Wednesday, August 08, 2018

How To Live Like A Universal Local

So there I was, sitting in Zengo, enjoying a nice brunch of dim sum and antojitos and reading the latest issue of LunchBox. There was a fascinating piece comparing the prices and tastes of a Ricky in Chinatown versus a Ricky in NoMa (one locale prefers the more traditional bourbon, whilst the other favors the more plebian gin. Natch).

I continued reading the magazine as I hopped onto the Green Line --while jamming out to some Rare Essence, of course-- past the Borf mural, down to U Street for a quick little nosh at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Following that, I snagged a conveyance from the Bike Share and made my way to Anacostia to pick up an eight ball of Hinckley and a quart of mambo sauce. With those tasks completed, I wandered over to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for my shift running the glory hole in the men’s room.

The magazine article that really caught my eye was about living like a native in this fair city. The places to go, the places to be seen, the things to do and eat, what to wear, what to do, what people to hate and the myriad other things that differentiate living in this particular city from any other city in the world.

And it was all the most egregious of bullshit.

See, I live in the Washington D.C. metro area. I was born in the city proper and grew up right outside its august gates. As far as I can tell, there are at least three separate D.C.s:

1. There’s the touristy portion, full of free --or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, needlessly expensive-- museums, national monuments, hot dogs cooked in toilet water and crappy tee shirts stitched together in Indonesian sweat shops.

      2. The political side of D.C., which is anything around Capitol Hill, (or just “The Hill” as smug, self-important assholes call it).

3. And the actual, honest-to-goodness locals, the groupings of which can be divided into sub-categories, ranging from the scared white people in Georgetown, to the scared black people in South East.

The group that tends to lead the charge when it comes to these stories about being a local and fitting in to the area, is the second group mentioned. More specifically, the people we call “transplants.” These people are usually political staffers in their 20s and early 30s who amble into town for a few years and irritatingly mandate what’s “hot” and “in” around here. Then, after the transplants have left as annoyingly as they came, we locals wash their stink off of us, have a good laugh at their expense and continue to do whatever the hell it is we do. I think it has something to do with driving like insane people.

For years, I would occasionally see these stories pop up on the laziest of “news” websites. But over time, I noticed that those kinds of pieces were appearing more and more frequently, and not just for D.C. but for all major American metropolitan areas. And even non-metropolitan areas. Which makes no sense. I don’t mind that I’m not a native of Abingdon, West Virginia. I certainly don’t need to know the proper local etiquette for asking my first cousin out.

But back to the D.C. articles; I would quickly look over their checklists of local behavior to see how I measured up, and I often found myself wanting. I would panic, because I felt that I wasn’t living right. Yet, like an addiction, I would feel compelled to read about how I was a failure as a native Washingtonian. I would pick up a newspaper, --or, more likely, click on a link, because we live in Buck Rogers times now-- and thick, sour rivers of sweat would pour down my face as I read about the restaurants and bars that I’d never heard of, but everyone was going to, including my loved ones and family pets.

I was forever baffled. I couldn’t understand how I, as an indigenous dude, had missed the double-decker tour bus on all of these wonderful things that absolutely everybody I’ve ever known had been doing for years. And then it hit me: these lists aren’t written by, or meant for, locals. They’re written by outsiders. The Unbidden. Those who have weird geography identity issues and are OCD about classifying humans. And, on top of that, the lists are so esoteric as to be meaningless to anybody who reads them beyond a two-block radius of the author’s pretentious coffee house of choice.

You see Washington D.C. is a large city, using land appropriated from more than one state. It has about nine dozen distinct neighborhoods and a population of “oodles” according to the US Census Bureau website. The point is that the day-to-day life of a citizen in Tenleytown can be the polar opposite of that of a resident of Ward 8, but they’re still both inhabitants of the same city. Just two different parts of this multicolored, patchwork quilt we call The Former Murder Capital of these United States.

Anything I have done as a local is automatically something that a local does. It’s one of the simplest truisms to ever make itself known to me (the other being Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy). And it’s one I wish I was famous enough to abuse. Because then I’d be constantly walking around town in footie pajamas, walking my pet llama on a dental floss leash and eating only pineapple rinds, making sure that all the tourists got a good steaming gawk at me. And then, when I was sure I have everybody’s attention, I’d scream at the top of my lungs “Welcome to the Nation’s Capital! I’ll be your guide!”

I can see it in my mind’s eye. My “Living Like a Local” tour would be a smash hit. Buy your tickets now.

Saturday, August 04, 2018


That night during dinner was the second time that Duncan saw the captain and it was a more telling encounter.

