Dirty Jubilee: Warring Sects Assemble for the Bush Coronation

Written by Andrey Slivka on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



Washington, Jan. 20–So
every four years there’s this rustling in the provinces, and the rustics
head east, toward the royal court. Horse carts jam on the high-roads into the
capital city, and one witnesses the grand pageant of the yeomanry: barkers;
crapulous reeves on piebald horses; whores selling mutton pies; pox-scarred
franklins; carbuncled highwaymen wearing Saint Christopher medals; hurdy-gurdy
men; manciples with bucklers; eunuchs working a sleazy itinerant trade in papal
indulgences. The city’s ruddy innkeepers collude, gouging pilgrims, charging
extra ha’-crowns for lodgings. Jugglers, fools in motley, mummers circulate
amidst the carnival crowds, and slumming knights with their squires, chivalrous
veterans of Flanders. So the city inclines toward the great day, toward the
coronation–


Sometimes fights break out,
and factions do hurly-burly in the alleys. Maidens battle with rolling pins,
and brawlers turn the carts over, littering the streets with cakes and flagons
of ale.


And so on.


Now this portly, muscular
young guy in workboots, a real bruiser, stalks the marble risers that line the
west side of the Mall–this Muscovite plaza. Swaggers along the row of moist
spectators, their necks craned in the direction of the Capital building, that
Unreal City, consumed by mists, materializing on this Inauguration Day out of
wintry fog-banks.


Not that you can see anything
from here. It’s noon, the Inauguration ceremony’s in progress, but
the podium’s far beyond any of us punters’ ability to see it. So there’s
just this angry, workbooted bruiser, carrying a little Pigpen-cloud of static
along with him as he moves, baiting people, starting up with Grand Old Party
matrons, in town for the great day. Sticking his middle finger right up into
unsuspecting Bushie faces. And his comrades follow him, in their protest rags,
a nervous current trickling through Republican masses.


And I heard America singing:


"Fuck you all then."


"Illegitimate motherfucker."


"Get the hell away,
you son of a bitch."


"Go back to Idaho and
Texas–where you came from, huh, you racist Republican motherfuck–"


"Yeah."


"Get a job, drifter."


And jeering. All over the
Mall, in the rain-muted hum of the Sousa marches oompahing from the scaffolding
(and the huge videoscreens, smudges of color against the colorless noon), little
wars broke out–dustdevils on a plain, nodes of countervailing energy. Grunge-kid
protesters with placards and bumperstickers affixed to their black sweatshirts–DICK
CHENEY HATES GAYS–break out into open confrontation with Republican triumphalists,
under the freezing precipitous slop.


Hippies in the distance
unrolled a black sign: ILLEGITIMATE.


"Leave Jesse alone!"
the triumphalists screamed, satirically. "He didn’t mean to do it!
Haaaaaaaah!"


Hippies taunt back, over
the great distance, but their words are lost in the fog.


"What?" Kids bait
from amidst the fratboy cluster, holding cupped hands up to their ears, laughing
at hippies. "What? What was that?"


"Leave Jesse alone,
you racists! He said he was sorry!"


"Haaah haaah…"


"He said he was sorry!"


"Ah-hah, dick!"


Loudspeaker voices, refracted
through moisture: mwaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmm.


Presumably someone’s
getting sworn in way up there, on the podium.


Fuck-you fingers in the
faces of:


Plump little cowgirl Texas
wives with thousand-dollar rodeo rigs and painstaking makeup jobs. Suburban
dads with brush-mustaches, their kids on their shoulders, sticking up into the
mesosphere like human weather probes. Jimmy Stewart-style oldsters who recoil
in confusion in their raincoats–this glowering silent son of a bitch is
in their faces, flipping them off, what?–guys who a thousand years
ago stormed beaches, fragged krauts in Cherbourg, disemboweled Japanese on atolls–and
who this morning collected their gentle wives and motored in at 45 per, hugging
the shoulder in ancient well-preserved sedans, optimistic despite the rain,
the Restoration so close they could taste it–


"Bush! Bush! Bush!
Bush!" people chanted at passing protesters.


"…illegitimate president."


"Fuck you, buddy."


 


Guy outside the Metro
Center
train station wore a baseball cap, stood near a sign reading SUPREME
HYPOCRISY TOPPLES DEMOCRACY, under the eave, out of the late-afternoon weather.
He loped about in a tight circle around his sign, handing out stickers, hollering
with an amused inflection to his voice.


