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D.C. Grand Jury Duty – This Isn’t the Jury Duty You’re Looking For

January 18, 2017

these-arent-the-droids-youre-looking-forNo, seriously. Listen to the dubious guy who didn’t mention everything your father did with that lightsaber. D.C. Grand Jury duty is not what you expect. It’s not what your friends expect. It’s not what your supervisor expects. And it will change your life.

You’ll probably go through the five stages of grief at some point leading up to and including your Grand Jury duty, but the stages may be a little out of order, as they were for me. And you will experience them for unexpected reasons.

Stage 1: Denial. You won’t believe what the “D.C. Grand Jury Duty” letter says about the length of service and commitment. You’ll search for websites to tell you what Grand Jury duty really means. Those websites and bulletin boards won’t really help. You won’t believe you are going to be a full-time Grand Juror for five weeks. You think it must be that thing where you call in every Friday to see if you are needed on Monday. That must be it. You ask everyone you know, but no one has ever been on a D.C. Grand Jury.

You go to the first day of D.C. Grand Jury duty. It’s in the same courthouse you’ve been to a bunch of times for that petit jury service you get called for every two years. You never end up serving on a petit jury. Why would you have to serve on a Grand Jury? While you’re waiting in your courthouse seat for whatever happens next, you think, “Surely, there is no way that D.C. Grand Jury Duty is five weeks of full-time work.”

Stage 2: Anger. But wait. That stage actually comes later. What’s next is:

Stage 3: Bargaining. Around you in the courthouse, everyone is whispering about how they are going to try to get out of Grand Jury duty. The people talking all seem to think they have iron-clad excuses not to serve. Half the people talking around you are wrong. So, so wrong. You don’t try to get out of Grand Jury duty, cuz seriously, it’s your civic duty, and you aren’t anywhere close to having an excuse. Plus, this is shaping up to be kinda interesting. And totally unexpected. You’re intrigued by what is going to happen next.

You save your bargaining for your supervisor. You know your job is going to go to H.E. Double-Hockey-Sticks if you can’t work at least a few hours every day. That night, you’ll bargain with your boss to earn credit hours and comp time for the work you do at night. Your boss agrees. Sort of.

You are midway through your stages of grief, so let’s step back and contemplate actual Grand Jury duty.


One of These Things is Not Like the Other

It Begins. There are 23 people on your Grand Jury. You are moved to another building, a Federal one with much more security. The metal fork you brought for your sack lunch is temporarily confiscated. You have to leave all your electronic devices in a locker in the new building — every day of your Grand Jury duty! But how can you go without your phone all day?!? Almost everyone under the age of seventy is having rapid-onset, palpitation-inducing smartphone withdrawal, you included.

It turns out D.C. grand juries are modeled on Federal grand juries, and some very knowledgeable people will tell you about the history of how that happened. They will lay out your responsibilities over the next five weeks.

Your workday is going to be basically 8:30am to 5:00pm. You mentally revisit “Denial” and disbelieve the 5pm-edness of the end time. But you have a new sense of doubt about your own Grand Jury duty logistical perceptions. You were wrong about that five weeks thing. Could you be wrong about the service ending every day around 5pm? Never! Surely, you’ll have time to do your regular job from 3:30pm – 5:30pm, and it won’t be so bad. Surely. Surely. Surely. This can’t be denial. You and your 22 new friends are sworn in for Grand Jury duty.

None of your fellow Grand Jurors has ever met another person who has been on D.C. Grand Jury duty, except that two of the Grand Jurors have actually been Grand Jurors before. The tricksy God of Too-Small Data Sets is playing with your head. In a city of 650,893 people, only 1,000 serve as Grand Jurors each year. And apparently once you’ve been a Grand Juror, you have an out-sized possibility of being a Grand Juror again. What?!? It’s no wonder you’ve never met any other Grand Juror. You end up spending a lot of time helping the people at work and your friends understand the time commitment.

