Extraplanetary mission of Earthman Jon Nichols continues. Day 4.
It really does feel like an alien world this time. The noise in my head, the stone in my soul, plus the disjointing surroundings. This may be the nation's Capitol, it might be decked out in red, white, and blue, and it might have so much marble and presidential-style/Americana decor that it looks like Ethan Allen threw up all over it...but it feels so foreign. There are so many different nationalities visiting here. There are so many languages spoken around me. I've visited a Kenyan festival and sampled chicken curry and then ate at a Chinese restaurant. We move in herds and pack into trains the way I've seen in places like India.
And having students speaking Chinese all around me only adds to this sense. Still, the streets are an interzone, the Metro stops form their own Mos Eisley cantinas.
I'm finding that people from China and India do not share the American concept if "personal space." Years of city living have formed a "click whir" response in me for being touched. My hands immediately go into fists. I'm realizing that people from the mentioned countries can't afford such a response due to the sheer density of their populations. You can't help but be touched. There is nothing meant by it. Maybe I shouldn't have yelled, "Back the fuck up, you're almost in my colon."
I kid, I kid.
So I wore this today:
I found that by pairing it with black pants and adopting the same humorless scowl I saw on Secret Service officers, people tended to stay out of my way. I tried something out when I saw a clump of sundressed tourists sitting on marble stairs where there was a sign explicitly telling them not to.
"Folks, let's go. Can't sit here," I said.
As if by magic, they all moved.
I wonder how far I can take this? "Excuse me? Ma'am? Yes, the one who looks like Jessica Alba? I'm going to have to search you. Sign this waiver first, please."
I visited America's most dysfunctional workplace:
"There's plenty here for everybody. Share. Take turns. Work together and be fair."
That's no simplistic diatribe. That's daily speech for your average preschool teacher. I sometimes wonder if our expectations for five year-olds are higher than for our political leaders. Seriously, someone needs to send them on a team building weekend.
Inside the Capitol I experienced the most cliche of tourist experiences: the guided tour. Complete with headsets and the prattling of Capitol factoids. The statuary was quite impressive. I demanded that Ike tell me everything he knows about Majestic 12.
In all seriousness, it was sobering to know I stood on a spot in the rotunda where caskets of presidents once rested. History is a living thing. It didn't happen in books.
The big surprise of the day was getting to visit the Senate chamber. Even got a personalized pass:
The trade off for such a privilege was intense security. You take nothing in with you. I had to remove my belt. Even my pockets needed to be empty. That of course means they take your cell phone. Even though it would only be for a few minutes I would be without my ESE communicator. What if they lose it? I mean, this the government we're talking about. In the end, such is the price one must pay to witness the majesty of the democratic system in action.
It was the closest I've ever been to watching paint dry.
The silence. It reminded me of the Nevada desert. I half expected a tumbleweed or exotic test plane to pass through at any time. A pair of stenographers with heavy black Burroughs-esque typewriter contraptions around their necks yawned in synchronous motion. A woman sat at a desk, chewing on her glasses in a manner that might have been vampish were she not carrying that power-hungry look in her eyes. A row of sorority girls, all in matching black pantsuits and shiny hair down to their midriffs, sat on the dais whispering away to each other. It was like a mash up of West Wing and Charlie's Angels.
And the man in the Senate president's chair made slow turns of pages in a document or packet. He looked every bit as bored as we felt.
I wanted to stand up and shout, "For fuck's sake at least type something, will you? We're paying for this stuff!"
I would have settled for good old fashioned raving and jabbering from a Southern senator stereotype. Like whoever that was that became the inspiration for Foghorn Leghorn.
Maybe it was the build up. From the moment you enter the place you're sprinkled with the history of Congress, the grandeur of the idea of American democracy, and true triumphs of legislation such as the Social Security Act and the 19th Ammendment which gave women the right to vote.
Then you're hit with an oh so gruesome reality. I know it's a summer session and most congressional devotees (hey, CSPAN fans! What up!) would no doubt have prevised such an outcome, but please...
Why don't they list the corporations that sponsor each member of Congress? C'mon, just be upfront about it. I might respect you more.
I went through a tunnel to have a mountaintop experience.
We entered the Library of Congress. I have never been somewhere that placed such an overt value on books and the power of words...for lest we forget that words are actions in and of themselves. Just try not thinking of that the next time your feelings are hurt or when someone delivers you bad news and the words you hear become seered into your very brain like someone pressed a branding iron to your gray matter.
In one exhibit chamber sat shelves of books all donated by Thomas Jefferson. I totally would have downed scotches with that guy.
Or I would've shown up at the gates of Monticello with a keg of Heineken strapped to my back. "Hey, TJ? Let's toke this fucker."
Most bands have a member that I call the "artistic and intellectual center." If the Founding Fathers were a band, Jefferson would have been the Edge, John Lennon, Nick Rhodes, Michael Stipe, or Lou Reed. To me, he was the brains of the operation. Denounce him all you want for his private life, even though all humans have their sins and shortcomings, but his intellect is indisputable.
A reader. A writer. A true intellectual.
The green ribbons in the books meant they were original editions owned by Jefferson. I could almost smell the old paper and leather from behind the glass. All these editions of Voltaire, Homer, Sophocles, Pope, and Shakespeare. All that history and art made tangible. I actually found myself shedding tears at the sight.
And that buzzing in my head stopped.
For a while.
Maybe I need to move into the Library of Congress.
In the gift shop I found a shirt. I normally would have gone for books but most of those available I could get online. This shirt was devoted to banned books.
It seemed pricy at first but after I saw the titles, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse Five, and Farenheit 451, I thought for a moment and said, "hell yeah." It's a long sleeve so it won't be worn in this heat.
Although that might spare my milky white complexion and money spent on aloe.
No matter. Come cooler weather, I be stylin', bitch.
I mean that in a literary sense of course.
"Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, writing an exact man."