Sometimes you forget who lives here.
Who are these people and why do they all have such ugly mouths? Watching the news, you see the same faces. Figureheads. The President who makes decisions, good and bad, a mile from your doorstep. Whose eyebrows are now permanently raised in impatience or disbelief.
Congressional leaders looking frumpy in their power suits or utterly queer – the real definition, not the one you’re thinking of – in their puckered seersucker and dated, swooping haircuts.
Lobbyists and spokespeople, the sultans of spin, who have turned influence into currency, spending it on Bermuda shorts and bowties and wearing the outrageously conservative fashion outrageously liberally.
Sometimes you assume it’s all monuments and museums.
The skyline is a modest shortstack, expressly prohibited from growing taller. From a distance, the only recognizable buildings are the ones you’ve seen as the backdrop behind your favorite newscaster. From a distance, no one actually lives here. There’s only room for the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court. Lincoln and Washington and Jefferson and Roosevelt. Korea and Vietnam and World War II. Smithsonian after Smithsonian after Smithsonian.
There are plenty of buildings for Great Men, but where does everybody else belong?
Sometimes your friends from New York would have you think you’re missing out.
They’re so proud of their 4am Chinese food runs, aren’t they? They rave on and on about the gallery openings and thriving bohemian community. About Broadway and the Yankees. You’re so used to hearing them call it the greatest city in the world, validated by such credible sources (Alicia Keys and Jay-Z and Sinatra and Billy Joel) that you almost believe it. And then they tell you — no offense — that your city is full of nerds and squares, that there’s no life anywhere, that you don’t have your own culture. That it’s “a city of transplants,” with no heartbeat of its own.
But hold on just one chest-thumping, exaggerated, overcompensating-for-the-cost-of-living minute. I’m sure they can brief you about the next annoying, useless, overhyped food craze.
But I’ll eat my fucking shoe before I let them tell me about my city.
She was radiant on Saturday night.
I had just finished a writing session at my favorite spot, my head spinning violently, tossing ideas around like a tornado. I paid my tab, opened the door, and immediately entered Oz.
Hundreds of young people on the corner of 14th and U, where a go-go band blasted their horns and banged on the drums. There was nothing polite or subtle about the affair, and it sure as hell was not the kind of performance where you drop a dollar and walk away. You — yes, you there — YOU had a responsibility to participate. We were all counting on you.
The band played “Ain’t Nobody” but we disagreed. So they played “Poison” and “Livin It Up.” And it was, so we did.
The sound of brass and drums, so full and lively that every person, even the seemed to be keeping time, marching in-step. Homely white dudes in ripped khakis danced next to the most beautiful black women you’ve ever seen. A group of gay men surrounded and freak-danced against the 52 bus. And the bus driver literally didn’t miss a beat. She threw her hands up and started clapping.
With the help of a little lo-fi percussion and a thick-bodied trumpet player, we fucking showed you.
No we don’t have bodegas on every corner, but if you’re that desperate, we can go get you some Jumbo Slice. And yeah, our Metro closes at 3am, but our bus drivers get down. And maybe the President lives here, but so do we. And summer isn’t over.
If you thought this city was stodgy and jaded, you must not have been there. Because Saturday night, what you assumed was black and white was in full-color. Highly saturated. High contrast.
If you’re looking for Kansas, Dorothy, you’re in the wrong place. This is the District of Columbia.