The Common Good
January-February 2002

Dateline: Our Nation's Capital

by Ed Spivey Jr. | January-February 2002

Those of you in the hinterlands—when you’re not taking care of your hinter—are probably wondering what life is like now in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital...

Those of you in the hinterlands—when you’re not taking care of your hinter—are probably wondering what life is like now in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, the most powerful city in the world, or as Pentagon officials have helpfully pointed out, a "target-rich environment."

Well, there’s one thing that’s true: We’re sure as heck not scared! Nope, Washington, D.C., is getting back to normal. People are going to work, shopping, eating out, and pretty much doing what they always did. At least, I think they are. It’s hard to tell, since I’m crouched here under my desk, sucking my thumb and hoping my mommy calls.

But seriously, with a few exceptions, our lives are really no different than yours. We still put our pants on one leg at a time, after checking for booby traps. We still shop for life’s staples: milk, eggs, gas mask filters. And, like you, we still have the freedom to just get in our cars and drive anywhere we want, the only difference being we never actually get there, on account of the Humvees. And the soldiers who, under strict orders not to use racial profiling, are stopping everybody who doesn’t look like a member of the Osmond family.

The reasons are clear, of course, as law enforcement officers continue to search for followers of the man who has distorted religion for his own devious purposes, the man whose adherents are even now living and working among us—possibly even next door to you—waiting for instructions from this twisted usurper who makes a mockery of God.

But enough about Pat Robertson. Let’s get back to life in our nation’s capital, a town that has the "can do" attitude to come together in a crisis and, in unison, pee in our pants whenever a car backfires.

What’s more, even the tourists are returning to Washington, secure in the knowledge that every step they take is being monitored by armed men with telescopic sights. So I say "Enjoy yourselves, Mr. and Mrs. Tourist!" And don’t worry. After a couple of hours you’ll get used to walking around with your hands in the air. (Repeat after me: "Nice soldiers.")


THE OTHER NIGHT, after dropping off my daughter and a friend at a local theater (where, I assume, they had planned to meditate on our national crisis), I was stopped at a military roadblock and asked where I was coming from. I thought it rather an odd question, but I patiently explained that the roots of my beliefs were first forged in the Southern Baptist church of my youth, but how lately I have been incorporating the liturgical rituals of Catholicism, thus deepening my.... "Move on," he interrupted, and rather brusquely, I might add. I briefly considered giving him a good talking to, but I demurred, if that’s the word I’m looking for, after seeing his largish sidearm and the similarly accessorized personnel behind him.

Security is so tight here that if Jesus himself returned in all his glory, he wouldn’t get very far (since he’s of Middle Eastern descent). His legions of angels—with lyre and harp—would have to wait around in the parking lot until officials finally released him, after realizing he has a Hispanic name.


BIOLOGICAL WARFARE has been the latest fear here in Washington, with the newsweeklies running frightening covers about the dangers of anthrax and other viral threats. Turns out, however, that the best protection is for citizens to just stop reading newsweeklies until they return to their usual coverage of more important topics, such as Jennifer Lopez’ wardrobe.

But we don’t want to minimize the threat that these viruses pose, since treatment admittedly involves painful visits to an HMO (which researchers have linked to prolonged and unnecessary suffering). In an effort to help Americans avoid exposure to these harmful substances, the federal government has issued the following simple instructions:

• Stop licking the envelopes and boxes your mail comes in. It might have been okay before, but it’s just not a good idea now.

• If you get a package containing a white powdery substance, don’t immediately empty it into a glass of water and drink it. It’s understandable that you’d want to do that, but not recommended.

• When you first come in to work, don’t lick your keyboard. This time-tested practice of checking for yesterday’s donut crumbs is, unfortunately, just too risky now.


Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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