Trees and Bark

The flowers on my new dogwood tree.

There are other things that are happening that are not, technically, the remodel, but are still part of the rehabilitation of the homestead. The remodel is of the house. It’s of plaster and wiring, and composite quartz, and plumbing and fixtures, and windows and siding, and cabinets and paint. And floors.

There are other projects that are happening simultaneously. These projects are of improvement, but not necessarily coordinated. These things, like blob removal, have also been on the list. It is just now happening. It’s happenstance, the confluence of projects, that is.

The city has an amazing program that makes it easy to have rain barrels installed, to install landscaping with native flowers and grasses and to plant trees.

When we first moved here, the back of the lot was lined with old, Ent-like monsters, circling our yard, standing tall with branches full of green leaves. Some of the specimens stretched sixty or eighty feet into the sky. Birds during the day and bats at dusk would fly from one to another, taking their bug meals to-go.

Some of the rough gray and black trunks became incased in ivy. The invasive thick green tendrils would crawl up the tree and fool us into thinking that the tree was healthy. Fortunately, only one of the big trees fell during a storm. But many others became sick one distressed branch the size of a canoe at a time. The neigbhors began to take them down before they collapsed on a roof of a house or a car.

One neighbor took down a healthy tree. We were mad about that, but he hates nature anyway. You can tell by the astroturf that is his yard. And the white stones that fill the tree box that the city owns in front of his house. At least there’s a tree there. Yay community spaces.

When my first dog ever died, The Spouse buried that fluffy yellow beast in the back of our lot. It’s actually allowed–even in the city. And I wanted a dogwood as a remembrance. And, as is my way, I thought about it much more than I acted upon it.

The city program is designed to stop stormwater runoff to the Bay and to restore the tree canopy for the birds and the bees and the bats and the beauty. When the city said that they would bring in and plant shade trees, I scoured the list of tree types. Yes! They offered flowering trees, too. Two more years passed before we finally got our assessment.

Two rain barrels, landscaping and four trees. And one could be a dogwood.

The friendly team from Casey’s Trees planted the trees last week on a Friday. They put a white birch with the curly bark where the blob was. They dug holes in the backyard to install a white oak and a red maple along the fence line and a sweet dogwood to the right of the garage. I dutifully watered my new charges and watched the buds form and begin to unfurl almost like a time-lapse on the National Geographic channel.

This week, a mere few days after planting, the dogwood bloomed. It displayed the creamy white petals filled with little green candies on up-stretched branches that look, to me at least, as if the tree is offering itself to me.

And I am grateful. Woof!

In Case of Fire

A fire hydrant at night.

It stood watch over it’s corner, counting the flurry of commuters passing it by. The brick and asphalt that it sat on was coated in water mixed with oil and fuel that reflected the light from the street lamp above.

The bricks were being forced up by the roots of the tree. They were only set in sand, and were susceptible to upheaval. The bricks were spotted with pock marks and the remains of chewing gum. A few leaves were held in place by the suction of the surface moisture.

The hydrant itself had been painted and repainted over the years. It was currently a muddied green. It’s base was thick and topped by eight heavy bolts. The bolts had to be heavy to hold back the rush of water that pushed to get out.

This hydrant hadn’t been used in case of fire in decades, but wore a brooch that certified that it was in good working order per this summer’s test. It was an especially important hydrant that was ready to protect the three-story red bricked box on the corner. The old school building was one and a third centuries old. Its huge double hung windows were topped by another arched pane. They had been bricked over with newer bricks that looked pink in contrast to the deep red of the old bricks. Better bricks than broken glass.

Nobody wanted that old building, despite it’s prime location across from a swanky hotel and even swankier retail. Any new owners were subject to the heavy hand of its immediate neighbor, the U.S. Secret Service. The fire hydrant stood vigil for them, too.

In the meantime, late at night and early in the morning, big city rats would cross the same paths that pedestrians scurried over during the day. Sometimes a wayward conventioneer would steady themselves on it before they crossed the street back to their hotel. The occasional meeting between the city rat and its country cousin would be exaggerated to monstrous proportions over a coffee, cheese omelette and headache in the morning.



Empty bike share in the evening

“Do you know Jesus?”

It was both loud and muffled. A budget bullhorn.

“Do you KNOW Jesus? Watch where you’re going. Look up.” He started to quote some scripture, I think. It was a little mixed up. He started singing a Christmas hymn.

