Overheard DC: Ted’s on a Friday Night

Ted’s Bulletin is a classic American diner. Perhaps that’s where he got the idea to ask his date, “What kind of 50s housewife would you be?”

Wait, back up.

Allen and I, after eating dinner, decide to indulge the nostalgia that inevitably comes out between two old friends. With Kentucky and Monday Midnight Milkshakes (a grad school tradition, it’s exactly what it sounds like) in mind we set out to Ted’s for a grown-up version: Friday 9:30 Milkshakes. At Ted’s you can get breakfast all day (and during a blizzard!) and boozy milkshakes.

We took our seats at the bar (I can call them our seats because we sat in the same two when we wandered in during the blizzard and the same Sam was at the bar). We ordered our shakes. I ordered a grasshopper–Kahlua and creme de menthe–and Allen got bananas foster. As our shakes arrived, they walked in.

Allen and I were occupying the main bar real estate so the pair settled at the end next to Allen. They weren’t that old, early 30s at most, and ordered something with ginger beer. They’d come from the restaurant next door and the guy placed takeout boxes on the counter. So at some point, this date was going well enough that she agreed to an after-dinner drink.

Allen heard the majority of their small talk and decided they were on their first or second date. I heard, at first, only the murmuring sounds of a somewhat awkward and stilted conversation–all tone and body language.

That’s when he said it, “What kind of 50s housewife would you be?”

We exchanged looks with Keith and Sam the bartenders and muttered something about “barefoot and pregnant” to each other. I don’t recall her answer and could not see her face. He looked amused with himself.

As anyone of the mid-20s to early 30s cohort knows, there is never a bad time for a Harry Potter reference. I regret I did not hear where this started but next thing I know they’re talking about Harry Potter. Well, she’s talking about how unbelievable it is that he hasn’t read the Harry Potter books and he’s trying his hardest to insult her for liking them.

He doesn’t know what a Snape is and thinks there’s something called a Hogwart. He mentions a broom and a dragon, mugglars (muggrats?) and then simply concludes, “I’m not emotionally ready for Harry Potter.”

Sam and Keith exchange looks with us again, this is getting good. Our conversation has died, all our attention focused on what will happen next. This can’t be real.

She pushes, saying how good the books are, how they define our generation, and reaches out for help, asking bartender Keith if he’s read them. He read a few, saw the movies. Not his thing, really, but he knows what they are. (Note, gentlemen, this is an appropriate response to a question regarding a generation-defining piece of pop culture. You don’t have to love it, but respect that she does).

Now the whole bar has been invited into the date. Keith, Allen and Sam do everything but say to her, “run screaming from this man and never look back.”

The guy tries another tactic. “Well, have you shot a high caliber rifle?” he asks, as if this is a universal experience. “No? Oooooohhh!”

It was the kind of mocking “ooooooohhh” that bullies in TV shows use after they’ve made a good Yo Momma joke.

His defense shifts from knowledgeable ignorance (he knew the words but not how they fit together or why they mattered) to that fact he was too busy being a soldier to read Harry Potter.

Thinking of my reading-writing military friends it struck me as total bullshit. There’s a lot of time at war spent waiting with nowhere to go but into a book. I know a great many avaricious readers in uniform. That said, no one in hearing distance was buying his defense.

I suppose at some point, after having dug himself into a hole so big he could hardly see out of it, the guy figured it was time to leave. But, of course, he even bungled the exit.

“You have any plastic bags?”

“No, but we have paper bags.”

“I guess that’ll work. Though I’m not sure she can carry anything that isn’t a grocery bag.”

They leave. Allen, Keith, Sam and I laugh for a few minutes. The two bartenders look at each other and then say, “can we buy you two a shot?”

Friday night. #tedsbulletin

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Stay classy, DC.



Library of Congress

22478914061_178fba7790_zOn April 24, 1800, President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the United States’ capital from its temporary home in Philadelphia to the District of Columbia–a move set in motion a decade earlier in the Residence Act of 1790. The bill also appropriated $5,000 to obtain “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress… and for fitting up a suitable apartment to contain them..”

The first Library of Congress died in flames only 14 years after it had been established. Housed in a wing of the Capitol building, the small, 3,000-book collection fell victim to British torches in 1814 during the burning of Washington.

