Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Letting It All Hang Out

Two weekends ago, my father, at 71 years of age, suddenly found himself nearly face-to-face with a bunch of singing, naked people.

No, he had not joined the chorus at a nudist colony; he’d gone with me and my mother to see “Hair” at the Keegan Theater in D.C., and we were sitting in the second row.

Nothing in my life had prepared me for that particular moment, and I’m fairly certain Dad didn’t see it coming, either.  For openers, Dad is not a culture guy.  He loves sports first and foremost, and his idea of high art is watching Roy Halladay pitch a no-hitter.  He appreciates a good play or musical from time to time, but he doesn’t go out of his way for it.  In fact, it usually takes some convincing to get him to trade nine innings for two acts.

It’s particularly impressive, then, that Mom got him to agree to see “Hair,” because the very name of the show refers to something Dad hasn’t had in years. (Not on his head, anyway.)

I wasn’t around to hear Mom’s sales pitch, but I bet she chose not to burden my father with the nitty-gritty of the plot.  She probably told him it was a musical about the ‘60s and left it at that.  Mom would have known that, had she offered a more complete description of the show –a bunch of hippies singing about sex, drugs and war in graphic detail –my straight-laced father might not have left the house.

Or maybe she just wanted Dad to be surprised.  I could relate to that.  I wanted to be surprised, too.  I knew nothing about the show beyond its setting time-wise, and I intended to keep it that way.  I purposely avoided reading reviews, synopses, or any other press.

On the night of the show, our group, which included two of my aunts and uncles and a few of their friends, arrived at the Keegan at 7:45.  The theater is a beautiful, all-brick building near Dupont Circle.  Built in 1905, it originally served as the gymnasium for a girls school.

Since its conversion to a performing arts venue, the Keegan has shed its gym image but not so much the 1905 part.  Nowhere is this more evident than in its two restrooms.  Located in the basement, each is a “one-holer” that features what may be original plumbing, as well as a sign above the toilet that reads: Please jiggle the handle.

My father must have felt right at home on seeing this public endorsement of his lone solution for every plumbing malady.  But any goodwill he was feeling shot right out the window when, during the first ten seconds of the play, one of the male leads performed an extended pantomime of what I’ll euphemistically refer to as an act of “self-gratification.”  (Hey, my mother reads this blog.)

As I sat next to my father, I was truly beside myself.  I had brief hopes of escape by way of spontaneous combustion, using the heat that had sprung to my cheeks.  When that didn’t work, I did what any mature, professional 42 year-old woman would do: I snickered uncontrollably.  Dad’s face looked like something out of Easter Island.

The three of us somehow made it all the way through the first act, despite one song whose title and lyrics read like entries in Roget’s Thesaurus: Human Mating Edition.

During the intermission, my parents and I chatted, pointedly omitting mention of the unsavory stuff and instead praising the cast for its vocal skills, costumes, and willingness to abandon any pretense of grooming habits in order to get “in character.”

Great pic of the cast, thanks to DC Theater Scene!

We returned to our seats and everything was going fine until the middle of Act Two, when the Hippies decided to stage a “be-in” at a park.

Since I was born in 1971, I had no idea what a “be-in” was.  I quickly learned it’s short for “be in your birthday suit” as the ensemble burst into song and out of their clothes, singing as a full Monty chorus line for a minute that felt like a year.  Forget “Let the Sunshine In;” the moons had taken center stage.  I couldn’t bear to look at my father.

The show ended shortly after that—a mercy killing—and the cast began to take its bows.  Dad, who hadn’t so much as applauded once during the show, stunned me by being one of the first people to leap to his feet and clap with genuine enthusiasm.

He saw my surprise and said, “The music wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and the whole thing’s a little dated, but they gave it everything they had, and they were great.” He was absolutely right, because the production was nothing short of top-notch.

I had underestimated my father, as I’ve done many times over the course of my life.  I should have known that, instead of dwelling on the stuff he didn’t like, my father would look past form, focus on substance, and zero in on the naked truth.

Greetings and salutations

On Thursday nights I participate in a small, instructor-led writing critique group.  Last fall our “class” consisted of seven women, plus our instructor.   Our age ranged from early forties to late sixties, with a cluster somewhere in the fifties.

I love the group because all of us write in different styles and genres, which makes us good readers for each other, and our discussions always motivate me.  We’d taken a break for the holidays and I could hardly wait for our sessions to resume. I even volunteered to take a turn in the hot seat and have my work reviewed on our first night back.

Our instructor, “Donna,” let us know via email last week that our ranks had expanded and diversified: We had gained a dude.

My work-in-progress– a collection of humor essays that loosely chronicles my thirties–is meant to appeal to adults of both genders, but I haven’t had a chance to test that yet. I welcomed the opportunity to get a male’s perspective on my writing.

Just before Thursday’s class, Jim emailed me his comments. The somewhat formal language used in his message hinted that he might be older.  So did his comments.  He found the piece funny overall but thought some of my dating adventures defied credibility (such as when a former suitor, on picking me up at my old house for our first date, eyed the place and said, “Eh, it’s nothing a wrecking ball can’t fix.”).

