Of course you can go home again. I’ve never understood why that assertion was regarded as a profound truth. I know, I know - you can never go home again because it’s changed, or you’ve changed, or the times changed, or the bed linens were changed. However home changes, though, it always has a remnant scrap you recognize, and sometimes that’s enough. If you’re lucky, there’s more. If you’re blessed, it all comes back like a crowd of friends meeting you at the train station.
You can’t go home again is a sentiment for people who don’t want to. For people who knocked on the door and a stranger answered.
We got off the plane, and I pointed up at the curve of the wall, hidden behind renovations.
DAD Daughter said. Because I was pointing! But I wanted to show her how this corridor was once a strange 2001-era curved tunnel, because I knew this place; I knew what was behind the new changes. Outside: pelting rain, run to the Uber. Settle back, cross the bridge, and watch the big white marble appear out of the gloom. Heavy on my heart this all was once, because I was stuck here. Now it makes me smile.
But nothing had happened yet.
And things were going to happen.
Another hotel, another room, another desk, another place. This is different, however; I’m back in DC, but Daughter and FFES (French Foreign Exchange Student) are with me, with Wife to join tomorrow. The most pressing question: should I join the hotel’s rewards program?
If I do, I can get rewards after a certain number of nights. I might get a complimentary breakfast after six years. What is for certain: I will get emails every week.
Coming back always makes me a bit sad for leaving in the first place, but not too much. This will always be one of the Three Places, the others being Fargo and Mpls. Walking back to the hotel on a humid night, feeling that familiar sense of a DC post-rain summer evening - I liked it. I loved it. At night the square buildings and tiny slivers of brownstones stuck between the office towers seem interesting and cosmopolitan, even though dawn will find them full of people tying away and staring at screens and trying to figure out how to amend the Chlorine Containment Act of 2017. We saw four young people emerge from some fundraiser or social event, and while it looked glamorous, they’re all going back to small apartments to change into sweats and watch Netflix before going to bed alone.
The illusion of being close to power is heady; you feel deliciously important because someone in a waiter’s costume has come over with a tray of champagne flutes, and the ceiling is coffered and gilded, and you know there are rooms like this all over town, each with their own private history. Some day, you’ll . . .
Look back on this with a smile, and be glad you were there? Sure. Own a place like this? Doubtful. Go to so many events that the lovely roomsjust look like stage sets, and the plot's so familiar nothing feels impressive any more? Probably, and you'll feel proud of that disillusionment. It means you're a native now. Remember when it was new? When everyone at the fundraiser got drunk because the hors d’oeuvres were scant and you ended up at Shake Shack in Dupont Circle talking too loud and swearing and then Caitlin threw up outside? Whatever happened to her?
She's with the EPA now.
Oh right, I heard that.
I am in the back patio of the Avenue hotel:
And I am content.
Well, we walked. It was 85 and muggy, as is the norm for this place, and we walked. Eleven miles. Got up, made breakfast in the room kitchen - much more preferable than spending $45 on eggs in the dining room - and walked towards the National Gallery, taking a detour through 2000 Penn, my old workplace. I was thinking about the Red Lion before we got there, and when we showed up it was illuminated like something pertinent in a video game:
The National was, as ever, my favorite museum. I know it and it’s fantastic. Always see an old friend and meet a new one.
You know this guy's on the brochure and available for purchase in the gift shop.
From an exhibition of French paintings collected by Americans. Thought that would be a nice little surprise for our French visitor. Elsewhere, the doomed frivolity of the pre-Revolution elite. They had no idea at the time that "Blind Man's Buff" might be a bit symbolic.
Oh we will play our games in the bowers forever, n'est ce pas?
Daughter loved it, as I knew she would. I've waited years to show her this place. Not enough time. Never enough time. Then we went under the street through a Kinetic Light Sculpture or something -
. . . and we explored the amusing Modern east wing, which has some interesting pieces . . .
. . . but is mostly just silly.
By now my wife had arrived, and we met at a French cafe on Pennsylvania by the Swabbies Memorial. It was there that we all reconnected, sat, chatted. It was ever-so-civilized; a fellow at the adjacent table was bent over an actual book, reading. That’s what people do in the District! They’re cultured. When we weren’t looking he pilfered my wife’s purse.
Not that we knew it at the time.
The Girls went to the Mall by the Sports Facility, and I went to the National Portrait Gallery. It's my new favorite place. Saw a painting of two miners, looking grimy and miserable, and the text said the artist wanted to capture the true life of the working class today, going home from their simple but exhausting labor to a small “stoop-shouldered street” they never saw in the day.
Dawn. Somewhere, a fishmonger cries. It really had that Barton Fink feeling, and sure enough it was a gummint-paid work from the 30s.
Elsewhere, the Folk Art of the Mystic:
In 1946, Hampton became a night janitor with the General Services Administration. His brother Lee died in 1948.
In 1950, he rented a garage in northwest Washington. A month after Hampton's death in 1964, Meyer Wertlieb, owner of the garage, came to find out why the rent had not been paid. He knew that Hampton had been building something in the garage. When he opened the door, he found a room filled with many symmetrical, glittering objects surrounding a central throne.
For 14 years, Hampton had been building a throne out of various old materials like aluminum and gold foil, old furniture, various pieces of cardboard, old light bulbs, shards of mirror and old desk blotters. He had pinned it together with tacks, glue, pins and tape.
It wouldn't be complete without extra-cryptic mystery:
Hampton had also kept a 108-page loose-leaf notebook titled St James: The Book of the 7 Dispensation. Most of the text had been written in an unknown script that remains undeciphered.
It's huge. As revelations often are.
Didn't have enough time to see a fraction of what I wanted to see.
Wife shows up at the meeting place and says she was robbed. Someone picked her purse. That guy. That guy who was reading a book. She should’ve known! She should have guarded her bag, but he was reading a book! So we don’t go to dinner right away, but walk back and forth by the steps of the Portrait Gallery talking to the credit card companies, cancelling. I’m wishing a freon-chilled swizzle-stick used as a urethra insert for the thief, who is a miserable jack wad miscreant, and will never pay for the extent of his crimes. He’ll be caught some day, but will never earn the full punishment for every crime.
If he had a good scriptwriter and a jaunty “caper” theme and a gamine girlfriend and they bantered with literary illusions and it was a movie, they’d be quirky and cool. And my wife would be just some object viewed from a quick critical angle, a mark, a footnote - oh, look! The camera’s caught her a mockable moment, and then we cut to the thief, who looks up from his book - which of course he has read and absorbed, it’s a 19th century Russian novel - and then the music goes all sideways, sort of a fractured take on a quirky theme that indicates culture and intelligence with an individual twist. That’s our hero! He spends the money on another book and meets the girlfriend at the station, where the outbound train is cloaked in steam. Just like Casablanca.
In the movies. In real life someone sees him do it, raises an alarm; he runs away, and no one stops him. You can tell there’s no one with telekinetic powers, because he would have shaped the group of pedestrians to guide the crook into the street, where he could be hit by a bus.
No, I don’t think that should have happened. It would be hard on the bus driver.
TOMORROW: The Exploding Cannon.