Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration: The View From A Porta-Potty

It's not often you mount a public bathroom to get a better view of a black man on a JumboTron, but like the pundits are saying, these are exciting times. What better way to honor America and our new president's call to service than to climb on top of a reeking privy and try to see over the crowd, I said to myself, so that's what I did on Inauguration Day. It didn't really work.

I wouldn't have bothered, except that being such a shutterbug made me lose the rest of my entourage in the hustle and bustle. As many of you know, left to my own devices I usually gravitate to the least sensible option, so I pushed my way through the masses and hoisted my way up in the wake of a thirtysomething couple who'd had the same idea a moment before. We couldn't see any big screens or anything, which they'd sprinkled all over the Mall, but we could see the crowds better than anyone standing at ground level, so we just listened to the PA system and tried not to let too many others up there with us for fear of tipping the damn thing over.

I took a few pictures, including one of some National Guard soldiers trying in vain to direct foot traffic, but mostly there was nothing to do but wait and try not to get too cold. Then the characters started showing up. It wasn't exactly our Porta Potty, and we couldn't tell people not to come up unless actual collapse was imminent, so first one then another started joining us. (This was in a semicircle of maybe twenty identical units, all equally filling up with onlookers.) First came one guy with a few gold teeth and some very neatly pressed jeans, plus a cowboy hat and ranch boots, who called over and over for "Larry!" to join him. (I couldn't ever figure out who Larry was.) He tried to jump from the top of the bathroom into an overhanging tree, but gave up when he realized the branches wouldn't support him. It was weird being up there with that guy. He wouldn't sit down even when it was clear the roof was crumpling under his feet.

Some kids came up here and there. One woman handed me her little son, then her other little son, and I had to grip them (no doubt uncomfortably) under the armpits and hoist them up before she tried to follow. At that point it was pretty clear the thing was unstable, so I handed them back down and she left. Over the course of the festivities we had anywhere from two to five people up there -- I sort of straddled two of them by sitting where the tops touched. At the end, after I jumped back down, I looked into one of them to survey the damage and could see the roof had basically caved in. You couldn't stand up in there any more. Luckily, I never had to use one.

There wasn't a whole lot to do except listen the whole time. Rick Warren was obnoxious. The wind was cold. Obama's speech I thought was pretty average -- I think it may, in the history books, come off a little better on paper than it did in person. The musical number starring Yo-Yo Ma was great. I don't have a single favorite moment of pure being-there experience. The whole thing was awesome to see, especially because of the size of the crowd.

I'd post my pictures, but I'm so old-school that I only took black-and-white film shots. You'll have to come by if you want to see them.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Eventful Trip Home

I'll talk about my novel, Christmas and everything else shortly, but before I forget, a quick anecdote. My flight home on the third (Saturday) included not only Janet Napolitano sitting in first class -- I shook her hand, told her I volunteered for her in college and admonished her to "help fewer people die in the desert" -- but also myself sitting right next to newly minted freshman Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who took over the seat in the nothern part of the state formerly held by the corrupt Rick Renzi.

I didn't know it was her until we'd almost landed. She'd been in my window seat during takeoff, so I was sitting in the middle and Stephanie was sitting near the aisle, and I spent most of the time reading or sleeping or talking to Steph or trying not to step on the other woman's violin case, which was parked under the seat in front of me for space reasons. (She was at least nice about it.) Right before we landed, she mentioned she was trying to play more often and then said, "I'm about to start my first term in Congress, so I don't know how much time I'll have." I asked what her name was, she told me and I said with surprise, "You're Ann Kirkpatrick?" She said something like, "Oh, you don't really know. . ." But I cut her off and said "You took over Rick Renzi's seat." She was impressed that I knew who she was, and we talked for six or seven minutes about her kids reminding her that she's still their mom, not to get any ideas, etc. etc. and how, basically, I'm looking for a job. So I'm going to head into her office later in the week. She said she didn't know which positions her chief of staff had filled already, but I think I at least made a good impression.

Also, I can say with all honesty that she's a very nice person. She said her favorite freshman reps that she met during orientation are Leonard Lance (a Republican from New Jersey) and all the new Dems from New Mexico (Harry Teague, Marty Heinrich, one other I can't remember right now). She's trying to get on the Homeland Security Committee to work with Napolitano on border stuff, even though her district is about as far from the border as Arizona gets. When Steph and I were picking up our luggage, we saw her talking to Napolitano and her entourage and I wished I could go over there or had something substantial to say, but we just grabbed our bags and went home. Anyway, it was fun. I wish I'd known earlier who she was -- I could have bent her ear a little more.