Before I forget, HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!!!
I’ll warn you in advance: alternative titles to this post included “On Not Being an Adult,” “On Friendship,” and “On Being Single.” In fact, this post may end up being a little more personal and a little less about a city. That’s okay—if you’re my close friend, you’ll totally dig it. If you’re a complete stranger, you’ll also dig it, unless you’re some kind of Philistine who wouldn’t know brilliant writing if it bit you in the ass. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes—if you can’t appreciate the sheer genius of my blog, then you must be a fool. Also, I’m writing this piece in the nude.
There’s sort of a “young liberal U.S. city circuit,” and when you meet somebody between the ages of 25 and 35 in SF, chances are that she has lived in at least one of the following before arriving in the city by the bay: LA, NY, DC, and/or Chicago. I am proud to say that I’ve lived in all but the last, mainly because Chicago is too darn cold (note: she may have also lived in Boston or Philly for school, but those don’t count, mainly because I never lived in either and I don’t want to bring my average down). Many people know about my time in NY and LA (particularly if they’ve been closely following this blog), but not everybody knows I spent time in DC. Admittedly, I was only there for four months—is that enough time for me to truthfully say that I “lived” there? Yes, I think it is. And I make the rules.
As you may remember from my insightful post on El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciúncula, I was not a huge fan of the city of broken dreams, so after 2.5 years of law school at UCLA I made my escape. UCLA has this wonderful program in which students are allowed to spend four months externing for a government organization in D.C. all while receiving a full semester’s worth of school credit. When I was in law school I thought I was going to be an environmental lawyer, so I did my externship at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (the “CEQ”). That’s right, ladies: I worked at the White House. Kind of.
It was a dream job. I got in at 9, left at 5, and while I was at work I spent my time meeting with intimidatingly intelligent people to discuss incredibly interesting things, like carbon sequestration and Asian carp and adaptation-based approaches to climate change. I wrote a couple of memos, helped write (one short paragraph of) a Supreme Court brief, responded to FOIA requests (in a sort of rude manner, when necessary)…you know, the whole government lawyer shebang.
Even though I’m now writing about the political center of the U.S., I don’t want to make this into a political post. However, I should say that after working in the government for just four months, I can start to understand where Grover Norquist is coming from. Under George W., the CEQ had at one point as few as 3 people. When I came on in January 2010, one year after Obama was inaugurated, there were 46 people in CEQ. Were they all necessary? I don’t think so. I went to a lot of meetings in which a lot of nothing was discussed, and everybody would leave and turn to their colleagues from their various agencies and say, “goddamn Department of ________! Wasting our time again!” Each agency recognized that these meetings were 90% useless (plus or minus 10%), and was doing its best to blame the lack of progress on somebody else—Forestry Service, Fish and Wildlife, and Department of the Interior were always good targets. Your tax dollars at work. I’m sure there were a few other agencies that are also useless, but I can’t remember them right now.
When I was at the CEQ, the agency had about 20 interns, and they were rapidly multiplying. Do interns ever provide any sort of value add? Not really. True, they cost nothing, but they take up valuable space, and they actually did end up costing the CEQ money because a number of the “more important” interns insisted on traveling with the Chair to various “events” (i.e., mediocre publicity opportunities) in national parks across the country. I remember that there was this one kid, maybe 22 or 23 years old, who was appointed as the Chair’s “Chief of Staff,” which meant that he would organize meetings, wear suits, and attempt (unconvincingly) to speak with authority. You’d better believe that when I was 28 years old, I had a rough time not laughing when a 23 year-old kid with an expensive suit and a bad haircut tried to boss me around. And our tax dollars were paying to fly this kid all across the country. Damn you, Obama. Damn you to hell.
D.C. is full of 23 year-olds who think that they’re really important. They inhabit this space known as “The Hill” and apparently there’s a whole “scene” there. I avoided it like the plague when I was there, but every now and then you’d meet a kid who spoke like he owned the damn town, and you knew he was probably a staffer. I never understood the appeal—does not having any money and being really boring get a guy laid in D.C.? There’s a reason why female inhabitants often refer to the town as “Douchebag City.”
I want to get off of this topic, but I feel the need to narrate one little anecdote of district douchebaggery, because it’s a story that begs to be told. Towards the end of my time in D.C., I was at the 4 Ps Irish pub (which has since closed down) in Cleveland Park, my old stomping grounds, with a good buddy of mine. We had been putting away pitcher after pitcher and were pretty far gone, when we noticed a pair of attractive young women and decided to chat them up. I had a girlfriend at the time (more on her later), but my buddy was into one of them and I was being a good wingman. Things were going pretty well and we decided to go out front for a cigarette.