The Typical Day. You better be on time to your new temporary job that pays nothing except metro fare. They close the door if you aren’t on time, and it locks automatically. If you’re late, you’ll get a reputation with your fellow Grand Jurors for being a slacker. You don’t want that. They all seem like nice people, and it’s clear you are all in this together. Besides, you find you don’t want to miss any of the Grand Jury happenings. Over the next five weeks, you’ll hear pieces or the entirety of between sixty and a hundred twenty cases. You and your fellow Grand Jurors are, at first, shocked by this possibility, but here’s how the seemingly-impossible becomes the actual (This is just an example, but it’s pretty typical of how a day a week or two into Grand Jury duty would shape up):

  • 9:00am-9:30am – Hear testimony from a witness on new case # 21
  • 9:30am-10:30am – Hear testimony from two witnesses on case #19 from yesterday
  • 10:30am-10:45am – Morning break
  • 10:45am-11:30am – Group read-aloud of transcripts from new case #22
  • 11:30am-noon – Hear testimony from a witness on new case #23
  • Noon-1pm – Lunch! You retrieve your electronics from the security locker and wonder why you ever thought you couldn’t live without a smartphone. It’s so peaceful to be electronics-free! Besides, having no smartphone all day stops you from having to absorb any more troubling information about the world. Grand Jury duty is enough for the moment. Besides, there are only text messages from your supervisor about a crises that work is hoping you can partially resolve on your lunch break and fully resolve when you are home at 5:45pm. You contemplate the text message. You eat your sack lunch and read some more of your paper book. You’ve been bringing a plastic fork and spoon to Grand Jury duty so as not to cause in incident.
  • 1pm-1:30pm – Back to the Grand Jury room, and nothing is scheduled! You put in your non-electronic earplugs and read for thirty more minutes!
  • 1:30pm-2:30pm – Group read-aloud of transcripts on case #4 from the second day
  • 2:30pm-3:30pm – Two witness from case #10 a week ago, and listen to related audio
  • 3:30pm-3:45pm – Afternoon break
  • 3:45pm-4:15pm –  Assistant U.S. Attorney case #4 presentation and voting
  • 4:15pm-4:45pm – Group read-aloud of transcripts from yesterday’s case #17
  • 4:45pm – Go home!

Turns out that most days go to about 4:45pm! THAT WAS ALSO TRUE! And how will all of this information be kept track of? In your brain and on a pad of legal paper you are provided. That pad and your notes can never leave the Grand Jury room.

Grand Jury duty is a lot to process. You’ve been learning things about the city that, on some level, you’d rather not know. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. You wonder about government provision of services and how it can go right and how it can go wrong. You resolve to stow away the knives in the house. They are just too disturbing to look at given what you’ve been hearing. You re-think the concept of going out at night and realize there is so so so so much that you didn’t know about drugs. You hope for the best for the world.

Stage 2: Anger. You return, out of order, to this stage. Grand Jury duty is the right thing to do, but it’s safe to say you’ve been having a little bit of PTSD every day because of what you’ve been learning about the immediate world around you. It’s great to have 22 other Grand Jurors to share the experience with when the door to the Grand Jury room is closed. You aren’t the only one who is looking at D.C. in a different way.

But actually, this isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that you’re working 15-20 hours a week in addition to Grand Jury duty. Work seems to be one crisis after another. People are hysterical about things, and you realize THOSE PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT REAL TROUBLE IS AND THEY WOULD MAYBE HAVE SOME PERSPECTIVE ON REALITY IF THEY, TOO, WERE MADE TO BE A D.C. GRAND JUROR. No one at work can relate to this reality that you are now see so clearly. At night, you keep trying to get the work done from your day job. You keep putting in the hours. You grow jealous of the few Grand Jurors who have jobs in which they don’t actually have to work after Grand Jury duty ends at 4:45pm. Your day job work keeps piling up with new impossible requests. About half of the other Grand Jurors are in the same situation.

Stage 4: Depression. What are you going to do? Grand Jury duty and work together is an impossible situation. You are miserable before Grand Jury duty starts each day and after it, but during your time as a Grand Juror, you know better than to whinge. Your problems are nothing. There are still two more weeks of Grand Jury duty. Too much of your precious free time at home is taken up by cutting zucchini with a plastic knife. You have an extremely unpleasant conversation with your supervisor while you are walking home from Grand Jury duty at 4:45pm.

2016-grand-jury-dutyStage 5: Acceptance. You can’t listen to felony cases all day and do your day job at night. You refuse to work at night anymore. For two weeks, you only have to go to Grand Jury duty. Your loved ones are relived. You are relieved. This is what you should have done from the beginning. Few of the other Grand Jurors can do the same. You are very lucky. Work is going to be a mess when you go back, and you are pretty sure you are in trouble for a lot of things you couldn’t control at work while you were being a Grand Juror. But so what.

You have deep thoughts about your job. And about the city. And about the nature of humanity. You feel better about some things and worse about others. Your last day of Grand Jury duty arrives. One of your 22 Grand Juror friends gives everyone a memento to remember their service. You are going to miss these people. You’ve been through so much together.


