hello

I am a dedicated internet dater.

i fight nuclear proliferation, for obvious reasons

Ukranian/Grape products

Dionysus, for obvious reasons

Star Sign:
Libra Sure, I guess I'll believe in astrology. Who am I to judge the limits of reality, I have a wine bottle growing out of my head, after all


6' 2"
120 lbs
Eye Color:


Last great book I read
When I was a wee girl I was living with my mum and pop in the Ukraine, close to Lviv, in a small town you wouldn't have heard of. My parents ran the local bar, and I helped them serve tables, dressed in a fetching pink pinafore. The main source of employment in the town was the nuclear waste storage facility; the head engineer spent an hour in our bar every day at lunch. He was so nice - he always let me have a sip of his vodka.

Most humbling moment
After the fall of Communism our government ran out of money, and everyone working at the storage facility was paid in tampons.

Favorite on-screen sex scene
This wasn't as bad as it sounds because our town was pretty self-sufficient. People paid us at the bar in boxes of tampons, and we traded our tampons for groceries, and the grocer (a 28-year old physics PhD) printed up goofy Cyrillic labels and sold the tampons on eBay as collector's items. So it was a strange but functioning economy, and us children used to make jumpropes and tug-o-war ropes out of strings of tampons that we tied together.

Celebrity I resemble most
Still, the head nuclear engineer started to be bitter about getting his whole salary in the form of feminine hygiene products, and his erstwhile daily hour at our bar turned into two and sometimes three hours. He used to declaim passages from Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground" to me for ages with a red face, and sometimes he sobbed. Somewhere along the lines I think his quality standards slipped, and our whole town became extremely radioactive. The first strange thing we noticed was the glow-in-the-dark butterflies that came out around midnight. They'd try to attack you with their tiny teeth. Our dog sprouted a couple of extra tails all along her back, which she seemed happy about. My mum grew a third eye in the back of her head, although if you ask me, she always had one. We reported it to the government, and a weaselly little official showed up with a Geiger counter. As soon as he approached the town limits his counter started sounding like a hardcore techno track and he ran away in terror. After that they increased our tampon payments by twenty boxes a month in compensation for our hardship.

Best or worst lie I've ever told

And then a lot of people started to get bottlitis. The head engineer developed a stomachache; we thought it was probably his liver starting to fail from the alcoholism, but the next day a glass bottle of Stolichnaya grew right out of his belly-button.

If I could be anywhere at the moment
So I wasn't surprised when my own bottle of wine came in one day. It hurt for a couple of days - kind of like growing a new tooth, if you can remember that - but I can't complain; there are worse places it could be. (Ask me about the poor girl we called "Grappa Ass" some time.)

Song or album that puts me in the mood
And truthfully it wasn't that hard for me to adjust when I was living at home; most people in my town already had some kind of strange mutation, so I didn't feel like a freak. And as long as I included plenty of grapes in my diet, my bottle always replenished itself (although if I am greedy and don't wait long enough in between decanting myself, it just comes out as grape juice).

The five items I can't live without
So life was content and quiet, but I was restless. What was the rest of the world like? Surely there were places that didn't depend on a tampon economy, where you didn't have to sometimes tie your sandwich down to stop it leaping up at your throat, where you could put your children to bed secure in the knowledge that they'd still be the same species the next morning.

Fill in the blanks
corkscrew is sexy; twist-off is sexier

In my bedroom, you'll find
So I decided to come to America to find my fortune, whatever it may be. I quickly found a job as a spokesperson for nuclear non-proliferation activist groups. Unfortunately I have never been a rabble-rouser. I am Russian at heart and I prefer to accept the absurdities of life. So usually they trot me up onto stage for a few minutes and use my picture in their brochures, but if they have me answer questions I soon get distracted and begin regaling the audience with tales of building funny sculptures out of tampons. What can I say? I am just not a revolutionary.

I am supple, full bodied, and long on the palate, tasting of pear, vanilla, roasted nut, and baked apple, with low notes of lemongrass. My flavour has an intense and mysterious complexity. Oh, a quick note: I used to be 5'7". The new height includes the wine bottle.

Someone who is not freaked out by a woman of Russian ancestry with a bottle of wine growing out of her head.

