October 2008


This is an AP photo of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens leaving the courthouse Monday, after a jury found him guilty on 7 different corruption charges. I am in the background — my little head is just over his protective dude’s shoulder.

That is my, “Seriously, you’re not going to answer any of our questions?” face.

I am weary of all the bad news in the world. I desperately want to wake up to NPR saying, “Peace and prosperity has returned to the land!” But that’s not the story they are telling me.

Finding myself despondent this morning, I turned to the Style page in the Washington Post. And proceeded to burst into tears. (Ok, maybe not “burst,” more like “drizzle.”) The Shakespeare Theatre Company is moving their annual summer “Free for All” out of Carter Baron amphitheatre. Instead, they will perform the free play inside their Chinatown theatre in September. I realize this is minor within the scope of the bad news out there in the world. But in these troubled times, I need happy traditions to continue.

It was bad enough when “The Awakening” statue moved to the suburbs. Now Shakespeare has to go inside?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

I’ve seen every show at The Shakespeare Theatre for the past 7 or so years as an usher or season ticketholder.  Each year, the annual Free for All reprises one of the prior plays for an outdoor production in Rock Creek park. The shows were always different in the park — they had some new staging and often different actors … but the whole quality of the atmosphere was new too. It was wonderful to go out on a warm June night, picnic, then walk through the woods for a little Shakespeare — often with a soft hum of cicadas in the background. I loved that families would come. Mothers would pace in the back, bouncing their babies. Little kids could go run around in the park when they got restless.

It was inviting and enchanting.

For instance, you may recall how much more I enjoyed Jeffrey Carlson’s Hamlet in the park last summer.  Something about his performance in that magical setting won me over.  I loved hearing his speeches outdoors under the excellent canopy of air and stars and trees:

“It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire — why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours…”

Yeah, when Hamlet’s saying all of that, and you can look up at the majestic starlit sky with him … it really hits home that this man has it bad.

The annual “Free for All” will carry on indoors at the Harman Center for the Arts.  I am sure the productions will be great and have more technical precision, better climate control and be more convenient. I see why it is a good, practical decision for the theatre and their staff.  But “practical” has so little charm.  We get climate-controlled in our cubicles all day.

D.C. has so few magical annual events. I am sorry to lose this one.

Stars, they’re just like us!

They sit on benches on beautiful days!

I went for a midday run along the National Mall this afternoon. As I got toward the end near the Lincoln Memorial, I saw a familiar-looking young man sitting on a bench, talking with some friends. I stared at him for a moment, thinking, “How do I know you?” He and I made eye-contact, and at the time I thought he was wondering the same about me. But actually I think he was probably a bit more like, “Oh no, does this strange woman recognize me? Am I going to have to talk to her?”

A moment later I realized, “I don’t know him! He’s famous!” It was Ryan Lochte, of Olympic swimming fame.

Besides being a tremendous gold and bronze medal-winning athlete, Lochte also really impressed me in Beijing with his eating skills.

For my OK and Us magazine fans, I will note that Lochte was wearing khaki pants and a white T-shirt with an Olympic logo on the sleeve. His hair was delightfully long and shaggy. He was was with two young women who were very dressed up in skirts and heels and the like (friends? girlfriends? sisters?). They were trying to recount how many medals some female athlete had won.

I assume they had spent their morning at the White House, where President Bush had a ceremony to honor members of the summer Olympic and Paralympic teams. (this would explain their attire.) After, that I imagine Lochte may have just fancied a stroll around DC to take a gander at the monuments.

It was a beautiful day today in Washington.

At the White House, President Bush made a speech that was clearly infused with his own adoration of the Olympic team. I especially enjoyed his subtle jab at the French swimming team, the shout-out to Michael Phelp’s mom, the rally for the softball team, his jockey-esque feelings with the basketball team and his invitation to dance with Misty May on Dancing with the Stars.  Perhaps *that* is what George W. Bush can do next year — dance with the stars!

Oh President Bush; he is just a big kid. What a card.

From the White House transcript (note: to fully appreciate this transcript, you should know that “yeaaa”s almost never happen in presidential transcripts):

THE PRESIDENT:    And we thank you for the lasting memories that you gave us all.  And so here are some of the lasting memories that I will take with me forever.  First of all, the Water Cube — watching Jason Lezak touch out I think it was the French team — (laughter) — on the 4×100 freestyle relay, and then watching the joy of his teammates, including Michael Phelps.  (Applause.)

People say, did you ever get to meet Michael Phelps?  I said I did.  So that was the highlight?  I said, not really; meeting his mother was more of a highlight.  (Laughter.)  She reminded me of my mother — plainspoken and full of love.

So, Michael, we congratulate you.  We thank you for joining us today.  And we congratulate all the swimmers for the Olympic team.  (Applause.)

