All-Stars

I technically live in Maryland, but if anyone asks, I live in DC. Fewer people know where Silver Spring is than the nation’s capital, and my house is 11 miles from the White House. If I was very industrious, I could walk there on the Sligo Creek trail. My Metro station is the first Maryland stop outside the district, so I can pretty much get anywhere in the city in 40 minutes. It might seem like I’m bragging, and that’s because I am.

I love where I live, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world… especially since I don’t drive, and every other city where I’ve lived has lacked true mass transit infrastructure.

I don’t know if I’ll ever start driving again, but it’s nice to have the option to not. Parking is expensive because there is more demand than supply, and it will always be that way in a city that’s only 60 sq. miles. There’s barely enough room for the cars that already “live there.” If you’re not used to walking, DC will have you up and at ’em in no time, because unless you have copious amounts of disposable income, you’ll most likely be dropped off between .2 and one mile from where you want to go. It’s the easiest workout routine ever, because you’re incorporating movement into your day rather than having to make time. Carry a backpack with everything you’re going to need for the day and you’ve got weightlifting AND cardio. For maximum hard core workouts, there’s always the years we are in full Snowpocalypse mode, and you have to lift your knees up to your chest in order to get forward motion.

If you’re going to be a tourist here, it helps to learn a little about the city before you arrive. For instance, in every Metro station there are escalators. Stand on the right, climb on the left. Break this rule and not only will we know you’re a tourist, we’re going to hate you a little bit. Also, most people on the Metro will not be friendly if you make them take off their headphones… and if they are, they’re still seething on the inside because you’ve interrupted their Metro mojo. We all have it, whether it’s getting settled with games, podcasts, or music. But Metro is a time of transition between work and play, and the zoning out is the beautiful part. We don’t want to be “on.” You’re better off talking to other tourists or using Google Maps. I’ve been using the walking directions for three years now, and they’ve never let me down.

Additionally, the federal government is here, but it’s not really indicative of the feel of the city. We are liberal loudmouths (well, most of the time, anyway) who will protest almost anything. Political activism doubles as leisure, because if we get fired up about something, we’re taking a group of friends and making a day of it. At the women’s march last year, there were so many people at Braddock station that when I got on the train with my friends, I leaned over to my friend Lindsay and said, man… if they squeeze us in any tighter we’re going to have to get married. I was riffing on Dorothy Parker, who said that her first office with E.B. White was so small that if it was any smaller, they’d have to call it adultery. If you come to DC during a major march weekend, be prepared to have to wait in line to get on the train AND to stand so close to someone that all personal space becomes null & void.

Washington reminds me a lot of Portland, Oregon for two reasons. The first is that the emphasis on political activism as leisure is about the same. The second is that the Potomac runs through the city, making it look very much like the division the Willamette provides. It’s kind of interesting that the neighborhoods are similar as well, groupings that felt like home the moment I arrived.

For those just joining us, I am originally from Houston, but have spent a lot of time in Portland, to the point where I identify both of them as my “home towns.” That means I don’t feel particularly at home in either, because they are so night and day different that I never felt settled. To my great pleasure, here I feel no wanderlust at all. Yes, it’s cheaper to live elsewhere, but why would I want to?

And, it has to be said, DC is one of the gayest places on earth, and because of the emphasis on politics, filled with the type people that make my heart beat a little faster because they’re so incredibly intelligent. I haven’t found romantic love here, but that’s because I’ve never gone looking for it, and probably won’t for a long time. I am smart enough not to wish a relationship with me on anyone right now. It’s a rebuilding year, as they say in sportsball. But when I do feel ready, I will have no shortage of ridiculously attractive choices. The hardest part is finding women who are single, because why would they be? If I think they’re star-spangled awesome, chances are, someone else does, too.

For all you southern gays out there that are looking for a place to relocate because your red state politics make your head explode, I can’t recommend DC highly enough. I think the best thing about living here is that it successfully mixes northern and southern culture… as JFK so eloquently put it, Washington is a city with Southern efficiency and Northern charm. This comment is absolutely tongue-in-cheek, and yet, right on the money. Some of us are suit and tie, some of us are all fleece, all the time. I remember a few years ago, I got the comment, we can tell you don’t work on The Hill. You’re wearing brown pants.

What, you mean the Converse All-Stars didn’t give it away?