Friday, September 17, 2004

GUEST ENTRY: Visit 20 Countries in Two Hours

Thanks very much to Steve for his inspiring example.
LOCATION: Across DC in general, but concentrated around DuPont Circle TIME: Weekdays, between 9am and noon, 2pm-4pm EQUIPMENT: Yourself and friends who have a sense of adventure and lots of free time, backpack for free stuff, possibly-fake anecdotes about individual countries to gain entry OPTIONAL: Your passport, to intensify the effect

Foreign embassies are everywhere; in their ubiquity, our boredom is salved. The embassy hop-- the pub crawl for the citizen of the world-- affords us DC residents the chance to visit twenty countries in two hours. For our voyage, we the intrepid walk home with a sense of the other and a flag made of paper, the very definition of a lagniappe.

The idea was simple. DC has lots of embassies, most near each other. Embassy staffs have a great knowledge of their country and very little to do. They would love to talk to people who wanted to listen, and in their gratitude, they'd give away stuff for free. After we listened to one staff, we'd walk across the street to the next embassy, knock on the door, and repeat the process. As then-college students with a desire to travel and a schedule heavy with night classes, some friends and I felt we were in a perfect position to engage in some personal diplomacy.

(Some quick notes: We began embassy hopping in the halcyon days pre-9/11/01. While embassies have since raised their collective heckles, they are no more alert than government buildings, which remain accessible despite the government's best effort, are now. Also, I must claim ignorance on some frequently asked questions. No, I don't know why small countries have giant homes for their embassies. I don't know why some choose to bunch themselves together while one was so hidden I walked past it for four years without even realizing it was there. I don't understand why some bother to exist considering the lack of hours that the staff will open the door. All I know about embassies is that if you ask them nicely, some will give you free stuff.)

The journey is often terrifying. For instance, take our trek into the aforelinked Kyrgyz embassy. We enter, relatively new to our embassy hopping mission. Hello! We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! We're taken into the back, where it's cold and dark. Two men, both of hearty stock, greet us. Vhat do you vahnt? Hello! We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! We're taken into the back room off of that back room. Colder, darker. Another greets us. So, you speak Kyrgyz? Ummm, not so much. Then you speak Russian? Again, no. Why you want flag then? We love Kyrgyzstan! We'd love a flag! Forty rays on the sun represent the forty united tribes! Brilliant! We wait. The men talk, sternly (Kyrgyz: a stern-sounding language), then leave the room. Our thoughts: have we broken a law, either US or Kyrgyz? What can they do to us? How the hell did we end up alone in a back room of the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan? Five minutes later, however, they let us go, and dear reader, I'm proud to say, with free gift in hand. A flag two by three inches, this trinket makes a voyage to Bishkek seem more than worthwhile.

From this, the legend grew. We figured we had rendered our State Department expendable, as we could begin to establish a better, more private relationship with every country, based solely on what we could talk each into giving us. Australia, loved across the globe for their beer and accent? Cold-- they turned us away at the door. Greece, historical enemy of the Lacedaemonians? Take take take! Guidebooks! Histories! A flag (made of paper, yes, but a flag nonetheless)! Indonesia offered my fellow embassy hopper a $30,000 scholarship after he demonstrated a working knowledge of their language. Ireland thought we were suspicious and rushed us out as quickly as possible. Morocco...well, Morocco was the mother-lode. Yes, our entry was based on a lie. Hello! We have a friend that's Moroccan, and next week is her birthday! We thought a great gift would be a flag that was flown over the embassy! But even after we admitted we didn't have a Moroccan friend, Morocco rewarded us. Books, maps, a huge flag, a general sense of love. Thanks, Morocco, and I promise I'll make it to Fez one day.

