Books, Baby Seals, Screaming Kids, and Christmas
I promised a description of where I was Wednesday, so here goes...
I'm working from home until we move to Kansas next week--holy schnikies--so I've started to gather some of the books for the project (much more on that later). It would be silly to leave without first looking at some of the great book stores in the area. Stores like Politics and Prose and the Dupont Circle Second Story Books are funny places. They have very good selections and they usually know their stuff. Much like the Half Price Books and Village Book Shop in Columbus, they are always busy when I am there, presumably because Americans don't read. Most of the time, the staff is very friendly, but not always. Places like Politics and Prose (which is mostly new books) and Second Story Books (which is all used) tend to take pride in their 'independent book store' status--too much pride.
Let's face it, even though I haven't lifted a weight in half a decade and am left with the strength of the twelve year old captain of the knowledge bowl team, my fat has arranged itself so that I still look like a football player. The male independent book store employees look like they come off an assembly line: 5' 8", 125 lbs., dark-rimmed glasses, skin-tight v-neck sweater over skin-tight dress shirt with over-sized collar, that mussed almost-over-the-eyes 1970s haircut with optional knit winter cap with ear flaps. They have purposely too-loud conversations about the ongoing saga of their stalled Master's degrees. The female employees are also freakishly small--no doubt malnourished from their fruitarian diet--and invariably express their individualism through mass-produced clothes meant to look like they came from a late 1960s-early 1970s consignment store. Their favorite music, usually some woman whining in French over an acoustic guitar, drones on from the store's speakers hidden in the corner of the store.
I'm being unfair--the lady who helped me at Politics and Prose did not fit any of these descriptions. She was a thirty-something mom-looking type who was friendly as could be. Hey, bookstores, no matter how independent, are still businesses. But there are enough of the independent types that the generalization rings true. And there are enough of them treating me like a caveman that I can't help but dislike places that flaunt their independent status. I usually buy at least a few military history titles, which confirms all their worst suspicions. Then again, I am conservative, especially by their standards, and I really don't require the affirmation of book store employees. These days I am less aggravated by the experience than amused by the show.
That amusement is only heightened on days like Wednesday, when I left the progressive book shops to have lunch at one of the madrassas of free enterprise. You might not believe it, but the American Enterprise Institute has an amazing restaurant at which employees and guests can lunch. Our friend Rachel is an employee of AEI, she knew I was coming into the city, so she invited me up for lunch. It was pretty much what you would expect from a meal at a conservative think tank. We started with barbequed spotted owl wings, followed by a creamy dolphin bisque. The salad had artichokes and little pieces of marinated baby seal. For the main course we had a choice of meat from different ethnic minority children. I had the sampler platter.
That's not all. I'm happy to report that Christopher DeMuth and Bill Kristol were having lunch a few tables over. A hologram of a hooded Dick Cheney floated over the table. The Cheney image muttered something about "my apprentice" and Paul Wolfowitz briefly appeared over his shoulder. At one point Kristol dropped his fork, and when he bent over to pick it up a green scaly tentacle dropped from beneath his coat. He quickly recovered. I did not make eye contact.
Seriously, my handlers tell me to say that AEI was very nice. Lunch was excellent and all of the people were very friendly.
My lovely wife got it into her lovely head that we had to go to the White House ellipse and see the national Christmas tree. Our neighbors had gone and informed us that the tree was surrounded by multiple large train sets. Since watching the Polar Express six or seven hundred times in the last month, we have discovered that trains have supplanted the Baby Einstein movies as the favored narcotic for the boy (version 1). We had to see the tree and trains and all that, so why not go to dinner first?
Since you ask, I'll tell you why not: when you take our eldest son to the Buca di Beppos on Connecticut Ave on December 21, 2005 and he falls asleep in the car becaue he did not take a nap that day and you wake him up and carry him to the restaurant and you order pepperoni pizza and meat tortellini and you give him foods and drinks he usually likes, he will throw an absolute and complete fit. He spent most of the meal under the table, which was preferable because his constant whining and crying was muffled. So don't do that ever again. As parents we have to draw the line somewhere, so now he's grounded. His curfew has been moved back to 11:30, and he can't take the car out for a week.
But first we went to see the frickin' tree with the frickin' trains. Which, I have to admit, was pretty cool. Here are a couple pictures:
A choir sang Christmas carols. There was a yule log burning so you could warm your hands. A large nativity scene stood right off the prepared path, directly north of the Washington Monument. Every state and territory provided ornaments for their own Christmas trees all along said path. And there were people, lots of people. I heard French and German and Spanish and some other furriner gruntings I couldn't identify. The people weren't particularly friendly or polite--another reminder that anymore D.C. is more eastern than Southern--but the holiday spirit seemed to make folks a bit less rude, which is a start.
And there were trains (that's the White House in the background):
The boy (version 2) had a good time too, as best I could tell from the happy grunts coming from under the twenty-seven blankets we had over his carrier.
There it is--life and the holidays in the big city. Neat.
I'll see you in Kansas.