Tuesday, July 04, 2006


a couple of hours in the big city

Due to the benevolence of the head of the company, I had yesterday off. Finally getting my shit together around noon, I packed a lunch (because we’re nearing payday, and I obstinately refuse to a. budget or b. deny myself any purchase, leading to poverty in the days before PD) and headed to the recently opened portrait gallery.

Walking up the steps, it felt like some big, climactic moment. A triumphant scene in the movie of my life, if you will. Four + years of walking past this building, and wanting to go explore inside. The feeling was building up and threatening to bubble over into hand claps and little hops, but I didn’t have anyone to share it with.

No matter…there were security guards. I’d tell one of them as he was checking my bag – he’d understand. The mustached man looking in my bag looked slightly disgruntled, but I’ve been nicer to meaner. So I gushed, “I am just so EXCITED!” and he looked at me, and said,

“Well, that’s nice. But you can’t bring that in here.” Gesturing with his poker, he jabbed at my pepper spray key chain.

I’m pretty sure my face fell faster than an ill-prepared soufflé. I asked him if I could leave it somewhere, and he said that I could put it in the box next to him. The other security guard helpfully volunteered that if I did that, I wouldn’t be getting it back. I wasn’t so distraught that I didn’t feel a flicker of annoyance at Security Guard A for not sharing that crucial point.

I stood there, contemplating the dilemma. Sure, I could put the pepper spray in the “amnesty box,” but that would mean that it would be gone forever. And if I let go of it forever, you just know that I was going to get mugged during the next possible muggable opportunity. And I didn’t know anyone who worked around there (“Hey, could you hold my pepper spray? Thanks, you’re a doll!”), and it was just. so. hot. outside.

Just when I was about to sink into the depths of despair and swallow the thing, a guy getting his backpack inspected chimed in with a “just go outside and hide it!”

Okay…now, I think this is the same everywhere, but especially in DC, you don’t just drop packages in potted plants. That makes you a terrorist. Period.

Willing to risk that misunderstanding, I walked outside, and kind of looked around casually. Whistling, I hooked a right to the side of the front stairs. No potted plants in sight, but there was a gap in between the building and the thick stone wall surrounding the steps. Thanking the heavens for unfinished work, I dropped the pepper spray in there, and straightened up suspiciously.

A family was watching me, but no matter. For all they knew, I was a secret agent. And that wasn’t so far-fetched, since the Spy Museum is right around the corner, right? Take two of the examination of personal items, and Security Guard B checks out my stuff. I think he had pity on me, because as he was shifting around my lunch, I hear SG A giving some people some crap about bringing food into the museum.

So, after that drama, I finally get inside. And the first hallway is wonderful, a dream come true. Well, a bit too crowded to really qualify as a “dream come true,” but then I remembered that, as a rule, people are lazy and lemming-like, so I took the elevator (hee hee) to the third floor. Blissfully nearly empty, I was free to stare at pictures to my heart’s content.

Okay, so here’s the juicy stuff, for you museum-lovers.

They have this huge temporary exhibit of art by William Wegman. Everyone is familiar with Wegman’s work, even if they don’t know it – he’s the guy who poses his gray dog in a lot of pictures, in humiliating poses. Turns out that he’s actually so much more, and I fell in love (I wonder if he’s still alive?). He has a really quirky sense of humor…for example, he had a sketch of “20 birds and 20 waves” (or something), and he drew seagulls, and waves…you know…using “v”s and upside down “v”s. Okay, so it doesn’t sound so brilliant when written, but it was great. Made me laugh out loud.

There’s also this grand hall of contemporary art. And for the most part it was great art, not some globs of white paint on white paper, representing the misunderstood angst of inner-city parakeets.

And then there’s a hall with portraits of “Great 20th Century Americans”—so neat. One room had all of these oil paintings of WWII generals, and it really pressed upon me their place of importance in American history. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they had patriotic music pumping subliminally in the background.

Another room was full of writers, like ee cummings, Gertrude Stein, Marianne Moore, and Upton Sinclair. And it’s just so strange to see what they looked like, to see where the genius came from. And each painting/statue/picture has a great paragraph chock full of information about the person, so if you don’t know who someone is, you don’t have to walk around in faux intelligence, chewing on the ends of your eyeglasses, making an effort to look like a distracted genius.

After two hours there, I had to leave, because I was starting to have information overload, and I didn’t want to gloss over anything that I’d love, given more of an attention span. Besides, from time to time I had visions of a SWAT team descending upon me as I picked up the goods, and I wanted to get the arrest over with.

(If anyone wants to check the place out, and wants a museum buddy, let me know, because I’m looking forward to going back.)

Leaving from a different side of the building than the one I came in (because I’m bad with NESW directions like that), I had plenty of time to “case the situation.” A couple was standing right next to the pepper spray hiding spot. Not wanting to cool my heels in the 95°F heat waiting for them to leave, I walked right up to them, said “excuse me,” and grabbed the offending object.

Sizing up my actions immediately, they laughed at me in a good-natured way, and it was a lovely ending to a bizarre situation.

benevolence is a cool word.

Glad that you had fun and got to keep your pepper spray.

me too!
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