            At the end of a long and raucous dinner the captain struggled to rise from his table. He managed, but only after grabbing onto Esten for support. Able’s eyes scanned the assembled crew and he held his hands out in front of him almost as if he were about to conduct an invisible orchestra. When he talked, his hands became very animated, jabbing the air to accentuate each slurred word the captain said.

            “Greetings to all here tonight. As you all know, my name is Capt. Vincent Able, and I am the big man on this ship. What I say goes and you will all follow my directions implicitly.”

            Duncan looked down at the area on the table in front of the captain. The place was filled with empty glasses.

            Uh oh, Duncan though. Looks like the captain enjoys a drink or 10 with dinner.

            “What you don’t all know,” continued Able, “is that this is my first time as a captain of a cruise ship. All of my previous nautical experience has been at the helm of a whaling ship. But, now with those stupid, pointless international whaling laws putting decent guys out of good, hard work, I’ve had to hop on a different boat, as it were.” Able paused and swept his eyes across the room once more.

            “Because this is my first time, I want to make a great impression on everybody and do a great job. So what I want out of you people is dedication and loyalty. Do as I say and I think we’ll all have a really great summer this year,” he said. “It’ll be great.”

            Able faltered at that moment, and it was apparent to Duncan that all the alcohol the captain had drunk during dinner was going to get the best of him. Mr. Esten sensed this and took the captain by arm and led him away.

            Duncan wasn’t happy about finding out the captain was a drunk, and neither were the other people at his table; all members of Mr. Brooks and The Floating Troubadours.

            “I’ve heard that Able was actually fired from his last job for getting drunk and shooting a harpoon gun at his own men,” said the bassist to his left.

            “Yeah? Well I heard that he got really drunk and tried to make a pass at his male first mate,” said the drummer to his right.

            “You’re both right in that he’s a big drunk. I heard from another guy that Able was the actual captain of the Exxon Valdez,” said the triangle player across from Duncan.

            “Well, if what any of what you guys say is right,” Duncan started, “then it looks like we’re going to have a wild ride in store for us.”

            The night of the storm proved how prophetic Duncan’s words were. The captain was drunk that night, again, and refused to listen to Esten’s warnings. It wasn’t until the Rose started listing five degrees starboard that Able finally admitted that they might be taking on water. But it wasn’t until two ensigns drowned trying to confirm the reports about sinking that the captain finally did something about it.

            Drenched by the storm and yelling at the top of his lungs so that his crew could hear him through the cacophony of the storm, Able oversaw the evacuation of the ship. He launched all of the life boats, with the cruise guests aboard. Then, once the guests were gone, he saw to the needs of his crew. Unfortunately, by then, there weren’t enough boats for everybody. Not that it mattered anyway because before anybody had a chance to do anything, the Rose lurched violently starboard, spilling the captain and everybody else in the bridge into the shark-infested maelstrom below. The EPIRB hadn’t even been engaged. Without the position indicator, the rescue teams wouldn’t know where to search for survivors.

            Duncan was in bed when the ship started to sink. He was groggy and a little hung over from his own drinking binge earlier that night. By the time the screams started he was able to collect his thoughts. I want to live! He said to himself.

            During earlier forays, poking around the bowels of the ship, Duncan found a storeroom with rubber life rafts still in boxes. He ran there now, shoving other people out of his way to make it there quicker. After breaking down the door to the storeroom, Duncan grabbed a box and ran out to the main deck. With the storm thrashing around him, tossing people and deck chairs around like rag dolls, Duncan pulled the raft out of the box and prepared to inflate it.

He had his hand on the rip cord when he was broadsided and knocked unconscious by a bunch of shuffleboard sticks that had been torn from their locker.


That was the last thing Duncan remembered from that night. The next thing he knew it was morning and he was adrift in the lifeboat.


            That was all he wanted. An end to this interminable drifting.

            It was the morning of the sixth day when he finally spotted the shore. At first, he didn’t want to believe it. He just assumed that it was another figment of his imagination, (he had already had a long, thought-provoking conversation with Genghis Khan the previous night. The man had a great recipe for meatloaf.) and would soon disappear, just as his night-time cooking companion had done. But two hours later he realized that he had drifted closer and could actually make out features of the land.

            Duncan was ecstatic. The sight of ground renewed his strength and sent his optimism soaring.


            By the afternoon Duncan was close enough to stumble onto the pebbled beach. It was the first time in a month that he had touched the ground, and he was loving every second of the sensation. Step by step he made his way up the beach and collapsed onto the hot sand. He had made it; he had survived a sinking ship and more than five days at sea. He had the one and only thing he could possibly want, a place to stand, sit and lay down. Terra Firma. There was nothing else he wanted. Nothing at all.

            Except, maybe…water.