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June 6 1998, Saturday



  biked into Bethesda today to meet up with Spring of Springdew web designs (she's also the keeper of an online journal, the forklift bedecked Warehouse). She has lived with her husband in Fort Meade (near kafkaesque Columbia) but is soon to relocate to New Jersey. We had plans to meet up with the Mayor of Bethesda Avenue for lunch, but he didn't materialize until later.

Bethesda Avenue was abuzz with activity, mostly involving parents with their little kids. Some kind of children's fair was going on nearby. All kinds of exotic baby carriages crowded the sidewalks. Spring pointed out the disturbing trend toward bigger and bigger carriages designed to accommodate older and older children. She wondered if perhaps these children were going to be stunted in their muscular development. I saw an immediate parallel between this trend and the earlier trend of parents housing older and older adult children. It has become hard to make it in this world, and today's kids will, on average, never be as rich as their parents. And parents (especially the wealthy ones that characterize Bethesda) feel the need to lavish luxuries upon their children for as long as they have the means to do so.

This discussion of the best techniques for raising children cropped up later, in amongst complaints about the husband, as Spring and I ate lunch across Bethesda Avenue in the China House restaurant. Since I can recall much of my childhood with unusual vividness, Spring asked for my ideas (based on my experiences from childhood) about the best way to raise her kids. I suggested that she provide her kids with things, learning tools and toys, in which they manifest particular interest. But I also cautioned that she not make things too easy on her kids; they should have to put in substantial effort to get the things they want. Spoiled kids don't adequately develop their resourcefulness skills (at this point I cite Matthew Hart as an example).

But some interests require much parental assistance to get off the ground. In my conversation with Spring, I cited my own early interest in music and musical instruments. When I was a kid, I built instruments and spent incredible amounts of time learning and playing simple cheap instruments (a xylophone and a plastic song flute, for examples). But my musical growth was stunted at an early stage of its development for want of more versatile instruments that I was unable to afford.

We never discussed instilling the value that all food on one's plate should be eaten. That's an ideal to which I am firmly committed, but one evidently unfamiliar to Spring. A substantial fraction of her sweet & sour chicken died utterly in vain.

Spring in the gloom of the Chinese restaurant (sorry about the image quality, folks!)

The food (I had the Kung Pao Chicken) was good, but the restaurant was a little weird. Our waiter had the cultured refinements of a kid back from college for the summer coerced against his better judgment into waiting tables by his chow mein slinging parents (gasp!). And one of the Hispanic dishwashers lay sleeping in the end booth.

After lunch, we went on a little walk around the children's fair, mostly happening on nearby Woodmont Avenue, which had been shut down to accommodate pedestrians and various display tents. I was immediately drawn to a display featuring a real live raven, raptors, a Black Vulture, and four species of owls, all out in the open air but tethered to their perches. It was some wildlife center's display, featuring native injured animals. Donations were being accepted and various wildlife center personnel were explaining things (including, of all things, vulture evolution - the latest theory is that they are related to storks, not eagles). It was a very popular display with the parents as well as the kids. I snapped a few picture and looked at the snakes displayed in several aquaria.

a Great Horned Owl at the children's fair

a raven against the Bethesda skyline (love that trick photography!)

Next we went to a vendor's display featuring all kinds of interesting toys:

  • a plastic frame-sphere that could collapse from a diameter of almost a yard down to the size of a baseball
  • little disks that could be spun to create a shimmering psychedelic display
  • funky glasses to create completely legal visions of rainbows around objects
  • an iron ring strung with a few plastic beads that could be made to vibrate and shake the beads with a buzzing noise

We did the whole tour, but the fair was coming to an end. I said goodbye to Spring and then, in front of Bethesda Bagels, who should I encounter but the Mayor. So I took him around the fair again, if only just to see the elegant birds.


n the evening, back again at Planet off c e n t e r, nothing much was going on except me trying to wrangle a copy of Lview Pro off the internet, just to give myself more powerful image editing capabilities. Some small percent would download and then, inevitably, the progress bar would stop progressing and sit there. I found myself wishing there was an internet protocol that allowed for fragmentary downloads so I could stop a frozen download, log in again and continue with the part of the file that had yet to download. I wonder what fraction of internet traffic is for info that's already been sent.

The Mayor called and asked if I wanted to go down to Washington DC's U Street district to see some spike and leather people. I said sure, but I needed an hour to get photographs off of my camera. He said to call him back when I was heading out. That's when technology started getting me down. All because of dead batteries in the cordless phone, I had to do this elaborate phone cord fandango in the nearly inaccessible back of the computer just to call the Mayor. I found myself moaning - almost crying - in despair as I tried to swap the cords. I hated the protocols necessary to socialize in the big city, longing for the days in Charlottesville when the plans for the night materialized unexpectedly along with people showing up at my door.


  made myself a tall vodkatea and hit the road. When I got to Bethesda Avenue, I hung out in front of Bethesda Bagels sipping my drink until the Mayor arrived.

the spooky escalator ride down beneath Bethesda

the cavernous platform of the Bethesda Metro station

We walked to the Metro station and rode the long escalator down into the depths of DC's netheruniverse. Why is the Metro down so deep beneath Bethesda? The Mayor thinks it has something to do with the fact that the Metro system is entirely flat, and since Bethesda is away from the rivers, it's higher than most of DC.