After college came full-time jobs and the corresponding loss of free time on work days. Our embassy hopping suffered. Now, it's more an activity wistfully remembered rather than consistently perfected. The opportunity still remains. You have heard. Tell the others.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Drink a mojito at the Adams Morgan Day festival

LOCATION: 18th st in Adams Morgan TIME: Last Sunday and next year EQUIPMENT: Yourself, money for snacks, sense of community. OPTIONAL: Dogeared copy of C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves"

Every year they shut down 18th St, and a patchwork quilt of teriyaki chicken kiosks, sarong importers, community activists, and ceramic jewelry designers pitch their tents. Madam's Organ puts out big painted signs for $3 beer. Musical performers imitate Bono badly, and local dance troupes do synchronized routines on the street. You can buy badly carved Ethiopian masks or little jars of homemade scented shea butter. The air reeks of fried rice. If it's a sunny day, like yesterday, Adams Morgan gets almost as crowded as it would on a lively Saturday night, and the throngs swarm with sunburned grins, sucking on oversized cups of lemonade. Enterprising households time their yard sales to coincide with the festival, counting on tipsy impulse purchases of broken teakettles. The local church hosts an interpretive dance performance by earnest women dressed in colour-coordinated shawls who flow and twirl and beat their chests in a very spiritual fashion, in front of an audience of Hispanic men who leer at their leotarded butts. I saw maybe thirty people I knew while wandering around, including some dear friends, and a guy I used to date, and several homeless people I knew, and other people I recognized enough to nod to but had never met.

If you haven't noticed, I love it - the community thing. I was thinking about it the other day while reading C.S. Lewis, who describes four different kinds of love: affection, friendship, erotic, and spiritual. Spiritual love is for God. I won't talk about that now. Erotic love is, well, you know, red roses and thorns and crashing ocean waves and Medea's rage. Again, too big a chew for me to bite. Friendship is the love of shared interests, the love of doing side-by-side. You choose your friends and your friends choose you; sometimes you even feel yourself part of an elite cadre. These feelings, I think, are all pretty easy to understand as love. Affection is a little trickier: Lewis defines it as the love that comes not from an inherent attraction toward the person loved but from shared experience and shared environment. "It is indeed the least discriminating of loves...almost anyone can become an object of Affection; the ugly, the stupid, even the exasperating...." Oh, old Mrs. Fitzpatrick? She's a crank, but she's our crank. (Of course, most relationships in real life are a mixture of friendship and affection.)

The idea used to baffle me. Why would you like something more because you saw it everyday? Why would you love a person more than another because they happened to be your family member, or your neighbor? "God chooses your family; thank God you can choose your friends" - it used to be my mantra.

And yet I've come to think that when you live in a friendly bubble of like-minded souls comforting each other in a hostile world, you can become seriously detached from reality, and rather self-absorbed. Maybe you stop questioning yourself because everyone around you already agrees with you and you never have to defend yourself. Maybe you lose touch with the cycle of life, with babies and old people and parents and children. Maybe you forget that there are people out there who are both sane and very, very different from you. C.S. Lewis write, "Affection opens our eyes to goodness we could not have seen, or should not have appreciated without it."

I would never choose or be chosen by the slightly sweaty man leering at the interpretive dancers, or the elderly woman with hornrimmed glasses administering the yard sale, or the gigantic aproned man offering me spoons of sorbet, or the teenage breakdancer, or the middle-aged gay couple with the meticulously groomed miniature schnauzer, or the obnoxious police officers driving on the Dupont grass. And yet by dint of sheer familiarity and shared place I notice that the sweaty man carefully helps his grandfather to his feet, and I chuckle at the elderly woman's neat thirty-page typed catalogue for her junk, and I admire the teenage dancer's energy and attitude, and I realize that I have more in common with the lady cop than I'd like to admit, and I'm forced to imagine what life circumstance might tempt me to join the Church of Scientology. It's wonderful. It's a cliche. It's life.

Give up

In Praise of Giving Up

Let's say you're riding your bike in the rain
Hunched over, squinting, tense and you feel
hair unravel, crisp lines smudge away
and then: Sploosh!
- a car's muddy wake
smacks you broadside, and thus
you might as well be swimming - so
you wriggle your toes and zoom
through this strange new ocean
with other strange fish, soaked bemused,
but beginning to straighten
Who grin at you in this fellowship of surrender to the rain.