Jim’s written comments on my piece included the following: “I doubt anyone would say something like this, or if he did, that a woman wouldn’t slam the door in his face.”  Both of his doubts were understandable, and also unfounded. The events happened exactly as I wrote them.

On Thursday night, when I saw Jim come up the stairs into our instructor’s living room, I was caught a bit off guard. He was older than the rest of us, all right.  His white hair and weathered face had me thinking he was in his mid-70s, if not older.

I was standing closest to the stairs as he came up so I said, “Hi there, I’m Karen.”

Apparently I wasn’t exactly what he expected, either, because he didn’t say “Hello,” “Nice to meet you” or “How do you do?”

On meeting me, Jim’s exact words, or word, to be more precise, was, “Interesting.”

In a situation where most people would’ve produced a standard salutation, Jim gave me a random adjective.  I’m lucky it was “interesting” instead of, say, “lumpy” or “ripe.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing, which is a real shame.  I missed the perfect chance to channel my dad and bust out a hearty, “Good luck with that thing you’re doing.”

One is the loneliest number

My sister, Lynne, got trapped in the elevator at her office this morning. And it wasn’t one of those five-minute confinements that happens to everybody at some point, either.  She was stuck in there for over thirty minutes. I know this because I got a text from her somewhere around minute six.

She didn’t say she was alone but I assumed that’s what inspired her to send the text. That, and boredom.

As a parent who works full-time while raising two kids, she probably didn’t know what to do when she suddenly found herself with an unknown quantity of unplanned time and minimal access to external diversions.

Going nowhere but, well, nowhere.

On learning that help was on the way, some people would have sat down, leaned against the elevator wall, closed their eyes, and let their minds wander for a bit.

My sister is not that person.  Which is not to say she isn’t contemplative, because she is.  But she’s one of those people who likes to contemplate for an audience.  She prefers one that’s live and in studio but electronic will do in a pinch.

I soon realized her text went to a whole group of family members, because responses began to pour in.

I don’t know what Lynne expected, but if she was looking for sympathy, she should’ve known to text a different family.

Me: That’s what you get for not taking the stairs.  Write a guest splat while you’re in there!

Brother-in-law: Can’t you just play Words With Friends?

Brother: So are you saying your elevator doesn’t go to every floor?

At some point the maintenance people let her know that help would arrive in twenty minutes.

Why such a long wait? Did the technician have to pick up his dry cleaning first?  I found the delay excessive, and not for altruistic reasons.  Twenty minutes in an elevator wouldn’t pose a health risk to Lynne, but at her present rate of texting, twenty more minutes of her boredom definitely threatened to kill the rest of us.

I was thinking about my sister’s little episode as I waited for the elevator on the fourth floor at my office this afternoon.  The doors opened and revealed a large pallet that took up well over half the space.  A delivery man stood to the side of it.

I said, “Looks like it’s pretty crowded in there. I’ll just wait for the next one.”

“No, no, there’s plenty of room for you here,” the man said, moving to press a button and waving me to the small square of open space next to him.  I accepted his courtesy, got in, and pushed “G.”

He said, “I went up one floor too many. That’s why I’m still here.”

“Ah,” I said, not necessarily wanting to take the conversation any further and thinking my response would give it the closure it needed.

“I’m still a little out of it today,” he said as we started to descend.  Oh dear.  I didn’t like where this was headed.  “I’ve had the most God-awful stomach flu for the last five days. But it shouldn’t be communicable, at least I don’t think it is.”

As you can well imagine, I was thrilled to get this medical update after I put my fingers on the same button he had.

I was starting to envy the sister I’d mocked earlier. Being stuck in the elevator for twenty-five minutes solo would’ve beaten the heck out of four floors with an infirm and potentially contagious talker, any day.

I don’t know what Lynne learned but this whole incident taught me a very important and valuable lesson: karma takes the elevator, not the stairs.


This Round’s On Me

My parents have lived in the D.C. area for over forty years, so they’ve gone to most of the local institutions many times.  Just before Christmas last year I learned that they’d missed one: the Round Robin bar at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel downtown.  My sister, Lynne, and I decided to remedy that by inviting them to join us there for a post-Christmas cocktail on the 26th.

The Willard sits mere steps from the White House and, according to its website, has been known as the “Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania Avenue.” Aside from its elegant yet understated architecture, the hotel’s site recounts quite an impressive history as well:

A most celebrated historic Washington DC hotel, the Willard InterContinental Washington, has been the focal point for elegant dinners, meetings, and gala social events for more than 150 years. An institution, this grand Washington DC historic hotel has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. On August 28, 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King finished his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while a guest at the Willard. Other notable guests have included Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, David Lloyd George, P.T. Barnum, Lord and Lady Napper, and countless others. Walt Whitman mentioned the hotel in his works; and Mark Twain penned two books here in the early 1900s. Throughout the ages, no phrase has raised eyebrows like “I’m staying at the Willard.”