“God rest you merry gentlemen, a child was born on Christmas day…I just called to say I love you, I just called to say how much I care. I just called to say I love you. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”

And ended with some Stevie Wonder.

He stood in the street near the curb. He was straddling a bike, his head covered with a pith style helmet and the bullhorn held in his left hand near his mouth. He staked out the spot at the corner by the subway entrance, across from the newly erected Christmas mart in front of the Portrait Gallery. Good pedestrian traffic for his message.

People across the street glanced his way and smiled. People on his side of the street looked down or away as they scurried past. He called out another sinner for not looking both ways. The next group of cross walkers looked hard to the left and right. The peace officer on the other corner kept an eye on him. She was looking out for him.

“Jesus knows you. You can’t hide from him.”

And you can’t hid from Jesus’s spokesman, either.

Mandate? We don’t got no stinking mandate

Off stage rigging in a theatre. I think it's an opera house.

First things first, Donald Trump won the 2016 election. He won according to the rules that were set out at the beginning of the election cycle. Even if he didn’t like them himself at times, he won according to them.

Now some people are saying–not everyone, but some–that this election is a mandate for one of the parties. That the victory by Trump combined with Republicans maintaining control of both the House and Senate means the people have given the party a mandate.

To be honest, I don’t think that word works in this context.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition:

noun 1. a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative.
example: The president had a clear mandate to end the war.

Okay, if we can agree on that as a starting point, I have three reasons why there is no mandate.

First, and this is very important, Clinton won the popular vote.

Let me repeat that. Clinton, the loser–not Trump, the winner–actually had the most votes cast. Like, as of right now, 200,000 more.

Two-hundred thousand

That’s maybe 1% more votes than the winner got. Trump wins because of the Electoral College, and I am too tired to go into that. So you can look it up if you want.

Second, Trump did not receive the MAJORITY of the votes. He’s currently hanging around 47% of the votes. That means that less than half of the people who voted, voted for him. There were third party candidates that fouled that up for him, but it’s hard to claim a mandate when you didn’t get most of the people to vote for you.

Third, I don’t even get how people can say that Republican majorities in both parts of Congress equals a mandate. We have this thing called a representative democracy and that means that the 500,000 people in Wyoming have the same number of Senators as the 39,000,000 in California. See, that’s not equivalent.

And then, not everyone votes for all the candidates. So you can have a state or a district that has mandated their jurisdiction, but that’s it. It doesn’t cross over to the neighboring district like a bad smell. Now if all the districts elected candidates from one party, I would have a hard time saying that wasn’t a mandate. But that didn’t happen. Anyway, if a gerrymandered district votes the way it was designed, I’m just not down with that being a mandate. This point needs more work, but I’m running out of steam.

Last, there were 287,000 voters in the District of Columbia who cast zero votes for Congress because they are not in a state. Not part of anyone’s “mandate.”

Mandate in this case just sounds like disenfranchising a hunk–and a big hunk–of the electorate. The idea that Americans delivered a mandate to the Republicans is just poppycock.

That’s a funny word there, no? I always wanted to use it. I did. And now, after only sleeping two and a half hours in the past 44, I’m going to bed. I really can’t make any more sense today.

Electoral Collage

Hiding behind his ballot in the gym.
Hiding behind his secret. Ballot, that is.

A hot mess. That’s what Washington D.C. is today, this day before the 2016 presidential election. A complete, stressed out, finger biting, hair twirling, obsessively pen clicking, twitter refreshing, hot mess.

It seems that people are leaning on their car horns more today. Folks are walking into quick eat restaurants, standing in line for a minute, swiveling their heads around and leaving. If they stumbled into the dark relief of a bar, they might sit. I heard FBI director Comey was seen in a Tex Mex joint with a huge margarita. I hope it didn’t leak.

Everyone in town is doing their own personal Nate Silvering. They’re making state electoral count combinations and recombinations–moving states pink to red or purple to light blue–with dispatch and false authority that would wipe the smirk off that smirky Chuck Todd from NBC. This is the guy who’s been having intimate relations with the colors on the map since before there were two actual candidates.

Some are walking the streets, catatonic. Some because they think their candidate is going to lose. Others because they think the other candidate is going to win. There’s some serious negotiations with the political gods going on behind their deadened eyes.