"Hail to the tobacco
interests!"


"Shut the fuck up,"
passing Bushies yelled back, but he took it in stride, couldn’t be dissuaded
by their abuse.


"Hail to the oligarchy!"
he yelled. "Hail to the tobacco president! Let’s get those kids addicted
early!"


"Shut the fuck up,
you bastard."


People straggled out of
the downpour, headed for the train. A father and son strode in, grim and loose-jointed,
metal-detector guys, the both of them wearing sopping "Sore Loserman"
t-shirts. The inaugural parade was over, everyone was headed home. There was
that tired, straggling, all-business-and-our-business-is-getting-home feeling
you get in the air after you’ve watched a big football game that consumes
all your passion, and then suddenly it’s over and real life reasserts itself,
the little constituent threads of the real reassert themselves, the matrix of
mundanity becomes reconstituted. Carnival time runs out, people head back to
their wives, hungover and remorseful, wondering where the money went. Rubbish
strewn all over the street. Guys would rip off their disposable ponchos, throw
them on the ground as if they represented everything that had to be left behind
about this contested, freezing, ceremonial day–this break in the continuum,
this Event of the sort that has to be lived through once in a while, endured
but not enjoyed. And they’d glide down the escalator, dripping toward the
dry train tunnels.


"Hail to the thief!"
the guy in the baseball hat was yelling. "Hail to King George the Second!
Hail to the tobacco president!"


"Isn’t that Gore?
That’s Gore."


"That’s Gore,
too. But Gore didn’t win, did he? Let’s get the kids addicted!"


"Shut up, you bastard."


The heckler glided down
into the Metro.


Up on dark Pennsylvania
Ave. in front of the White House, tv crews broke themselves down on the media
stand across the street from the reviewing stand. The white and blue pavilion
was still bathed in the white-hot lights, it was too real. The whites were too
white, the royal blues too blue. You could climb to the top level of the now-empty
bleachers on the White House side of Pennsylvania Ave. and look straight over
the top bar, down onto the White House lawn and into the White House windows,
homefully lit and alive with bodies, the optimistic hubbub of a move-in day.


A couple longhaired country
boys occupied the top bleacher step with a pair of binoculars.


"You see anything,
Mike?"


"Just a bunch of police
and shit. And a nice set of china."


A third guy, a middle-aged
guy in a trench coat, obviously not part of their crew, hung behind them on
one step lower, looking tired. "You guys voyeuring?" he asked, stressing
the first syllable.


"Huh. He’s
the one with the binoculars."


"Aw, he ain’t
in there," the fellow in the trench coat said. "He’s at the Texas
ball."


"Someone’s
in there. That’s Dick Cheney."


"Nawwwww."


"Someone surrounded
by people."


"Who’s that? Laura
Bush?"


"Naw. She’s wearing
blue tonight."


"Yuh. This one’s
got one strap, and the other side’s down, you can see her–" He
broke off, and gestured with his hand in the direction of his left breast. Then
his attention broke and he lowered the binoculars to his chest and looked at
his feet. Started hopping up and down on the bleacher plank, testing it. It
sagged and flexed queasily under his old boots.


"This is flimsy shit."


"Ain’t it?"


Rain froze on the grand
trees that line Pennsylvania Ave. The media and review pavilions faced each
other, both ablaze with arc lights. A blazing, silent, million-watt drama on
a night lacquered with rain. Beams howled down from cranes. Soldiers walked
in formal uniforms. Red, white and blue bunting lined the cast-iron fencing.
Golf carts sped, crew-guys coiled up feed-cables. Somehow this seemed an appropriate
ambiance for the consolidation of great power. Tourists wandered the stretch–dazed,
damp, stumbling in the direction of the crane-mounted tractor beam, like sci-fi-flick
provincials attracted by an alien radiance.


Tour buses were loading.


"This is a great day,"
a woman was berating an elderly protester. She bustled in her red coat and with
her camera, gathering groups for photographs, waving family members into a phalanx,
hooking wandering children into the shutter-frame. She turned to address the
man. "We waited eight years for this day."


"Shut up."


"You shut up."


"Jesus."


