Fear & Loathing in Washington, D.C.

6:45 a.m., Election Day, Washington, D.C.
Fuck, it’s early.

For me, at least.

I was up late last night with a bottle of sin mapping out my escape route to Europe in case those Republican rat-bastards seize the White House, build a new Bastille on top of Michele Obama’s vegetable garden and start locking up liberals. If history has taught me anything, it’s that aristocratic one-percenters like them don’t suffer working-class critics like me kindly.

I can barely open my bloodshot eyes. But the insistent honking of traffic outside my hotel window tells me that this city’s Type-A power brokers are already up swilling Starbucks and snorting cocaine in preparation for the workday.

I groan, flop onto my back, scratch an itch, pray that the alarm on my iPhone is just a nightmare.

I hate mornings, and I hate this fucking town even more.

7:30 a.m.
The street outside my hotel is lined with smoking taxicabs. It’s sleeting, and there are men and women in business suits scurrying around like lobbyists suddenly caught in the light.

I have a conference to attend and try to hail a cab. But my credit card is as invisible to the hacks I pass as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were to attendees of the Republican convention two months earlier. It’s like it doesn’t exist. Like they never existed. Like they will never exist again no matter how much primordial ooze crawls out of the ocean, stands up on two legs and thumps its chest to signal the rest of the congealed slime that it’s here and taking charge.

So I walk.

I’m staying in a historic neighborhood known as DuPont Circle. This place was once home to the son of the abolitionist statesman Frederick Douglass and other uppity African Americans who dared to challenge the stuffy old white men who ran the U.S. with bullwhips for the first couple of hundred years and are still desperately clinging to the old order of things for their profit and pleasure. Today it’s a fashionable hangout for trendy young people of all colors and creeds with lofty aspirations, some of them, no doubt, honorable.

One of the area’s ladder climbers storms past me on her way to somewhere important — vitally, apparently — as I stumble along, taking in the area’s Queen Anne and Romanesque architecture like a dim-witted tourist. She’s wearing a deadly serious expression that matches her deadly serious black woolen coat, black knee-length skirt and modest black-leather heels. But as she steps off a curb, I spot flashes of crimson on the soles of her shoes.

She’s wearing Louboutins. Expensive, classy and subtly sassy. Methinks there’s more to her than meets the eye. I watch her until she rounds a corner and vanishes from view.

Maybe she’s in a hurry because she works for one of the presidential campaigns or a senator. More likely, she’s an employee of one of the foreign nations that maintains a house on D.C.’s nearby Embassy Row and is anxious to clock in and start filing election updates with the home office. After all, there’s more at stake in this race than who’s going to be Commander in Chief of the United States of Wal-Mart.

The entire world is also watching the election to see if Americans are stupid enough to elect a man whose political views belong to the 1950s and Dr. Strangelove. To them, our election must be a highly entertaining, extended episode of a reality television program. The Real Politicians of Potomac Shore. Survivor: District of Columbia. The Unamazing Race.

7:55 a.m.
Restaurants are everywhere. I pass a quaint Thai place called Bangkok. It’s next door to the EZme Restaurant & Wine Bar.

I laugh.

Sometimes life just hands you good things. You don’t even have to ask.

8:15 a.m.
I’ve reached DC’s infamous Franklin Square. I saunter past the bums, winos and disgraced lobbyists who inhabit this otherwise picturesque park, wondering how the richest nation on earth manages to produce such poverty let alone tolerate it, especially in its Capitol. I know there aren’t any homeless shelters in downtown D.C. — they closed the last one in 2008 to create more housing for Congressional mistresses — but are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?

Nobody answers my question, probably because I don’t say everything I think out loud.

Here, though, I could. If there’s one trait down-and-out and leftist liberals share, it’s a love of talking out loud to anybody who will listen, even of it’s only to themselves.

In fact, I’m immediately confronted by a disheveled, unwashed war veteran muttering something about the inherent evils of the Electoral College and the Supreme Court’s mad-hatter ruling in Citizens United, the disastrous case that allowed corporations to buy American politics without showing their receipts to the public.

