daily preciousness

Sunday, February 24, 2002

temping terror

Running behind schedule again. This entry should be for early January, but we'll just forget about that and enjoy the suspense, won't we?

Good, I thought you would agree.

A little bit of terror goes a long way. I should know. I got a touch of it Thursday. Sitting at my desk, in my little office at the Institute for International Finance, I was busy typing. There was general upkeep to perform on my site. (I haven't updated it in months.)

So I'm minding my own business, loafing off at work, and turning all my attention to my little page when I hear this ridiculously annoying noise. Not so much a siren as a whiney, electronic-sounding wail, the sound did not alarm me. It simply annoyed me.

Then I realized that it had to be a siren, because it was repeating its piercing little scream. It was like an electronic cat in heat, wailing away right outside my office. I rolled my eyes. This was the second alarm I'd had to endure in as many weeks.

While my parents were here during Christmas vacation, we had to evacuate the new and improved National Botanic Gardens. We were flushed out of the beautiful warm lush building into the blustery, gray winter cold. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

So I rolled my eyes, wondering, "What next?" About that time, I poke my head around the corner and ask my boss what is going on. He said that we have to clear the building and that we'll meet at the Lombardi Hotel right across the street.

With haste and precision, I pack up my gear, close files of a personal nature on the computer, then put on my coat. I take a moderate but non-hysterical pace as I walk out of the office, only to join the cow-like herd of office workers streaming, single-file, down the narrow emergency exit stairway. I didn't know anybody there and it was a little frightening not knowing anyone.

Over and over, my mind turned to the poor souls of the World Trade Center. Those office workers, walking calmly down the steps, had absolutely no idea what terrors were taking place upstairs. What could be happening in this building? Was it important enough to bomb? Or was there a fire? I had no idea.

It was eerily calm, marching down those steps. Secretaries exchanged gossip and one complimented another on her new coat. A pair of lawyer types discussed a case in serious tones. Some 20-something interns joked about a video game. It seemed like an odd recess from our usual chores, where people just behaved normally. Or was it an exaggerated sense of normalcy? Was it just faked normalcy? Was anybody nervous? Was I the only one thinking about the thousands who died at the WTC?

Or were they thinking of friends of friends, acquaintances and names that they knew about at the Pentagon. Washington can be a very small place, relationship-wise. Did any one of them lose somebody at the Pentagon site? Or perhaps they lost friends in New York. The building was chock full of financial institutions like the one where I was working. I will never know. One thing I am certain about is that that stark white and red-striped stairwell had an odd effect on my psyche. The white walls, lit by particularly glaring florescent lighting, accented with the cherry red safety paint around pipes, wall irregularities and other obstructions, was an area only used in times of crisis. And this was seeming more and more like a genuine crisis, at least in my mind.

After what seemed like half an hour (but was closer to 10 minutes), I exited the building and went across the street. I hadn't broken a sweat. I hadn't exceeded a painfully slow snail pace. I was thrilled to see a little daylight. The crowds and the tightly enclosed space of the stairwell had gotten to me a little.

After a little searching, I found the Lombardi. It was an exclusive, well appointed business hotel with antique fixtures and elegant lighting. It had the feel of a place that had been around for a century or more. And that was entirely possible. The staff were well groomed and very professional, hovering about waiting for instructions or requests from our band of economists, accountants and underlings.

Charles Dallara, the affable director of the organization, was holding the front door open for me. "Hurry up, it's cold out here," he yelled, as he motioned us to come inside.

I found the Fujicorp Bank liaison, Mr. Shimizu. He and I had a nice chat about the Christmas holiday for a few minutes. Turns out that his family was visiting him from Japan during the holidays. It was great for them. They saw plenty of museums and historic sites. But Mr. Shimizu brought his 12 and 13 year-old girls to see a production of "Cabaret" that was playing. He had no idea about the musical's subject matter. I can imagine the look of unmitigated horror and absolute shock on his face (and on his daughter's faces) when the raunchy musical, which is apparently made more scandalous in this particular production, shocked them with cross-dressing sexhounds that perform sexual threesome maneuvers in silhouette during the show. He said that it was a "very decadent" musical for his kids. I can just see him, sitting in the front row, between his girls, with his hands carefully placed over both of their pairs of eyes. Poor guy. Quite a Christmas gift to give his family!

