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I heard a Senator poop and he didn't wash his hands
I was on Capitol Hill to research my absurdist politics novel, and by research I mean, capturing vibes. I’m not writing about any particular real person or party but rather the thing of it all, the strangeness of the rules and traditions that supposedly keep our society together.
Specifically, I’ve been sitting in on hearings. There are always hearings, whether or not legislation is involved. The question is, why? If there is a bill, they are not actually retrieving new information. To testify at a hearing on Capitol Hill, you need to be invited. Meaning the Senator or Representative knows you and what you plan to say. What if there is no bill involved? They say it’s to put things “on the record,” whatever that means, as if there is some god who only ever reads “the record,” at which point Things Happen.
That same day, Seth took his driver’s license test. The DC road test includes a parallel parking challenge with cones in place of cars and curbs. The problem is, there is no passenger window to line up with, no curb on which to test your tires. In fact the cones are barely visible except in rearview mirrors. So he’d failed the first time, because this is an impossible task, until you go to their website and find their video on the cone test, and they give you the cheats: three cones in the left mirror, then twist, until one cone appears in the right, twist again, and go—and it worked. This test about parallel parking with cones, which is a thing you will never have to do, can only be accomplished if you watch a video about parallel parking with cones, so all of his practice with real parallel parking was wasted; he should’ve just been watching Youtube about parallel parking with cones, and when he did, he succeeded. When I was on the Hill, eating lunch in the Senate cafeteria, Seth was lining up cones and becoming a member of Society.
Said lunch was a salad bar in the Senate basement. The fanciest salad bar I’ve ever seen. I found a coveted spot near an outlet. Then a group of doctor lobbyists sat next to me. But they didn’t look like doctors. They wore suits with ties. Ties used to be used as napkins to wipe your face and/or cover up misplaced buttons. Now would anyone dare wipe a chin on a tie? Ties signify poise. Adulthood. Power. For women, there are dresses, and also suits. I like wearing a suit on Capitol Hill, and by suit I mean this one navy blue suit jacket, with a shirt of various niceness underneath. The doctors asked me: “Which Senator do you work for?” Success.
Later, I went to Union Station to sit somewhere different. I heard screaming from the atrium. For a half-second it seemed like something terrible had happened. Soon it became clear that these were screams of joy. Kid screams. With cheers, bangs, whoops, all the things kids do. It was annoying—I was trying to read—but also, what? It didn’t die down, it came in waves, all these cheerings, but why? So I went to investigate and saw: two hundred teenagers, lined up on the second floor, overlooking the atrium, cheering people as they walked by. That was it. They would clap for everyone who walked beneath them, and sometimes, that person would wave or raise their fist, at which point the kids would go crazy, and said person might do something even weirder, driving the kids wild, until it continued into screams. I watched this for a bit. The whole situation was clearly ironic; who cares about a stranger simply walking by? I guessed they had time to kill before a train or bus took them to the next spot on their field trip; there were adult chaperones nearby, bored. But something funny happened. The cheers began to feel real. It may have started as a joke, but they tricked themselves into really caring, really feeling an overwhelming joy about the simple fact that people were walking through Union Station, getting to their destination. And the walkers, they may have started out feeling annoyed, but then thought, hey, people are really cheering for me, and you know what? Why not? It really is an accomplishment to get through each day, to get from one side of Union Station to the other, and some of the people down below really got into it, giving the kids a little dance, a little show, and the crowd went wild, they really went for it, and everyone felt amazing, even me, watching on the sidelines; one man in a wheelchair spun it around and raised his hands and the kids started chanting, “MVP! MVP!” and the man nearly floated away, so palpable was his joy.
When I learned how to two-step, I decided Seth needed to learn it too, and the only way I could convince him was to find the most showy-yet-doable dance move on the internet: the backflip. And when we learned how to dance a backflip, and we backflipped our hearts out at weddings and more: this past December, our building held a party for its residents, with food, drinks, live music, the works, and we met a couple new friends, fellow catsitters, and talked about our cats until the music became too loud, at which point we gave in and listened, and even nodded our heads a little. Then the singer called out to the crowd, “Residents of Floor One, give it up!” and the ten-ish residents of floor one raised their hands as everyone around them cheered. They moved on to floors two, three, four, you get the idea, until they reached eight, our floor, and no one else raised their hands, so Seth and I found our spot in the middle of the dance floor and did a backflip. The crowd went wild and our new friends stared at us with open jaws. This is exactly why we learned it. For glory.
On the Hill, when I got bored of a Senate committee hearing, I went into the hallway and sat outside the bathroom. Videocameras and journalists were lining up nearby, waiting for the hearing to end so they could pounce on Senators for interviews. But before the hearing ended, a certain Senator, possibly the most powerful Senator currently in Congress, sneaked out the back room and went into the bathroom. No one else was in this bathroom, I had been watching. After a minute or so, there was a flush. And then he left.
What should I do with this information? It feels important. Would it get him fired? Or would he turn around and say, why wash hands anyway? Admit it: there have been times in the comfort of your own home, when no one was around, when you didn’t wash your hands. In public, we all do it. But what if we didn’t?
So I’m watching these kids at Union Station, half-wishing I had the guts to run in there, to walk through that atrium and be the recipient of cheers, but knowing I wouldn’t do it alone. But I know what I would’ve done if Seth were with me. We would have marched into the middle of the atrium and done a backflip, just like that. And then, while the kids were screaming louder than they ever thought possible, I’d get down on one knee and pretend to propose. And he’d pretend to say yes and then we’d kiss and then we’d bow. And they’d all rush down and swarm us and lift us in their hands, carrying us all the way home. And it would all be fake but it’d be real, too. We are really engaged. We really can do a backflip. We are heroes for washing our hands and walking through a room. A hundred children should cheer for us because we are alive and somehow holding it all together. I would cheer for you, too.
PS: Here is the last photo I will post of little Estella, who’s getting adopted on Tuesday: