March 26, 2008

The Scene of the Crime: Ich bin ein Washingtoner

Part I: Written 11:02 PM EDT, Tuesday, March 25th 2008.

Thereâs a particularly endearing Home Movies episode in which we find out that the kids have ended every single movie theyâve made with the exact same, identically intoned line: âItâs time to pay the price.â But the kids donât realize theyâve been doing it, because every time, it seems like itâs the natural conclusion.

As many of you know, dear readers, I am living in our nationâs capital for the next three months, as the graduate fellow at the UC systemâs study center here. As you may imagine, this has taken some planning and some time spent applying, securing recommendations, getting funding, strategizing, making research plans, and so on. The point is that Iâve been talking about this for awhile.

My charming father responds exactly the same way every time it comes up. Like the Home Movies kids, he delivers his line in a meaningful and ominous tone, and like the kids, I donât think he realizes that he says the same thing, the same way, every time.

âHey Dad,â Iâll say, âIâve almost got my crap together to go to DC next quarter.â
âOh, right,â heâll say. âSo youâre going to the scene of the crime

Today we had the following conversation:

Katie: Hi, Dad. Oh, wait. Itâs really early there, isnât it?
Dad: Itâs about 7 AM. Where are you?
Katie: Iâm in Washington. I just called to say I got in safely.
Dad: Oho, youâre at the scene of the crime?
Katie: Well, actually, Iâll be over there later this afternoon. Right now Iâm in Virginia.
Dad: So youâre next to the scene of the crime.
Katie: Uh, yeah. Iâm staying here until Wednâ
Dad: And then youâll be at the scene of the crime.
Katie: Okay.

My father and I have rather different politics, and so over the months that he has delivered this identical line so many times, I have been unable to bring myself to ask him to which crime, precisely, he is referring. I have a horrible feeling that he actually means Whitewater, or maybe last yearâs Democratic congressional victories. Or perhaps heâs expressing that most timeless of American sentiments: the absolute conviction that whatever the government is up to, it can be safely filed under the heading of No Good.

Even all the way from California, Iâve been able to pick up on the idea that Washington is a government town. I got that. What I didnât extrapolate from that is the fact that, as a government town, and as a government town in what I suppose we might as well refer to as wartime, and as the seat of the military branch of the government, now, therefore, Washington is also a big time military town. I mention this because Iâm unaccustomed to riding public transit or walking down the street with so many people in various kinds of uniform. I would have been less surprised if Iâd encountered the humorless-looking guy in the full border patrol uniform back in LA, quite frankly, where weâre at least close to a border. Here, at the Pentagon City metro station, I wondered what border he could possibly be patrolling. The line between station and street? Is the sidewalk a border, or a liminal zone? But since he had a gun, I decided to keep my fucking trap shut.

Itâs not that Iâm dumb enough to be surprised that thereâs a lot of security in the national capital or anything. But Iâm not accustomed to how it feels, and it makes me uncomfortable to be surrounded by so many people who are essentially living representations of authority and enforcement. And while I also think that my home campus is a little cavalier about security, I was unprepared for the degree of lockdown at the Study Center here. Iâm sure it will become normal in a day or two, but so far today the military-authority stuff is the thing that has thrown me the most.

It makes me keep thinking about my dadâs repeated (and repeated and repeated) one-liner about the scene of the crime. Whatâs going on here doesnât feel to me like the scene of any real or specific crime â whatâs here is actually a scene of criminality. All these uniforms and security measures everywhere are concrete, tangible manifestations of lawfulness and authority, and everywhere they are, they drag the suggestion of latent, intangible, indefinable danger with them. Whatâs safe and good is what you can see, and whatâs scary and weird is the thing that hasnât happened yet. But in a big staged battle between authority and criminality, the visible and the invisible, the known and the feared, I keep wondering: where is the place of the private citizen? At the scene of a crime that hasnât happened yet, how do I know what position I occupy? For that matter, how does the guy in the uniform know?

This isnât simply to complain about the military-industrial complex or my not-so-latent problems with authority. Washington seems like a great city so far, and Iâm living in an awesome neighborhood. Christianâs mom chauffeured my ass around, drove me over cobblestones, provided me with a siesta, and fed me a chicken pot pie; the undergrads got a PowerPoint presentation on alcohol poisoning at their orientation. Iâm fucking worn out from wrapping up the quarter, moving (thanks again, burly friends!), travel, and fighting this stupid cold. Iâm going to sleep now in a comfy, comfy bed in Alexandria, VA, and tomorrow morning this house will be the scene of the crime when I steal Christianâs motherâs towels and sheets and take them to my extravagantly expensive, shoebox-sized apartment at the Center.

All Washington blog updates will be under the category The Scene of the Crime. Tomorrowâs possible topic: Iâve Always Depended on the Kindness of Strangers; or, Does Anyone Know Where My Linens Went?