Isamu Noguchi at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

December 7, 2016



Isamu Noguchi, Sculpture to Be Seen From Mars, 1947

I was on my way with friends to somewhere else in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and I saw the guy above looking at me from the wall. He’s hard to ignore. In fact, the whole “Isamu Noguchi: Archaic / Modern” was pretty spectacular. Below are my favorite pieces, images of which are compliments of the Museum’s “photography encouraged” policy. w00t!


Isamu Noguchi, Serpent, 1946, and Spider Dress, 1946, for Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart Dance Production

The photographs lining the wall around this piece show how the dancer would put herself inside the wire sculpture and otherwise interact with it and the serpent. Last week, I  burned myself on a plug-in pie maker, so the idea of having a big spiky metal and wood object in the same place where people are leaping around seems like the height of insanity to me. But I recognize the coolness.

Below are a couple exhibit pieces related to the atomic age and outer space.


Isamu Noguchi, E=MC2 [squared], 1944

Not only is the art intriguing, but the museum has done a great job staging the pieces. I spent a long time underneath the piece above in that space I like to call “Will an alarm go off first, or will the security guard tell me to back away?” as I tried to figure out if I was looking at Atomic Haystack, 1984, in bronze plate or E=MC2 [squared], 1944, in papier-mache.



Isamu Noguchi, This Tortured Earth, 1942-1943

I really liked the piece above, especially from the side, where its beautiful, roiling curves reminded me of one of my greatest loves, a fountain of dark chocolate.


Isamu Noguchi, Slide Mantra Maquette, 1985

Based on my complete lack of knowledge about art history, I would describe this piece as the height of awesomeness. IT’S A SPIRAL STAIRCASE THAT ENDS IN A SLIDE! What fun! And what a complete waste of space if you are into not wasting space! But I wasn’t sure what the word “maquette” meant. Turns out the definition is “a sculptor’s small preliminary model or sketch.” That made this piece even better! Either it was intended as a scale model for a real thing that might have been built, or it was Noguchi’s joke. Either way, it’s awesome. Also, the back looked pretty cool.



Isamu Noguchi, Slide Mantra Maquette [Rear], 1985

It’s worth noting that in the time between my rush through the museum with friends (when I couldn’t stop to absorb the Noguchi exhibit) and when I could actually come back (3 weeks later), I took the edge off of the wait by learning a bit about Isamu Noguchi. It would have been more, but I ended up reading all about his mother Leonie Gilmour instead. Here’s the obligatory Wikipedia link to her page. Leonie was quite the character. She had one child in 1903 and other in 1912 while not exactly married to either of their fathers. She was fascinating in other ways, and there was a book and a movie about her recently. My favorite part of her story is how she talked Isamu out of continuing to pursue medicine and instead encouraged him to pursue art – that’s how unconventional and interesting she was!

“Isamu Noguchi: Archaic / Modern” is at the Smithsonian American Art Museum at 8th and F Streets, NW, Washington, D.C., and runs through March 19, 2017. If you get a chance, the exhibit is worth seeing.


Isamu Noguchi, The Well, 1982


Kathleen Turner Double Feature With a 26-Year Intermission

October 21, 2016

kathleen-turner-playbillsWhen I was seventeen years old, my Aunt Delores took me to see Kathleen Turner in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway. It was 1990; I was a junior in high school; and that was my first Broadway show. Kathleen Turner was a big deal. I knew that because I’d watched The Man With Two Brains and Romancing the Stone at least 100 times each, and I knew all her lines.

I didn’t normally go to Broadway shows. At that point, I didn’t even live in New York State. But I’d gotten an honorable mention in (I think) the Highlights fiction writing contest, and there was going to be an awards ceremony at (I’m pretty sure it was) the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. What I definitely didn’t realize at the time was that an invisible web of kindness surrounded me, even at South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

South Side was my third high school. There would eventually be four of them. It wasn’t the kind of trouble it sounds like. It was actually pretty boring. I went to 4 elementary schools, one middle school and four high schools because my Dad was always looking for a better job. My parents weren’t in the military, which is what everyone assumed when I said we moved at least every two years. People were usually disappointed to learn the boring truth. So one time, I decided to say something different. Unfortunately, that “one time” was at South Side High School right at the beginning of my junior year, when I was supposed to figure out college and what I was supposed to do to get in. Let’s assume I could have been described as not-exactly-well-off-and-maybe-a-little-stupid-about-how-the-world-works, a.k.a. it sure would have been a good idea to have my high school guidance counselor in my court.

So my new guidance counselor asked, “Why do you move around so much?”

“My parents are running from the law,” I said.