Other levels of disbelief or worry or even hubris are worked out via chatter. Some are chirpy assessments of turnout and lines and campaign stop strategy. Why is he and she going to Michigan? Is it close? Naw, it’s because none of them voted yet. I heard from this friend, super liberal democrat guy, real good guy…

Some are just piling their worries in the laps of their companions. Some are wondering what they can do. Some are actually doing something, signing up and making last minute calls, knocking on doors, getting out the vote.

A group of people said they aren’t watching any more TV. They’ve sworn themselves off social media. You can tell since they are using social media to make that known. You don’t really quit in D.C. Not really.

But tomorrow, maybe as early as 10 p.m., eastern time, maybe much later, there will be some people in Washington that will feel as if they were kicked in the stomach. The blood will drain from their faces. Tears will well in some eyes. Fists will pound tables. Garments will be rend. Teeth will be gnashed. Profane words will be spoken. Loudly. And repeatedly.

And then, but not until then, we will know not just who will be President of the United States, but the status of our democratic system.

The peaceful transfer of power. I have confidence in my fellow Americans. And my prayers are stuck on us.


Thou Shalt or Shalt Not

Two stone tablets. With markings that are likely words, but that I can't read. I hope the words aren't racist or profane.

Stepping on the train platform at Metro Center I heard the rumblings of The Disembodied Voice. It droned incomprehensibly. It was a baritone mumbling rapidly, as if  he were cruising through The Rosary at a funeral. I hoped the message wasn’t important. I couldn’t make it out.

Then. It hit me. Our public transportation is not of this world. It is guided from a different one. A world lorded over by a god that we don’t know. And that god is most definitely an Old Testament god. One who is vengeful and punishing. We clearly don’t understand him. He’s trying to talk to us, but we don’t get him and that pisses him off.

The god–the WMATA god–is warning us via signs, if not quite plagues, of his displeasure. Fires. Rats. Floods. Cracked rails. Filled condoms placed on the shoulders of passengers. People running up the down escalators. Wild animals overtaking stations.

Tragically, there is no Aaron to translate for us. There is no proxy-Moses to learn from the WMATA god and bring his commandments down from Mt. Vernon. We don’t know how to appease the irritated diety.

The safe response to the god? A shut down.

Many people are praying. Sadly, some are taking the Metro–and its god’s–name in vain. Mostly in anger. Frequently adding vulgarities.

Stop it! You. And you. And you over there, too. And y’all. You are NOT helping.

What if there was a prophet to lead us out of the desert that is Metrorail? Carrying the laws carved on the tablets? Maybe if we knew and followed the commandments, we could ride in peace.

What if the laws were already written and we were simply ignoring them? Would they look like this?

The Ten Commandments of WMATA

  1.  Thou shalt use headphones with all audio and video devices. Seriously. The Metro God hates your music.
  2. Thou shalt not box out fellow passengers who are trying to exit the train. It is a sin to make anyone ride a single extra stop. Let them go in peace.
  3.  Thou shalt give your seat to someone who needs it more than you do. This requires you looking for those needier outside of your field of vision despite your prayerful stance above your phone. Look up!
  4. Thou shalt call the stupid Metro number, which is randomly called out in stations, rather than 911 in an emergency. Metro police do not play nice with other jurisdictions. They are holier than thou.
  5. Thou shalt report any unattended packages to a transit police officer, station manager or train operator. Thou shalt not be troubled that they pay no attention.
  6.  You. The one tossing your backpack in the door when the chimes ring. And then yelling about it being stuck. And then not pulling it out. And then making the train unload. And making not only the Metro god but also the entire metro village very angry. And very vengeful. Thou shalt stop doing such. Thou art making bad juju.
  7. Thou shalt not lean against the train doors. Lean on the escalator handrail. Or lean on your fellow passengers. Especially if thou hast been drinking.
  8. Thou shalt not gum up the flow. For the love of everything good in this world, whilst on the escalator, stand to the right and walk on the left.
  9. Thou shalt not run on the escalator. Run down the up escalator or up the down escalator. Thou shalt not run in the station, run on the track bed, run with scissors.
  10. Thou shalt not take your stroller, wheelchair or wheelie backpack on the escalator. This is a way for pilgrims to show their humility to the WMATA god, because instead of using a convenient entrance you will walk 3/4 of a mile out of your way to an elevator entrance. And then the elevator will be out of service. You shalt be thrice blessed for your penance.