Caffeine and Football

This morning I’m drinking Turkish coffee, actually a product of Lebanon. It’s spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and turmeric… I think. I threw out the bag in favor of refilling a coffee can with a tight lid. I’m not drinking it the way the Lebanese do, though. I just put it in a regular cone filter so that there’s not “mud” at the end of every cup. It’s just as strong, though. Of that I made sure. I’m sure someone will either comment or @ me about it, that the “mud” is an essential part of the experience, I’m bucking a thousand years of tradition, etc. While all that may be true, I don’t need the pomp and circumstance every morning. I got it on Thanksgiving in tiny Redskins cups. I have no idea where one would purchase a Redskins Turkish coffee set, but they exist, apparently. Nothin’ says lovin’ like caffeine and football.

I’m gearing up to go out in the cold because I have a couple errands to run and I’m dragging ass this morning. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t have an answer…. oh, wait. Yes, I do. I’m 40. I think I’m officially “I’m going to drag ass every morning for the rest of my life” years old. Insert platitude about how every sunrise is a gift here.

I am sipping frequently as I write because snow is supposed to start falling during afternoon drive, and I want to get home before it starts so I can sit next to the picture window and watch. Snow in DC is magnificent, truly. I mean, not all the time. Sometimes it just looks dirty and gross like an ice rink when the Zamboni driver gets fired…. but newfallen snow on the monuments is the closest version of heaven on earth I’ll ever reach. I wait until the active snowing has stopped, then get outside as soon as I can. Then I just photograph everything…. from the houses in the neighborhood to the Supreme Court. It’s all magic to someone who’s spent most of their lives in a subtropical climate.

It just dawned on me that I am almost old enough to have spent more time out of Texas than in. Wow, that’s a sobering thought, especially since I haven’t drunk any alcohol since Christmas vacation. Is there such a thing as being more than sober? You know, like infamous? I wish I could remember what it was that I drank, because it tasted expensive.

I know it was whiskey or bourbon- I wouldn’t have thought anything else was worth it… and by “worth it,” I mean worth losing brain power. I don’t drink that much because I’m not a 100-watt bulb to begin with. Plus, if I drink more than one shot of something, if I do something stupid I won’t remember it well enough to embarrass myself properly on this web site…. because out of stupid things comes great writing. I have a good time with self-deprecating humor. It’s one of my specialties, because if I didn’t laugh at myself, I would continually cry. There’s just so much material to work with. If my medium was visual art, I’d have enough for three museums.

….with coffee shops.

18th and Potomac

I think it’s a good thing and bad that I don’t write as much as I used to. On one hand, sites that aren’t updated don’t get traffic. On the other, I used to have a lot of shit to process, and it helped to write about it. Now that things are constantly calming down, there’s no conflict to endlessly discuss until I come to a resolution. I am sure that I could dig up something, but it would probably be something I’ve already dissected, and now would just seem like beating a dead horse. I do have a memorable quote from that time in my life, though. The setup is that Argo accused me of not listening. I said, sometimes what you think of as a function of not listening is not understanding and I’m beating the wrong dead horse instead of the right one. I got a point well taken for that one, so I’m assuming it was a good line. But what I think of as “a good line” isn’t saying something just to say it. I mean that I think of it as containing a truth that I should remember. I do listen, deeply, but if I’m on a different elevator, I will take what I think you mean and talk a bloody essay about it, essentially traveling up a building in Baltimore before you’ve even crossed the Potomac.

So, now I tend to get awfully “therapied” about conversation without even realizing how douchy it sounds, even though it works. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of what I think you’re saying is…. and speak more to that. It’s not like I’m trying to use my completed psychology minor to sound like I’ve got a PhD. It’s that I don’t want there to be a chasm between what both of us are trying to say to each other. Miscommunication, for me, is the root of all evil. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll never have a great, enlightening conversation with a person determined to misunderstand you. It’s easy to keep an argument alive if one person has a bias against the other and refuses to find anything positive about the other when it’s not that they can’t, they just don’t want to. For instance, missing the content and telling me I just ended that sentence with a preposition. 😛

Being on the same page takes a lot of work and dedication, because sometimes it takes more than one pass to try and explain what you really mean so that the other person understands it in their language. I liken it to being a child and having teachers that only know how to teach one way, so you just don’t get it and fail… not because you’re not smart enough to understand, but again, on a different elevator.