“Really?” He suddenly looked concerned.

I laughed. “No, I’m just kidding.”

That was the first time I ever watched the look in someone’s eyes turn to instant hatred. Apparently, guidance counselors don’t like smart-asses. I didn’t understand at the time  how badly I was screwing things up for myself. I thought that was the best answer I’d ever given to the same old question. I went home and told my family about the conversation. We laughed and laughed and laughed. It was pretty funny. For awhile. Nowadays, I tell people I moved around so much when I was a kid because I come from circus-folk. That’s actually pretty close to the mark.

Somehow, the powers-that-be at South Side High School forgave me my insolence. Word of the Highlights honorable mention got out, and I was offered a round trip plane ticket to Albany. Honestly, I didn’t understand it at first. I thought there was a catch. Someone like me without a foot-in-mouth-intercept-team did not have such luck. But there was no catch. I still don’t know who at South Side High School cared so much about me, but I am eternally grateful for what they did.


Aunt Delores Poised for Adventure and Armed with a Telephone to Make Reservations

Aunt Delores picked me up at the Albany Airport. We drove the 2 1/2 hours north to her house through the Adirondacks at night. If you know where things are in Upstate New York, going north from Albany is definitely not in the direction of the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. But that didn’t matter to me. I was on an adventure! The next day, we drove south again, past Albany and all the way to Poughkeepsie. There, we got on the train to New York City!

We must have stayed 2 nights, though my memory is hazy. My cousin Adam came along, and he is always entertaining. There was sightseeing and the awards ceremony and a dozen other things we did. My Aunt paid for everything. I still don’t understand how she afforded it, but I knew she was doing something extra-special for me. She was adamant that we go out for a nice steak dinner at Smith and Wollensky. I’d never before been to a restaurant where you ordered the steak separate from the sides. And that one steak cost as much as dinner out for a family of five at the Red Lobster! I don’t remember anything about how the steak tasted. I’m sure it was great, but I was busy being overwhelmed by my Aunt’s kindness.

After dinner, my cousin went back to the hotel while Aunt Delores and I waited near the Eugene O’Neill Theatre box office for tickets to become available for the sold out Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Aunt Delores is a charmer. In no time, we had tickets and were seated inside. Just before the show started, the theatre went quiet. Someone walked in. Another celebrity! In her beautiful Upstate New York accent, Aunt Delores whispered “It’s Danny DeVita!” Not Devito. Devita. The show that followed was electric, though I was having a bit of trouble ignoring the brain in a jar that my mind conjured up every time Kathleen Turner spoke. Seeing that show was one of the coolest, most surreal things I’d ever been part of.  Plus, I was so happy to finally be included in one of Aunt Delores’s adventures.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was [ah-hem] a few years ago. But I often think about those few days in New York and all the people who were looking out for me. I was especially thinking about all that while I waited for The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Kathleen Turner, to begin on Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle last week. I’m particularly fond of the Kogod Cradle. The last time I was in that theatre, I was riding a Viking ship in my wedding. But from the moment I’d heard about the book The Year of Magical Thinking, I had no interest in reading it. Just too sad! I cried over summaries of the book! I didn’t need to spend 6 hours torturing myself by actually reading the tale of unhappiness. My nightmares are made of real things (I can’t even watch NCIS!), and Joan Didion’s tale was too true.

But it was Kathleen Turner. At Arena Stage. Really close to my house.

So I went to see the The Year of Magical Thinking. Though my mind was initially filled with thoughts of that New York trip twenty-six years ago, those thoughts only lasted until Kathleen Turner took the Kogod Cradle stage. She was amazing. I was in awe. For an hour-and-a-half, she told me this horrific true story I wouldn’t have been able to handle on my own. Yes, I cried a few times, but I also laughed. And I hoped other people were being looked out for, in good times and in bad, like I have been.


We Interrupt This D.C. Blog to Bring You a Trip to Canada

August 27, 2016

I went to Canada again. No, not because of this:

What If I Told You Meme

I went because every other driving vacation Cake Man and I have been on in Canada has been awesome. This time, Newfoundland was the destination, and we found what we always find – the magic of Canada.


The trip was not without its challenges. I can understand Canadian, but my pronunciation is so-so.  As far as I can tell, Newfoundland is pronounced “New Finn Laand.” I was unable to properly pronounce Laabradoor though. That word contained more a’s and o’s than I felt comfortable attempting. But I think my pronunciation was progressing. At one point, I asked a Viking Trail gas station clerk if she could determine from my accent that I was from the United States. She looked at me for a full fifteen seconds without speaking. Finally, she said I sounded like I was Canadian, but not from Newfoundland. It’s possible she was just being nice.


