Monday, January 30, 2006

So... All-Night Drinking? Really Awesome!

An online comrade who won't be named -- although she is a vice president with the American Federation of Teachers and belongs to the warm, tightly knit Turn Left political community -- popped into town last weekend and managed to wangle her way into a long evening at the Siple house followed by dinner at the third-fanciest Thai restaurant in the neighborhood and some uncourtly drunkenness. I promised I wouldn't tell this story, but I figger as long as I don't name names my promises are understood to be empty anyway.

Actually there isn't much of a story (or "anecdote" -- please see my opinion on those unpleasant turds of conversation) except for the time when we all got into a heated contretemps about why men are doing worse in school than women these days. Considering her job we all felt a little unqualified to be speaking about education policy, although I have to say my theory about sea monkeys backed itself up nicely when the time came. Bottom line: guys aren't under pressure to be smart. Especially if you live in D.C., where guys are under pressure to have frosted highlights and wear as many leather wristbands as possible while juuuuuust keeping the ladies wondering whether you're gay. The longer you have them guessing, the more marriageable you are, sort of like Mr. Bingley's five thousand a year except it wouldn't make for such good literature.

The other part is I had been trying to get rid of most of a bottle of Irish whiskey blended with about 30 percent Scotch for a smooth flavor I couldn't possibly drink all of myself. The short version is that if I have to get rid of booze, I know where to take it. Between that and the fancy Spanish cheese and crackers, we were in quite a state come dinner time.

Work has been kind of incredible this week. I felt sort of a rush coming on, but nothing like seven stories in one issue. My record is three. And I'd thought that was tough. If everything comes together the way it should... seven. Easy. I think that would be a company record. They will be on issues as diverse as Boeing polluting in California, the Department of Energy polluting in New Mexico and California, the Army expanding into an endangered tortoise habitat (also in California, which will be particularly hard hit by my coverage this week), the Army possibly spilling unhealthy tungsten into groundwater in Massachusetts... I could go on. A lot of polluting, is the gist of it. I just saved you $615 a year and a lot of trouble because now you don't have to subscribe.

Feel free to put your own comments here in my sometimes protracted absence.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

D.C. -- How Many Unique Flavors of Gay?

If you're anything like me, you stand in line at Halo with some friends, get held up for a while at the door because the bouncer doesn't really think you'll fit in, wander inside, order a gimlet and stop counting when you hit 94.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

All This, And I'm Still Not Quite Done With the Bottle of New Year's Champagne

What are blogs for, anyway? The conventional wisdom is that they a) make up for a lack of social eptitude or b) are part of the modern world's self-obsession and narcissism. I've never really bought into either theory because a blog is just writing, and as such is only as good, bad or narcissistic as the person writing it. There are a few ground rules blogs have to follow, although these are unwritten and probably not well understood by a lot of teenagers with angst:

- It is unseemly to write about your problems on your blog unless you can put them into an ultimately funny story or use them to make a cosmic point that will impress people.

- Don't talk about things you don't know about. Blogs are somehow intrinsically tied to the larger world of the Internet, and are therefore tied to pop culture/pop politics, which is a morass of egos, flame wars and misunderstandings.

- Have a recognizable voice and persona. Don't just write what you feel. That's for a bottle of cheap wine and your girlfriend to listen to. Blogs have to be hip and they have to make people believe the person writing really gets it.

- A related one: know all the angles. Don't tell people things they already know. Dazzle them with your up-to-the-minuteness.

- Don't be a dilettante. If you start a blog and then let it languish, only to return periodically... well, you've missed the whole point. You have a diary. And it's probably boring, even to you.

- Be funnier than you are in real life. If you have unlimited hours to sit and think about what to say, you'd better make it worth somebody's time, and people like to be amused. Never mind that writing funny is sometimes impossible and you'd rather just pour your little heart out -- you have to keep the one-liners coming.

I'm not saying I agree with these rules, but trust me, they exist. All you have to do is look at the popular ones: Dooce, Pink is the New Blog (at, the big political blogs*, Boing Boing, Slashdot, Wonkette... they all follow the rules. This makes it hard for the rest of us, who wish we could be real people, even on the Interweb, but weren't there when the charter got passed.

It also makes it embarrassing when something worth writing about happens and you didn't write about it because you were too busy living it. Blogging isn't the same thing as having fun -- in fact, the two rarely go hand in hand, because when you're having fun you're not also thinking "I need to make some time later to write about this for the online community." For the world, maybe, depending on your idea of a good time, but not the online community, which (let's face it) is kind of a ridiculous outlet for your thoughts on the big stuff. There's something about the tangibility of a book that makes it respectable and meaningful. With this, there's just the words and the prefab site template. Not much like curling up with The Sun Also Rises.