In relationships, no matter what kind, we all tend to ignore first family dynamics. For instance, say you grew up with a family that gets mad at each other in the moment and the other person grew up with a family that holds everything in as not to cause conflict. Getting angry at them is going to be terrifying for them and you’re going to hate it when everything you’ve done wrong for the past five weeks rains down on your head when you accidentally put a fork in the wrong drawer. In your family, when people get mad, when they calm down, it’s over. In their family, you never know when the Mento is going to drop over the Diet Coke…. so, in essence, you’re both living in fear.

It’s a conundrum to which I offer no answers, because it takes a trained professional to bring these two communication styles together. I just do the best I can, which is sometimes a success and sometimes a disaster. The hardest part is that all people are moving targets of emotion to some degree, and it’s difficult to score a double bullseye every time. If we all could, world peace would have been achieved long ago.

What I can say about conflicts, all of them, is that I want them to burn slower. To be passionate, but not to the point where I can’t hear anymore. And by “burning slower,” I don’t mean “fester.” I mean proceeding with caution as not to cause damage in either direction. Not everything has to be solved in one day, or even one conversation.

I could offer a hundred examples of all this, but you’ve heard them already if you’ve been even a casual reader over the years.

Just know that when I’m traveling up a building in Baltimore and you haven’t even crossed the Potomac, remind me that DC is still a thing, and we can meet there.

#prayingonthespaces

Cheese!

Today was long and fruitful. About 13 years ago, I was so poor I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and didn’t want to ask anyone for help. I thought I had something stuck to my front tooth, and with no money for dentistry, tried to pop it off with a knife. In my infinite wisdom, I realized right after I’d done it that I’d actually knocked off a piece of plaque and most of the enamel. I’ve been walking around with the nerve exposed, worrying hysterically that it was going to fall out, every day since… until now.

My dad looked at my teeth and did some research, finding out that not only had my in-home surgery fucked up that one tooth, taking Lamictal this long was making my whole mouth worse, and it would continue to deteriorate, because I do not have the luxury to stop the medication that keeps me as sane as I can achieve.

He got on the phone and found a dentist that was open today, and she filled all my cavities, closed the open nerve on my front tooth, and rendered me into a puddle as I genuinely smiled for the first time in years without hatred of it. Her work is beautiful, and I feel almost glamorous. I say “almost” because I’m not sure that tomboys ever get all the way there. I suppose I am closer to dapper, what with my nerdy black Ira Glasses and black leather shoes, which I had shined at DCA.

I actually love to shine my own shoes, I was just running short on time. I asked the woman how much it would be, and she didn’t speak any English, so I flipped into Spanish. “Ocho,” she replied. The man in the chair next to me said, “how much did she say it would be?” Out loud, I said, “eight.” My inner monologue said, it’s been a long time since SOMEBODY’s watched Sesame Street. Additionally, this experience was my first in DC as a white person where a Spanish speaker didn’t look at me like I had three heads when they heard Spanish coming out of my mouth. It makes sense. In an airport, lots of people are going to be able to speak lots of languages. When I’ve been in shops that cater to the Hispanic community or, once, talking to a janitor in a mall, the surprise has been almost tangible. I get the feeling that Maryland, DC, and Virginia are more segregated that way. In Texas, it’s so much easier to get by if you at least know a few basics.

I took two years of Spanish in school, but that’s not really where I learned it. When my father was a pastor, there were people in the church who’d been organizing mission trips to Reynosa for years, and I went with them three times… two summers in a row and a winter break in between them. Nothing helped me more than immersion. After that, I began shopping in stores and eating in restaurants in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, because otherwise, I didn’t have anywhere to practice. Because of these mission trips, I’m one of the few people in my Houston crew that can order at a taqueria without using the number next to the picture. 😛

One of the funniest things that’s happened to me recently regarding speaking Spanish is that I was chatting online in a room that wouldn’t allow special characters….. so I told someone that I’d studied two anuses of Spanish in school and now had 40 anuses…. that’s because in Spanish, you don’t say “I’m 40 years old,” you say, “I have 40 years.” So, for future reference, grammar nazis, ano means “anus.” Año means year. The difference in pronunciation is “ano” and “anyo.” Tengo cuarenta años, pero tengo solamente uno ano…. luckily. No one has ever managed to literally rip me a new one.