Know well, riders, that our ongoing sins, our wanton disregard of these commandments, has angered the god. And we are being punished. Perhaps, if we humbly follow these commandments, we could ride the train to the promised land. Or, at least, make it home on time. Amen.

Blinded by Stars

A stylized DC flag with three red stars on the top and 2 red stripes on the bottom. It's u.

Oh, my babies, let’s act like we been somewhere, okay?

There was much anticipation when Michelin announced that it would bring it’s food judgement crewe to D.C. to let us know if we have good food. By awarding stars. One, two or three. Or maybe none. This anxiety started in May.

After Bon Appétit named D.C. it’s restaurant city of the year, the opening up of a series of highly priced and highly sought after dining rooms, and the encroaching hipterization of our fair city (like where do they find all those guys with the well trimmed oil groomed beards–some with black boxy framed glasses and all with plaid shirts–to wait on our tables at the laid back fine-dining halls?) you’d think people would feel confident that D.C. had made it in the foodie category.

D.C. dining is longer an afterthought of stuffy steak houses and seafood restaurants that did the fish version of those steakhouses–side of creamed spinach, anyone? The variety and quality of D.C. fare and the range of locations have definitely been kicked up a notch. Fine dining on First near Rhode Island Ave? Petworth? Brookland? And the former streetwalker circuit near Logan Circle with dozens of fun, interesting and, in some cases, delicious bistros and taverns and counters and bars?

So this morning there was even more anticipation and some anticipatory handwringing. Today was the day that we’d know who “won.” Whatever that means.

And it hit with much hoopla. One chef proudly tweeted his honor early–TWO stars! The rest seemed to appropriately hold off until the official announcement of a dozen restaurants that were deemed high enough on the spectacular scale to be included in a thin blue book. [The Doc has dined at four of these, in full disclosure.]

Some thought that the list was wrong either by exclusion, inclusion or delusion. That the secret society of inspectors just don’t get us and who we are.

But seriously, ain’t no Stay-Puft Marshmallow looking quink can put my knickers in a knot. Let’s maintain our pride. We are a town that is more than the marble buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We are Washingtonians with a baseball team on the way to the World Series (fingers crossed), a football team with an embarrassing name, awesome public libraries, beer and whiskey dive bars, theatre, dance, sixteen art museums, ten colleges and universities (seriously!), a zoo with pandas and a malfunctioning subway system. Also a ton of named neighborhoods where real people garden, have cookouts, argue and fight, walk their dogs, prep for marathons, go to church and make and raise babies.

Eat where you want. Respect yourself. There’s plenty good food in town. All stars!

Inaccessible = Unacceptable

Sign at the metro station telling people who need an elevator to call some body to get them a shuttle bus. But not from this station. MAD!

Dear Metro,

I hope it’s okay that I call you “Metro,” since you have so many names. We call you the train, subway and, when we want to get most official, WMATA.

What is the name that we can call you that will get your attention?

Because if I had your attention, you would know that I am not shocked. I am not appalled. I am not sickened. No, I am angry, with the shutdown of the elevator at my stop.

Do you have any idea that this is the stop for the National Rehabilitation Hospital? For the Washington VA Hospital? For the Washington Hospital Center? Did you know that these major hospitals serve many people who use wheelchairs. That they need to use their wheelchairs to get to their appointments, their therapy sessions, their chemotherapy?

So when you shut down the elevator at the station that serves these hospitals, you are seriously impacting the people trying to access services they need.

I get that the elevator needs to be “improved.” I can even accept that to switch out an elevator takes four months.

Okay, I can barely accept that. If you were building it new, it wouldn’t take four months, would it? And if it takes four months, why is the first month building the walls around it to close it? I only ask because I haven’t seen anybody working on it. But there’s green painted plywood blocking it.

But I’m thinking if I’m in a wheelchair and I have an appointment to see my doctor and I get to the station, I’m stuck. I can’t get out of the station. I have to call a random number on the flyer to transport me from another stop. And I have to get back on the train and go to that other stop.

Do you think that’s okay? Do you think that pasting a paper sign over a “wet floor” stanchion is decent notice? Do you think it’s cool to require somebody to call a number for a ride? Don’t you think that the shuttle should be waiting at the stop? Which stop, you ask? How about all immediately surrounding stops?

