Friday, February 05, 2010Red cheeks above wry smiles, white collars above dark coats, so busy, so entitled, privileged with promised secrets, standing in lines at the airport or at the subway, the only animation one could see was over beers in dark bars a few steps from the capitol (when they forget themselves for a second), every conversation held with both parties darting over one another’s shoulders, checking blackberries, checking cellphones, waiting for someone more important. Vacant expressions, old men with people huddled around them, waiting for the elevator or the taxi or the next meeting. I hate the place. For me it was the memory of futility, or missed opportunities (or reality maybe), only long nights and lonely weekends, trying to forget where I was and what I wasn’t doing, what I had thought I should be doing. Now, years later, all I can see are all the young faces, and I grieve for them and for me. The only thing beautiful in Washington are its monuments. The people – not the natives, but the occupying army of politicians, lobbyists, hangers-on and wannabes – the people would be forgettable, pitiable even, if they weren’t doing so much damage.
Oh look, there’s a Senator, there’s another one, running to catch their plane. It must be a Thursday, they always head home on Thursday. They’re all older than they look on TV. I say hello, get a nod as they try to figure out whether they know me – they don’t but it’s a fun game. I haven’t changed a bit. I still try to get their attention. To me they were always the only celebrities that mattered.
Washington is a place of frustrated ambitions, the only question is when. Never getting the job on the hill. Never getting promoted. Getting burned out and disillusioned. Getting the chance to run, losing, winning but only going so far. You don’t change the world, and the world changes you a lot less than you might have thought. You’re just another name, no matter what title is on your business card or how many people you have around you telling you how important you are. You know the truth, although you might hate to admit it.
The thing I can’t forgive is how they always react to passion, even now. You get confused looks or condescension. Must not know the score, you can see them thinking. And what I’m thinking is how many boys and girls like that I’ve seen come and go. They never last, and you wait for another one to come along who realizes that getting angry about things is the only way to remain a number of the species. Go home, I think. You’ve got to be an asshole and an idealist at the same time or you’ll never make it. It’s a trick to hold those things in your mind at the same time. I can only do it because I do this stuff for free. Accept a paycheck and they own you, especially nowadays.
I see the security that wasn’t there when I lived here a dozen years ago and think how afraid everyone is, beaten already, too scared to try, the ones that seem strong only grasping for (personal) advantage a little faster, a little more eagerly. I have a flash, a moment when I can see all the white buildings empty, the streets abandoned, weeds instead of carefully manicured lawns, broken glass in the windows. Someday this will all be gone, the people who lived here not even memories, all that striving pointless, a failed experiment.
And then it’s back to normal, all bustle and pomposity, and I admit that the odds that I’ll be back again, that the sheer gravity of the place will pull me back, approach certainty. It’s the only game worth playing, I think. I can’t wait to get home, holding off the day a little longer.