Having a family that lives in Texas is a beautiful thing, because even though I don’t live here, I still get opportunities occasionally to flex my Spanish-speaking mind. I actually prefer it to English, it’s just that I’m not fluent in Spanish and have to resort to English. If you are wondering why I’d say something like “I prefer Spanish” as a native English speaker, it’s that it’s so much simpler. All verbs are conjugated the same way, so the conjugation of the verb also contains about whom you are speaking as well, whether it’s yourself or others. Everything is pronounced exactly like it’s spelled- there are no silent letters or any of the other oddities we put up with in a language that comes from everywhere else. For instance, Honore de Balzac said that “60 percent of English is French badly pronounced.” And even though I prefer Spanish, I thank God I was born an English speaker, because I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to figure it out later. I’d stare at a word like “knife” for hours before throwing up my hands and screaming.

It’s a life goal to become fluent in Spanish, because I’ve often thought about retiring with the 17,000 other gringos in Enseñada. But that was before I moved to DC, and haven’t thought about moving anywhere since. As a poli sci major, it means something to me to be in the same city as the original Supreme Court. In terms of the United States, I live where Eddie Izzard would say “the history comes from.” It means something to me to live inside the national news.

I do, however, enjoy Houston in small doses. Being a Texan is, for me, akin to having brown eyes or being gay. It defines part of who I am…. and not quite the same as just being Southern. Texas was once its own country, and we have never forgotten it. For instance, I doubt you ever really have to ask someone if they’re from Texas. It’ll come up in conversation quickly.

This trip, I haven’t done anything uniquely Texan except drink soda from H-E-B. Oh, I take that back. I did remember the Alamo yesterday.

Today, after my hours of dental work were done, I went with my dad, stepmom, and one of their friends to see The Last Jedi. I’m going to have to see it again, because I honestly have no idea how I feel about it. I was high on pain meds and distracted by all the activity around me because we were in one of those theaters that serve food, so there were literally waiters walking in front of me while I was trying to concentrate… and the couple next to me just WOULD NOT SHUT UP. They were just aggressively white, treating the theater like they were in their living room. People like this are the main reason I go to movies when no one else is going to be there and don’t take anyone with me. I like to watch movies in complete silence…. and just like my mother, I will grin and bear it in full theaters right up until I just cannot even, trying in vain to get people to stop talking with an authoritative stare. The reason I try The Look™ first is that sometimes actually saying to people that you wished they’d stop talking is more trouble than it’s worth. They’ll start talking louder just because they know it annoys you, they’ll get confrontational, etc. Very few people, in my experience, are humble about realizing they’ve inconvenienced someone else.

As I get older, I find more and more things that make me feel like I’m turning into my mother, which was mortifying while she was still alive and priceless now.

Speaking of my mother, my father is taking me to meet my sister at the cemetery tomorrow morning, both because I don’t have a rental car and because he’s never seen her grave site. Lindsay wants to decorate Fred (the tree next to her headstone) for Christmas, and then we’re going to go see a movie or something. Death and grief don’t seem so bad in the cemetery, because it really does make me feel closer to my mother to be there, and the place itself is soothing and serene.

Then, at some point, I need to wrap the presents I bought. Because there are so many kids in my family (four of us, all with spouses except me), we do secret Santa. I got Mathew, Lindsay’s husband, and he is hopefully going to flip his shit. I am so excited to give him his gift that it will take every bit of strength I have not to shove it at him as he walks through the door. Giving presents is my favorite thing in the whole world. I love it 20 times more than getting them. I enjoy the hunt, the thing that will make people say, “how did you know?” or “this is totally me.” Though I realize how useful Amazon Wish Lists can be, especially because you might get someone something they already have, I sometimes think it takes away from the moment someone else realizes that you actually do listen to them, know them, etc.

I also really enjoy giving books now, because e-books always arrive on time and you can buy them the day of. Plus, you don’t have to have a physical Kindle. Kindle is also an app for every mobile device.

Sometimes I give people books I haven’t read, but have read the synopsis and think it would be something they would like. Sometimes I give a copy of my favorite book of the moment, just to be able to share it with someone else.

Alternatively, Kindle is the most dangerous of all shopping experiences, because in a lot of cases, a book series starts with a free “dime bag” and when you’re in the moment of “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!” a pop-up will appear saying that you can buy the next one for $4.99. There are two series I’ve binged that way this year- The Face on the Milk Carton and Fat Vampire. I am sure they won’t be the last in the coming years…. although right now I am really into documentaries and it’s taking away a lot of my time from reading. It goes in cycles. Sometimes I need the TV on for “company” and sometimes I crave complete silence. I just don’t want to watch junk TV. I want to learn something, because I like Knowing Stuff.™

It makes me smile, the kind where my beautiful teeth show.