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I Will Be on Some TV Friday: Click the link for details!

03/06/2008 08:32 PM  |  Comment (4)

East Coast Bias: So, we've been living in the swamp for two whole months already. Here's the digs:

Note the snazzy Pete Welch-bought greatcoat. Also, since Emmanuelle brought me back a bunch of new shirts from France, I had to wear a lot of vests (it was either that or actually use the ironing board), so now that's apparently my "look." Funny, how nobody paid attention to my (terrible) "look" when I lived in Hollywood.... Anyway, note the sweet lil' narrow house (the bricks on the left are an apartment building); the steps there lead up to the middle of three floors, with each floor having two rooms split by a staircase. Pretty cute, a little short on backyard charm (a small square patch of concrete), under-bathroomed, over-expensive, and in a terrific neighborhood 10 minutes (by foot) from my office. We're about 0.5 Ikea assemblies and 1.0 purchases of a pricey dining room table away from being able to throw a proper house-warming party.

How's DC? Full of rats. The night we moved in, Jan. 1, we stopped by a horrid Safeway up in the nearby Adams Morgan neighborhood to get some essentials. In the checkout line, a gnarly little black rat scampered around everyone's feet in the 10-person-long line. The best part is how all the employees just laughed and laughed. And because every other goddamn human in this town is a blogger, you can read about the very same rat on the very same night right here! I've always seen more rats on the sidewalks of DC than in any other city I've visited. That cute little front yard you see up there gets swarmed with rats about one day out of 10. Luckily they're the small kind.

And the humans? A strange breed, too. Granted, I've been working quite a bit editing a political magazine and talking about a political book, and Reason now has plenty of social activities, so my vision is necessarily skewed ... but people here sure like to talk about their politics! Even the street-bum preachers disgorge heavy political content. One time, at around 11 p.m. in a Dupont pub, I spied two vaguely familiar people cheering spontaneously in the general direction of a television set. Curious to see what game they were watching, I went over and asked. They pointed up at the monitor -- it was playing warmed-over C-SPAN 2 footage of one of their favorite unknown congressmen giving testimony. "YOU PEOPLE ARE SICK!!" I screamed. It didn't matter.

One extremely shallow way to gauge a city is by attempting to buy some new clothes. From this extravagantly unscientific experiment I can exclusively report there seem to be four main categories of male consumer -- Chamber of Commerce Republicans, stylish gay guys, the most ridiculous, retch-inspiring, pressed-shirt yachtsmen you have ever seen; and black guys hitting the clubs. (Many, many people belong to multiple categories.) Hard place to find a decent pair of shoes, in other words. Also, the few malls here make you pay for parking, which, as Emmanuelle rightly notes, is "unAmerican" and "culturally unsound."

If I am sounding much more negative than I actually feel, it's because of the weather. Turns out, I still don't like to be cold. And the mood swings of this climate! Seriously, it'll change 20 degrees in one hour, which is something I haven't seen before. Apparently, we get to enjoy 96 hours of spring, in which some cherries will blossom, then the Oppressive Heat comes for four months. During which time poor Emmanuelle is scheduled to manufacture a screaming new humanoid. Thank God for New York being a short-ish (and cheap!) bus ride away, and for Miami & various islands being a quick north-south puddle-jump.

What else, aside from burying the lede? Probably the most interesting thing about living in DC, and in the neighborhood I do, is that it's largely black. The U Street Corridor, of which we're on the western end (quick question: is there any city in the U.S. where the wealth curve doesn't increases as you travel west?), is kind of Ground Zero for the gentrification wars here, such as they exist. Basically, younguns and gays and yuppies have come into what has been a black and immigrant neighborhood, specifically the historic Shaw District, which was "the pre-Harlem center of African-American intellectual and cultural life," sez Wikipedia. Black folk call the neighborhood "Shaw," white folk go with "U Street," or one of the other mini-neighborhoods that have coalesced in recent years.

By whatever name, the whole area was trashed to a crisp 40 years ago next month, in horrible riots that began two blocks away from where I sit. People who have lived here for decades express astonishment that 14th Street, for example, is anything but a riot-scarred hellscape, let alone the blooming urban corridor it is today.

In ways subtle and blunt, I'm experiencing more flavors and quantities of black American culture than I have since high school back in Long Beach. A local newscaster does a really interesting five-minute report on two old local black musicians (whose names I've forgot!), who've played on scores of classic records you've heard. (The default ethnicity on the local newscasts I've watched has been black, not white.) Both street-level commerce and 13th-floor professional life is a helluva lot blacker than most of Los Angeles. I've heard more Bob Marley and more mid-'70s Stones in the last two months than I have since college.

Our immediate neighborhood is a festival of handsome, cheek-by-jowl Victorians, with a scattering of faux-regal apartment complexes with pompous names ("The Diplomat," "Chateau Thierry," etc.). Too many goddamned people jog, even in the cold. There are dog boutiques, tons of serviceable-to-good restaurants, a gym on every block, yet still a smattering of corner liquor stores and soul food joints. The used books/records action looks favorable, preliminarily. And the basketball & tennis courts seem strangely available. Pretty ideal, if you ask me.

Still, living on the East Coast -- like living in Europe -- is a marvelous way to remind oneself of how Californian one truly is. It ain't the weather; it's the tradition -- I'm agin' it. Or let's say, not against, but apatheistic. People live in constant relationship to history here, as opposed to the Californian way of treating history as an amusement to be sporadically explored, rather than a legacy to Deal With. And, being a political town, it's a history of team memberships, of coalitions, of that one time when we all agreed that X policy or politician was either Da Bomb or (more likely, in my circles) Da Shitter. There is a constant, frantic struggle near the blades of the churn to define who "we" is. Makes a lad feel momentarily more sympathetic toward Jim Morrison....

Mostly, I've been too busy to integrate in any meaningful way. Having a book-subject rise from the dead to the GOP nomination in a few short months will do that to you, let alone taking the reins of a great magazine in mid-stride (only $20 a year to subscribe, ya slackers!), or moving 3,000 miles, or producing new humans, etc. All of which is to say, sorry I'm behind on my e-mails, and Go Angels!

03/02/2008 06:14 PM  |  Comment (17)

Hi! What are you doing down here?

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