Sunday, June 17, 2007

You Know You're in DC When . . .

There is something biologically and inexplicably potent in the body of an infant. Which of the current presidential hopefuls would not love that abilityto hold a roomful of adults in reverent, attentive silence, to catch the glimmer of a smile, the breath of a cry? Watching a baby is like watching the ocean. One can do it forever, and it no longer matter what else happens in the world, so long as that bird-sized ribcage goes on falling and rising, like the ocean breakers of a sea inlet.

Stepping on the red-eye flight on Tuesday night, I had an unexpected sense of pushing against a magnetic field, of confused physical rending. And it was for Isaac, who for a few hours I held and laughed at and admired.

I was happy to jump straight back into work, and into this city which can be so artlessly beguiling.

IJM moved into its new office space a few weeks ago. Our building has 16 floors, but the 13th, instead of being labeled as such, is supersitiuosly called "M" for mezzanine. It might also stand for McCain (or "Mavw=erick"), whose campaign is headquarted there, and whose staffers all ride up and down the elevator with an aura of flustered importance, dressed as if they were going to watch a polo match.

To get home from the office, I walk down Army Navy Drive. I pass the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Air Force Memorial in my mile-long stroll, sites that move me with a blend of dread, pride, confusion, and intertia. I have never been able to quite sort out the honor of that tradition and the contested injustices of current foreign policy, so I leave it alone.

On Friday night, passing the Air Force Memorial on the far side of the street, I heard the living strains of violin music from up the hill. I crossed to the memorial grounds, where the three talons of blistering bright metal, lit from underneath, arch into the sky. The missing man formation. It has always reminded me of claws, or of the arch of the human spine when the head is thrown back in a cry of joy and triumph. An exultant addition to the landscape. When newcomers arrive in the city, I don't tell them I live on Columbia Pike. I tell them I live next to the Claw, about which I feel a sort of neighborhood pride.

As I crossed onto the grounds, where signs bade me not to walk on the closely manicured strips of grass, I saw twenty violinits in Air Force uniform, instruments in hand, playing out song after song to a delighted crowd. I sat on a block of marble to hear them move from tango to strathspey to jig. The Capitol dome and the Washington monument lay in the distance. The first fireflies of summer winked like lazy green eyes against the deepening sky. A traffic policeman, in a bright orange reflector vest, abandoned the crosswalk where he was on duty to move closer to the music. First he tapped his foot, then he began to move his whole body, wielding his orange baton to play an imaginary fiddle. Then, as if regaining control of his limbs, he forced his arms to fold and contented himself with the most enthusiastic foot-tapping. When the music ended, the band took a profound obeisance, and I wandered the last block homeward in the darkness, now complete.

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