Even the Trash Cans are Nice

This trash bin says “You are beautiful.”

Being nice is an affliction in Newfoundland,* but one I wouldn’t mind acquiring. In addition to being nice, Newfoundlanders luuuuuve to chat. I learned this over and over at every place Cake Man and I stopped. It didn’t matter if the Newfoundlander was someone staffing a remote gas station or Air Canada check-in desk staff at the Deer Lake Airport at 4:20am. The Newfoundlanders were always asking where I was from and where I had been in Newfoundland and am I enjoying myself and did I see the X, Y, and Z? And then they would tell me something about what they’d seen or done. And if we both felt like it, we could keep chatting. I learned so much.

I was overwhelmed by the kindness and genuine curiosity in all the Newfoundland faces. Newfoundland is a special place, one filled with Canada Magic.


I first felt the presence of Canada Magic at the airport, where prices at first seemed a little too high. But it was an airport. And I was on vacation. I silently figured that’s just the way things were going to be. Then Cake Man reminded me that the exchange rate is 1 U.S. dollar to 1.3 Canadian dollars. Suddenly, everything that seemed expensive was on sale! A Canada Magic miracle.

Going Viking

Going Viking!

Canada Magic manifested in many ways. The greatest Park Ranger ever, Paul [Last Name Unknown], was filled with Canada Magic. At L’Anse Aux Meadows (Viking settlement site!), Ranger Paul regaled the last tour group of the day with a rapid-fire 45-minute discussion about the settlement grounds. He let us walk where Leif Eriksson walked! He told us about sub-Arctic foliage! He made technical corrections to the film inside the Visitor Center! He described bog iron! And I suddenly felt a lot better about all the yellow water I’d been drinking in Newfoundland! Canada Magic makes everything nicer.

Objects were also affected by Canada Magic. Wood seemed to be particularly susceptible. For instance, in a non-magical setting, a person who was hiking might have to slog across muddy ground that would no doubt slop wet over the tops of boots and inside them as well. But because of Canada Magic, wooden planks assembled themselves in an orderly fashion throughout the hiking trails of Newfoundland and permitted a person to walk across them. Essentially, Canada Magic allows hikers to levitate.

Canada Magic - Wood

Canada Magic on display

Only once did Canada Magic lead me and Cake Man astray – on our hike up Gros Morne Mountain, the tallest in Newfoundland. Gros Morne is beautiful and imposing but in that challenging and exciting kind of way for a person (me!) who really doesn’t like perilous stuff. There’s this rather persistent bit of the hike where the real work starts, and you have to walk from large rock to large rock or boulder to boulder, but that only lasts for an hour-and-a-half or so. Then you get to the fake top of the mountain and then to the real top of the mountain. All along the way, the views are fantastic. Plus there’s the exhilaration of making it to the top and knowing the downhill is the easy part.

Unfortunately, such a positive view of things doesn’t take the dark side of Canada Magic into consideration. This is where Cake Man and I learned the truth.

For every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Every ounce of good Canada Magic must be balanced by an ounce of evil Canada Magic. Thoughtful Newfoundlanders had discovered a way to spread the good magic around and keep the evil magic all bottled up by putting it in a place where harm couldn’t come to whippersnappers who get up at the crack of Oh My God Do People Really Get Up That Early And Go On A Hike?!? For every happy roadside chat, every enthusiastic Park Ranger, every meadow with a beautiful wooden walking path through the flowers, there must be a lie in answer to the question “How long will this hike take?”

Gros Morne Balances the Equation

Gros Morne helps balance the equation.

The Gros Morne Mountain hike is listed in numerous places as requiring 5-6 hours. Cake Man and I started the hike at 11:25am thinking it would take 6 1/2 hours because I’m slow. That’s a fact. I like to have an energy reserve in case I need it, so I save up my energy by being a little slow the whole time. Plus, even though they are clean and pretty, I like to look up from my boots when I walk. And I insist on taking pictures. And hydrating. And snacking. The best peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of raw carrot will always be eaten on a hike! In short, the Gros Morne Mountain hike, according to all the guidance, should be completed at least 3 hours before sunset at 8:45pm Newfoundland time.

Gros Morne Still Going

So pretty. But make it stop.