Before long, one of the secretaries came in with news from the building manager. She told us what was going on. There was a bomb threat made to one of the building's tenants, a law office. Apparently, the law office is representing John Walker, the American guy who was recently found in Afghanistan who was a member of the Taliban. Police were already on the scene and the bomb squad was on its way.

This is the point where I begin to get a little miffed. I had been very patient and understanding about John Walker up until this point. I mean, it's easy to become a little disillusioned with a carefree middle-class upbringing in a wealthy mid Atlantic state. It's easy to get caught up in the wrong crowd. I can understand him getting caught up in a ridiculous group of women-hating, radical, militant cult like the Taliban. I'm sure it happens everyday, somewhere in the world.

But why did his misguided attempt at belonging have to go and force me to leave my nice, cozy warm office and trudge outside in the blustery cold wintertime air of a Thursday afternoon in DC? Where is the justice in that? I see none. Jerk. I hope that black patch on his face stays there. And I don't think he should be able to come home. I was willing to go leniently on him, but my patience ended the moment somebody dialed in a bomb threat to John Walker's attorney. Idiot.

Mr. Dallara says we're free to stay for the next half hour to see if they clear the building. And the office will buy a drink for us if we do. But otherwise, we should all just head home.

So I did just that.

After all, Steven no longer wants to spend time with me. So I have no downtown office to where I can visit or loiter. I head home and stop off at the grocery store. The only benefit I can see from this terror attack is a free trip to the grocery store. I limit myself to $15 worth of groceries, loading up on a few dolmas (Greek stuffed grape leaves), some rice snacks and a few pieces of marinated tofu steak. That way, I not only have free time off from work, but I purchase less than my hourly wage for the paid time that I had off.

So if you were expecting a happy ending to this journal entry (however unlikely that may be), you got it.

Free dolmas and tofu steak for everyone! Eat up!

Saturday, February 23, 2002

whizz bang night

This entry is just a little behind schedule. But it's a pleasant memory from last month that's worth sharing. This is mid-January's entry:

Whiz-bang called to say that there was a change of plans. I tensed up. No clubbing? No decadence? Would I have to turn my bedroom light off and on quickly to simulate the fantastic flashing lights of my disco fantasies?

Luckily, no such half-measures were in store for me.

Instead of simply go clubbing as scheduled, we were going to see a play, make a social appearance at a party, and -then- play go-go club kids at the local sweat-and-gyrate. I was most pleased with the change of events.

Todd (or "Whiz-bang," which perfectly describes his personality) had been corresponding with me since early summer. I fondly recall relating stories to him of shelling peas, learning to run again, dealing with my Grandear's Alzheimer's and other such worries.

We kept up a plucky electronic correspondence for a while, but sadly, I lost touch with him in the fall when I started interviewing for jobs.

We'd recently rebooted the acquaintanceship, via e-mail again. This was the first time I was going to meet him. Excitement. Somebody I knew -- well, almost knew -- was going to take me out for a night on the town. And in a big way, too, with a three-pronged attack on the gay social scene of the big city. Not only would we hit the theatre, but the private party circuit and the circuit-party style club circuit. (That's more circuits than can be found inside a talking Barbie!)

Todd didn't disappoint. I arrived at his stylish bachelor pad at the appointed hour. He darts around in his lush burgundy bathrobe, smelling of designer bath scents. He smiles a winning grin, greeting me with a cheery "Hello, handsome!" I get a plush cotton hug and a whiff of his Bulgari cologne. It suits him. Confident. Refined. Effortlessly elegant.

His place is a lot like him. It's tasteful. Refined. Definitely real -- not an artificial or overly planned-out living environment. It was comfortable and inviting: African masks on the walls, earthy toned colors, sophisticated house music throbbing through the surround sound.

Chipped ice floating lazily in my cocktail, I sipped and smiled. I just soaked it all in ... the cocktail that is, along with the surroundings. Bailey, his friendly but smelly doggie, reminded me of the character on "The Little Rascals" show. He sat sweetly in my lap.

I read up on Todd's work with the Culture Bank, an enterprise that he's worked closely with that's recently won an award from the World Bank.