Citizens posed for photographs
in front of the blank whitewashed wall of the review pavilion. Bugs pinned by
light against a white wax tray–when they moved away from the wall, you’d
see their guts smeared against it, or else the pure tv radiance would have seared
onto the wall the outline of their skeletons. A barrelshaped woolly hippie,
standing nearby, removed his knapsack from his back, squatted over it. Produced
from it a flyer. Soaked the flyer in a rain-puddle. Strolled up to the pavilion’s
white wall and affixed it at eye-level. Red letters declared: NO BUSH GENOCIDE
IN COLOMBIA. Crimson paint dripped down the wall.


"Take it down,"
a passerby yelled.


A teenager in an overcoat
did so–walked up calmly, pulled the flyer off the wall, threw it on the
ground.


The hippie watched, strolled
over, picked it up off the pavement and stuck it up again. Another red stain.


"No no no, take that
down," barked a man’s voice. A middle-aged guy in khakis held a camera
ready.


The hippie removed the sign
and, holding it, retreated respectfully until the guy’d flashed his kinfolk,
who grinned under the presidential seal. Gold carts buzzed around, functionaries
with two-way radios.


Hippie stepped forward and
affixed the sign again. A third bloody dripping stain.


Guy with the camera, cursing,
stepped up without even looking in the hippie’s direction. Ripped it down.
Ripped it to pieces. Stuffed the pieces in a trash barrel.


It angered me. Today they
had given George W. Bush, of all people, the keys to the world, and this poor
hippie couldn’t even have his one bloody sign. I wanted him to have it
up there on the wall. It was his own little fragment, shored against what he
perceived as ruins.


But the hippie maintained
his patient composure, dripping, an eternal part of the landscape, like a tree.


 


Everything was screwy.
Even in the morning, in clogged Union Station, where some protest kids were
streaming off the trains and others had staked out floor-space to paint signs,
you could sense a strange caffeinated energy. Like, let’s get this done.
Washington had attracted only the extremists, the purest, most committed members
of the two dominant political American sects. The Red and the Blue, to use the
contemporary categories. The rustics had arrived to crown their strange new
king. The college kids with their protest signs and their black-sweatshirt anarchist
rigs had materialized in order to mess shit up. So on the one hand you
had the day’s Bushie majority, which–for reasons that have always
eluded me–finds something redeemable, something worthwhile, something admirable,
something even perhaps human, in that decadent, ignorant and destructive complex
of ideas known, misleadingly, as American "conservatism."


On the other hand, you had
the usual youngsters practicing the privileged whitekid parlor game that’s
called "oppositional" or "radical" politics in this deeply,
even dangerously–because the self-absolving pretensions of privileged whitekids
have great social implications and costs, in a way that the self-absolving pretensions
of, say, poor Cambodian immigrants or poor-white Appalachians don’t–dishonest
political culture of ours.


You could walk through the
city and watch factions clash. I’d lately read War and Peace, and
I felt like Pierre, gallivanting around behind armies, watching campaigns from
ridges, out of harm’s way, becoming progressively more amazed by the extent
of the waste, disorder and carnage. Gangs would verbally skirmish, retreat,
regroup–Rwandan units in the rain, some dressed as suburbanites and cowboys,
others as grunge-kids and old hippies. They’d stopping just short of actual
physical violence, although for all I know that might have happened, too, somewhere
in that weird city, somewhere in that giant rainy arena of a place.


Walked up to the Gallery
Place-Chinatown Metro stop and found the MCI Center, the sports arena, presiding
over an emptied-out neighborhood, one of those wasted, empty, depopulated regions–victimized
by postwar concrete-bunker architecture–that typify American cities. National
Guard trucks rumbled in a line down F St. Soldiers in visored helmets,
flak jackets and shin guards loitered at their posts along the street, passing
ax-handles between their hands. Left to right, right to left, the gloved hands
caressing bonebreaking hickory, skullcrushing ash.


A bunch of policemen stood
out of the rain in the station arcade, pistols strapped to their thighs. These
were big guys, obviously conscious of their power, talking through the bored
moments.


"…Eighteen rounds,
I said you retarded? Carry 18 rounds in your carbine…"


"She’s administrative
duty, she’s not carrying."


The eight army trucks rumbled
in the rain, you could feel the deep low-grade diesel-churning in your intestines.
Guys in fatigues stepped out into the street to direct the Army vehicles with
languid gestures.


A crusty black kid handed
out religious literature–"Last Generation: To Prepare You for the
Final Conflict Between Good and Evil: Special Issue."


"It was a little tense
up here a while ago," he said. "They were lined up across the street.
They’re expecting the protest to come by here."


