Wednesday, Eid al-Adha
Wings Over the World
An American Airline
In the airplane, somewhere over Kentucky, I shivered to read that this trip coincides with the Feast of the sacrifice, Eid al-Adha; Ibrahim ready to slay his son Ishmael until an angel interceded and substituted a ram. There are two references to it in the Koran. Good sign? Bad sign?
In Baltimore, there is a good sea smell in the air and clarity in the intention of the citizens. The veil of isolation had descended and I couldn’t find the words to ask how to get to DC. I stood in line for a taxi, third in line for a car, a guy asked:
“Taxi – where to?”
“$10,000,” the guy said.
I was about to climb into the car when I was snatched away by one of the secret guild of guitar players, carrying his as I do mine in a case over his shoulder.
“There is a cheaper way to get to DC,” he said, “whatta you playing?”
We exchanged guitar information. He took me with him onto the shuttle to the MARC (Maryland Aficianado Rolling Chemin) train, near the airport.
“How much did they tell you it would cost to get to DC?”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“They can charge you whatever they want if you go that way. Here’s what you do. Take the shuttle to the train, then take the train to Union Station. At Union Station, you can get a cat. Cats are cheap on Capitol Hill, all the Socrates have to take them so they make it game, but step outside of the zone, it’s going to cost you ten thousand dollars.”
He was chewing on something furiously.
I was imagining how a cat was going to get me around DC, special deal for the Socrates in Congress, just how many Socrates are there are in Congress? Some sort of large domesticated Capitol Hill cat.
The shuttle came, I got on, squeezed in, placed my guitar on the rack, my new friend nodding in approval.
We drove through a construction site that turned out to be the train station.
There was a blonde young lady standing next to me, exceedingly pretty in a central European proletarian kind of way (wrong hair – cut too square around an already flat face), and a hideous looking man in a bad leather coat trying to make conversation with her. I descended from the shuttle.
“It’s that stupid hat,” the guitar player said to me looking at the top of my head. “Everyone will take advantage of you in that hat. . .” I knew he’s correct.
I took a train into Washington, DC. I sat in the food car and drank a cup of coffee, spread my papers over a large table, and began writing this story. It started in Italy, on a train that felt to me just like this one.
Union Station. The station is beautiful in the style of train stations where my mother awaited my father when he came home from the War. This station is done up in the turn of the twenty-first century gentrified style, dozens of locations to drink the sophisticated cappuccino, a variety of flavored yogurts, leather stores, etc.
Thank God outside there is still a madman in the plaza in front of the replica of the Liberty Bell singing at the top of his lungs. “It’s your love,” he is howling, “it’s your love, it’s your love, it’s your love. . .”
14th St. and Avenue M
The meeting had been hastily put together. Government work; the organizers were planning an expansion of the work their way when the President’s directive came down. It sent them all scurrying to interpret just what the President meant.
There was a document, but that’s all there was. We all read the document; it actually sounded, in places, as if the President wrote it himself. I could hear him speaking. In other places, there is clearly a documentary hypothesis to account for the various voices. Everyone at the meeting seemed to have been completely surprised by the President’s directive. Now – what did it mean?
“Why doesn’t he just tell us what he means?” asked one of the participants.
There are some participants who are completely distrustful all government motivations. “Maybe they are simply pushing the problem entirely into our hands,” said one participant. “They don’t want to take it on anymore – too hard – they want us to do it.” That’s an angle I hadn’t thought of before.
“Well, I would like to know just what he means,” spoke another. “I am feeling he definitely leans toward my personal definition.”
Silence. I raised my hand.
“I would like to register the opposite opinion.” I sat down. There was an uncomfortable rustling in the room.
“So registered,” said the chief.
The Night Before
It was a good walk from the hotel. It felt cold, though my friend who works for the DNC (Don’t Never Curse) said it was a pleasure after last night, which was bitter cold.
