Thursday, October 27, 2005

Drag Racin'

Normally I have nothing special to do on a Tuesday night. Especially when I have spent the previous month running all over the eastern seaboard, and barely recognize my own apartment. So when I was presented with an invitation to attend a house party to celebrate Dupont Circle's annual drag races, I was a bit ambivalent to attend. But the need to cultivate meaningful social ties got the better of me, and out I went into the drizzly night.

Now, you must understand something about the drag races -- otherwise known as the High Heel Races. You see, the Dupont area has a rather thriving gay population, and just as it is in Greenwich Village, Halloween is a big friggin' deal. So the Tuesday before October 31 is the day when Dupont's most fabulous drag queens take to the streets in 3-inch minimum heels and sprint, or mince, down 17th Street.

Co-worker Seth was intending to run in his second race in a row. Mr. Seth is not himself, a member of DC's illustrious gay population, but he is evidently secure enough in his own masculinity to pretend for an evening. I was under the impression that others at the house party would be bringing their own fabulous attire, so I brought along one of my wigs (yes, I have more than one) and suitably sparkly makeup and a tiny shirt so I, too, could be festive.

Alas, there was not a large contingent of dressed-up revelers when I arrived, but a blue wig is a terrible thing to waste. So I donned it anyhow, and had makeup maven Cassandra go to town with the blue and green eye shadow. She offered her cosmetic services to other partygoers -- including Alex Angert, a young man who I was rather friendly with in the geek clique at high school and unexpectedly showed up as a friend of a friend. Alex, I'm proud to say, accepted a touch of blue glitter after some gentle prodding, but there weren't many takers. Buncha squares, these young DC wonks.

But glory was to be mine, because since I was the only other person decked out and in the spirit of things, Seth, now sporting a pink bobbed wig and a tasteful strapless number, asked me to be his escort to the race. My job was to hold a hot pink umbrella above him while he paraded with the other participants prior to the race, and depending on the level of precipitation, during it as well. A kept girl, if you will. So we pushed through the throng, and joined about 100 other drag queens on the streets.

Some of these gals clearly had prepared very well. There were folks in ball gowns, some in nicely tailored Lady Diana suits, and, inexplicably, a few dressed like a dragged-up Terrell Owens. Others, like ourselves, were rank amateurs. I was not wearing heels, but thought that my pink and purple galoshes were fly enough given the wet weather.

We intended to stroll the length of the race, as we were by no means among the more serious competitors, but this was not to be. Despite our best efforts to stay in the back of the pack, there were a fair amount of angry queens behind us who wanted to race, dammit. One directly behind us was dressed as the Washington Monument. While being pursued by a large phallus may have been exciting to some of our fellow runners, we were rather scared. So sprint we did. Seth ran ahead in his pumps, and I trailed holding the pink umbrella aloft, feeling rather chivalrous.

We by no means won the race. That honor went to a runner dressed as a nun, who hurried out of the rain to claim her prize -- a bar tab at J.R.'s saloon. We were glad to retreat to the warm house and the cold keg just down the block, to celebrate a night well executed.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

It was nice to be away for ten days to see family. I caught a cold halfway through the visit, and spent a few weekday afternoons balled up on the couch in my PJs, watching Price is Right with my brother and having Mommy fix me tea, just like in the long long ago. But now it's back to the city known as Washington, where evidently I have a job and an apartment and a cat and a life of sorts.

Aside from the mundane re-entry to work, this week saw me attending two communal events that spoke very dearly to my little heart. Firstly, I attended my final U2 show of the year this week in DC. A DC U2 show, it turns out, is not an event to go unnoticed in the government and nonprofit sector in which I make my living. Although I had procured my tickets months ago, several staff members who work in our Congressional relations department were given free tickets by DATA, the organization founded by Bono. My boss also received tickets, and had to be briefed as to what, exactly, U2 was. Many a Hill staffer and Administration official was given choice seats around or behind the stage, and normally a fan such as myself would be a trifle miffed at this, but not this time. For I was closing out my last show with floor tickets, which were better than any of the freebies given to the Washington elite. Snack on that, Condi.

Through a series of very fortunate events, and a bit of strategizing, I wound up right in front along the edge of the circular stage. So I was able to watch the whole show with an unobstructed, very close view of the proceedings -- which is a rare and fine thing indeed. I hooted and hollered until my throat was raw, and bounced and hopped until my calf muscles decided to up and take an extended holiday from which they've yet to return (come back soon...all is forgiven). One of the great things about this kind of setting is that everyone down there on the floor is so durned nice and friendly. A few of them are even more scholarly than I am...a frightening prospect. It's nice to be among the other yahoos for a bit.

After that, it seemed like the next opportunity to assemble with other sick-minded brethern united in a frivolous cause would be far off. Happily, I was much mistaken. In going through the several piles newspapers that had accumulated in my absence, I discovered a column telling poor, wayward souls hailing from cities other than DC where they could cheer on their favorite football teams. As this week's Eagles game was not to be televised locally, I got myself hence to the Rhino Pump and Brewhouse in Georgetown this afternoon, expecting a modest gathering of Philly expats.

