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!

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