I’d pay more attention to this prophet of the park, but he’s wearing six coats and eyeing a squirrel like it’s the last Happy Meal on earth. I hurriedly move on before he kidnaps me, carves me up with a shiv and roasts my gluteus maximus on a spit over a fiery 55-gallon drum fueled by useless publications nobody reads anymore.

The Congressional Code of Conduct or The Washington Post, for example.

8:20 a.m.
The park behind me, I see more of my kind: Bored professionals tip-tapping away on their Chinese-made iPhones while they wait in a line that stretches for two blocks. They’re standing across the street from the Bipartisan Policy Center, which aims to “restore America’s future,” although how you accomplish that trick without tearing a new asshole in the space-time continuum is a mystery to me.

There can only be three reasons why these people are braving the elements to text: They’re avoiding work, there’s a free recharging station at the front of the line, or they’re waiting to vote. D.C. residents don’t get Congressional representation — although arguably none of us do anymore — but they are allowed to vote for the president.

Guessing it’s the latter reason, I’m tempted to take a straw poll to see which way the locals swing. But I also need to pee, so I pick up the pace.

9 a.m.
I’ve emptied my bladder, and I’m sitting in a conference room listening intently to the day’s first speaker.

Or pretending to listen intently.

Like everybody else, I find it damnably hard to ignore the election that’s sweeping across the nation like a fungal skin infection. The woman sitting next to me is secretly surfing the Internet on her upturned iPad, looking for early returns. Another woman is multi-tasking, nodding appreciatively at the speaker while filling in The New York Times‘ crossword. Two people are ignoring the conference altogether and discussing the candidates’ economic platforms.

Seized with irrational election fervor, I check my phone for news. The nation’s first presidential election results are in from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. In a town where Obama won handily in 2008, it’s a 5-5 tie this time around.

Initially, I take this as a bad omen.

If New Hampshire is split, then the nation is more divided than it has been since the Civil War, or since beloved Family Matters’ celebrity Jaleel “Urkel” White suffered a controversial falling out with his sultry Dancing With the Stars partner Kym Johnson. Mitt Romney could win a close race because it’s so easy to rig the widely used electronic voting machines owned by some of his biggest campaign contributors and former business partners. A few thousands votes could tip the election and pIunge the nation into the Dark Ages.

But then I realize that like every other American who doesn’t live in New Hampshire, I don’t know anything about the state or its politics. I’m not even sure where it is.

Maybe New Hampshire is conservative, maybe it’s liberal, maybe its people smoke a lot of pot and don’t really care which candidate wins as long as he doesn’t ban Cheetos. I scour my memory for information, but all I know for sure is that New Hampshire’s residents wear a lot of plaid flannel shirts. And flannel shirts, however practical, do not determine an election.

Noon
At lunch, feeling paranoid, I attempt to divert attention away from my outrageously liberal political beliefs by ordering a decidedly conservative sandwich: Thinly sliced roast-beef on a fresh baguette with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. The Swiss cheese is the only clue that I might be a radical European-style socialist.

6:15 p.m.
Where did the day go? What is the meaning of my life? Is it possible to find a decent pastry in this city?

Nevermind. It’s Election Day, and now is not the time for introspection, let alone éclairs. Now is when the bourgeoisie pretend to let the proletariat pick the bourgeoisie who will rule proletariat’s everyday lives while the bourgeoisie smoke smuggled Cuban cigars and sip $5,000-a-bottle Courvoisier L’Esprit cognac in their exquisite mahogany-lined corporate boardrooms.

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Instinctively, I head to the heart of the city and Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s eldest bar. Presidents as tubby as Theodore Roosevelt and Warren G. Harding have gotten drunk here, and it’s here that the city’s power elite are mingling with everyday working stiffs and tourists to eat crab cakes and oysters while they watch the bloody prizefight that America’s presidential election has become. It’s a cavernous restaurant, but it’s already crowded inside, and taxis pull up every fifteen seconds to disgorge more fans of the not-so-sweet science.

All the men are wearing suits. All the women, heels. The air is hot and humid, and shot through with so much electricity I can taste the copper and smell the ozone of a pending lightning strike.

Tonight’s main event features two champions of the political process.