4 Ps had a narrow front porch, and so we found ourselves sharing relatively tight quarters with a pair of young, Aryan-looking gentlemen in collared shirts and knit sweaters (my buddy and I were both wearing hoodies). One of the young men grabbed the woman my buddy was into by the arm and asked what she was doing. Shaking him off, she replied that she was talking to her friends and turned away from him. My buddy, ever the friendly one, turned to the Mayflower-descendents and asked what they did in D.C. “We’re lawyers,” the grabber replied. “That’s great!” my buddy said, “we’re 3Ls in law school. I go to American and my friend goes to UCLA.” Knit sweater #2 then turned to the women and said, and I’m not joking here, “the guys you are talking to go to crappy law schools. We went to Georgetown and now we work at [insert names of biglaw firms]. We make way more money than your friends are going to make, so you should talk to us instead of them.”
The women said no thanks and the four of us went back inside. When our new ladyfriends went to the bathroom, my buddy looked at me and said, “we should go outside and beat the crap out of those dudes.” We discussed it for a minute and decided against taking that action. After all, we were both taking the bar exam in the summer and if the cops were called, that could put our future legal careers in jeopardy. Also, we were both the products of suburban upbringings and Ivy-league educations, and thus not accustomed to settling disputes with fisticuffs. Still, one of my biggest regrets in life was that we did not go back and pummel the crap out of those dudes. By not beating the shit out of them, we were denying them an important life lesson, and I honestly feel bad about that. Then again, they probably would have sued us. Fucking pansy-ass lawyers.
* * *
I’m writing this piece on an airplane, as I’m flying from D.C. back to SF. After taking virtually no vacations my first 3 years as a lawyer, I decided to take one for the New Year. My co-workers were quite confused at my choice of D.C. for my vacation destination, because apparently when you go on vacation in the wintertime you’re supposed to go somewhere where the climate is warmer, not colder, than where you live. What can I say, I don’t do what everybody thinks I should; I’ve always been a loner Dottie, a rebel.
A number of my friends from different walks of life have moved to D.C. over the past 15 or so years, and as a result I had so many people to see during my trip that I literally did not do any D.C.-related things. I did not see a single monument, and the only time I entered a museum was to visit my friend who worked in the Postal Museum, but we just sat in the staff lounge and talked the whole time so I didn’t see any actual exhibits. A friend in San Francisco had requested that I go to H Street NE and compare what is happening there to gentrification in the Mission/Western Addition, but I barely left the general Columbia Heights/DuPont/Chinatown area. My one semi-touristy endeavor was going out to Annapolis to visit a friend, but while there all we did was go to a couple of bars (I mean, I wasn’t about to miss the 49er game, right?). The trip to the bar was a success on multiple levels: the 49ers won, and I saw this street sign:
I was nervous about going to D.C. because I was afraid that it would make me think of my ex (the same woman whom I was dating during the 4 Ps douchebag incident…I told you there would be more on her). She stayed in D.C. after I left and we tried the long distance thing for about a year and a half. Our break up fucked me up pretty badly, and I was hesitant to return to D.C. because I was afraid I would (a) bump into her or (b) be reminded of her in a painful way. However, two years after the fact, I am happy to say that I managed to go to D.C. without any painful memories (I also know that she goes to the Bay Area every year for the holidays, so by going to D.C. during that time I managed to avoid bumping into her on both ends). Because we were only together in D.C. for a short time, there aren’t really any places in the city that remind me of her. In fact, the only time any memory of her was triggered was when I passed by the Royal Palace strip club. I took her there once on a date—it was her first time in such an establishment.
But enough about her—back to my trip. All I did during my D.C. vacation was meet up with friends, sometimes one-on-one, sometimes in small groups, for meals, drinks, coffee, or to party. I engaged in many intense and scintillating conversations that made me reflect deeply on life, myself, and my relationships with others. I laughed more last week than I think I had in the 50 preceding weeks. The whole week is kind of like a blur, but in my mind I am replaying the highlight reel, a series of vignettes and epiphanies that I hope do not fade from my memory anytime soon. And in order to ensure that they do not, I am going to recount some of them here, in this very blog. I know, I know—you came here to read about D.C., not the rantings of some oft-lonely, always-depraved, hirsute Jewish San Franciscan, but trust me, friend, there are plenty of pearls of wisdom to be cleaved from the oyster that is this blog post. If not pearls, then certainly nuggets.
