- Every white man over the age of 50 has a pin in his lapel. The pin looks like an American flag, but if you look closer you will realize that it is wrong. Wrong how? You do not know. It makes your eyes water. You smell something thick and scorched. The white men’s eyes are full of oil. The pin will be in your dreams tonight, flashing and glitching, rotating in the air. Next time, do not look at the pin.
- On the national mall, you see men and women scattered and convulsing, clawing desperately at their ears and mouths. They are prisoners of the great Gnat Pillars. Tourists bump past them, not realizing that they indicate areas to avoid. You know these tourists will be next, they and their children. You say nothing. You keep your head down, your eyes slitted, your lips tightly shut.
- “What do you do?” “What do you do?” “What do you do?” “What do you do?” The question haunts you. Everywhere you go. Outside a brunch place you’ve never seen before, an infant in a $6000 stroller turns its giant head to you. What do you do? it asks with its eyes. Its mother gives it a piece of organic Swedish flatbread to gnaw on. “What do you do?” she asks you, tilting her head slowly like a bird. Her tone holds no real interest. It is as dead as the flatbread.
- Some days, the Washington Monument is upside-down.
- Everyone is talking all of the time. They are talking to their assistants and coworkers about their policy papers and their billable hours. Some of them have Bluetooths but not all of them. “Don’t forget that report needs to be printed on A11,” they bark into the empty air. At night, their jaws work endlessly. “Peter’s responsible for that invoice,” they mutter into the darkness. “We can’t get a fucking conference room five days in advance?” They snarl and gnash their teeth like animals. Far away, in Petworth, their assistants shiver and pull the blankets closer.
- There are only 19 people in D.C. You have dated all of them already. They keep showing up on Tinder with different names, pretending to be strangers.
- The Masonic Temple at 16th and S, the Church of Scientology at 16th and P and that creepy building with the upside-down star at Corcoran and 18th form a perfect equilateral triangle. If you stand in the perfect center of that triangle, you will hear a quiet but piercing whistle, drawing out a long shrill note unlike anything in any scale you’ve ever heard. You will feel a warm, thin line of blood trickling down from your ear. Get out. Get out. For the love of God, get out of the triangle.
- When will the cherry blossoms bloom? Tomorrow, people promise you. They will bloom tomorrow. Suddenly it is 95 degrees. Gasping, sweat oozing from your disgusting clothes like a slug’s trail, you stagger to the tidal basin. The trees are as bare and twiggy as the baskets of sticks adorning the foyers of rich people. “You should have been here yesterday,” a tourist tells you sympathetically.
- Congressional interns have become younger and younger. A group of three-year olds in crisp but ill-fitting suits enters your Metro car. Their tiny feet do not reach the ground when they sit. Their red badges glint on their tiny pudgy chests. “Dude, you haven’t seen House of Cards yet?” they say to each other. “Dude.” The halls of Congress are packed with infants. They lie on the shining floors, babbling and pooping themselves.
- Wait, you just googled it and that upside-down star building is some kind of Masonic thing, too. It’s called “The Order of the Eastern Star,” are you kidding me? Wait, what the hell? Wait, this is too real.
- “Everyone here is from somewhere else,” people who are not from here keep saying to you. They are wrong, but outsiders are not allowed to talk to the people who are From Here. Outsiders are susceptible to the infection.
- There are four quadrants in this city, but the people around you seem only to know of two. “South where?” they ask, their brows furrowing. “South Wormst? I’ve never heard of it. Has it been Made Safe by the benevolent hands of Development?” You are all loyal servants of Development. “All Hail Development,” you murmur in dutiful unison. Somewhere, many muffled voices are screaming.
- “What do you do?” you ask a baby. “Policy,” it says in a grown man’s deep voice.
The speaker in the train car spits static, but the words you hear are chilling. The woman next to you removes her headphones and asks what’s going on. The human tongue cannot replicate what you have heard. Lie. Tell her the train will move shortly.
You will come across an avenue which bears the name of the state where your first love was born, and maybe yourself also. Don’t follow it. It will lead you home, but it won’t be a home you recognize.
Carry a tray of leftover catering sandwiches into the kitchen. Turn your back. Shut your ears and eyes. When you turn around there are only crumbs and bones left, but tomorrow on your desk will be a stack of alphabetized nametags. Don’t speak thanks, only bring another offering soon.
You have been waiting twenty minutes, and a No Passenger train comes through the station. Don’t look into the darkened windows. You’ll think you see people sitting in the seats, but that’s impossible. There are No Passengers. Put your head down. Wait another twenty minutes.
They say the monuments look best at night, and it is true. But do not go on the night of a harvest moon, because then the marble shines not white, but red, and you can see what was written there long ago.
The Interns have Master’s Degrees and you don’t. You must never look them in the eye. Line the doorway with salt when you leave the office at night.
You leave your house midday, when it is bright and clear and the brown grass crunches underfoot. The streets are empty and the shops are closed. The bus comes to the bus stop and refuses to let you board. It’s a snow day, the driver tells you. But there is no snow, you say. Go back inside, the driver says. They’ve decided. It’s a Snow Day. The bus goes out of service.
Every morning in your inbox there is an email from a listserv which lists homes and jobs and activities more wonderful than any you have known. You don’t know where this listserv came from. Sometimes you wish it would stop. Sometimes you wish you didn’t know how other people live.
A golem as tall as city block is long slumbers in the mud of the reflecting pool.
You will find yourself in a bar. Someone describes your job to you, its purpose, its cause. You do not know if they work in your office or in your rival’s. There can only be one who wins the grant. Accept their business card, then lose it outside. Put your own in the fishbowl, so that you might win free lunch. The Interns are always hungry.
Someone kicks aside the repair barrier so you can climb the broken escalator to morning sunlight. But there is no top step when you reach the top, just a pit of darkness. Jump. Jump across. Do it. There are more commuters climbing behind you, and all of you are late.