"What protest?"


"Just all of them.
I’m not up on the political situation, but things are weird. This is the
first time they got to check your bags. This is the first time they’ve
ever checked bags for the Inauguration. They just up and search you now."


Across the street an abandoned
prewar office tower dominated its stretch of block. I looked at it for a while.
It was a beautiful old thing, white-tiled. It evoked a thriving old-time commerce,
from back before the days when Americans hadn’t, for the most part, given
up on the idea of the city.


Entered the MCI Center,
looking for a way out of the rain, and read the glossy historical placards lined
up across from the box office. They presented kookily cheerful indications of
a lost civilization:


"Historically, the
site of the MCI Center was at the center of downtown… [O]n the ground beneath
our feet, J.P. O’Donoghue ran a shoe store and W. Uttermehle a tailor shop.
Printing houses at 631-633 F Street are now the site of Sections 430, 431, and
432 in the arena. In the 1840s, Carroll Brooks sold groceries from what is now
Section 408. Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme
Court, lived in what is now Section 201. Matthew Emery, the city’s first
mayor, lived on F Street. Children played here and family pets were buried here.
The following is a glimpse of what was once beneath our feet."


And so on. Kloeppinger’s
bakery, two stories, corner of 6th and G. Bergmann’s laundry, opened on
G St. in 1918, and "soon expanded into next-door stable." The gorgeous
home of the National Benefit Association, designed by W. Sidney Pittman (1875-1958),
one of the U.S.’ first black architects. The Barrister Building, 625 F
St.


"Salmon P. Chase lived
in this grand house on E Street while serving as Lincoln’s Secretary of
the Treasury."


The Palace Theatre, and
the Gayety Theatre. A confectioner’s.


The house on H St. where
John Wilkes Booth was said to have conspired.


"Seventh Street north
from Center Market was a major business and retail street. Dry goods merchants
clustered nearby, including Mr. Saks, who began his business here before moving
to New York."


"Center Market…was
one of the great democratizing experiences of daily life in Washington. Society’s
upper crust mingled with servants and the working class while browsing the many
goods on sale."


In other words, a civilization
exterminated, wiped from the face of the Earth. I stood in the empty arena lobby
for a while and dried out. Protester kids crossed the intersection outside and
down the street, past the trucks. A civilization trashed in the name of our
suburban dispensation, in the name of our culture’s weird geographical
logic, in the name of the way our civilization spreads itself profligately across
space. The very ground we were standing on–this lifeless block, dominated
by a sports arena for wealthy suburbanites–represented some of the most
damning evidence you can find against the culture these kids claim to be so
against. The bipartisan physical reality that surrounds these kids is a dehumanizing
joke–they live amidst waste and ugliness, a continental shoddiness–but
they don’t even notice. They ignore the evidence. It doesn’t even
occur to them to complain, to demand that it change.


Rather, they concern themselves
with the big things. They write "ASHCROFT" on oak tag pieces, replacing
the "S" with a swastika. They carry on about how much Dick Cheney
hates his own gay daughter.


 


Georgetown pub, evening.
Lacquered middle-aged Republican matron sits at bar smoking. She speaks with
that pungent Southern-accented sarcasm, that mordant twang, which Southern women
tend to acquire after they turn 40. Her companion is a rumpled, tweedy elderly
gentleman of the common Washington genus Tipus O’Neillus.


"Did anything happen
today?" she drawled.


"That thing at 14th
St.," the man answered her. "Tried to climb over the banister."


"Classy. The signs.
‘Bush Get Off My Bush.’ Beautiful."


"Just white kids whose
fathers give them money and tell them never to come back."


"Or maybe I’m
just getting old. I mean, it’s like it’s 1968. Well, I gotta go. We’re
gonna be late. I been late all day. I don’t wanna be late for the ball
and miss the W. Because it’s at the Armory, he’s gonna hit that first.
Go now, stay until 11, 11:30. See what else."


The college-age bartendress
broke in here.


"George Washington
U.’s having one. I got invited, but I’m not going. Guy who invited
me got mad because I wouldn’t date him. So he canceled the tickets."


The matron appraised her
as only a Southern woman can appraise other women.


"That’s rude,"
she said, raking her up and down with her eyes, and you could tell she didn’t
think it was rude at all, she thought it was probably justice.