I stayed at a friend’s house in Columbia Heights. She and her husband were out of town until my final night in town, so I had the place to myself, which was nice. As I was giving myself a tour of the digs, I noticed that they had a credenza on top of which sat about two dozen Christmas cards from various couples, about half of whom had children. It then occurred to me that my friend and her husband were adults. They are married. They own a house. They receive Christmas cards from a bunch of happy couples, some of whom have successfully procreated, and they put them on a credenza, which they also own. I didn’t mention it yet, but my friends also own a dog (he was at doggie daycare when they were gone. At first I was bummed, but it was probably for the better, given that I spent very little time at their place during my vacation).
I thought of my own station in life. I am single, and I’ve been single long enough that I (and my parents) often wonder if I’ll ever get married. I live in an apartment. I think this year I received two Christmas cards, which I placed on top of my desk for about a week, next to my car insurance bill (the Christmas cards were thrown away when the bill was finally paid). I don’t have a dog, and I’m actually afraid that my plants may be dead when I arrive home (note: arrived back home—one out of two of the plants survived). I am years away from ever remotely considering having children. When I see my contemporaries (and people 4-6 years younger than me) achieving all of these milestones, I’m not necessarily jealous, but I do feel kind of like I’m not an adult.
In San Francisco, nearly all of my coworkers have achieved or are in the process of achieving these societally-accepted (if not arbitrary) indications of adulthood, and many of my non-work friends have as well. Thus, much of my time is spent drowning in conversations about wedding photographers, mortgages, and poopy diapers. I’m not gonna lie—it kinda sucks. In D.C., on the other hand, with the exception of the couple at whose house I was staying, all of my friends are unmarried (although a few are in long-term relationships), childless, and still renting, despite being in their early thirties. There’s some sense of comfort that comes from having other friends in the same boat at this magical stage in life, and this commonality (combined with high-quality whiskey) led to a few enlightening moments, which I will now share with you, dear readers.
* * *
I met up with my former roommate (and dear friend) for coffee at Tryst in Adams Morgan. We had lived in Cleveland Park together and used to frequent the cafe (not all that frequently). Last year I had seen on the Facebook that this friend was participating in a “vegan lunch club,” which is something that young professional liberal women do in D.C. (I say that based on the fact that I know two people who fit who description and who do it). In a vegan lunch club, every week (or day), one member will prepare a vegan meal for everybody in the group, and the group will sit together to enjoy the meatless, eggless, dairyless bounty.
My friend had quit her VLC. I asked her why, and she said that while she had no qualms with the “vegan” aspect of the arrangement, the “lunch club” bit was starting to get to her. In short, she did not enjoy the obligation of spending an hour every week with this particular set of colleagues. “When I joined vegan lunch club, I was excited,” she explained. “I thought we were going to discuss current events, movies, books, things like that. The rest of the group wasn’t interested in discussing these things.” “What did they want to talk about?” I asked. “Other people,” my friend answered.
This point really registered with me. Talking about other people is unbearably tedious compared with pretty much any other subject of conversation (besides the weather), and yet it’s probably what we talk about the most. Some amount of talking about other people is appropriate—for example, on this trip I obviously had to show all of my friends a recent photo of my nephew and gush about how he’s simply the awesomest kid ever. Also, we often learn funny stories about other people that are worth sharing. However, it’s very easy to slip into lashon hara (that’s Hebrew for “talking shit”)—sadly, this sometimes helps us to feel connected with others. While it’s important to feel connected, I’d rather feel inspired, and lashon hara may effect a lot of emotions, but inspiration is not one of them. At the request of one of my best friends, I have made a new year’s resolution to surround myself with people who inspire me more, but I realize now that anybody can inspire me if we can shift our conversation to something, anything, beyond other people.
* * *
I got pretty fucked up with my friend in Annapolis. We started by going to a tavern a little off the main drag so that I could watch the 49er game. My friend had been told that it was a “hipster bar,” but it was really just a sports bar, filled with Ravens fans who reminded me that outside of the liberal cities I mentioned at the beginning of the post, much of America is pretty darn obese. However, they had “Sweet Baby Jesus” (peanut butter chocolate porter) on tap and some darn good buffalo wings, so we really had no choice but to start drinking at 4 PM. After the game my friend took me to a bar that brewed a number of beers in the 8-12% ABV range, and then we went back to his place where he had a bottle of Woodford Reserve waiting. In college we used to drink a lot of Jim Beam, but I’m proud to say that at the very least, we’re now adult enough to afford better quality booze.
“You know what sucks the most about being single?” my friend inquired.