What a sight met my eyes! A sea of green jerseys, a bevy of beer guts, a torrent of expletives -- by golly, I was home! Two whole floors packed of lunatics who cheered and jeered every play, every replay, and every Chunky soup ad. The Eagles were their dependable, excruciating selves, but managed to pull out a victory in the end, sending the crowd into ecstatic fits. It wasn't exactly the place to strike up any deep meaningful conversations, and it may be a bit hectic for me to attend weekly, but it's nice to know it's there. A convention of football fans may be a bit more belligerent that a U2 gathering, but it's a heckuva lot more accessible. Just as silly though, ay, just as silly.


Thursday, October 13, 2005


The reason I had to condense my visit to New York was that I had to fly to Maine for my grandfather's funeral. Grampy passed away on October 5, after being sick for the better part of this year. He was 89.

We had managed to visit Grampy this summer when we heard that he was declining. We discovered that he wasn't faring well at all physically, and every now and again was prone to some bouts of dementia, but by and large he was still with it. He was cranky about the fact that he could no longer do what he pleased or eat what he wanted, but he knew who we all were and seemed to grasp his situation. In the past few weeks he hasn't been as aware. Like Pop-Pop earlier this year, Grampy passed away at precisely the point when we knew that any kind of "recovery" would only prolong any suffering or indignity.

Also like Pop-Pop, Grampy made for good stories. This was a man who waxed rhapsodic about an apple pie that he had in 1939. When he was 80 years old and 100 pounds overweight, he would jump over the side of his houseboat into the water to work on any engine trouble that might occur. He was incredibly literate, and could recall just about every classic novel he'd ever read. He once was buried alive during a construction project, and was interviewed by the local news after he was freed. The newsperson asked him what he thinking while he awaited rescue, probably anticipating some maudlin soundbite about Grampy's love for his family or his faith. Grampy instead responded, "Well, I was thinking about getting out, you damn fool."

Grampy and Grammy were married to each other for 64 years. I'm lucky in that I was able to know him for so long, and talk with him about books and history and how things were when he was a boy (he often started stories with the phrase, "When I was as big as you..."). I'm not so lucky in that I have lost two grandparents in one year, but I suppose that if you approach 24 years of age with three surviving elderly grandparents, you should consider yourself blessed.


Condensed New York

Greetings from Richboro, from where I will attempt to re-cap the past few days in a few posts.
Let's discuss pleasant things first. I went up for a long-scheduled trip to New York this weekend, primarily to see a U2 show. A secondary, but by no means insignificant, reason was that I hadn't been to New York since January. It seems inexcusable, until I consider how damn busy the summer has been with family events and work schedules. It never ceases to amaze me how busy we seem to be despite being fairly boring folks.

Anyway, we arrived in New York City during what is apparently the monsoon season for the northeastern United States. Usually I am not deterred by a little bit of rain. But with the exception of sporting some rather fantastic pink and purple galoshes, I found nothing redeeming about this week's rainstorms. New York got more rainfall in one day than it received in all the time from the beginning of July through September, which is nuts.

We still managed to achieve our most important aims. The show was brilliant. I had seen U2 play at the Meadowlands just after 9/11/2001, and that was great. But I had never seen them play at Madison Square Garden, which I'm told is second only to seeing them play in Dublin. Based on Saturday's concert, I would be inclined to say it was the best gig I'd seen. The audience was incredibly enthusiastic, even up in the nosebleed seats where I was, and nobody onstage seemed the least bit jaded at playing the Garden for the gazillionth time. They seemed to regard it as a bit of a homecoming. If you are so inclined, I very much recommend catching them in NYC proper. Quite a spectacle.

The crowd was leaving the complex in an appropriately jovial mood -- which was quickly quashed by the insane downpour and stinging, cold winds outside. Umbrellas were being launched five stories into the air after being ripped from people's hands by the wind. We briefly considered heading out anyway after warming up in our nearby hotel, but our cozy quarters proved more inviting than the weather outside, and I made the unusual choice of staying in on a Saturday night in NYC.

The next day consisted of us running about and hopping the Subway to all points between Times Square and Washington Square (security threats be damned). We caught up with old friends, visited some shops, enjoyed what will probably be our only lunch at the way-overpriced Second Avenue Deli (home of the $10 fried matzo) and picked up some cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. The night was capped off by a required visit to Rockefeller Center and a dinner at the always fabulous Bamiyan Afghan restaurant. I always get a bit greedy when I visit old favorite restaurants, because I don't know when I'll be back. So Jeffrey and I loaded up on sweet Afghan tea, pumpkin turnovers, beef kabobs, meat dumplings in yogurt sauce, and of course, delicious doogh.

I have learned in the past few visits to target my itineraries on specific areas in the city. Thus, no Met or Central Park this time. Although I never feel like I have enough time in New York, I had more pressing reasons for condensing my visit as much as I could before I had to leave...