We got out at the National Zoo stop on the Metro and proceeded on foot, first across a bridge (over the Rock Creek gorge) and into the Washington Heights "U Street" District.

I have to say, I was impressed. This place was crazy. The streets were filled with all kinds of roving groups of people looking to have a good Saturday night. The scene was grungy, dirty, diverse and funky. Bars were everywhere, mixed in with McDonalds, headshops, pornographic video stores, you name it. Nothing was tidy, and even the asphalt was dingy and relaxed, like an old threadbare carpet. The people were a mixed bag as well, ranging from a frat boys to goths to elderly people to whithered alcoholics of all races. The bums were good natured and mostly just asked for cigarettes.

We passed an unusually empty restaurant and a waitress, a perky blond girl, came out and tried to interest us in coming inside, saying the restaurant had just started. The place was called "the Spaghetti House." As we continued on, we wondered why anyone would saddle their restaurant with a name like that.

We looped through this craziness twice and then took a side street off to a nearby neighborhood. A group of unknown pedestrians found themselves walking with us. Suddenly we all came upon a little storefront from which music (sounding like a hybrid between Henry Rollins and Fugazi) blared. We all stopped, and one of the unknown pedestrians said "This is the place." He negotiated with a little Jamaican guy at the door to allow all of us (though of course he didn't know either the Mayor or me at all) upstairs to see his art exhibit. We all went up to a small room and looked at the art. There were a number of vaguely-sculptural abstract paintings, but my favourite work consisted of an array of fist-sized paper maché balls with sparse little black rectangular holes drawn on their surfaces. I snapped a few pictures with my digital camera and told the artist that it would all be on the world wide web. He asked for the URL and I gave it to him. He gave me his business card:

2381 S. Dove Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
703-836-4295 FAX: 836-4397

a weird little low-relief Howard Connelly sculpture

an abstract Howard Connelly painting

Back down on the bottom of the stairs, we stood watching the band rocking out in the lower room, where more art hung on the walls. Howard wanted to show us more stuff, but the Jamaican guy wouldn't let us enter the room. It seems that the band was just then videotaping their performance and couldn't be interrupted. I didn't see it happen, but Howard evidently thought he could ignore the Jamaican guy and barge on past the video camera to the art beyond. A fight broke out, not so much a physical fight, but a shouting and shoving match, between the little Jamaican guy and the much bigger, much more soft-spoken leather-jacket wearing artist. "I'm goin' to keek yoh ahhs!" shouted the little Jamaican guy as the artist stumbled out into the street. Howard turned around to give his diminutive opponent a befuddled stare as one of the Jamaican guy's friends saw fit to restrain the dread-locked terror. He was like an angry little bantam rooster.

The Mayor and I continued on, eventually ending up at our destination, the Black Cat, a bar on 14th street. Sort of like the Tokyo Rose, it had two sections, one devoted to live music, the other a simple bar. But the bar was no classy place established for the dainty eating of sushi. It was a dimly-lit smoke-filled place with walls painted crimson, imparting a dream-like quality to events taking place therein.

For drinks, we stuck mostly to pitchers of Rolling Rock, which were $9 each. Unlike our night at Flanagans, we fanned out more and engaged people at random. As drunk as I was, and embolden by the low likelihood of my ever returning, I was very outgoing, randomly injecting myself into conversations with various girls. It all seemed very natural; the people looked like the sort with whom I would normally socialize. The bartenders, by the way, were seemingly even more familiar; one of them kind of reminded me of Monster Boy.

My random conversations with strange girls continued. Almost everyone was unusually friendly and willing to chat, with but one exception. I rudely asked one heavily tattooed Asian girl what was the meaning of a Chinese character inscribed in the middle of her back; it was the kind of question you're just never supposed to ask of someone who has modified her body. She said, "It means 'go away.'" That was really the only thing she could have said.

The bar was equipped with a pool table, a jukebox, and a little nook with comfortable couches. I checked out all these places. In the ruddy drunken darkness, these places were like detached scenes in a tussin adventure.

Last call came and went. As the Mayor and I were about to leave, I still had a glass of beer which I impulsively decided to stuff down my pants and smuggle out the door to drink on the walk home. One of the official Black Cat staffers, a severe-looking young woman, saw me doing this and flew into a rage. She snatched the beer away from me and grabbed me by the neck with her long sharp fingernails Theresa Venesian stylee and proceeded to drag me to the door. This might have been terrifying had I not been grabbed like this dozens of times before by drunken goth girls. She shouted at me, "I've seen you hitting on under age girls all night!" (as if the guy checking I.D.s at the door had been asleep at the wheel). It was all pretty funny, and the Mayor and I had a good chuckle about it as we walked on down the street.

The Mayor thought the Metro had probably stopped running and that we'd need to get a cab. He flagged one down and we returned to Bethesda overland via Connecticut Avenue.

On Bethesda Avenue, I fell down on my first attempt to ride my bike, but once I got going I made it back to Planet off c e n t e r just fine.


one year ago
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