So, this is a roundabout apology at large, but also to the particular victim of my oversight, for not writing about my girlfriend's recent visit to the Windy Apple. Nothing should be read into this carelessness that anyone who knows me isn't already aware of: I am a callow and shiftless diarist, at best, and can't be counted on to give consistent or reliable information. When nothing is happening I have time on my hands to rant and rave about the weather, but when something interesting goes down I'm too busy being on the scene to roll out of bed early and make a good anecdote out of it. I've always hated anecdotes. People who tell them give the impression of not actually being in the moment and not having anything better to say. When a workmate regales you at lunch with his story about being in a pub in Ireland when this fat guy walked in and insisted he be allowed to play his fiddle**, that can produce a laugh, but come on: none of us were there, we all know you're embellishing it, and why can't we talk about something we can all participate in? Why do we have to go around the table taking turns trying to get the biggest rise out of everyone? Why can't people just talk? So this is why I don't tell a lot of stories. They're not the same thing as conversation, and I prefer the feeling of connection to the feeling that my schtick is going down well.

Be that as it may, the historical record could stand to be corrected. Although I made a brief mention of the fact, I haven't really properly digested it until now, so here's the news: my girlfriend came to town. She arrived two weeks ago Monday and departed a week later. In between, I had to work during the weekdays and during our shared hours we were usually either in the clutches of my ill-conceived plans to get her to hang out with my friends or struggling to move around the city using the unpredictable bus system. All of this equaled not enough private time and a distinct lack of impressive mastery of the city on my part. I feel I was not a particularly good or ingenious host: I did a lot of research before she arrived on where to take her, only to let the list totally fall through in favor of improvisation, which didn't always work well. (Her first night here I took her to a place that was closed, and we ended up eating at a Greek restaurant with two floors where we were the only patrons. But that's an anecdote.) She'd bought us advance tickets to a showing at the Kennedy Center, which was certainly the cultural highlight of the week, especially after intermission when they performed the first act of Die Walkuere by Wagner with a full orchestra and singers. I don't care what they say about the Third Reich, Wagner was a genius and it wasn't his fault they liked him so much.

The visit didn't conform to my standards of courtly behavior, either, which if you know me you probably had no idea existed. I wasn't especially charming. I wasn't my usual effervescent self, for which I have sought a reason in vain since I noticed it, which was almost immediately. I didn't really enjoy anybody's company the whole week she was here except hers, and even then I felt she and my acquaintances weren't really connecting, which made things more difficult because I could see the stars were not aligned, which is a bad feeling when your long-distance beau comes for a brief visit before disappearing. You don't want them to leave with a bad taste in their mouth. I learned this is not always avoidable; I just don't know why.

The long and short of it is that I felt as out of place as she must have. My preliminary attempts to find my way around here have been successful, but as soon as I was the one to show the city off, to make it cool to be here, to be as personally fun and interesting in D.C. as I've always been everywhere else, I sort of froze. It's an interesting phenomenon and one I bet a lot of people have experienced: when you're the newest member of the team, you can't start acting like the captain just because some pretty girl is watching. You try to strut and you fall down. One lovely smile from her and she's the one who bailed you out. Then all you want to do is not talk about it and wish you could go back to junior varsity, where you were the only one who could dunk.

I was appropriately humbled and confused.

For someone who gives the impression of never having any problems, except the usual "I'm too lazy to cash my paycheck," I must admit that I too have my share of dark moments and days where I think I'm going in a bad direction. I privately tear my hair out and wonder whether everything I think is wrong. I wish I had someone around I could confide in, and have to admit to myself that most of the time I don't. I can spend days in a funk feeling sorry for myself. But then I shake my head and wonder what on earth that was all about, and remember that I'm happier than most people in the world will ever be, and I have the strength to do whatever I think is right. That if things don't live up to my expectations, that there's nothing wrong with having them as long as you can laugh about the hard reality that they may not always be met. Coping with failure and disappointment is a huge test of character, and it will drive you crazy because you start doubting everything. Because I'm a charismatic wiz kid I hardly ever have to do it; so this one was tricky. But it's over now. I think I'm better for it.

That's what happened when my girlfriend came to town. Now I love her more than ever. The astute reader will note that I broke a rule here and there.

* - Although right-wing blogging is a sea of anger, spite, humorlessness and crazy ideas that won't work. Check it out sometime if you need to feel awful.

** - This is actually a bad example because I would like to hear this story one day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Living in Clip