The hike took more than 6 1/2 hours. The hike took 8 1/2 hours. The math wasn’t pretty. Neither were the recriminations aimed at the authors of the hiking book we’d bought that contained a map apparently drawn at random to indicate distances. At the summit, we were 1/3 of the way done, not halfway done. Though the last 2/3 of the hike were quite pretty, it just kept going on. And on. And on. Cue the reserve, or as Cake Man calls it, Robo-Andrea. The first rather flat 80 minutes of the hike took 40 minutes on the return. No one was injured in the unleashing of Robo-Andrea. We were off the trail 30 minutes before sunset! And we learned a lesson for our next trip to Canada: good Canada Magic has an evil side that can be easily avoided by adding 40% to hiking times.

Canada Magic is worth it. Newfoundland is worth it.

Random Newfoundland Sunset


* Okay, there was one person in Deer Lake who wasn’t over-the-top nice to me, but it was the middle of her Friday night dinner rush, and I had foolishly ordered a Molson, which apparently was not specific enough.

Icebergs and Queen Charlotte at the National Building Museum

July 31, 2016


I don’t usually shell out for admission to D.C. museums – not when most of them are  world-class and free – but I’m a sucker for buzz, and the National Building Museum has it. I’m easily entertained, so all my previous Building Museum visits were to see the free stuff. I didn’t understand those exhibits were gateway drugs to the good  stuff. Then I watched the museum’s time-lapse of the construction of “Icebergs,” and I knew I had to see the insanity first-hand.

Before I go any further, I’m compelled to share an I’m-sure-unrelated thought:


So…ah-hem…as I was saying…

“Icebergs” at the National Building Museum is really cool, and I highly recommend it as a surreal, entertaining and unique experience at the National Building Museum. My visit was  a lot of fun. On top of that, I’m intrigued by how museums innovate in ways that draw visitors and give artists space to do their work.

As part of the “Icebergs” exhibit, I enjoyed seeing this highly-accurate depiction of the inside of an iceberg.

20160731 Icebergs 1

I was entertained by Cake Man making faces at me for taking too many pictures while we were on the iceberg scaffolding viewing platform.

20160731 Icebergs 2

I contemplated the nature of reality, light filtration and the multiple uses of large sections of blue cloth.

20160731 Icebergs 3

I scooted down (cotton pants fail) one of these slides without having to pretend I was six years old. Adults are specifically allowed! Not pictured here are the hordes of children and their parents. The National Building Museum is something of a go-to spot for local families who can spring for an annual membership.

20160731 Icebergs 4

I marveled from below the blue cloth at the strange world above.

20160731 Icebergs 5

And because I actually paid to get in, I was sure to visit the all the otherwise-off-limits rooms, including the Raymond Kaskey exhibit, which was unrelated to “Icebergs.” The National Building Museum is currently displaying Kaskey’s model for Queen Charlotte, one of the coolest, most unexpected public sculptures I’ve ever seen. Queen Charlotte is supposed to look like she’s being supported by the wind. Kaskey’s model does a pretty good job of conveying that sense.

20160731 Icebergs 6

The final bronze statute outside the Charlotte-Douglas Airport is like an entirely different artistic concept though. The image below shows how the final Queen Charlotte looked 7 years ago when I saw her in person. At the time, I was surprised and amused that the airport would have such a creepy, weird sculpture on such prominent display. I figured it was just something I didn’t understand about the South. Having seen the original model, I still can’t say I understand why it became this weathered Queen Charlotte casting her evil spell, but I love her even more now as an example of the distance between plans and reality.

20160731 Icebergs 7

With a visit to the National Building Museum, you’ll get to see it all. To cover the price of admission, I recommend skipping the saving of pennies and going straight to the saving of quarters before “Icebergs” ends on September 5. Kaskey’s work is part of the Museum’s permanent collection, but the Queen Charlotte model might rotate out of display at any point, which will hopefully occur before she sips the same Wicked Witch of the West potion that bronze Queen Charlotte consumed.

Me and Edgar Allan Poe

July 1, 2016

Me at EAP HouseFor the most part, I remember the first time I read something by the favorite authors of my childhood. My reading of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan dated from around age ten, after which point I walked around with my eyes closed as often as possible in order to find secret passages. (Number of secret passages since found in this manner: zero.) I remember Isaac Asimov from one of the years Mom was going to night school to get her college degree. She handed me a book, Foundation, from one of her classes and said I might like it. She was right. Frank Herbert’s Dune happened in middle school in California. I still associate him with endless summer and avocado groves, though Stilgar would not have approved of such water-fat on a vegetable. Firestarter was the first book by Stephen King I read at a time when I honestly wondered if I, too, might be able to start fires with my mind. (Number of fires since started with my mind: zero.)