Or the beluggaged airport careen
cutting corners with your objects, cracking elbows -
checking the clock as you click grimly on,
feet screaming, hand rubbing raw on the carryon bag,
mind gnawing on your relentless quest's
bumbling timetable math - and then the strap breaks.
All your possessions puddle around your feet
and you give up.
The clock clicks on thrice as quick but you just breathe
and find slowly a place to sit
to watch your plane lift itself,
suddenly nearer to heaven without you
than bird ever was known to fly -

You just slowly sit, bags drop, muscles flat
And when you reach at last to poke a pot plant
(you're sure it's plastic)
the waxy leaf throbs
in your hand, and weeps
a single tear of milky sap
hovering fat on the leaf's juicy tip
Ready to fall and it falls

Or when I look at your close face and know
we'll never hold each other in the storm
and in that truth a glorious letting go -
unslipping veils of hope one by one
standing naked in the sun.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Argue with a police officer driving across the grass on Dupont Circle

LOCATION: Dupont Circle grass. EQUIPMENT: Inconsiderate cop car, yourself, spirit of revolution. OPTIONAL: Lots of psychological baggage relating to law enforcement. NOTE: This is not really a fun thing to do, but it's very interesting.

I don't like police officers. It's a narrow-minded prejudice that developed out of personal experience.

Partly it's the speeding tickets - the ones I got, along with patronizing lectures; the ones I didn't get, after the officer looked down my shirt.

Partly it's that time I called in to report a woman being beaten up at the corner of 14th and V and nobody showed up for half an hour even though cop cars were driving right past us and then finally when someone came it was already over but they wouldn't give my friend and me a ride home even though we'd just confronted the attacker and a group of his friends were standing around next to a fence, glowering at us.

And partly it's the time I met a homeless man who had been run over by a car (he was walking down the street with massive cuts and bruises all over his body and there were red tire marks on his face and legs) and he told me that he'd been sleeping overnight in the bushes in Rock Creek Park and a police car ran over him and that they stopped, got out, seemed surprised that he was alive, and tried to convince him that he was delusional and that he'd actually been beaten up by someone, and then they drove away and left him there. (I believe him.)

So I have a chip on my shoulder about cops.

I was sitting on a blanket in Dupont Circle one sunny afternoon reading something charming when a cop car drove across the grass in front of me, belching exhaust into my face. I made sympathetic eye contact with a neighboring blanket-reader. Our silent rapport: What uncivilized jerks, and what a shame that we have to put up with it!

But then I realized that I didn't have to put up with it. I was in the right. And I didn't even have any rolling papers in my purse.

I walked over to where the car had stopped on the grass and tapped on the window. "Excuse me" - super sweetly - "I was just wondering why you guys were driving on the grass." The man and woman stared at me as if I was insane and said nothing. Reasonably: "It's just that for people relaxing on the grass, it's very disturbing to have a car driving so close with the noise and the smell. " The male cop said, "We drive on the circle because it's a crime deterrent. It discourages criminals when they see our car here." Me, maple-syrupy: "I guess that makes sense, but I don't think any crimes are going to happen here in the afternoon with everyone sitting around. I mean, I'm sure it's fun for you guys and all, but -" At this, the female cop exploded. "Fun? Fun? Driving all around on this hot day? Have you ever tried wearing one of these uniforms? They're 100% polyester. Does that sound like fun to you?" Me (fake syrup yielding to grudging sympathy): "Actually, that sounds awful. Well, why don't you please make a report that someone has complained. Thanks...Have a great afternoon!"

Some notes on the incident:

--My plan was to be sweet and reasonable, supposedly so that the cops would not dismiss my words, and instead engage with me and be nudged into some spiritual growth, for their own good. But that was bullshit. Unconsciously I wanted to be smarmy because I knew that would be the best way to piss them off. And it did. There's nothing more annoying than negative energy pretending to be positive energy.

--I've never been a revolutionary. My attitude towards authority has historically been disdain; I ignore rules that don't align with my morality. That's very selfish; if your community has rules you disagree with, even if you yourself can get away with ignoring them, you should fight to change them for the sake of others who are not so lucky. Which is why Steve, the founder of, is a much better person than I am.

--Despite my fleeting flirtation with the role, I never will be a revolutionary, at least not in the stone-throwing way. I wasn't able to sustain indignant ardor for more than a second when confronted with a human face. Those cops might have been jerks, but they were unhappy jerks who were driving around feeling bitter about their lousy jobs and their uncomfortable uniforms and the self-righteous bitches who tried to make them feel guilty about doing their lousy jobs. How can you be angry at an unhappy person?

--But I still don't like police officers.