In the blue, white and red trunks, we have the incumbent, Barack “The Kenyan Krusher” Obama. This brash street fighter hails from the mean streets of Chicago and is unpredictable in the ring, either a right-of-center moderate, left-leaning liberal democrat, socialist, communist or fascist, depending on who you ask. He’s also a crowd-pleaser with a confident smile that belies a wicked jab, but in the latter days of his political career, he has shown a tendency to start slow.

In the red, white and blue trunks, we have the conservative right’s Great White Hope, Mitt “The Mormon Mauler” Romney. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and 30 or 40 more in the pockets of his perfectly tailored Italian suit coat, he’s feared in the ring because he’s a lefty-righty switch hitter who comes at his opponents with whatever it takes to win. He’s got the dirtiest trainer in politics, Karl Rove, and his Aryan good looks tell you he was born to the manor — 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being the grandest manor of all.

The fight bell has rung. I glance at the early election returns flickering across a flat-screen television mounted over the crowded bar. Romney’s ahead, and there’s blood in the air.

7:40 p.m.
I’m wandering aimlessly, following black limousines and admiring the beautiful people who slide out of them and vanish into stately looking buildings to attend DC’s private election parties. I spot an immaculately dressed couple hugging excitedly outside the Hay-Adams, a historic boutique luxury hotel that offers 24-hour room service and complimentary high-speed Internet. They look so deliriously happy as they sashay inside hand-in-hand they could be starring in a commercial for DeBeers diamond necklaces or Donald Trump’s newest casino.

I cross the street and pass St. John’s Episcopal Church. Painted a cheery canary yellow and white that contrasts sharply with the grey granite and marble that’s popular throughout DC, a bronze plaque on the church proudly proclaims that every president since James Madison has worshipped here since it opened in 1816.

Nobody’s here tonight, though. It’s as dark inside as a factory bankrupted by Bain Capital, the notorious investment firm founded by Romney and his group of vulture capitalists.

Are Obama and Romney privately kneeling beside their beds imploring God for help?

Does God care which one prevails?

It’s a difficult question to answer. Either way, though, DC will be filled with winners and losers tonight. The victors will drink to celebrate, the losers to drown their sorrow.

It’s a bad night to be a preacher, but it’s a great night to be a liquor salesman.

8:15 p.m.
A rock band is playing in the distance. I follow the thumping and find myself in Lafayette Square, the park that was used as a livestock corral during the Civil War and now encompasses the White House. A few hundred people have gathered here to listen to the music. Eight to ten young women are dancing in front of the stage — or more accurately, hypnotically jogging in place with their heads down, oblivious to the world around them.

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Smiling, I wander away from the crowd and down to the tall iron fence surrounding the White House, which is brightly illuminated.

Like most of the other tourists milling around, I use my cellphone to take a grainy picture of myself with the White House in the background. Obama’s not home — he’s watching election returns with his supporters in Chicago — but I’m grinning, giddy with excitement. In politics, this is ground zero.

As I walk away, I spot a nuclear-power protestor who’s set up a tent in the shadows. Nobody’s paying any attention to him or his angry, plaintive placards. He looks at me forlornly, nods once and shrugs.

9:25 p.m.
Cold, hungry and foot-weary, I head toward my hotel and the restaurants surrounding it.

I could eat anything from shawarma to seafood, but settle on Italian, partly because I admire Italians, who enjoy decent wages, public health care and about four times more time off work than the average American wage-slave. To my way of thinking, they’re not only smarter than us, but better looking.

I order a gin and tonic plus a meal of sautéed chicken tossed in a white wine sauce with gemelli pasta, spinach, and asiago cheese. Then I check the election returns on my phone. Romney is still ahead.

I order another gin and tonic.

And a third.

This could be a long night.

11:15 p.m.
I’m back in my hotel room, lying in bed wondering how I got here without being mugged or arrested for vagrancy. The TV is on and CBS News claims Obama has pulled ahead of Romney and is the projected winner of the presidential race.

I rub my eyes. How many gin and tonics did I have, anyway?

I switch to Fox News. If those lying reprobates admit it’s true, then I’m not hallucinating.

They are!

Horns Start blaring outside. Somebody cranks up music in a nearby room. I hear laughter, the clinking of champagne glasses and angels singing.