This makes me mad because the person in the wheelchair is already put upon by the fact that the elevator is on one side of the tracks. So if you’re coming from the campus side, you need to roll another half mile to get to the elevator. You know, the elevator that’s out of service for four months

Seriously, WMATA, is there any way you could make it harder for folks who need an elevator to get to or from your platform? It’s like you want to fail. Like you want to turn people away. Your accommodation accommodates only in the abstract. In practice you suck. You are not coming within a western state of complying with the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act. From 1990. I was there when it was signed. By the President.

The subway could–theoretically–be a way for people with disabilities be more independent. Not this subway. Not at this time.

Please fix this most soonest.</rant>


Abetting the Deplorable

A rain spattered windshield at DCA. You can see the tower.

I hate taking cabs. Really I hate taking cabs by myself. Really I don’t like a stranger driving me home.

The stranger that picks me up at the airport after a late flight. The stranger that is surprised that a nice Doc like me lives in my neighborhood and wonders if I don’t feel scared and asks how do I like living as a minority?

This is the script that more than one white cab driver recited. I get in the cab, tell them my address and the quickest way there and then they start talking some racist shit like I’m in their bigoted white people club just waiting for the safety of their cab to go all KKK with them.

And I just look out the window while trying not to respond in a way that will either encourage him or insult him. The former because I want him to stop. The latter because he is driving me home and it’s dark and I don’t want to be dumped. This was especially terrifying before we had cell phones. I felt vulnerable. Oh hell, I was scared that he’d force me out on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery on Lincoln Road. I’d be a ways from home without much chance of another cab coming by. They didn’t want to take me home, to my nice middle-class neighborhood, in the first place. And don’t call me ridiculous because anyone who easily and safely spouts dehumanizing and vile comments could just be bilious enough to do something else hateful.

So I wouldn’t say anything to offend the racist in his rant. And I likely made it seem that I, at least, didn’t disagree with him. But I did. And when he pulled up in front of my house, the blue one with the white picket fence that was even brighter under the reflection of the street lamp in front, I would get out of the car as fast as I could. I learned to keep my roller bag small and next to me in the back seat so I didn’t have to wait for the intolerant asshat to open his trunk. I wanted to be away from him and his ilk as fast as I could.

I always felt complicit, though. I felt like I should have told him that I wasn’t a member of his intolerant club. That his racist insinuations–or sometimes a full rant–were deplorable. Instead, I learned to interrupt him as soon as he brought up his surprise at my address. I’d tell him how lucky I was to live in such a wonderful neighborhood with such terrific neighbors.

We are the company that we keep.

End of the Line

The floor and door of the Metro. It's gross. You should be glad I took out the color.

Dang. This train is filthy. It’s past rush hour and I’m on the last car.

Who the hell thought it’d be a good idea to carpet the floor on a public train? There are stains from spilled cokes™, from ground-in egg mcmuffins®, from a dropped perfume bottle and a misplaced brush from a very shiny nail polish. There are tarry spots from gum, or another sticky substance, that became black from the bottoms of shoes and flip flops, sandals and boots, sneakers and those Dansko clogs that the ER, OR and radiology teams wear at hospitals.

Some of the boots that grind in the grime had spiky high heels or wedges. Some were tanned and open-laced Timberlands spewing street from their lugs. Some were black, steel-toed work boots with the slippery grease from a restaurant kitchen accelerating and accreting the grunge buildup on the floor.

The doors, the ones that open magically and slide into the sides of the train, are streaked with gunk. The lighter streaks are simply slightly less gunky. The windows at the top of the doors are also streaked, but with residue from palms and elbows and some cheeks and chins. There may be marks from fingers desperately trying to force the doors open as they slipped closed.

The doors open onto the platform of octagonal bricks hugged closely together by mortar. It’s odd that the mortar doesn’t show filth. I guess cement doesn’t stain like rayon. It’s funny how the outdoor platform seems to be so much less gross than the inside of the train.

There is no fresh breeze in the train cars. There are no rains to clear away the grunge. There are no melting snows. The inside of the train is inside and gets no relief from the humanity that desecrates it daily.

But I’ve been on the new cars. With the stainless steel exteriors with a hammered finish. With floors of flecked linoleum or some other surface that doesn’t spotlight blotches. With metal grips that don’t show thousands of fingers pressed in to balance against the lurching car. With wider aisles and molded rather than padded seats.

Why didn’t someone think about that before?