And how about our gymnasts?  (Applause.)  Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.  What I found interesting was that these champions were roommates while they were competing for gold.  And one wonders whether or not that friendship would be damaged in the heat of the competition.  The truth of the matter is, it wasn’t.  They showed the true Olympic spirit of being competitors in the gym, but being friends in the dorm.  And so we welcome these two champions here today, and we thank you for setting such a good example.  (Applause.)

So, as you know, I’m a baseball guy, and have come to admire women’s softball a lot.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yeaa!

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  So I know with us today are Finch, Duran, Abbot, Galindo, Lappin, Lowe, Berg and Watley  — members of the U.S. Olympic women’s softball team.

I bring this up because I really think that these women are an inspiration to young girls all across the globe, and the Olympics would be smart to keep women’s softball as a part of its program.  (Applause.)  And I want to thank you for welcoming [me] to your practice.

I also want to welcome today a fellow Texan named Laura Wilkinson.  At Sydney she stunned the world by taking gold.  This summer, she returned to the Olympic stage for the third and final time, and she was fighting through injuries.  But she brought such class to the arena.  There was never any of this, “woe is me; how pitiful is life.”  She said she was honored to compete.  She and her husband have returned home to the great state of Texas to raise money for a new diving center in The Woodlands, Texas.  In other words, she had put something back into the community.  And I urge all of us — whether we’re Olympic — Olympians or not to recognize the opportunity to make the communities in which we live a better place.  Laura, welcome and thank you for the example you have set.  (Applause.)

So I spent a little time at the beach volleyball arena.  (Laughter.)  I got to meet Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser.  These two men are incredible athletes and they — it was really interesting to be there to watch them warm up.  And then they introduced me to the Brazilian team and to the Italian team, and it was really a lot of fun — but not nearly as much fun as spending time with Misty May-Treaner and Kerri Walsh.  (Laughter and applause.)

These two women are not only great athletes, they’re really great people.  And I’m just so sorry that Misty May got injured on Dancing for [sic] the Stars  (Laughter.)  God, if only she had me as a partner, you know?  (Laughter.)  Except I can’t dance.  (Laughter.)   But I wish — you know, it’s interesting, I read a comment from Misty May today.  She said, yes, I got hurt Dancing on [sic] the Stars, but I’ll be back at the 2012 Olympics.  (Laughter.)

I also know that all of us were deeply touched by what happened to Hugh McCutcheon and his family.  Nevertheless, we were greatly inspired when the men’s volleyball team rallied.  They won an incredible gold medal against all odds to really help lift up the coach’s family and his spirits, as well as the whole nation’s spirits.

I congratulate the men and women’s basketball teams.  You can just imagine what it was like when the men’s basketball team asked me to get in one of their huddles right before the game against China.  I was like a jockey.  (Laughter.)  But they brought a lot of class to the courts, both teams did.  What impressed me and Laura was that the men were there cheering on the women, and the women were there cheering on the men.  There was ample opportunity for people to “big shot” it at the Olympics.  Not our athletes.  They were there for the right reason, to support their teams and to support their nations, our nation.

I discovered this video of my high school’s marching band show via a dear friend from high school who was in the band and somehow found it on youtube. Like her, I am amazed to see footage from our freshman year on youtube (umm, we didn’t really have the internet so much when I was in high school). And I was a bit shocked to realize it was seventeen years ago — so, a tiny baby in the stands in this video could now be the drum major!

I was not in the marching band, but I have to admit I *wept* watching this video (and in this case, it’s not just hormonal, but real live tears, ok?). It totally took me back to freshman year, watching our high school football games. As I recall, the actual football team was not fantastic that year. But the band was. There was  intense competition between our band and that of our rival, Irmo High School. In 1991, Lexington won state championships.

Irmo was like the fancy school across the lake, and we were the rednecks in the farm fields. Now shopping centers sit on many of those fields, so I don’t know how the stereotypes are holding up.

I remember this show — set to Dvorak’s New World Symphony — as one of the Best Marching Band Shows of All Time.  In fact, when I hear an orchestra play the real New World Symphony, I am always a little disappointed not to hear that loud-brass-marching-band delicious sound.

I have not seen pictures or videos or heard recordings of the good ole’ Lexington High School band show in, oh, the past 16 years or so.  And I tend to really inflate things in my memory, so I was not sure how the vid would hold up.  But I have to say, I was pretty impressed, even though the actual video quality is pretty poor  (remember we did not have fancy digital video cameras in 1991).  Back in high school, I was so distracted by the music and costumes, I didn’t even realize all those crazy marching figures they were doing! sheesh.

The band’s rendering of the New World Symphony was also the soundtrack for many of my older sister’s home cross-country meets or practices. We could hear the band practicing as she ran around the corn field, into the woods and back towards the school.

So since then, whenever I hear the New World Symphony, I picture my sister running, my friend playing her trumpet and the color guard holding up these silly golden skirt wings that made it look like they were flashing the crowd.

Watching this video, I was suddenly back there in my wonderfully normal childhood — at a football game in the suburbs of South Carolina, standing in the student section, wearing my floppy yellow jacket, probably dreaming of Rush’s french fries.

That was almost half my life ago.