Rolling out of bed, I lurch to the window and throw open the curtains, laughing deliriously like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. I see people dancing in the streets six floors below, a woman in the hotel across the street changing her clothes, and a flock of exultant vampire bats silhouetted against the beautiful half moon high in the sky.

No, it can’t be a flock of bats. It has to be a murder of bats. Or a shadow of bats. Or a Lestat of bats. I grab my iPad and hit Google. It’s a colony of bats! Of course it’s a colony, those inglorious blood-suckers! They’re socialists! No wonder they look so happy. They’re swarming the city feasting on the battered bodies of undead conservatives.

I smile at the world. Maybe Americans aren’t as stupid as I thought.

No, that’s just the alcohol talking. We’re still a bunch of idiots, I’m sure of it.

But I collapse into bed, chuckling anyway. I decide not to watch Obama’s victory speech because I have to get up unusually early in the morning. And what do I care about empty speeches? The real news is that Romney’s political career is ruined, Rove is disgraced and fleeing to South America with a suitcase hastily stuffed with ill-gotten SuperPAC money, and the Republican party is in tatters.

A shaft of soft, silvery moonlight falls across my face as I slip into sleep.

I smile, and sigh contentedly.

I love the nighttime, and I love this fucking town even more.

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34 thoughts on “Fear & Loathing in Washington, D.C.

  1. What a cool night to be in DC! I can almost forgive you for getting so close to my part of the country and not offering to meet me and buy me an expensive dinner! I enjoyed watching Jon Stewart break the news. It was an interesting election in our house as my son got to vote for the first time and was taking a class on elections this term. Lots of political talk, which I normally can’t stand. Glad it is all over! Now you can go home and get some legal pot.

    • I didn’t know you lived near DC, although I probably should’ve. I would’ve gladly met you and bought you an expensive dinner at the Subway or Chipotle of your choice.

      Sorry about all the politics in the post, tho. It was sort of unavoidable.

      • Oh, no! The politics in your post are perfection! I was referring to the talk at home with my son. It was interesting to see him react to the whole process.
        If I could write like you, I might keep blogging. You have a real gift, Michael.
        And I kinda prefer Quiznos…

        • You’ve stopped blogging?

          I prefer Jimmy John’s, although a friend recently made me crave Firehouse Subs, which I’ve never tried.

  2. “Swilling Starbucks and snorting cocaine in preparation for the workday.”

    – Wait…isn’t that how everyone starts the day?

    “But as she steps off a curb, I spot flashes of crimson on the soles of her shoes.”

    – Ah yes the tell tale sign of really expensive, and really fabulous shoes.

    “EZme” — HA!!!

    “which aims to “restore America’s future,” although how you accomplish that trick without tearing a new asshole in the space-time continuum is a mystery to me.”

    – that made me laugh out loud, literally.

    “Maybe New Hampshire is conservative, maybe it’s liberal, maybe its people smoke a lot of pot and don’t really care which candidate wins as long as he doesn’t ban Cheetos.”

    – All I know is the State Motto for NH is “Live Free or Die” so I am guessing, liberal.

    “The air is hot and humid, and shot through with so much electricity I can taste the copper and smell the ozone of a pending lightning strike. ”

    – brilliant sentence. IMHO.

    “It’s a good night to be a liquor salesman.”

    – Everyone was drunk that night. Even Diane Sawyer on LIVE television.

    “but settle on Italian, partly because I admire Italians, who enjoy decent wages, public health care and about four times more time off work than the average American wage-slave. To my way of thinking, they’re not only smarter than us, but better looking.”

    – Amen.

    I would seriously PAY MONEY to see you, in person, after 3 Gin & Tonics. And this is such a FABULOUSLY vivid story, Michael. I truly feel like I was there with you, all day. Most excellent. Thank you for sharing this day with me.

    • Damn, you actually read this thing? I don’t think my own mother read it. Thank you.

      Also, out of curiosity, how much would you pay to see me after three gin & tonics? Because I could use some extra cash. And three gin & tonics, for that matter.