Go to the Native American Museum in the middle of the night

Tuesday, September 21st will be the opening day for the Native American Museum on the National Mall:

They're having speeches etc all day, and a concert at 5:30pm. To get in the door during regular hours for the first week, you have to reserve a pass through the evil But from midnight on Tuesday through Wednesday morning, the museum will be open for all.

I have a long history of sneaking into museums and libraries late at night (ask about the "orgy" in the Yale stacks sometime). The Hirshhorn's "24 Hour Psycho" was a sort of neverending froufrou psychedelic gallery party where all the well-dressed people in DC emerged from hiding. I'm guessing this will be spookier and much more morally ambiguous.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Go to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (Part III)

Marino Marini - Horse and Rider

Horse man splay pointed seven star
That's when you forget (and recall) -
And the breath that claps like a windy sail
Denies my description; would never watch itself
or care to record its own
glorious niagara of sweat sweet glee
but must be primly chained with inky ropes
(the time trapped thoughts of those who see)

Go to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (Part II)

The Great Warrior of Montauban (Emile-Antoine Bourdelle)

He took a lot of piano lessons
But those brave paws at the keys
Might as well have been tossing potatoes.
He tried poetry -
Snapped his pens.
All the shimmering ribbons he would have liked
to pull from the air -
They melted in his earnest fat fist.
Well, if I must paint
with the slapstick gut of my foes
Carve a beautiful slice
in the air with my straight sword -
Oh God, your only gifts to me -
these rippling muscular snake sinewed
colossally ungovernable

Go to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden (Part I)

LOCATION: On the Mall, corner of 7th and Independence. EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your spatial awareness. OPTIONAL: Poetry in your soul.

Sculpture Gardening for Beginners

It takes some judgement
You can't go planting a hardy perennial like a Caulder mobile
next to a delicate, shade-craving Rodin lover.
Henry Moore needs a lot of fertilizer
Gastin Lachaises' Standing Woman, on the other hand
would grow anywhere.

Type random letters into Google in the Kramerbooks kiosk...

LOCATION: Kramerbooks, just north of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue. Computer kiosk is next to the bar and you can use it free for 15 minutes or longer if you're feeling rude.

Google's autocomplete will give you a picture of what people in DC, in aggregate, search for on the internet (or at least the sample represented by Kramer patrons):

macrosys research and technology
mandarin + hotel
march 28 birthdays
march issue jane magazine
mary gillot
masturbating for peace
Shulman dentist 5th Ave NY
graduate scholarships international development
german embassy washington
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Watch the monsters stumble home from Adams Morgan at 3am

pink z Posted by Hello

LOCATION: Corner of 18th and Willard St TIME: Saturday night (esp Halloween) EQUIPMENT: Yourself, spirit of anthropological inquiry OPTIONAL: Friendly stuffed platypus

Have you seen those photo series of butterflies slowly emerging from their cocoons? I once saw an exhibit where the artist ran the photos backward: a jewelled monarch crunched itself up into a green sack then oozed back out as a fat, creeping, hairy caterpillar.

There are few chances for nature photography in the middle of a city. But someday I'm going to set up a tripod on 18th St. and do time delay photography series of the people walking up to Adams Morgan at the beginning of Saturday night, and then stumbling back down late. The metamorphosis is particularly striking with a certain species of slimly chubby, well-groomed blond girl in a silk halter top, peach lipstick, and mascara who strides stiletto-heeledly uphill in a coed gang. At 3am the mascara has run, the inside part of the lipstick has been eaten off, there are sweat stains on the silk top, and she is hooting at strangers while being half carried, half dragged by her slightly less drunk friends, some of whom are also gnawing on yard-long slabs of pizza which leave trails of red grease spots behind them. Imagine if you could run such a time series backwards! It would be like the rise of civilization, in miniature.

So yes, 3am at the base of Adams Morgan is always a sociologically interesting time, but it's even more so at Halloween, since everyone is in an exciting costume, and the social games and scoping of strangers and all the other things you must be hoping for when you go out, otherwise why not just stay home with your friends and a cup of tea, can be much more explicit.