The inaugural balls were
commencing. Walking up Pennsylvania Ave. from the White House up to Georgetown,
you could see people in black tie congregating in the lobbies of every hotel
and restaurant you passed. The Park Hyatt, Galileo, The Prime Rib. Sometimes
you’d walk by a hotel dining room and look through the window and downward
onto a vista: a huge table rimmed by Several Generations of Republicans, all
in severe black tie, the Older Republicans helping tuck the Immature Republicans
in behind their starched napkinage. Regular middle-class people dressing up
for the night in their rented rigs, religious people, decent folk, I guess,
and it was affecting. Sometimes the rooms were empty–elegant and empty–which
rendered the ambiance mauve and melancholic, like these people’d had their
party stolen out from under them. But maybe it was just early.


College-age ballgoers congregated
in the Georgetown pub now, clean-cut young men leading dewdrop girls in dresses.


"You fellas have ID?"


Stagey horror. "ID!
Embarrassed on the night of my prom!"


All night you’d see
tuxedoed kids all over the city, in transit–in cabs, clogging the sidewalks,
dominating the Metro. Only in Washington. Guys in evening dress on the subway,
headed toward bureaucratic balls. A whole rapid transit system that I think
exists only to ferry tuxedoed preppies on this one night every four years–a
system that blazes into its full reality only on Inauguration Days. Every other
night, the Metro system exists in a sort of half-real twilight, drained of vitality,
its heart isn’t in the work. Carrying porters, cleaningwomen, spinsters–such
are the mundane ferryings of the days. And through the long fallow periods between
coronations, the train engines pine in their electric hearts for the redemptive
ceremonies, and in the train sheds at night the engineers swear they can hear
the engines’ lonely sighings.


On the Metro, a passenger
leaned over a tuxedoed preppy’s head to check the route map.


"Yo, Matt, move your
head. Guy’s trying to look."


"Oh, is that what you’re
doing? I thought he was trying to pick me up."


Matt, you pure product of
America, you’re unschooled in the negotiations that govern urban lives
on subway trains, and so you confronted my subway-rider’s harmless and
reasonable and quite helpless gesture with macho Republican excess.


For the 50th time that day,
it occurred to me how much Americans hate each other’s guts.


 


Visited a DC journalist
friend of mine
at his house in Columbia Heights, sat with his friends for
a while eating Ritz crackers and watching the inauguration’s aftermath
unfold on the grainy black-and-white television feed.


"I’m still confused
by what’s happening, I haven’t figured it out," my friend said.
"I spent eight years despising the Clintons and now the situation’s
shifted. The Clintons, as much as I hated them, I understood them, I knew
people like that, I lived in their world. Everything that was disgusting about
the culture they epitomized–that yuppie meritocratic culture with its worship
of money and power, its smugness, its disregard for the violence it inflicted
on others, its hatred of everyone who was different, who wasn’t a yuppie
or a meritocrat–I understood that, as much as I disliked it, I understood
it. I went to school with those people. I’ve worked with those people.
With Bush, I’m totally against all his policies, everything he stands for,
but it’s something new, it’s this royal WASP thing, it’s something
I just don’t understand. I have no experience with it."


I bid everyone good-bye.
Walked through dripping poor neighborhoods–the buildings were ramshackle,
the front-yard gates swung open, and no lines in these neighborhoods are ever
flush–and over to 16th St., where I flagged down a bus going, as it turned
out, in the wrong direction. Rumbled blithely for 25 minutes through streets
that grew progressively more tree-lined and suburban until I sensed something
fishy and came to my senses, and asked questions of my fellow passengers–tired
working people, all Hispanic–and ascertained that I was actually in Silver
Spring, MD, where I had neither need nor intention to be.


The bus let me off and I
walked in the twilight along the shabby commercial strip toward the elevated
Metro terminus. American ugliness, American waste–these edge-city landscapes
we compulsively build. From the elevated train back into the city you could
look down into the suburban ratlands. The interchanges, the traffic pulsing
along the malled suburban arteries, the lighted office-blocks rising from their
low-slung voids in the sooty distances, and the abandoned industrial manufacturing
infrastructure rotting in the interstices, twisted amber-rusted metal, forgotten.
Unreal city. Again, it bothered me. No one protests this. No one protests
reality, the way America unfolds itself around you, the way your body is forced
to fit into the contours of its landscape. No one protests the way the country
physically is.


