Saturday, June 12, 2004


I'm visiting my parents in Arkansas for the next week and a half. I promise to post when I can, but it won't be often.

The DC Pride Festival occurs this Sunday. Since I missed it last year, and will have to miss it this year, too, I'll just link to last year's post. It's slightly out of date: Thanks to the US Supreme Court, private, consensual sex is legal in Virginia -- though our sodomy law remains on the books "as a statement."

Of course, since the General Assembly can no longer stop us from screwing, they've gone after our constitutional right to private contract with the most violently anti-Gay law in the country. So though our situation has undoubtedly improved, it doesn't seem to have improved all that much. But that's another story.

Friday, June 11, 2004

What I Saw at the Revolution: Tales from the Funeral Line

Disclaimer: The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

On Wednesday night, Jim, James and I -- all free-market conservatives, and Gay as the proverbial goose -- decided to carpool to Washington so we could stand in line at the Capitol and view Reagan lying in state. Jim is a local Republican Party leader, and a staunch advocate of limited government; he calls James his "protege." James just turned eighteen, he's fresh out of high school, and he's libertarian to the core.

Of the three of us, I think James wanted most to see Reagan's casket. He's a fan of the '80s -- largely, I suspect, because he doesn't remember that much about the decade himself. Jim, of course, wanted to see the bit of world history firsthand; it was, as he said, "a once-in-a-lifetime event." At the time I didn't quite know why I decided to go up with them to see Reagan's casket, other than that I didn't want to be left behind.

Before we arrived in D.C., Jim called a friend of his in DC, and we promised to meet him in Dupont Circle. The four of us dined al fresco at a small Italian restaurant just off Dupont Circle. Jim had a pork chop, I picked at a little spaghetti, and James ate kalamari with marinara sauce. Since Jim's friend was fasting (a quick detox diet before this weekend's Pride Festival), he watched us eat and greeted several passers-by. He had seen the procession to the Capitol -- very moving, he informed us -- and didn't intend to stand in line. By the time Jim, James and I arrived at the DC Mall, it was ten at night: We reached the Capitol shortly before eleven.

The waiting line was divided into several fenced-off section, through which people filed, back and forth, like tourists at Disneyland. Park Police referred to the sections as "holding pens." We began in the pen across the street from the Capitol, and after about an hour and a half of standing we made our way across the street and onto the grounds of the Capitol itself. Here was yet another "holding pen," naturally.

For Jim, the line was a bit like a reunion: Libertarians, free-market Republicans, Gay Republicans all had greetings for him. Meanwhile, James was not feeling well: The kalamari had given him a mild case of ptomaine, with much worse to come. We had been standing in line a little over two hours when James crumpled to the ground. He staggered out of line and lay under a nearby tree.

I figured that as long as James was lying down and Jim was holding our place in line, I could take a fast bathroom break. Because I had drunk several glasses of water at dinner, and downed bottle after bottle of water in line to keep from dehydrating, my bladder was on the verge of explosion. As I ran for the nearest port-a-john (roughly two blocks away), I thought about how people in the old Soviet Union would have to wait four or five hours to buy a loaf of bread. My friends and I had stood in line for only about half that time, and we were dropping like flies. How did the Soviets manage it? How did they keep from peeing, shitting, or wretching the whole time? Did they just go potty on the street, with everyone watching them? Did they wear diapers?

When I returned from the port-a-johns, James was looking -- and feeling -- much worse. He was still stretched out on the ground, and Jim (who was still holding our place in line) asked me to see what was wrong. "It's my intestines," James said. "Something I ate." I called a DC policewoman over, and asked her to call a medic: James was in tough shape.

A ruddy woman, more sturdy than handsome, waddled toward the two of us, and asked me in a thick Southern accent: "Is your son all right?" I explained that James was not my son, just a friend of a friend -- though in retrospect, I suppose I did look quite paternal, standing over the guy with what must have been an expression of deep concern. "Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.

I knew two things about this woman: She could not have helped us in any way, and she would not leave unless and until she felt she had. The woman explained, "I -- I'm a Christian, you see," and I saw my opportunity. "Well, ma'am," I said, "you can pray for us; I think we're going to need all the prayer we can get." This is a nice way of saying, I appreciate the sympathy, but there's really nothing you can do right now. Usually when I say that to Christians, they pledge to keep me in their thoughts, and walk away.