We stopped in a nice bookstore, Kramer’s, for a look and a coffee. The Primo Levi book that had been eluding me for four book stores still elusive.
The macchiato was good. We left Kramer’s and headed for the pre-meeting. I wondered but not too much how it was going to work out.
The host really hadn’t done the preparation, but I promised to meet up with some friends from the old neighborhood.
Crossing a street near Dupont Circle on the way to the meeting, my friend took me aside and told me in a Washington DC insider’s voice several commonly known facts that clarified the last twenty five years of American history more than all the hours I had spent pouring over the beloved New York Times. I made a mental note to spend less time on newspapers.
It was a good meeting.
Afterwards, I sat with my old friends in a van in front of the hotel and talked about many wondrous, charming, and tender notions, some about our pasts, some about our present state of holy suspension, some about our legacies. It was luxurious to be closed in a Chrysler Corporation cave with loved ones from the homeland, in Washington DC. I returned to my room in the hotel about 12:30. I couldn’t sleep the entire night.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
I snuck out of the meeting, avoiding a confrontation in the lobby with the guardians of faith. I didn’t have the patience to make the obvious arguments. There was also something of the irony of having to assert my freedom to believe an alternative notion in this place, Washington DC, at this meeting organized by my government to help its citizens with ideas that were in no way theoretical.
I left the meeting and went straight to the White House. I practically ran there.
There were signs of construction all around the White House. I stood on the East Executive Drive. All of a sudden, there was no one there. Not even foot traffic. Across the sidewalk was the Treasury Building, also under construction, and another replica of the Liberty Bell. A herd of long dark Chevys were hurrying in and out of the gate.
All the gates opened magically for the fleet of Chevys.
Of that experience, nothing else can be said at this time other than I have an interesting pair of new cufflinks.
I was told that in the Oval Office, there is a bust of Lincoln that when rotated throws a shadow that looks exactly like President Nixon.
“Does that mean there is only one President, many incarnations?” I asked someone.
He laughed, “you’re a mystic.”
“All rabbis are mystics,” I shot back, smart-alecky. He thought that funnier than I could have imagined.
I elected to walk back from the White House to the hotel. I stood in front of the White House for a moment and stared through the gates at the splendor of it. I stood there dreaming about all the beautiful ideas that were built into that building. Several African visitors came up to me and asked me if this was the White House.
“This is the White House,” I said, opening my arms and sweeping the scene behind me, “isn’t it beautiful?” All of us had tears in our eyes as we stood on the sidewalk in the gathering dusk staring up through the gates over the lawns, peering at it rising in the distance, the lights not yet illumined.
“Yes,” said one of the Africans,”it is the most beautiful.”
It was coming on dusk, the sun finding its way home in the west, as I walked through Lafayette Park, McPherson Square, Franklin Park. Everywhere there were dignitaries sleeping on benches with large fluffy gray blankets, white trim.
This is a great country, I sighed. Not three blocks from the White House was a palace underworld sleeping peacefully on benches, angels attending the gathering night, independent of the dreams of the NASDAQ and the scurrying officialdom making their way home around them.
Everywhere on the street back to the hotel were legions of night gentle men and ladies, camping around with their bed bundles and bottles, asking for alms, some sleeping already though it was not quite dark, some squabbling with each other in front of the pharmacy, one clutching a couple of crystals of precious crack cocaine drawing on it through his fist, the same America ascendant and descendant dis-empowered and gentrified, one nation.
I returned to the hotel, and took a taxi to the airport. It was driven by a Muslim man from Mali. We talked about the sacrifice of Ishmael.
“I made it in my heart this year,” he said.
“Me, too.” We rode in silence for a while.
“I went to the White House today,” I told him.
“Ah, so beautiful.”
I told him about the Africans I met there, standing with them, gazing at it.
“Yes, it is like a dream for us.”
We continued on in silence through the night, in love with the same dream of America.
James Stone Goodman
United States of America