Edgar Allan Poe was different. I don’t remember when he first showed up. He’s just always been there. It’s possible my father is responsible for that. Something in my deep memory says Dad read The Raven to me a very long time ago. I can certainly imagine him relishing making the cawing noises in a dramatic fashion, but I could just be making that up. By the time Mr. Preyss in  7th grade worked himself into a frenzy in front of the class with his rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart, I had already consumed many of Poe’s stories. I loved them. When I was a kid, the only other people I knew who read Edgar Allan Poe were adults, and they looked at me kinda funny when I said I had read lots of Poe’s stories.

EAP GraveSo it was inevitable that on a weekend spent attending Balticon 50,* I would also visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house and his gravesite in Baltimore.** I’ve been wanting to do that for years! There was no way I was going to be disappointed. And I wasn’t! The house wasn’t much to look at. So I spent most of my time trying to imagine what that part of Poe’s life was like. It was a fascinating exercise, especially with one of two nearby  Deathfest guys offering running commentary that was a little less Deathfest-y and a little more blowhard-y. I especially liked the Poe House’s loft room stairs. Twisting impossibly and ridiculously narrow, those stairs were the best Poe House example of how different life was in the 1800s.

Next stop: Poe’s gravesite about a mile away from the house. Yes, it’s cool to stand where Edgar Allan Poe may or may not currently be buried. Yes, it’s pretty exciting that I had a full five minutes by myself at the gravesite to get the most perfect picture I could. No, I’m not sure why a real-life scenic raven didn’t rise up from the earth to sit atop Poe’s tombstone, but maybe it was actually cooler in Hell that day.

As a history nerd, I quite enjoyed hanging out in the tiny graveyard and reading Wikipedia articles about all the other luminaries buried there. I couldn’t make out all the names on the tombstones though, like the ones of the dozen or so people whose eternal rest is now next to the sewer pipe under the breezeway between two church buildings. Yes, that’s what I said. To picture the breezeway area, think about what the space under a broad  front porch looks like. You know, the dank, weird area where the raccoons and the wasps go to live in if you choose to dwell anywhere outside the limits of the City of Washington (this is what I’ve heard at least). Light shines into that under-porch space from weird angles and never fully illuminates the corners. There, now you’ve pictured the breezeway under which numerous people might now be surprised to find they are buried. Admittedly, that surprise would probably be secondary to the shock of cogitating 150 years post-burial. Anyway, seeing those graves under the breezeway and was an excellent surreal experience to have in Poe’s graveyard.

That was tops until this happened:

In my defense, I can’t resist answering questions posed by an eager Edgar Allan Poe devotee from Australia. Hannah Raven Smith is just such a Poe disciple, and the t-shirt I was wearing might have given away my own interest in the man. I also got a chance to chat with the Poe House curator from 1979-2013, Jeff Jerome, who seemed similarly incapable of resisting the enthusiasm of Ms. Raven Smith.

Hannah Raven Smith and Jeff JeromeThe Poe House and the gravesite were all a good time and everything I wanted them to be. I highly recommend visiting!

*Balticon was freakin’ awesome. George R.R. Martin was there doing his GRRM thing, AND I SPOKE WITH LARRY NIVEN!

**I recommend against walking the last half mile from the Inner Harbor to the Edgar Allan Poe House even in broad daylight if you are alone and wouldn’t appreciate getting your possessions stolen. It probably won’t happen, but the odds seemed higher than usual. Baltimore has Uber and taxis, and those worked just fine for me!


Eleven Things I Learned About Myself and D.C. After I Moved Here

May 1, 2016
1 The Flowers at Mid-Day are Just as Pretty

The flowers are just as pretty at mid-day.

Eleven Things I Learned About Myself and D.C. After I Moved Here

1) D.C. gets up late. I don’t answer the phone before 9:00am, and I would never dream of calling someone that early. I understand suburban families with toddlers wake up at 5:45am ON THE WEEKEND and go to their fancy grocery stores and Target before I’m out of bed. That is unacceptable. In D.C., “morning” starts at a civilized time.

2-1 A Proper Transit System for a National Capital

A proper transit system for a national capital: the Tube.

2) D.C. walks a lot. Partly, that’s because it’s a pain and costly to park a car. Also, the Metro isn’t exactly extensive. It certainly can’t keep up with D.C.’s dynamism and neighborhoods in a constant state of flux. Walking is fun though. And it provides a great opportunity to view D.C.’s schizophrenic architecture built up one layer at a time for the last 200 years. And flowers.