Not this woman. She dropped down on one knee, laid hands on James's forehead and started praying hard. She prayed for James's stomach trouble, prayed for the boy and for his family, prayed he would feel the healing power of Jesus Christ, and prayed it all in the name of the Most Holy, Almighty, and so forth. Holy Christ, the woman was laying hands on James!

Now, the religious tradition I was raised in didn't have anything against the power of prayer per se: We always promised to pray for the sick in private. Attempting to perform a faith healing in public was something else again. First, it would qualify as "practicing your piety before men" -- a major no-no. Then, faith healing itself might demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of how prayer works, since the object of prayer isn't to make God do what you want, but to help you do what God wants. Still, this woman was going to try her faith healing, and for my part I was too stunned to make a proper objection.

Once she closed her prayer, I thanked her and she departed. Only the Great Communicator could have brought Gay libertarians together with Christian fundamentalists, though I think if she knew we were Gay her prayers might have gone on much longer. Jim motioned me to him and asked, "Did I just see what I think I saw?"

James informed me that he felt better -- as well he might, since he'd been lying half-asleep on the ground for twenty minutes or so. And now the paramedics arrived. In an ambulance. With the sirens blaring and the lights flashing. James was deeply embarrassed.

Now Jim and I switched places: I held our spot in line, while Jim looked after James. James leaned on Jim's shoulder, and staggered into the ambulance. I watched as its flashing lights receded into the darkness.

Two women sat down near where I was standing, and we began to talk. They asked me how my friends were doing: I said they'd be fine, but in all likelihood none of us would get to see Reagan's casket lying in state. Jim, James and I would have to go back home, disappointed. One of them -- her name was Mary, I think -- offered to drive me home if I wanted "to stay and see the President," but took it back when she learned that I lived in central Virginia. She lived in Delaware, you see.

A park ranger walked by, and informed us that from where we were standing, the wait would be another five hours. My window of opportunity had just slammed shut; I knew I would never lay eyes on the casket or the catafalque. Why was I here in the first place? It's not like Reagan ever gave a damn about me personally. I could have stayed at home, in air-conditioned comfort, typing on the blog or napping on the couch; it would have been infinitely more pleasant than standing in a slowly shuffling crowd, wending my way along rope after rope, past barrier and barrier, from one holding pen to another, with no hope of seeing what we came here for.

Jim and James returned from the paramedics' tent about fifteen minutes later; James looked green around the gills, but at least he was standing. Barely. "I threw it up," he informed me. Then I gave them the news: There was still a long way to go, still some hours before we could see the casket. James looked at Jim and me, then whispered, "Let's go home." That was that.

So I wasn't a witness to history after all. I didn't see the casket or the catafalque. I didn't walk through the Dome Room in the middle of the night. I didn't stifle a tear as I watched the changing of the guard. Instead of doing what I set out to do, I helped a friend, witnessed a faith healing, and chatted for a few minutes with two complete strangers who I will probably never see again.

History, I suspect, belongs to those who can stand in line long enough to get at it. The rest of us have to settle for stories -- plain enough, perhaps insignificant, but unquestionably our own.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Sepulchre of the Fathers: Ten Suggested Slogans for the National WWII Memorial

Yesterday I visited the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. It's even worse than the FDR Memorial, which is saying quite a lot. The best thing I can say is that this particular site demonstrates just what a group of Washington bureaucrats can achieve with seventeen years of planning and a blank check. The resulting $170 million edifice is nothing more than a sunken fountain in a stone amphitheater, surrounded by a vaguely brutalist circular colonnade. Unememorable quotations from presidents Roosevelt and Truman, along with a few after-dinner musings from US military leaders, have been carved on the walls.

This memorial achieves what many would have thought impossible: It drains all significance from the single greatest conflict of the twentieth century, giving the impression that World War Two just sort of happened one day. There's no mention of Hitler, Hirohito, or Mussolini -- let alone of the Holocaust, the rape of Nanking, germ warfare in China, or any of the other systematic atrocities their regimes perpetrated against their people. It would have been nice if, instead of making a few bland references to the liberation of Europe, the memorial had deigned to mention just what Europe was liberated from. But then it would have to take a stand against totalitarianism, and we can't have our memorials taking sides, can we?

