I left behind the murky skies of New York City for the cobalt bliss of Washington, DC, where it felt like a hypothetically perfect summer day (but not an actual summer day, or at least not in DC, which is usually mind-numbingly hot). I could see the cold, imperial monuments of the modern empire rising above the horizon across the river. To my left, CIA operatives were meeting in parking lots with their informers. Or so it was easy to imagine, since I've been watching the award-winning, cable-television drama about CIA operatives and their informers, which is set in DC.
As we crossed into the city, the splayed magnificence of the clouds contrasted with the restrained form of the bridge's balustrade, a perfect representation of the many contrasts I expected to encounter in DC.
Mitt Romney was holding a sparsely attended rally in the back of the Lincoln Memorial.
We passed the Mall, where I used to play pickup soccer every Sunday when I lived in Dupont Circle twenty years ago. One of the best players was from somewhere in the Middle East, and I remembered being impressed that he drank no water during Ramadan, not even a sip. Since this was a decade before 9/11, such behavior was not linked in our nation's collective consciousness to terrorist activity.
After checking in to my hotel near Dupont Circle, I took another cab to the site of the conference I was attending for work. The conference hotel is part of a chain that caters to a more corporate clientele, which was apparent in the polished marble of the lobby, and the mysterious glowing obelisk to which all Fortune 500 board members must secretly pay tribute, sometimes with human sacrifice.
The grounds of the hotel were decorated with more annuals than I would probably choose if I were the landscape designer, but it was difficult to find anything wrong with the trees, all of which were lovely.
I bought a fare card from the most complicated vending machine in the world, and took the Metro back to Dupont Circle. The Metro in DC is also noteworthy for having the scariest escalators in the world.
Back at my hotel, I admired the courtyard garden where in a few hours I would have dinner with my cousin.
I felt almost manipulated by the non-corporate aesthetic of the hotel; it would be impossible to be a sarcastic curmudgeon while I stayed here.
The hotel is filled with nooks and staircases, all of which resonate with the same 19th-century appeal as the townhouses lining the streets of the neighborhood. It took me approximately 30 minutes to find my room, which would have annoyed me except that I was comforted by the lack of corporate efficiency.
The room exuded the same old-world charm. I want pocket shutters in every window going forward!
The tiling around the fireplace was original; the artwork above the mantle portrayed a lesbian couple at the beach.
I spent a few minutes wishing that this room would magically transport me back to the late 1800s, ignoring the many social ills that plagued that era, not to mention the lack of internet or television.
The next morning, I arrived at my conference at 7:00 am. The marigolds were already awake and gossipping heatedly about Hurricane Sandy.
The day passed in a blur of economic productivity, after which I returned to Dupont Circle on the Metro.
I amused myself on the eternal escalator by creating optical illusions; here, for example, we are looking up, not down.
As I walked through Dupont Circle and admired the row houses, the gardens, and the many non-heterosexuals wearing the exact business casual attire as me, I felt some nostalgic regret at having ever left this enchanted neighborhood for what struck me (at least at the most superficial level on which my thoughts were clearly operating) as a much harder existence in New York City. Dupont Circle seemed to resonate with a lack of pretension that was entirely different than say, Park Slope, the Brooklyn neighborhood it most resembles architecturally. Washington, DC is a city of reserved, well-mannered intellectuals, the kind of people who make jokes about "Jeffersonian democracy" (as I overheard while making my way through the lounge of my hotel) not the kind of place where everyone wants to be a famous artist.
At some point in my life I was presented with a choice: did I want to live with my own kind, or did I want to go into exile? Given that I chose the latter (albeit unconsciously), I tried to enjoy my time with the former.
"I am a yellow dahlia of exquisite beauty and originality." -- A yellow dahlia in Dupont Circle
I floated in to the Tabard Inn.
I passed through the restaurant en route to the secret staircase by which I accessed my room. The staff was busy preparing for the evening rush. I longed for a skylight in which I would place a series of hanging ferns that as a result of the surrounding decor would come as more Victorian (albeit with a tinge of irony) than 1970s.
Clearly a conundrum of the modern era is the need for a kind of mass production that brings with it a fatigue regarding the idea of consuming anything, or at least anything mass-produced.
I called Stephen and suggested that he sell our New York City residence and immediately bring himself and our three cats to live at the Tabard Inn.
The pocket shutters in my room glowed with an almost sadistic perfection. I tried to enjoy it, however.
As I looked outside, I tried to imagine a world without cars.
Back on the street, on my way to a work-related dinner, it was easier to imagine a world without windows, or at least a building in Dupont Circle where all the windows had been sealed for reasons I couldn't begin to imagine, and probably didn't want to, at least this close to Halloween.