And DC may be square as cities go, but there is still some pretty interesting plumage strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage. I notice that male costumes tend towards either a military theme: Indian hunter; monster; superhero; or a joke: my favorite was a hawaiian shirt, baseball hat, camera round the neck and a giant, inflatable, open shark mouth around his waist, as "a Florida tourist being eaten by a shark." Female costumes are usually sexy-funny (negligee scrawled with double-entendres as a "Freudian slip"), sexy-poetic (a crown of leaves: "I am the spirit of autum!"), sexy-historical (Cleopatra, etc.) or just sexy-sexy (the Playboy bunnies seem to multiply like, well...)

So trying hanging out around the corner of 18th and Willard St. sometime on a Halloween Saturday. (It's a perfect location because it's right below a taxi zone boundary, so DC natives all walk down past 18th and U to catch cabs). The monsters have been monsters all night. Some of them are ready to be people again; they've already taken their costumes off and you can see the red sweaty lines printed on their foreheads by their masks.

But some still want to play. I'll always remember one bear, skipping and tapping his toes together in the light of a streetlamp. He had sharp claws and mardi-gras beads around his neck. He saw me out of the corner of his eye, rushed to where I was perched on the hood of a car, and growled in my face. I've never met anyone else in Adams Morgan so charming. His friend rushed up with a tired, human face. "I'm sorry, he's so drunk. Hey, John - John - "

Exeunt, pursued by a bear.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Note to the Ancients

Just looking up made you ripen with song,
and fling your souls to the celestial heavens -
Well, my frequent flyer miles got me in.
I was safely strapped with twelve pounds of luggage
and backup oxygen in the overhead bin.

You saw up here the perfect horse, the tri-angle's right,
the music of the spheres, pi complete.
I'm afraid I missed all that.
I didn't have a window seat.

Host a clothing swap

"It's true, what you've been hoping for: heaven does exist, and you can take it all with you. The catch is, you have to carry it yourself."
--Jeanette Winterson


LOCATION: Your clean, well-lit apartment. EQUIPMENT: Yourself, your (probably female) friends, libations, snacks, and vast mounds of clothing spawned from the excess of our consumerist society. OPTIONAL: Easy-going gay male friend to dress up in drag.

In university my roommate Anna and I anticipated moving time like vultures in the American West must have anticipated buffalo-slaughtering parties. The day after the storage deadline, we'd steal carts from our residential college and pick up perfectly good toasters, tables, vacuum cleaners, jackets, shirts, bookshelves, and boxes of textbooks from the lawn.

We snickered at our overprivileged classmates' waste, but I admit I do know the boom-bust cycle of object possession. You see it and it's not yours, and you want it. Then you get it and you have it. You don't exactly treasure it, but you certainly can't imagine living without it, and you wouldn't dream of giving it away. It belongs to you! But then you have to move it. Suddenly a proud room full of riches becomes a terrifying room full of heavy bulky matter. All of these objects together weigh so much more than you do! And they're all different shapes. Where will they go, how will they fit? You didn't think that you had so many of them. It's 2AM and you have a flight for noon the next day. Your fingers ache and you have bruises on your shins. You fantasize about the objects simply disappearing. What the hell do you need them for anyway? You certainly don't need them now! So - and this was the solution independently discovered by several people I knew - you throw them out your window.

One friend in particular had a stuff problem. He came from a very rich family, and his bedroom was a primordial soup of papers, dirty socks, and expensive electronic equipment with a bed rising up in the center like a volcanic island in the Pacific. He was very sweet but emotional and sensitive, so the freshman year move hit him like a sack of existential bricks. "I hit bottom," he told me later, "at four in the morning. I'd run out of boxes and I had all these knick knacks still on the floor. I was hungry and tired and a little crazy. There was this very heavy jar of change. So I tipped it out, sorted through it for the quarters and dimes, put them in my pockets, and threw the pennies and nickels away. My roommates teased me about that for the next year, and I'm sure there was a better solution, but it was the only thing I could think of to do."

Overwhelming objects usually relate to your life temptations - places you confuse wants with needs. I've got two bath towels, I like them, I use them, I can't imagine getting any more. But I've got more clothes than I need, and many, many more books. I covet my books. Sometimes I gloat over them. I stroke the textures of their pages. But during my last move I decided upon a new book ownership philosophy: easy flow. I gave half my books away, and now if I think of a friend who might like a book on my shelf, I give it to them (that way guilt is avoided when they forget to return it). Then people give books to me. Or I see them for $1 on a used books table, or I pick them up at work. They come, they go, and it doesn't really matter.

