Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Selected observations by a Neo-Futurist on tour to Washington D.C., the full experience of which cannot be accurately transcribed due to the limitations of language.
* First off, I need to proudly mention that our limited engagement of eight shows was a smashing success, with 7 of 8 performances completely sold out to enthusiastic Washingtonians intent on having their minds blown. We sold every item of merchandise we brought with us, including the extra box of T-shirts we had overnight-mailed to us on Thursday. We only finished one menu; the first show left three plays on the line, which was a satisfactory result considering that we performed the show on barely three hours of sleep apiece (as it was, as of showtime Wednesday night, I had only slept one fitful hour since Tuesday morning at 6:00 AM) and were working with a pair of technicians who had never run a show anything like ours, so the barrier between our methodologies took some time to breach. Six others saw the clock go off in the middle of the final play, with anywhere from 10-30 seconds remaining. Surprisingly, we finished our final show with five minutes left on the clock despite the fact that we’d performed the exact same menu earlier that day and failed to complete the attempt. Go figure.
The press reaction was stunning; as TML is a weathered institution in its hometown of Chicago, it is rare for us to elicit the sort of praise as was heaped upon our ragtag unit by DCist, The Washington City Paper, or The Washington Post. We loved D.C., we loved our hosts at Woolly Mammoth, and they loved us back.
* Air Travel notes: Pittsburgh International is a gorgeous airport with a lot of fancity-shmancity boutique shopping available. If we’d been laid over longer than a half hour, we might have been in trouble.
* Thursday morning, after our first show, Sharon, Kristie, Dean and I had the smart idea to rent bicycles and tour the National Mall that way. We each rented a bright blue “Cruiser” complete with pedal brakes, and proceeded to see the sights of our nation’s capital like some kind of biker gang of Pee-Wee Hermans.
We visited both the new World War II Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. The WWII memorial is a striking array of columns and water fountains; solemn yet proud of the sacrifices that led to the need for such a monument. The Vietnam War memorial, however, seems stark and raw in comparison…its simplicity and horror built as a black wall full of lost names that, like wars themselves, starts with but a few casualties, balloons into an unimaginable litany of death, and then gradually fades out again, emptying you back out into the world changed and affected. While passing the wall I saw a sheet of paper memorializing a man from my suburban hometown of Downers Grove. I watched an elderly woman in a wheelchair gently touch the name Stephen A Austin and then move on, and I just about lost it right there. The statues of the soldiers located near the wall all bear an expression I can only describe as shell-shocked. These are faces of trauma and despair, faces of men who entered the conflict with idealism and heroism in their hearts and found only misery and tragedy. In its way, I came away feeling it was more important to immortalize a war one loses than a war one wins, so as to better remind ourselves why war is such a bad idea.
From there, we stepped inside the Lincoln Memorial. As breathtaking as it was to see the giant statue and read the wise words etched on the walls, for our money the highlight of the visit was when a young black man in a suit stood on the steps, facing the Reflecting Pool, and proceeded to recite the second half of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. He did a decent job of it, and we were simply thrilled to be standing where we were when we heard it.
We biked across the Mall from there, around the Washington Monument, and onto the grass in front of the Capitol Building, where we watched guards with M-16s patrolling the steps and a few well-dressed men we believe were actual lawmakers taking a smoke break on the front balcony. I admit I had to suppress an urge to shout “LIEBERMAN! COME OUT AND FACE ME!”
* The second day the only place we visited was the Holocaust Museum. (This was only Jay, Kristie, Dean and I; Sharon told us later that she declined to join us because she always feels uncomfortable being the only Jew in a group that experiences such a thing…that she feels like the non-Jews are looking to her for approval of their reactions). Although the museum is comprehensive in its display of atrocities, which we expected, what I found was that at the end of my experience I wasn’t profoundly depressed, but profoundly angry. Perhaps because I’ve been educated so much about the evils of the genocide and oppression, it didn’t strike me nearly as hard as the series of exhibits and information on the rise of Hitler and the political tribulations before and during the Holocaust.
I walked out of the Museum thinking that This is not just something that happens. This is something that is allowed to happen.
And for several minutes after I walked out I hated my fellow man. I don’t think this is what the Museum is designed to evoke, but it did.
* We ate lunch at the cafeteria in the United States Department of Agriculture. Note the following about the cafeteria in the USDA–(1) That the food is not any better than you can find in any cafeteria anywhere, and (2) there is an electronic scrolling marquee on the wall with the sole purpose of telling you the color of our national alert level.
* The ensemble stayed in the hip, racially diverse, and very collegiate neighborhood of Adams-Morgan while we were there. I thought Urbana was something of a party school, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the scene we saw night after night on 18th Street. One of my late-night dining companions informed me that it was a normal night out if you saw two police cars and an ambulance parked outside the bars.
* The first Metro station I entered, the Woodley Park Zoo stop, has an escalator that takes you three minutes to finish descending. It’s an incredible depth to somebody used to the simple one-story staircases found in Chicago. You feel like you’re going to empty out into a particle accelerator. And the stations themselves all have a gray, dystopic sameness to them–they look like set pieces from Blade Runner or Alien. Still, it was very clean and easy to manage, and I recommend it to anybody traveling by foot in Washington.
* I’m forgetting a lot right now. It was a wonderful experience and I hope I have another like it someday.