22280365228_abacc11eeb_zAlthough he did not create the Library, Thomas Jefferson–for whom the current main building is named–saved it. A month after the capital was burned, he offered to sell his personal collection to the government.  Congress accepted Jefferson’s offer in January 1815, appropriating $23,950 to purchase 6,487 of his books. Jefferson had spent 50 years gathering his collection. He was in debt (he almost always was) and made a good pitch for the universality that the present Library of Congress is now famous for:

“I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection,” he wrote. “[T]here is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”

22467961005_58e6d58ff9_zThe Library of Congress was rebuilt, eventually, in marble. Fear of fire forged a building that will not easily burn. When the Thomas Jefferson Building opened–situated on the corner of 1st and Independence SE, east of the Capitol building–it was the first electrified public building in the city. The year was 1897.

One hundred years after Jefferson offered up his collection, the Library has grown immensely. Its “more than 158 million items includes more than 36 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages.”  The Library’s resources are available to the public–to request materials (and read them on-site) all you need is a reader card.

Twice a year–on President’s Day in February and Columbus Day in October–the Library of Congress opens itself up further. There’s no one researching on those days, but anyone and everyone can wander into the main reading room and down into the card catalog. Photographers, usually barred from wandering freely, crouch in corners snapping away.

21846855743_b9c88ebb9d_zThe Great Hall is almost indescribable in its complexity and universality. One corner will tell you “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” and the ceiling in another spot reminds you, in Cassius’ words that “the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” There’s Minerva, presiding over a stairway, and one of the marble babies is holding a phone. To describe the Great Hall in the language of today: it is filled with Easter Eggs. The good news is that you can visit the Great Hall whenever you like.

And then there’s the Main Reading Room. The real value there is the reference librarians, but the ceiling is worth seeing too.

It’s the kind of room you feel smarter standing at the center of.  Looking up you see a circle of figures, in the lantern at the center of the dome is a woman–Human Understanding–“in the act of lifting the veil of ignorance and looking forward to intellectual progress. ” Around her are 12 figures representing great civilizations or eras which, when the library was constructed in the 1890s, were viewed as having contributed the most to the development of Western civilization: Egypt (Written Records), Judea (Religion), Greece (Philosophy), Rome (Administration), Islam (Physics), The Middle Ages (Modern Languages), Italy (Fine Arts), Germany (Printing) , Spain (Discovery), England (Literature), France (Emancipation), and America (Science).


If you’re in Washington make sure to visit the Library–the Great Hall is a glory to behold and the viewing balcony will let you get a glimpse of the Main Reading Room. Remember, on two days a year it becomes a (photographer’s) playground.  In 2016, the lucky days are February 15 and October 10.

More pictures from my visit can be found here.

A Spring Dawn

IMG_9051dawn and spring / an end to the night / a winter’s conclusion / a soft breeze on the water / and a stranger’s silence / watching the dawn / spring to life

(Click the picture for more from my dawn pilgrimage to the cherry blossoms, and other DC-things)

Yellow Line, Victory Train

Lady, you dropped your cig.

I watched it fall, unburnt, bent and dirty to the ground. You were busy tapping your unopened package of black & milds like an IV about to go in. Like a needle. Clear the air so it sticks true. No one needs an aneurysm tonight. You are your own nurse. Pick it up. Back behind the ear. Not a drop of air here.

And Sir, I’m sure that flash reflects perfect off the dirty metro glass.

You’re aiming for an ideal image of an idyllic view. Your camera snaps, it’s rapidly chattering shutter echoing off the car’s walls. All you’ll get is flash. We can all see from this bridge out to Anacostia but we’re stuck inside. So are they. This is a metaphor. For what? Ask your reflection smudged on the glass, immortalized in pixels and bytes until you delete it.

In the train car next to us they’re still celebrating.

One guy in his girlfriend’s shorts, red and white stripes with a single spangled pocket, is high-fiving a man with a red bow-tie. It’s a clip on. Another man has an American flag over his shoulders and a girl’s hand in his pocket. She’s wearing a striped tank-top with a blue-starred middle finger. ‘merica.

It’s the leap year of sports.

All over DC tonight young men and women awkwardly bonded with strangers over a victory no one expected in a sport none of us watch. This might be a metaphor, too.