I never understood that phrase, but since it came from an Ani DiFranco album cover I guess clarity was never in the cards. Even so, I'm living in clip these days, by which I mean one scene to the next without much connective tissue in between. "Work" is a clip where I joke around with my chums and we sneak out to eat lunch together because we mustn't be spotted by the mucky-mucks enjoying ourselves on the job. "After work" is a clip where I try to convince people to do what's fun instead of what they want to do, which is usually lift weights or go to the bathroom or something. Then there's everything else, which is sort of a meaningless all-meaning question mark where I try to decide what direction to go in for this or that couple of hours, only to decide, ultimately, that I should do this and make it a priority only to change my mind lying in bed that night and think I should have done that instead. I should write more. I should read more. I should go into the District to that cafe I like. I should cook for myself because it's healthier. I should call old friends. I should join the gym. I should keep doing pushups on the floor while I watch a movie. Ya da ya da ya. After god knows how long here I still haven't really settled, is the point. There's no groove; I feel like I'm just here on extended leave, or some kind of indefinite sufferance plan, which sounds so much more pathetic than it really is. In fact it's easy to cope with and has the following advantages: I don't have any bad habits or feel any pressure to keep hanging out at that one boring place all my friends have settled down at (thankfully there is no such place); I don't have easy access to or familiarity with joints that would hurt my wallet or add fat to my face; I don't have the slightest idea what the world's TV schedule is like any more, so I just never bother to watch any; and so, on any given night, I am faced with the terrible but liberating existential freedom to choose what will happen. A fine case in point would be Tuesday's adventure into the U Street corridor, where the other two musketeers and I had a fine time hitting the local wineyards and home distilleries, eating delicious piles of cheese that kept coming as long as somebody paid for them, rambling all over a part of town I'd never seen before and sort of enjoyed, and eventually flagging down a cab after some brief menacing from some guy in the distance who looked like he'd try something after my friend got some cash from the ATM but left us alone after I started making a show of practicing my ancient eastern arts. In my defense, I just wanted to scare him and I was drunk. True story.

Also it was unseasonably warm that night. I love warm cloudy nights. They feel pregnant or something.

Long story short, tomorrow will be a piece of cake day at the office because I wrote three stories on Thursday and haven't got any new reporting to do except for the next next issue, which is two weeks off. I look forward to an extended lunch break. With a plate of fruit and that same damn veggie sub on wheat that I always have to eat. Every time. Trust me, the soup is bad for you.

I Can't Even Enjoy a Mediocre War Film Any More

Watching G. I. Jane after doing what I do for a living is kind of a surreal experience. It starts with a swooping shot into D.C. towards the Pentagon, which would have impressed me at one point but now just makes me think "Hey, I take the yellow line Metro over that bridge" and "Oh, look, that pentagon is down the street from my house." Then once the tough training begins and the rest of the audience is fixated on Demi Moore's shaved head, I stare at the artillery in the background and wonder "How much unexploded ordnance is leaching RDX into the surrounding ground water of that base?" And when they drive around the base in their little golf carts, I wonder "Are they using renewable fuel in those vehicles? That's certainly become a military priority lately, worried as they are about fuel dependence on the Middle East." And when they inexplicably start shooting at Libyans near the end, I think "I wonder how much tungsten is in those bullets. This movie was made after they stopped using all-lead bullet composition. But then they found tungsten didn't work. Maybe they're depleted uranium. My editor wrote a story about how DU is going to need a warning label as it's shipped across country by rail from now on." And on and on and on and on until I want to stop watching because I can't enjoy the straightforward plot and childishly simple dialogue. Like back in the good times.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Thousand Pardons

I've been squiring my girlfriend around town since Monday and I haven't had the heart to cut time out of our schedule to write a blog entry. I hope everyone understands how that works.

The good news is that she seems to have been enjoying herself, not to mention the fancy monuments and the historical oddities of the town. (If you think the Washington Monument has a great view, check out that old post office.) The bad news is that I have had to work all week and she'll be leaving on Monday morning, bright and early, which of course I get off because of Martin Luther King Day and during which, after her 8:00 am flight, I will have to entertain myself.

Sorry also to everyone who's been flooding my e-mail and message machine with requests for attention -- I have been living on borrowed time in a fairy land and will return to your petitions shortly.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Beer Pong and Legitimate Theatre

...are among the activities that cheer one up after a dubious start to the new year.

I'm due at the bus any minute now, so I'll probably have to make this brief, but I want to make sure the world isn't wringing its hands in worry over me because things have taken a turn for the better. My New Year's Day was a big success, thanks to Chris and his family taking me in and playing drinking games in celebration of the big birthday boy. (Except with champagne instead of beer -- you really must try it sometime, as you tend to become rather drunk and silly.) A tip of the hat to Chris' daughter for being a good sport when I forgot to aim, as I didn't quite live up to my billing as "the best shooter on Earth."

I went to a gay bar in Crystal City on non-consecutive occasions last week and wowed the assemblage with my patented "Karaoke Delights" routine: Hello Muddah Hello Fadduh, Stayin' Alive, The Star-Spangled Banner (duet) -- I believe in that order, actually. Don't worry, I had company, although it definitely looked like we were on a date. On Friday we were *wink* a 'threesome' and I played this hilarious game with the waitress where she had to guess which one of the three of us was the gay. She guessed wrong, and that's all I'm saying.

On Saturday I saw Neil LaBute's Fat Pig at the U Street theater the name of which escapes me. It might have been on 14th, near U Street -- I don't know my way around that part of town yet. Then my squire and I found a travel bookstore and I got Ivan Klima's The Spirit of Prague, which is great, although I'm honor-bound to finish Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan that I borrowed from a friend first. Boo hoo.