“The loneliness? The lack of regular sex? The fear that you’ll be alone forever? Not having a second person to help pay the rent? Going to restaurants and movies by yourself? Bitterly cooking for one every night? Trying to date and realizing that all of the best women are taken? Getting bitter every time you see an ad for a romantic comedy? Having no one to kiss on New Year’s Eve? Everything about Valentine’s Day?” So maybe I had thought about this before. Just a little.
“No!” my friend shouted. “It’s when your friends who are couples are so fucking condescending! Do you notice how they do that shit? How they look down on you and make fun of you for being single? Like you’re some kind of freak or something?” I had to agree—in fact, just last week I had been the butt of a joke of a pair of couples friends due to my singledom. I won’t go into details, but it really chapped my hide.
The truth is that in your thirties, it can become hard for singles to remain friends with couples. Couples like doing shit with each other. It would be weird for me to go on a ski trip with three couples. Sometimes it’s awkward going to dinner with couples…or if not awkward, annoying. There’s often a sense of “you don’t understand—you’re single,” and while this is probably true, y’all don’t gotta rub it in, okay? Soon some of these couples will start having kids, and the ever-endearing cries of “you don’t understand—you don’t have kids” will begin. I can hardly wait.
“Put that shit in your blog!” my friend shouted, slamming back another bourbon and laughing so hard he nearly choked on his ice cube.
* * *
For New Year’s Eve, a friend of my friend threw a private party in a DuPont watering hole. We had the upstairs to ourselves with an open bar, and everybody took advantage of the situation. It was an interesting collection of people, with the core group being my friend’s Skeeball team (see: stuff white people like), and all of their friends. There were many people over the age of 30 who were not married, who did not own homes, and who did not have children. In fact, I’m fairly sure that nobody at the party had kids—because once you have kids, you don’t go out to wild parties. As far as I could tell, there was only one married couple, and they had gotten married earlier in the day.
I think if we were all 5-10 years younger, the whole scene could have erupted into a Bacchanalian orgy. Instead (and to my slight disappointment), when midnight rolled around, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued, and most people who had came alone did not engage in a smooch (sadly, I was included among these ranks), except that one chick made out with the Russian dude. There’s always that one chick who makes out with the Russian dude. Another highlight was the 23 year-old girlfriend of one of the Skeeball folks flipping out because she wasn’t getting enough attention and shattering her champagne glass on the ground. That relationship probably won’t last…but I suppose that’s what happens when you try dating a 23 year-old.
It made me very happy to be in a room of belligerently drunk 30-somethings. There was no vomiting or overly-obnoxious behavior, because we 30-somethings can hold our liquor, but there was plenty of ribaldry and bawdy conversation, and a fair amount of dancing (although not as much as I would have liked). All in all, a damn good time for this old man, and it gave me hope that although all of us are becoming adults at our own paces and in our own manners, I will always be able to find kindred spirits with whom I can get shitfaced.
One final note: on NYE, prior to heading to the party, my friends showed me the video for Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” It was my first time hearing the song or seeing the video, and I will admit that I wept. After seeing that video, I was so disgusted with the present state of female singer-songwriters that I insisted that we watch the videos for Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,” Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” all in quick succession—whenever I start to panic at the state of music in this day and age, I just revert back to the early 90s version of the applicable genre. Fiona Apple had more sexy in the top joint of her pinky than Miley Cyrus will ever have in her whole naked body (which I guess I have now seen). However, I admit that Fiona Apple, and Natalie Imbruglia, and probably Lisa Loeb were all waaaayyy too skinny. I’m really glad that as a society we have moved away from that whole “thin is in” thing.
* * *
I’m sorry if you clicked on this post expecting more about Washington, D.C. Once you get away from all the monuments it’s a pretty nice town, with a few good restaurants, some excellent museums, decent live music and no shortage of fun bars. Everybody is really smart—in fact, I fear that D.C. could potentially beat SF in a trivia contest. D.C. has a burgeoning tech scene (supposedly) and I could waive into the D.C. bar without taking another test, making it one of the few places in the country I would consider moving. But then again, the fact that I stepped off my plane (which had been delayed at Washington Dulles for 3 hours for “de-icing”) into balmy 47-degree weather and felt warm is an indication that D.C. is no place for me. Also, “Washington D.C. Love Affair” does not have the same ring to it. So it looks like I’m going to stick around SF for a little while longer.
Right before I got on my plane to come home, I received a group email invitation from a friend back in SF. She was organizing an impromptu get together to celebrate the closing on a house she bought with her fiancé. The gathering was to take place at a restaurant in Oakland that was “baby friendly.” I just laughed.
And speaking of Russian dudes:
Yes, I understand that the band itself is German. Stop overthinking this shit.