Visiting this site is about as unpleasant an experience as anyone could possibly hope for: In the midday sun the sunken amphitheater bakes tourists like a reflector oven, and the crazy acoustics magnify airplane noise to a near-deafening roar. Even homeless people know to avoid this place during the daytime, though kids enjoy splashing and soaking their feet in the big, wet fountain. Update (6/10): However, DC's homeless population is slowly discovering that the memorial makes a fine place to spend a night. The granite benches lining the amphitheater are dim and relatively private, plus after baking all day in the sun, they radiate a comfortable heat. Expect more street folk to be drawn to the WWII Memorial after hours.

On the way home, I came up with a few slogans for D.C.'s newest memorial, all of which I offer free of charge to the National Park Service:

10. What a pit.
9. Ars brevis, vita longa.
8. Just what our nation's capital needed: Another kiddie pool.
7. Never in the remembrance of human conflict have so many spent so much for so little.
6. It looks like Albert Speer, only itty-bitty.
5. Greatest generation, suckiest monument.
4. The hottest spot on the Mall!
3. I'm George W. Bush, and I approved this message.
2. Wait a minute -- I thought World War II brought us out of a depression.
1. World War What?

For a more serious analysis of what's wrong with the WWII Memorial, click here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


I've rewritten my tribute to Reagan, here, and added an update to my post on media coverage, here.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Two articles on Abu Ghraib

Left-wing e-zine Salon agrees with Concerned Women for America: The prison abuse at Abu Ghraib reflects America's deep-seated cultural depravity.

At long last, the Far Left and the Far Right meet.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Tony Kushner in the New York Times; Millennium Approaches at LiveArts

Here's a joke I used to tell before I discovered (or rediscovered) outdoor drama: "What do Communism and the theater have in common?" "Only old socialists believe either one is still alive."

Tony Kushner, a man as responsible as any for killing Americans' once-healthy interest in drama, holds court in today's New York Times. Kushner claims that, when it comes to contemporary theater, conservatives need not apply:

Who goes to serious theater? People who are curious about life, curious about illusion and reality, people with probing questions rather than dull convictions, people seeking solace from loss and injustice, but who seek solace not in denial or amnesia, but rather in rich, sometimes painful, hopefully illuminating visions and dreams — in serious art. Who are such people? Most likely not the delegates to the G.O.P. convention.

This statement sounds like left-wing projection to me. All the same, it would carry more weight if Kushner had proven that he could write serious theater (aside from Homebody/Kabul, which looks more and more like a fluke). Granted, Kushner has written some theater that critics have taken seriously -- Angels in America, for example. Suckers. Some of Angels succeeds as spectacle, but none of it is good theater as such.

Last night I saw the LiveArts production of Millennium Approaches, and all I could think was, "These poor actors." They put up a brave front as they hacked their way through Kushner's chronic logorrhea, all babbling incessantly as if they'd drunk too much coffee. Often they spoke so quickly that they stumbled over Kushner's jaw-breaking diction. In the immortal words of Spike Jones, "Faster, kids, faster! Wheeeeee!"

But nobody cared about that stuff. The sooner we got all the speechifying out of the way, the sooner we could see the real point of the show -- those big special effects. On this score, LiveArts did not disappoint. The final scene was every bit as grand as anyone could possibly expect. Still, what can you say about a play that builds not to a catharsis or climax, but to a single elaborate special effect?

LiveArts managed to cram Kushner's magnum opus into a breathless two and a half hours, not counting intermissions. It's generally painless, occasionally even moving. But serious theater? Nah.

Postscript: I'm not going to give a full-blown review of LiveArts' Millennium Approaches just yet, because the actor playing Prior Walter quit the production shortly before the final dress rehearsal. The director, John Gibson, filled in for his missing male lead, reading his lines from a small though conspicuous clipboard. Though fifteen years too old and at least thirty pounds too heavy for the role, Gibson was better than I could have anticipated. Still, the overall effect was closer to a staged reading than a performance proper.

Luckily, LiveArts has found a replacement, the "next Prior" if you will, who starts the play next weekend. He should be off-book within two weeks, possibly sooner. I'll revisit LiveArts' Millennium toward the end of the run, once casting is finalized and the actors have settled into their roles. Moral of the story: Always cast an understudy.

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