Part II: Written now

Iâve gotten my internet connection and ID card problems sorted out, with the help of the IT guy, who is an American Studies student at U of Maryland. We hung out and talked about Stuart Hall while he took the worldâs most unflattering ID picture of me and helped me sort out my clearances. So Iâm already on my way to being inured to the military-authority stuff, since now I can actually enter and exit the building and use the internet to learn how to make napalm in my room.

The UC Center is awesome. It feels like back when I had a real job , with a desk, and keys, and a cubicle, and an ID badge. I have a library card for Georgetown. I have copier codes. I have had an agonizing meeting with the professor for whom Iâm working re: the wording on our course syllabus and reorganizing the class so that Iâm responsible for all the work. And then, magically, there was food in the lobby. It reminds me of when I was working at the dot-com. Actually, thereâs also a dog in one of the offices here, and a TV dedicated to video games, so itâs almost exactly like my dot-com job, except that we never took a work field trip to Gettysburg.

Itâs also reminiscent of my dot-com job in that Iâm ostensibly getting paid but itâs not entirely clear what for. I sat down to set myself up at my cubicle, and five minutes later, I stood up and brushed off my hands. âWhoof,â I said. âThereâs that taken care of. Guess itâs time for lunch.â

The main difference is that I have an âapartmentâ upstairs, by which I mean something that looks like what would happen if you built the worldâs smallest hotel room in a hallway. I will try to post pictures later. In the meantime, I have to go back to Alexandria, pick up my other suitcase, come back, and then try to figure out where to buy food. The undergrads got another presentation on alcohol poisoning this morning. I immediately volunteered to chaperone every possible field trip, because this sounds like fun.

Posted by katie at March 26, 2008 10:57 AM

This is a lovely, thoughtful post. Nod.

DIY your crime, I say. Martha Stewart would agree. Perhaps you could seduce a member of the armed forces. Those chicks look hot in their uniforms. I forget, is girl-on-girl military love illegal? Or is it just our secret shame?

Posted by: didofoot at March 26, 2008 01:01 PM

Is the UC Center in Adams Morgan? If so, there's a lot of good Ethiopian food in that general area. Actually, there's a lot of good Ethiopian food in Adams Morgan regardless of where the UC Center is, but said Ethiopian food will be a lot closer if the UC Center is there.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at March 26, 2008 01:27 PM

OK, somehow I broke my main page. Well, by "somehow" I mean that I started fucking around with my templates to see if I could make the text box wider and get back the picture at the top, which had mysteriously gotten cut off, and somehow I broke it so that it looks retarded and is hard to read. What the fuck happened, and what do I do to fix it? Geeeeeene!

Also, I know that I'm near Dupont Circle and I think that Adams Morgan is just one or two Metro stops away. This is great - I was wondering where to go for Ethiopian, something I'm definitely deprived of in Santa Cruz.

Also also, the two places I know in DC so far besides the UC Center are the Pentagon City Metro station, which I've been in and out of a thousand times in the last two days, and the Human Rights Campaign headquarters, which is right next door to where I'm living. What does that combination spell? Girl-on-girl action. In uniform. It may take some help from me to put them together, but I'm OK with that kind of DIY.

Posted by: katie at March 26, 2008 01:41 PM

Now how come you didn't get a PowerPoint presentation on alcohol poisoning? This seems like really critical information given your DIY (or perhaps DHY, or with any luck, DTY) mission. Sending you out to seduce a hot girl in uniform without a briefing on alcohol poisoning is like sending someone out to keep the peace when their gun doesn't have a safety catch.

Your excerpted conversation with Dad is delightful. I, too, would be reluctant to ask what crime he has in mind, although given Dad's, you know, general thing, I'd be mildly surprised if he didn't think of the whorish libertine West Coast as ultimately much more criminal than our nation's fine capitol. Possibly he does, and the crime in question is the one where some Northern California tart comes along and corrupts the otherwise upstanding ladies of our armed services.

Huh-huh. I said "services".

Posted by: Dianna at March 26, 2008 02:08 PM

Man, I love DC. Or, rather, I love what I remember of DC as a kid, and my memories mostly involve riding the Metro to downtown on weekends to visit museums. Museums are awesome! Especially DC museums!

Now I've made myself sad that I didn't take a job offer in DC a few months back.

Posted by: MoltenBoron at March 26, 2008 03:07 PM

I'm finally home after my luxurious and exotic visit to Portland. Between dinner with your darling baby sister, AND four days of ASECS (American Society of Eighteenth Century Studies, for the civilian readers), I had quite the visit.

You think DC is armed now? During the year immediately after 9-11, there were flatbed trucks parked on the shoulders of the highway all around town. Do you know what was on these trucks? Missiles. Fucking missiles pointed up at the sky.

That's why I moved to California.

Posted by: DelightfulFormerHousemate at March 30, 2008 07:10 PM