Friday, January 23, 2009

Inaugurate This

Washington, DC and I generally have not gotten on well in the past six years. Sure, I've gotten a decent career out of it, and I have a pretty slammin' apartment (which I'm thisclose to not being able to afford, but whatevs), but I've never really taken to it. It's like a bad arranged marriage. "Don't worry, it will provide for you, and you'll learn to love it." Wrong, wrong, wrong. Unlike when I lived in NYC, and London to a degree, I never really woke up and said "Holy crap, I LIVE here, and it's awesome, and I really wouldn't rather be anywhere else."

Until this weekend. For the first time in six years, I'm really REALLY glad I was in DC for the past few days.

Yes, I'm a card-carrying Democrat, and my politics fall generally to the left of center, but I really believe that over the past few days, it was hard for anybody not to get caught up in the generally good mood that's been enveloping our nation's capital. Everybody's partying, all the tourists are excited, and I can't even hate them for standing on the left side of the Metro escalator. Much. With all the parties, the whole city's felt like a suburban neighborhood on prom night. All week long.

Witness what happened this past Sunday during the concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Despite my usually stellar logistical prowess, I wound up stranded and on my lonesome among half a million people by the reflecting pool. I had arranged to meet my friends at a very clear location, and I even had a big rainbow-colored umbrella to mark my location. A RAINBOW-COLORED UMBRELLA. DAMMIT, I'M GOOD. But I did not count on security sealing off the entrance before they could arrive. And there was little to no cell phone reception, so I was pretty much screwed. There really was only one solution...

Find the nearest group of Jamaicans, and freakin' party. A nice family let me and my stupid umbrella stand with them so I could see the Jumbotron, and they were psyched. We danced to Stevie Wonder and Springsteen and U2, and had a blast. My camera battery died, but somewhere in Kingston there are many pictures of a happy little white girl in a McNabb jersey and green and silver eye makeup losing her mind to Bono. I take a certain comfort in that. The most equalizing moment: Garth Brooks' cover of "Shout." A middle-aged country singer covered a Motown staple for a mostly young, very diverse, crowd, and owned it. And it was cool. One love...

I dashed away after Obama's speech to catch the second half of the NFC Championship, but really, the less said about that, the better. Go Steelers.

And then there was Inauguration Day. I live 20 minutes walking distance from the Mall, and I'm not afraid of getting up early, so I figured I had this locked down. But, again, if there's anything that can trump Shepherd Logistics, it's the most unprecedented show of security ever seen in Washington, DC. Despite setting out before 8 am, my friend Linda, her pal Merry and I unwittingly began a 3-hour odyssey in 20-degree temperatures just to get on the freakin' Mall. We waited 2 hours in security just to be told we actually shouldn't have gone through security, and were trapped on the parade route. We had to head back the way we came, and tried to stay one numbered street ahead of the Metropolitan Police before they kept arbitrarily closing them. By 11 am, we succeeded.

Much like the concert, the crowd here was very friendly, very diverse, and very excited. They were, it must be said, also very partisan, but for the most part, they were very polite. We watched the guests arrive on the big screen, and everybody was very respectful when John McCain came on screen. It was only when Joe Lieberman came on screen, that the first boos started. Eff that guy, apparently. And, of course, they were very vocal when Bush came on screen. Unfortunate, yes. Disrespectful? Arguably. Surprising? Dude, come on.

When Obama finished taking the oath, it was like Times Square on New Year's Eve. Strangers were hugging, couples were making out, dudes were high-fiving, people were crying...look, I don't know what you think of the guy, but if you weren't moved by that, your heart is officially two sizes too small. Or you're my ex. Same diff.

It did take a while for us to beat a retreat, and we saw the helicopter taking the Bushes away from Washington fly over our heads. Would you like to imagine what THAT ride was like? I'd like to imagine it was a bit like the last scene in The Graduate. George and Laura...sitting awkwardly next to each other in silence...not really looking at each other...Simon and Garfunkel coming over the soundtrack...Hello darkness, my old friend... I'd like to think that, so I will.

So that's how it went here. AND I got quoted in USA Today and the Bucks County Courier Times! I've done better networking on my days off than I have in months of work! Yes, I can!

I took some video, too. A word or two on the video: I had had three hours of sleep, hence the horrifying dark circles under my eyes. At times my voice sounds like I'm on the verge of tears. I am not. It was just ridiculously cold. I also seem to report some major discrepancies in the time that elapsed. For the record: Left the house at 7:50, arrived at the 14th Street gate at 8:00 am, waited in security for over an hour, was told to turn back at 9:15 (not "a quarter of nine" as was cold, man), reached the Mall around 10:00 am, found a decent spot to stand close to 11:00 am. Three hours.

But this doesn't mean DC and I are getting back together. This was just a breakup fling. One for the road. Because after all, this place is trying to kill me, and that's not grounds for a stable relationship.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gato Shepherd: 1995-2009

Oh god, not an overly sentimental online tribute to a departed pet. Really, do you think so little of me? Would I do that to you? I know your time spent dicking around online is at a premium, so you'll not find any namby-pamby, rainbow bridge crap here.