By 9:30 it was snowing.
I stood around in Union Station waiting for the last train back to New York.
There was a slack, wasted, post-climatic anti-energy all over the station, all
over Washington, all over the world. Union Station’s lobby had been subsumed
by a ball–the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania ball. I stood outside the
entrance to the thing and checked it out, the Uninvited Guest, out in the cold,
trailing behind me the stench of my political cynicism. And here were these
people, celebrating their victory. Women floated about the entrance in their
gowns, headed over to the next-door stationary kiosk for cigarettes. Wafted
back into the ballroom, flashing their perfect slender postures and their golden
arms.


Man, I’ll tell you
one thing. This GOP broad thing–it occurs to me that it’s extremely
compelling. A little slice of some kind of heaven: a whole goddamn ballroom
filled with lithe GOP broads, thousands of smooth-and-powdered whitegirls, veterans
of cotillions and field-hockey exertions, gliding in evening clothes, pearls
and blonde bangs. They’re married by 24. Wearing headbands, Hermes scarves
and J.P. Tod’s, they steer Volvo station wagons through the melancholy
Chevy Chase cul-de-sacs of their too-precocious matrimonies. They betroth themselves
unto wonks, guys who commute in to posts at State. And so the race perpetuates
itself. In bedrooms in Bethesda, in Chevy Chase, in Virginia, bureaucrats and
media hondlers and senior policy analysts screw their beauteous wives–a
miscegenation, a compounding of wonk and swan–who stare wistful at the
shifting bedroom ceiling, disinterested, clutching wonk-backs with halfhearted
fingers and dreaming, almost certainly, of ethnic editors of weekly newspapers
in New York City–


Two Hispanic guys, friends
apparently, stood at the entrance with me–loose, chortling, slouching in
baggy trousers, backslapping, falling out–baiting the women as they emerged.


"Heyyyyy, baby. Hee
hee hee hee."


"Hey mami you lookin’
goooooooood. Hee hee hee hee hee…"


Welcome to the New America.
Can you imagine? Glide out from your ballroom, all hopped up from having met–that
very day–the President of the United States of America, the consummation
of what you’ve worked a full eight years for, your veins coursing with
the day’s triumph, the triumph of the Restoration, and you’re conversant
with Senators, you’re indulged by newsmen, no stranger are you to Georgetown
dinners, a habitue of fragrant White House drawing rooms you shall be, and tonight
you’re slender in your ball gown, queenly and golden-armed and achingly
blonde in your purity, when–boom!–all at once you’re walking
out to the magazine stand for a pack of smokes and there’s a couple Puerto
Ricans with their eyes popping out of their faces, throwing sleaze in your direction,
saying stuff about your ass–


And some awful ethnic journalist
in black boots, there with those Ricans–are they together? He snuffles
through his ethnic nose, his ethnic eyes appraise you. His rain-matted hair
sticks up omnidirectionally. Your underclothed body–you shiver from the
clammy violative energy that’s conquered this ruined moment. The smirking
ethnic scribbles in a notebook. The Ricans fall out. You grip your handbag,
you adjust your shawl.


"Hey, mami…"


 


Slept in the almost-empty
late train
as it screamed northward from DC though the snow.


Two elderly men had struck
up a conversation. Next to one of the gentlemen sat a teenage girl, traveling
alone.


"One guy. He had a
nose like a Cuban parrot. And the flag came down and he started going ‘burn
it, burn it!’ I wanted to say something to him but there’s about 250
of them, and– There was a big cop there, and I could tell he wanted to
sock him."


"Good."


"Did y’all get
close to the inauguration?"


"I didn’t go,
actually," the nice girl said. Nice kids kill me, especially nice girls.
You’re 16, you have to put up with all that shit–and still you find
it within yourself, somehow, to be decent, to speak respectfully to old men
on trains. "I’m going back to school. I go to boarding school."


"Oh! Do you like it?"


"It’s okay. It’s
a good…international experience."


"Oh, there’s international
students! There were some international students marching in the parade today."


"Yes."


"…I ate at Chi-Chi’s.
It was excellent."


"Yes."


There’s nothing like
moving in a mostly empty train through a snowstorm. Baltimore looked beautiful.
Trenton looked beautiful. Newark looked beautiful. You could look down from
the trestle into the humble Newark neighborhoods, cleansed by snow. I saw a
pensioner walk out from a corner pub–an old neon sign threw silent gassy
blue light–and rock homeward at 2:30 a.m. through new-fallen snow.


"I could tell he wanted
to sock him."


"Good."


..