If I were a saint and owned a court, this would be my sign.
The sun beckoned through the russet leaves of a nearby maple.
The next day at the conference hotel, I wondered about the need for a model of the U.S. Capitol Building only a few miles away from the actual building.
I was equally entranced and repulsed by the conference room carpet. (But probably more repulsed, if I'm being completely honest.)
The day passed, and the Metro carried me between worlds.
Soon I was back in Dupont Circle, imagining my life as a ghost in the Inn, where everything creaks as it should in an old townhouse.
I couldn't stay long, though, because I had another meeting in Georgetown. As I walked east, I realized that the brick and slate sidewalks of Washington DC are ones that I unconsciously mimicked in our New York City garden.
Washington also has the ideal climate for blue-atlas cedars, I sadly noted as I remembered the two deaths of the same tree species in our NYC garden. There are limits to what we can bring into the present from our past.
The blooms of a very robust rose bush glimmered in the fading light.
A statue of a cat adorned the top of a pillar in front of this perfect townhouse. Someone was leading my idea of perfect life, apparently!
I was passed by a man who was dressed exactly like I was: off-white chinos, blue button down, brown belt, boat shoes, black jacket (carried in right hand), envelope in left.
I followed him through a work function at which a single dancer jerked back and forth on the sidewalk.
There was also a man on stilts. I felt relieved not to have been invited to this party; I also began to remember why I had left DC.
A poster proudly/sadly proclaimed the imminent arrival of another upscale/bland hotel.
I headed west toward Georgetown.
Sometimes I wonder if New York City will ever get these bikes. Part of me wants them, but part of me is proud of the fact that we are too dysfunctional to treat them with the necessary respect.
New York City used to have quaint little houses like this, too, but we replaced them with skyscrapers.
I wanted to live in a cute/expensive Georgetown rowhouse. Except not really. But sort of.
I was ambivalent about Georgetown twenty years ago, which goes to show some things never change.
Having arrived a few minutes early for my meeting, I decided to visit a nearby bookstore. I was pleased to note the presence of a few (British non-heterosexual) Alan Hollinghurst titles, but somewhat dismayed to note the absence of any works by Andrew Holleran, despite the fact that he has set some of his fiction in DC and despite the fact that "Dancer from the Dance" is the most important American novel of the post-war era (at least in my opinion); it basically weaves the non-heterosexual experience into the American literary tradition in the same way that "Beloved" does the African-American story, with the difference being that Toni Morrison (deservedly) won the Nobel Prize while Andrew Holleran seems to be criminally neglected.Admittedly, I was feeling a bit neglected myself, on account of 1) the bookstore not having "The Metropolis Case" on its shelves, and 2) a recent blog post called "Elegy for a Grey (sic) Cat" I had read on a leading literary fiction site in which the author had posed the question: “For grief there’s 'A Year of Magical Thinking,' for breakups there’s 'A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing,' but what could I read when I lost my cat?" I didn't blame the writer of the post for not having read "The Metropolis Case" -- which has a very significant plot line about the loss/death of a gray cat, meant to illuminate the character in question's nascent abilities to grieve and love -- but I did feel a little sorry for myself, in the way we sometimes do when we create a product to meet a demonstrated demand, but when for whatever reason a failure in the marketplace means that our product does not reach its intended audience. In short, I didn't think anyone had written like I had about the death of a gray cat, and I wanted credit! I knew I was being ridiculous, however, and so I mentally moved on to a different topic.
As I often am, I was placated by thoughts of gardening.
A few minutes later, I arrived in the coldly ornate lobby of a luxury hotel, where in the adjacent bar I enjoyed a business meeting and several celebrity sightings, where "celebrity" is defined as "reality television contestant."
On my way back to my hotel, I stopped to say hello to the moon, which was shining through the leaves of my favorite red maple.
The next morning, on the way to the airport, I was again struck by the non-industrial landscape of Washington, DC.
I'm not saying it isn't beautiful or artistic.
Or that I wouldn't want to live in one of the charming brick houses on the airport campus. (Well, that might be a stretch.)
I was ready to get back to New York, which though 100-percent more abrasive than the areas of DC where I had recently been admiring (and I understand that not all of DC is a rich, non-heterosexual enclave, but it was easy to pretend), is driven by creation and chaos, as opposed to order and analysis.
New York is unfathomable, even or especially when viewed from a distance.
If I could just maintain my focus -- as the billboard obnoxiously told me -- I might be able to write a book that would get into the hands of those most predisposed to read it.
The cab driver had no idea where we were going as we sped through the Bronx. I pointed to a yellow bridge crossing the East River into Washington Heights and told him that if he would just be patient, I would show him how to get there.