The last sentence really nails it: If any member of the Yank tribe mentioned in casual conversation that we were staying there, it would raise eyebrows at the very least.  It’s fairly well-known that we are not, how shall I say, Willard People.  But I figured we could fake it long enough to get through a round of drinks.

Lynne and I met our parents in the lobby and the four of us made our way to the fabled lounge, a smallish room with curved, green walls and a round bar at the center.  It’s the perfect geometric complement to the Oval Office a few doors down.

We settled in to one of the black leather booths that rim the room and took in our surroundings.  Mom loved the clubby, old school feel of the space and the portraits of politicians that line its walls.

“Can you imagine the wheeling and dealing that’s gone on in here?” she said, glancing around appreciatively.

The Round Robin: Where Willard People go to quench their thirst.

We stopped gawking and started to peruse the drink menu.  The stratospheric prices were about what I expected but they caught my father off-guard.

“I’ve never paid $7 for a Budweiser,” he said, raising one eyebrow and fixing me with a look my siblings and I know well.  It always conveys the same unspoken message: “You kids don’t appreciate the value of money.”

I flashed him the smile of a Willard Person, which said, “Eighteen dollars for a drink is nothing. I’ve paid more for a six ounce bottle of non-artisan spring water.”

When the waiter arrived moments later I proceeded to order one of the more expensive mixed drinks on the menu.  Lynne and Mom wasted no time following suit, so Dad went ahead and ordered a vastly marked-up Bud.

When the waiter came back with our drinks, he dropped off a cone of potato chips to help keep our thirst whetted.  The chips didn’t tempt me much.  They looked like standard fare, plus my teeth prefer sweet over savory every time.  My father, on the other hand, loves salty snacks and reached right in.  We could tell from his expression that these chips had spoken to him in a way that garden-variety Lays never had.

“What do they put on these things? I can’t stop eating ’em even though I feel like a bloated toad,” Dad said, marking perhaps the first time that expression was heard at the Round Robin.

When the waiter came back over my sister asked, “What kind of chips are those?  Our dad really liked them, in case you couldn’t tell.” She pointed to the now-empty cone.

He smiled and shrugged — Willard People probably don’t inquire about potato chip heritage all that often– and said, “I don’t know but I’ll find out.”

“We’ll have another round while you’re at it,” Dad said.  Apparently the chips elevated his drink to the point where he was no longer fazed by the prospect of forking over seven more bucks for a mass-produced domestic beer.

The waiter returned with a tray that held our drinks. As he set them down, he gave me a conspiratorial nod in the direction of his tray.

I didn’t understand at first and then I noticed that his right hand held something else beneath the tray: a bag of Route 11 potato chips. He inched his hand ever so slightly my way so I could grab the bag on the sly. I immediately stuffed it into my purse, as any Willard Person would do.

The next time the waiter came by to check on us we asked for the check.

“It would be my pleasure,” he said with a gracious smile.

As he turned to walk away, I grabbed his elbow and whispered a request to bring the bill to me.  Lynne and I wanted to treat our parents, a feat that’s about as easy to pull off as levitation.  We’ve succeeded only a handful of times, and only then through the kind of covert operations that would qualify us for employment at the CIA.

From the corner of my eye I saw the waiter approaching.  While the rest of the table kept talking, I extended a hand behind me like a relay runner preparing for a baton exchange.  The waiter slipped our check into my hand without a word.  Our stealth handoff had escaped my parents’ attention, if not my sister’s.

I held the folio under the table in one hand and pulled my purse onto my lap with the other so Dad wouldn’t notice me reaching for my wallet.  Though I couldn’t see the contents of my wallet, I really didn’t need to.  The Visa I used for everything always occupied the first spot in the sleeve of credit cards.  I slid out the top card, tucked it into the folio on my lap and slipped it into the waiter’s hand.

To create an additional diversion, my sister asked him to take a group photo, as you do when you’re a Willard Person.  He smiled, obliged her, and then headed off in the direction of the bar.

As we waited for him to come back with the rest of the paperwork, my father said, “Well, I thought you kids had lost your minds, wanting to take us somewhere like this. But it’s a pretty neat place so I’d say this was one of your better ideas.”  Lynne and I beamed.  Parental approval feels good no matter how old you are.

Moments later the waiter returned.  I was still smiling as he handed me the folio that held the bill and said, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, we can’t accept payment with a Safeway card.”

My parents’ and sister’s smiles turned into full-blown laughter.

“Let me get this straight,” my father said, pausing to wipe the tears he’d laughed right out of his eyeballs, “you tried to pay for drinks at the Willard with a grocery card?”  That sent them all into another fit of ab-crunching laughter.  While they cackled I produced a viable credit card and handed it to the waiter.

Once the transaction was complete, I rounded up my dignity and the Route 11 chips—both typical Willard Person trappings—and left with my sister and parents in tow.  We return to the scene of the crime at 7 p.m. tonight and you’d better believe my Harris Teeter card is at the ready.