Todd explains that it's a program to save precious African cultural artifacts of native populations. It provides much-needed seed money for business enterprises. They simply pop their family heirlooms into a museum as collateral, while they get low-interest loans to help them become self-sustaining capitalist pigs like us. Great concept. And Todd's bar, where I prepared my screwdriver, held the etched glass awards from the contest. It glowed delicately in the light. The acid-etched side was cold and rough under my curious fingernails as I ran my fingers over it.

So I sat around, petting the adorable little pup, who was very good natured about meeting me and insisted on licking the back of my hand very lovingly, until Todd whisked us downstairs.

We hopped in his friends' car. This cheerful and amiable couple had Todd as their best man at their commitment ceremony. I was entering a happy marriage zone. Impressive. The new PSB collaborative effort was pounding impressively from the car speakers. I sang along to the catchy (if slightly cliche' "Break -- for love") lyrics. This song didn't have much chart potential for the U.S. market. I was necessarily saddened by this, but at least it will be something to tide me over until I can get my greedily hands on their next album.

I mention my near obsessive fan status when it comes to the 'boys and Todd gets an earful about my flight to Mexico to see them, the wild, dance til' dawn rave at the base of the pyramids, meeting their cast and crew, et cetera et cetera. Soon we arrive in Rosslyn, just a quick hop over the Potomac to Virginia.

It's where the play is. "Middle Finger" is a teen angst-filled Filipino-American drama with an emphasis on drama. I won't give it away, but think Dead poets society meets... well, meets a gay Filipino movie... It was sort of a generational rift thing, like Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, where the daughters all bitch 'cause their Chinese cronish Moms don't understand how life is different in the good ol' U.S. of A. But the writing wasn't quite so well-conceived or taut.

Todd and I issued a statement to the press. A slightly nervous Asian woman sitting in front of us was from Asian Time or Asian Newsweek or something. Todd raved about his buddy who was in the production. I have to admit that I liked his buddy, too. But for perhaps less platonic reasons. This little guy was a complete gem. During the show, I remember thinking, "Boy, that actor really knows how to pull off an authentic teenagers squeaky voice!" Later on, during the post-show reception, I realized that no, that was his -actual- voice, not a characterization. But it was still great casting. And for a community theater show, I thought it was excellent. Much better than others I'd seen at home (plus with cuter guys).

A quick trip to Chipotle and we headed for a party. To be honest, I can't recall who was throwing it or why. (I blame the windex.... More on that later.) Or for that matter, where it was. Oh -- somewhere near Logon Circle. (I'm such a geek that when I first saw the sign for that neighborhood, I mistakenly read it as "Log on" circle. It took every fiber of my being to not mispronounce it. The area's the next big gay ghetto, conveniently located near DC's Dupont area, affectionately known as the "fruit loop" to many gay residents.

The party was in a packed brownstone. Guys lined the steps outside and the stairs inside. Friendly, interesting guys, a doctor here, a dancer there, a lawyer refilling my cup with -- what was that stuff? I have no idea. It was like Windex -- almost the same neon blue as my little iBook.

Oddly enough, a character in the play had poisoned his father with windex, so it seemed rather grim to be drinking a liquid of the same color as the murder weapon from a few moments before. But I got over it. It had white cranberry juice in it, I remember, but I can't recall anything else. It reminded me of the Water of Life from Frank Herbert's Dune.

Todd introduces me to nearly everyone there. I'm not talking a dozen people. I must have met about a hundred guys over the entire evening. (Talk about networking!) I found myself discussing the pros and cons of cat tranquilizers with a GP who had a vaguely Mandy Patinkin quality to him. Well, it was Mandy after three or four helpings of those windex drinks.

I soon discovered the many disadvantages of party drugs and their effects on the body and mind.

Soon, Todd and I were piling into a Chevy Suburban's back seat. Some bubbly Brazilians were escorting us to Nation, a warehouse sweat-and-gyrate that had more than its fair share of each -- not that I mind. It was a spectacle. The music was better than I expected. It had good variation and plenty of highs and lows: a real dynamic feel to it.

There was much sweating and gyrating and pleasure just abounded from the dancefloor. I was feeling the love and, sadly, I was also feeling the exhaustion. But I kept focusing on the movement of the music and the sparkling lights and the heady aroma of disco smoke. The musky, acrid odor of a hundred men's bodies helped, too.