What you will find is a proper tribute to an animal that was more than a housepet, he was a force of nature. Gato literally walked into our lives 14 years ago as a flea-infested stray that we just couldn't bear to surrender to the Bucks County ASPCA. He was a sweet little kitten, and then we cut his balls off, and all hell broke loose. To this day, I'm not sure what went awry during the procedure, which should have mellowed him, but in the end I really can't blame him.

Gato was only ever about eight pounds, jet black, and had a pathetic stump of a tail which I'm convinced was the result of wild inbreeding. He was not an emotionally stable animal. Despite his small size, he took on cats, and people, exponentially larger than himself. The neighborhood kids gave him a wide berth, and he sent 250-pound men scrambling in fear. Vet visits required multiple attendants, and an impressive array of kitty jujitsu. Our first vet suggested we put him to sleep immediately, but then I think he was the sloppy ball-whacker, so maybe he was just trying to cover his tracks. Gato is also the principal force behind an episode in 2004 known as "The Very Bloody Thanksgiving," from which I still have a scar from a Mike Tyson-esque puncture wound in my right ear. Gato's antics earned him a place on back in 2002. He's bona fide. If he could talk, I always imagined he'd sound like Tony Montana in Scarface.

So why did we put up with this for so long? Because we liked the little bastard. The going rule was don't mess with Gato, Gato won't mess with you. If you let him cuddle up to you of his own accord, he was perfectly fine. The Family Shep learned to co-exist with him, and he was very much part of the family. A crazy-ass, volatile, cuddly part of the family. He spent a lot of time outside, and I was always afraid he'd wind up splattered all over Redwood Drive, or killed by an animal, or a disgruntled neighbor. As it was, he passed away peacefully at the vet's, with Mama and Dadoo Shep by his side.

Gato took quite a shine to one particular stuffed animal back when he was a kitten, and they remained in a monogamous relationship for the duration of his life. It was a toy husky named Diefenbaker, or Dief, for short (don't even ask). To our eternal shame and entertainment, Gato enjoyed being intimate with Dief constantly. Especially in front of company. He'd even make an announcement if we weren't paying attention. It was weird as hell, and absolutely hilarious. So I'd like to leave you with Gato as I'd like to remember him: screwing a stuffed animal on the living room floor while the family goes about its business. Play on, playa.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How to Turn 28

My past couple of birthdays have consisted of me waiting around for someone to plan something, and inevitably being disappointed. So this year, I decided to be a right pain in the ass about dictating what we should do. And, boy, am I glad I did.

The first stage of the birthday weekend kinda happened by accident, with the sudden announcement that my high school pal Shwa was going to play his first ever gig at the 9:30 Club. A big act cancelled, and the bookers scrambled to fill the bill with four local(-ish) bands. The 9:30 Club is one of my favorite places to see music. It's not much to look at, but it's got a big spacious floor, a generous balcony, and pretty friendly staff. I've seen everyone from Crowded House to Cyndi Lauper to Joan Jett to Moby there. So when my buddy, who can very clearly recall singing Aerosmith songs at the 1994 Holland Junior High Beach Day picnic, got booked, I made sure that a group of Council Rock alumni, and some good-spirited DC-area friends, were there.

While it would be too much to expect that the place would be packed, given the circumstances, Shwa mustered a more than respectable turnout, and pretty much killed it. We had unusually free rein of the place, and were running around backstage and in the dressing rooms like kids. Shwa's drummer got engaged, so everyone got a little silly. Maybe a bit too silly, as the end of the night saw a complete breakdown in logistics, and Shwa sent most everyone off to start the post-show celebrations, ensuring that he's "got this." Everyone, that is, except two former junior high classmates who saw where this was going, and knew enough to know that when anyone says they've "got this," they usually don't.

So the evening ended with me, my pal Meredith, and Shwa stumbling down a frigid U Street at 2 am schlepping guitars and trash bags full of merchandise, trying to find his friend's house so we could dump our stuff ("Where we headed?" "I thiiiiiink...12th Street!" "12th and what, babe?" "...craaaap..."). I think we passed the headliner's limo on our way out, while we looked like we were freaking robbing the place. From rockstar to hobos in one evening. It was a ridiculous, and weirdly perfect, way to end the night.

The next day brought three hours of conference calls (meh) followed by four hours of Britpop dance party (meh!). I've been dying to go to this particular party for months, but circumstances prevented it. These same circumstances pretty much prevented any dancing of any kind for the better part of two years. I do not miss these circumstances. The highlight of the evening included an exuberant young lad who I suspect was faking an English accent, encouraging us to "Let's disco!" He asked how old I was, and when I told him 28, he replied "But you're so beautiful!" Thanks, uh, Nigel.

Top the weekend off with an Eagles win to go on to the NFC Championship, and a three-piece dinner from Popeye's, and I'd say that's a hell of a weekend right there. Now all I have to look forward to is another major football game, a free concert with Springsteen and Bono, and a new president next weekend. Bor. Ing.

I've got a good feeling about 2009. Let's let Shwa play us out, yes?