3) I have a “tolerate-the-heat-and-humidity” gene. It kicked in about a year after I moved to D.C. I had to help it along though. To start, I accepted the pure awesomeness of a D.C. summer. Then, I learned to line the insides of my clothes with paper towels. And finally, I had to slow down a little to a long-stride walk that achieved a nice balance between sweating and a breeze. I moved to D.C. with a well-exercised freezing-winter-weather gene. That gene has disappeared from my person. I am now a BIG BABY about the cold.

4 Gorging on Culture

Gorging on culture.

4) I love learning about history and random parts of other people’s cultures. In D.C., I’m surrounded by both, and I gorge on it. Other D.C. residents make that easy by being smart and having a lot of interests they want to share. I have thousands of ways to learn about history and culture – from government and private sector-run programs to non-profits and neighborhood interests groups. There’s free stuff like the D.C. Public Library’s constant stream speakers and programs. Every day, an author somewhere in D.C. is talking at a book store or a school or a coffee shop about something they wrote I might be interested in. If I feel like spending money, I’ll find a Smithsonian Resident Associates event or something that National Geographic is hosting. And of course, the offerings are endless from the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, and the dozens of free and paid museum across the city. Eating out means taking in history and culture, too right?

5 The Views are Free - Fort McNair Geese

These views are free.

5) D.C. is an expensive town when I’m not focused on doing free stuff. The first time I saw a $16 cocktail on a menu, I wasn’t tipsy enough to actually buy it. Apparently, D.C. is the most expensive place to raise a family, and the 5th most expensive place to live in the United States. For a long time after I moved to D.C., I had to actively avoid thinking about how my grocery bill used to be literally 25% lower. But I learned a lot from the part-time job I had to find to pay my bills because my full-time salary wouldn’t cover them. Fact: dinner and drinks at home with your writer friends are much cheaper than going out.

6) The glass shards in the gutter are from car windows being punched in so that something potentially awesome can be stolen from my front seat, back seat, trunk, etc. In a nod to D.C. metropolitan area egalitarianism, thieves violated my car in D.C. (purse stolen from the trunk, and my favorite glasses were lost!) and in Arlington, Virginia (installed cd player ripped from the console), and in Gaithersburg, Maryland (passenger side rear tire stolen, but on the upside, my reaction to the theft is one of my favorite stories to tell).

7 Jabba at Lincoln

I probably should have steered this guy away from D.C.

7) I really like giving directions to people who need them. At any given moment within half a mile of the National Mall, twenty-five percent of people are disoriented or slightly lost. They all have the same look on their faces, it’s just deeper for the people who got off on a Southwest Metro stop instead of a Northwest one. I’ve learned to approach only the people who look like they would appreciate the help.

8 - Chester A. Arthur - Surprise, I'm a Reformer

Surprise! I’m a reformer!

8) It’s nearly impossible not to volunteer for at least three activities. The level of community engagement, whether in a close-knit quadrant like Southwest or elsewhere, is quite shocking. I’ve been pressured nearly constantly since I moved here to join clubs and boards and fund-raising groups or just come to events at which the last plea will be for me to join! People in D.C. are passionate about their volunteer jobs, so much so that they sometimes get shouty in meetings. I try not to be put off by that. One day I might be them and particularly concerned that someone wasn’t taking seriously enough my perspective on President Chester A. Arthur’s attempts to make merit-based job selections at the New York Custom House in the late 1800s.

9) Every two years, D.C. calls it citizens without felony convictions to jury duty. That’s every two years. On. The. Dot. Six times so far!

9 Smithsonian Flowers

Smithsonian flowers in the Enid A. Haupt garden.

10) My skills at resisting pressure to volunteer are put to good use around the entrepreneurial panhandlers who flock to Metro station exits at tourist locations. With the right shoes and backpack and look in my eye, the businessmen willing to trade directions for a dollar or two generally understand I’m from D.C., too. But on the days I don’t quite have the right look, (do they not know I’ve rescued hundreds from the L’Enfant Plaza Metro exit abyss?!?) and a service provider turns toward me, I just smile a little and shake my head. It always works. I like to think they respect the fact I haven’t harmed any of their business with paying customers.

11) I can say “How y’all doin'” properly in D.C, the southernmost Northern city. “How y’all doin'” is a statement. Not a question. “Y’all” is one syllable. No hidden vowels should be inserted and pronounced. When I say “How y’all doin'” properly, my neighbors nod and wish me a good day even if I don’t know their faces or their names. Sometimes, they will comment on the beautiful weather or the flowers or the trees in bloom. I always smile because I know how lucky I am to live in the littlest big city in the United States.

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