Before long, the good times had to end. We piled up in cabs and went home. Todd gave me a quick primer in DC taxi payment zones, which took some of the confusion away. I think I still got "taken for a ride" with an exorbitant price, though. That's just my nature, so I can't really complain too much. Next time I'll know not to pay more than $20 for the cabride home.

Of course, I'm not sure where exactly "home" will be the next time I go out. We'll have to see.

*** *** ***

Just two weeks later, Todd and I had a wildly pleasant walk around Georgetown to do a little shopping. It was last weekend. We met up in Dupont for a leisurely stroll in the 70 degree weather. (I had to take my sweater, my scarf and my hat off because it was getting so warm!) This was indeed wonderfully odd weather for a January day in Washington, D.C.!

I'm slightly bored, reading tabloid newspaper headlines in the little semi-circle of junk journalism stands that surrounds the Metro exit. A wild "EEEP!" erupts from just over my left shoulder. I'm startled a little, but not really shocked. Todd was aiming for the latter. He greets me (in what I am growing to appreciate as the typical Todd fashion) with an ear-to-ear smile and a "Hi, handsome!"

The over-achiever/world dominator/democratic fundraiser co-chair/the zest-for-life and living Whiz-Bang himself is hopping around like Tigger in his abundant appreciation for the marvelous weather. And I get to appreciate it with him, so I'm in an affable, cheerful mood.

First off, he begins to explain his new big project. Todd tells me about an amazing opportunity. Such a consummate salesman, Todd.

I half-wonder if I've just stepped into an infommercial.

Will he be selling me a fat-reducing grill for hamburgers? A juicer that promises better health? A miraculous little machine, powered by a watch battery that will grant me the six-pack that God has so far denied me?

Nope. He offers none of these things. Thank God.

Hot Toddy's helping to serve as host for a citywide Democratic party fundraiser for next month. It will be in a fancy hotel. There will be speeches -- that much he tells me.

But in my mind, I silently imagine the following, gazing appreciatively at the rows of tasteful townhomes and brownstones on our short walk to Georgetown from Dupont. I envision what it will really be like... There will be women in silly gowns. There will be men drinking too much from the cash bar and laughing hardily, slapping their fat backs in whole-hearted mirth. There will be promises delivered. There will be bold plans announced. There will be enthusiasm and boredom and hors d'heurves. But most importantly for me, there will be chances to network and mingle. There will be higher-ups to meet and cards to hand out. There will be favors granted and requests denied. But most importantly, there will be a newcomer's chance at pressing the flesh with people I should get to know.

I'm all smiles and I tell him that he can sign me up now, because I'm definitely going to be there.

Todd takes me to a perfumery with blaring base and attitude-soaked staff. You know the kind. They dress in black, trying valiantly not to look like they're dying of boredom from dawdling around all day. I could never do it. Working there would be a big old recipe for headaches -- all of those smells!

I meet some guys, shake some hands and select an appropriately Asian cologne, Yuzo, with sandalwood, green tea and exotic spices. Very sophisticated. We both decide it was a good choice.

We stroll around a bit before we find Urban Outfitters, a wonderful store that assists trendy thirty-somethings with parting ways with their money by offering merchandise that's too spiffy not to buy. I almost succumbed to its spell. I found a perfect Christmas lights set for Christian. It was little hula girls doing their thing, glowing softly from within, on a standard 6 foot light set. Very Christian. And there was a matching shower curtain, of course. Upon seeing it, I immediately thought of the house on 23 East Linden Street. I hadn't been given word that I could move in there. Didn't even know if I was still being considered as a roommate, but my heart was already set on it.

That's pretty much when I knew that I was really had formed a housing crush on the place. But would my feelings be returned, in the form of a set of keys? Would I get the gorgeous second-story master bedroom with over-sized bath? Who knows? In a move that was unusually un-Jeffrey like, I actually knew what I wanted. At the point where I fondled the hula girl shower curtain with matching Christmas light set and lusted after them, I knew that I wanted to live there.

It was a wonderful revelation. But also, it was an uncomfortable one. What if my love would be unrequited? Thankfully, I've had plenty of practice lately dealing with love of the unrequited variety. So I knew I could survive that. (Especially since domestic love is much easier to suppress than romantic love. The Greeks knew that, especially the Spartans, who loved their homes enough to barely even furnish them at all.)