My friend Jamia, experiencing a similar philosophical evolution, recently hosted a clothing swap. Jamia is glowingly beautiful and an artist; the main subject of her art is herself. Whenever she leaves the house, she looks amazing. She also owns enough clothes and accessories to carpet the Grand Canyon. And she has many friends in similar, though less extreme, straits.

I came to Jamia's house early to help her set up and found her perched cross-legged on top of a clothing mountain. She looked like the dragon Smaug sitting on his hoard of gold coins. She'd reach down, pull up a piece of clothing, inspect it, stroke it against her cheeck, then toss it to either the "keep" or "swap" pile. Sometimes she'd get distracted, reach over to the "swap" pile, look at something again, and move it back over to "keep."

People began arriving with trash bags full of clothes, which spilled out and mixed together on the floor, on the couches, on the tables, even in the kitchen. There was music playing and we passed around bottles of wine. You'd rummage through a pile, try something on, then toss it to a friend. A few times I'd pull out a shirt and think, "Hey, that's pretty nice." Then I'd realize it had been mine.

I'd expected the evening to be competitive, but we were all drunk on generosity. "Here, this would look better on you!" Occasionally Jamia would leap up to retrieve more clothes from the "keep" pile in her bedroom. As the night progessed pants became scarves, skirts became funny hats, and more and more of us were sitting back in our underwear and giggling.

When the last guest had left Jamia's apartment was still full of clothes. She was eventually to donate them all to goodwill, but in the meantime we juggled with them, made big piles and jumped on top of them, and buried each other beneath them. It gave us a buzz similar to what I imagine KLF must have felt when they burned a million quid - although, of course, several orders of magnitude less bad-ass.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Drum in a circle at Meridian Hill Park (Part II)

The next week when I went to Meridian Hill Park, I wasn't quite as horny. But still it was a day summer could be proud of. And the drumbeat plunged me so deep in my senses that I could feel each grass blade pressing my souls. I was too shy to join the dance, so I did yoga under a tree nearby - a luxury, since I'm often hesitant about doing extreme yoga poses in public places. It's the risk of, as my friend Matthew puts it, "being too joyful in public."

As I was easing into bird of paradise, suddenly there came an innummerable swarm of three children: "What are you doing?" "That's yoga, right? I know about that!" "I can do that, too!" "Our mom used to do that..." "You're pretty!" "Teach me to do that!" "You've got leaves in your hair!"

The names of the swarm were Michael, Lisa, and Tanika. Michael ("I can do that, too!") fancied himself as a benevolent older brother dictator. Urgently I had to spot him for an overextended handstand; when he leapt to his feet, he beamed with pride. Lisa ("Our mom used to do that...") was made of lumpier clay, with heavier limbs. When I tried to help her with the gymnastics, she pushed the wrong way against my helping hands. Tanika ("You're pretty!") was as wispy as a silk handkerchief. When she did a handstand, I felt that I had to push down on her feet to stop her floating away.

The great B.K.S. Iyengar said that children cannot do yoga, and this is true; although there was much exertion and contortion, nobody was meditating or linking their movement to their breath, and as a swarm we were very competitive about who could do the coolest poses best (absolutely not a yoga attitude and a common cause of injury).

But it's also true that as a child your whole life is yoga, because you haven't yet separated your ego from the ego of the universe, and you live solidly in your body in the solid but mysterious world. Which is why most children's skin glows with health.

Except for Lisa. I think she had already met the snake in the garden of Eden. Michael: "You shouldn't try to do that. You're fatter than us." Lisa was grey around the edges. She had little bruises on her legs. She smelled slightly sour, like a grown up person. When Tanika winsomely took my hands and leapt into some weightless somersaults against my chest, Lisa shoved her away. "My turn, I don't want to wait!" Her heavy knee jammed into my chest and again into my throat. "Do it again! You didn't hold me right!"

Oh, Lisa. Of all the pain in this so-painful universe, is there anything worse than being the less lovable one? And I loved you less. It's true. I couldn't help it, even though I knew exactly what you were feeling. But I am sending you this wish: that the beat of the drums pounds into the marrow of your bones, and wakes up the part of your body that remembers how to dance, and that you meet the one who loves you most of all.