flowers at the Ukraine embassy
Friday, April 15 2022
location: upper floor, Apartment [REDACTED], East Watergate Building, Washington, DC
I was up at 6:30 again this morning, but Gretchen's father was not yet up puttering around. I added more coffee to the basket that he'd prepared in the coffee maker and pushed the button to start the process while reading all the fucked-up news: the successes of RUssia in eastern Ukraine (despite the loss yesterday of their flagship Black Sea war vessel), the insane antics of the governor of Texas to sabotage the economy in his own state to somehow "own the libs," and the madness with respect to abortion laws. There are so many people taking wrecking ball to society, it makes you wonder if it can possibly survive. And here I was, in some of the most expensive real estate in the capitol city of the richest nation in the known universe. At least if the Ruskies decide to send the Jesus-riding doomsday nukes while I'm here, I'll probably never have the misfortune of knowing.
Gradually the others got up and came to the dining room. And then it was time for my morning scrum, which I'd been mentioning so often that it had become something of a joke. When I returned from that, Gretchen's mother (who has been writing a memoir) was in the middle of telling a long story about her childhood, which was beset by periods of poverty after her father died when she was only eight years old. But eventually her mother was promoted in her job (in the copyright office) to the point where her family was moderately comfortable. But all was not well; eventually her sister Jane married a womanizing doctor who abandoned his family soon after the birth of their third daughter. I hadn't known to what extent he was a schmuck; among the many jaw-dropping stories about him was the time, at the wedding for one of his daughters (paid for by her step-father Tandy), the deadbeat dad tried to make good on the whole thing by slipping Tandy a $20 bill.
Then Gretchen's father told a series of stories about his childhood. His father was a civil engineer who moonlit as an SAT tutor, initially for just $2/hour (though this would've been back in the 1950s or early 1960s). And his mother also tried to scratch together an income, in her case by selling the World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door (and getting commissions from other women who did the same in a primitive multi-level setup).
Eventually I relocated out to the west balcony as I had yesterday, though conditions were about ten degrees colder, so I had to wear socks, long trousers, and a light jacket. As I had yesterday, I drank kratom tea while figuring out the arcane details of deploying a development version of my Fargate-based AppStream login. It was mostly working, though it was not interfacing correctly with the single-sign-on identity server.
I'd hoped to do some tinkering with ESP8266-based temperature probes on this trip. But for some reason my Arduinoesque D1 board was refusing to communicate over its serial bus, likely because of a hardware defect.
Eventually the weather was warm enough for Gretchen to take her reading and Spanish Duolingo course down to the electric-green lawn in the middle of the Watergate towers.
For some reason we had a very early "dinner" at about 2:30 this afternoon. It consisted of a matzo-based "lasagna" that was surprisingly flavorless. So I mostly stuck to the lentil soup from yesterday, which I thought was very good. (I'm not sure why we were eating matzo before Passover had begun; Gretchen told me once that matzo is supposedly forbidden until the first seder. Not that it actually matters; but Gretchen's family generally keeps within the rules of the Law.)
While others pealed away from "dinner," I sat there talking with my sister-in-law and father-in-law about retirement communities. Linda, my sister-in-law's mother, is becoming increasingly forgetful and has agreed to move into a retirement community in Corvalis, Oregon, when Gretchen's brother and family (whom she's been living with for nearly twenty years) moves there. I was interested in this subject partly because of my mother's ever-worsening dementia. But, unlike with Linda, it seems unlikely I would ever be able to convince my mother to wash herself, let alone move to somewhere new.
As the sun was going down, Gretchen (who had changed into a dress) wanted to go for a walk along the Potomac into Georgetown. She'd found some valium for us to take to make the experience somewhat chemically recreational.
There were a lot of people hanging out along the waterfront as we walked through. This included a number of boats tied up along the concrete mooring, their occupants drinking WHite Claws and other douchey adult beverages while pairs of mallard ducks dabbled in the detritus floating in the Potomac's greenish-brown water.
At some point we crossed the canal and headed back towards the Watergate on one of Georgetown's main drags, which was bustling with a great many pedestrians. The first landmark of note was the Ukrainian embassy, where many bundles of flowers and even children's toys had been left, along with a beautiful hand-drawn poster featuring a dove and many sunflowers (the national flower of Ukraine). Most of the handscrawled messages on it blandly called for peace, although someone called Vladimir Putin a "puta."
By now I had a hankering for french fries, and so we kept on the lookout for a not-too-crowded place with sunny outdoor seating where one could eat fries. Strangely, we found no places fitting this description in Georgetown, and it was only when we got to Pennsylvania Avenue, which was angled in such a way that the setting sun illuminated it on nicely, that we found restaurants with sunny outdoor seating. One such place was Duke's Grocery, which had that name as a hipster indulgence, since it was a restaurant and not a grocery store. It was in one of the buildings were the old building fronts had been preserved while everything behind it had been removed and replaced with a modern structure. Out in front of Duke's, there were trays full of sliders, and many of these were Impossible sliders. But unfortunately, that was for some law school group, not the public. We couldn't get seating, but we could order food (including beer) to go, and take it to an empty table belonging to some other restaurant and eat there. It wasn't ideal, especially given all the single-use plastic this required, but it allowed me to drink a beer and eat fries. The fries were the expensive restaurant kind, meaning they were semi-flaccid and the lacked crisp exoskeletons I prefer. But we already knew there wasn't a lot of choice.
On the walk from there back to the Watergate, we got some carrots and hot sauce at a Whole Foods. (The existing hot sauce in Gretchen's parents dining room was well past its "best by" date, so I wanted something fresh.)
I drank a German lager out on the west balcony in the twilight while uploading photos from the Ukrainian embassy to Facebook. And then Gretchen and I chatted with her father for awhile about the ongoing war. Gretchen's father was surprisingly bellicose about it, saying he thought someone should've bombed the Kremlin. He's usually a lot more pragmatic, particularly when the risk is something like World War III.
Gretchen in the central grassy area at the Watergate. The Potomac and skyline of Arlington, Virginia, are visible behind her.
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The Washington Monument peaks out behind the Watergate, viewed from northward on the Potomac River.
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Hand-drawn poster in front of the Ukrainian embassy in Georgetown.
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In front of the Ukrainian embassy.
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Hand-drawn poster outside the Ukrainian embassy.
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