    • NH’s state motto has nothing to do with anything political or otherwise. In a toast he sent along to be read at an annual event commemorating the end of the Revolutionary War, John Stark wrote, “Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils.” He declined the invitation due to ill health.

      At the end of WWII, the state officially adopted the first half of that toast as its motto. It’s now become the rallying cry for two unrelated issues: 1) to continue to keep NH income-tax free, and 2) to ensure that its citizens always have the right to keep and bear arms, concealed and otherwise.

      We’re a deeply divided state that has more often than not voted old-time conservatives into state positions. This year, those people happened to be moderate Democrats. I think most residents want fiscal responsibility and are strongly in favor of state’s rights. The issue is and has always been the same in NH as it is in DC: figuring out the best way to achieve those goals.

      • So what I’m getting from this extremely informative comment is that everybody in New Hampshire has a Beretta concealed under his or her plaid flannel shirt. Good to know.

    • Ah, the tried-and-true, one-word period comment. You’re subtly implying that’s about how long this post should’ve been, aren’t you?

  3. Yeah, I’m with Nicky. Best. Fucking. Post. Ever. It was just full of brilliant lines that make my little wannabe writer’s heart green with envy. I loved how your tried to divert attention from your ridiculously liberal political beliefs by eating a seriously conservative sandwich, and how you walk the streets, perhaps getting a little bit lost in the gin and the atmosphere and the big city, just as I got a little bit lost in this post, experiencing it vicariously through your magical words.

    And I love vampire bats.

    • Wannabe writer. Right. You’re a writer’s writer, and I wish you’d do more of it.

      The graph about my sandwich is my favorite graph. Thank you for noticing it, and for being so kind. :)

  4. I started reading this delightful missive about ten o’clock last night. By midnight, my eyes were getting tired so I trundled off to bed and figured I’d finish the last 3/4ths of it this morning. I’ve gone through two cups of coffee and I’m now half way. I’m still enjoying it, but I’ll finish it a little later.

    It took me a full week to read War and Peace so I know I will get there with this great post soon!

    • You’re funny, Linda. Yes, it’s long. Long period, and impossibly long for the Internet. But I just didn’t feel like writing short, and I didn’t want to break it up into five or six easily digestible chunks. Don’t feel obligated to read it…

      Also, I’m impressed that you read War & Peace. I’ve never been able to finish one of those long Russian novels.

  5. I so want to adapt this for film. DeNiro will play you. Or maybe Woody Allen. Tough call.

    This is great, my friend. I love the whole tone of the piece and could hear your voice throughout, even though I’ve never actually heard your voice.

    Yes, every so often the American voter gets it right, just like the broken watch that’s right twice a day, but what the hell. I’m grateful that you were there to chronicle the DC election night experience, but even more so that you managed to escape.

    I enjoyed how you book-ended the piece. Love and hate really are a matter of perspective, aren’t they.

    Stellar job!

    • Maybe it could be an experiment film with both DeNiro and Allen playing me as a tough yet funny guy with mental-health issues.

      It was great to be in DC on that night and in these ridiculous times. I felt honored, in a way.

  6. This is exquisitely written with such wonderful descriptions of the small things you noticed as you wandered through your day. I can see, hear, and smell all of it so vividly.

    (I wish you’d known earlier that there are 2 NH polling places that open at midnight. The results from Hart’s Landing – Obama 23, Romney 9, and Johnson 1 – might have helped you feel a bit less angst-filled early on. Just for record, I’m fairly certain every voter in both locations was wearing flannel at the polling place. It’s a momentous occasion and I can’t imagine them wearing anything less elegant.)

    • Thank you, Cheryl. You’re very kind. I wish I’d known about the other polling places, too. I was contemplating suicide a good part of the day after seeing those early returns.

      For what it’s worth, I used to wear flannel shirts all the time. Don’t know why I stopped, really. They’re very comfortable.

  7. “The entire world is also watching the election to see if Americans are stupid enough to elect a man whose political views belong to the 1950s and Dr. Strangelove. To them, our election must be a highly entertaining, extended episode of a reality television program. The Real Politicians of Potomac Shore. Survivor: District of Columbia. The Unamazing Race.”

    This entire post is so incredibly hilarious. I have to read it again. I love the reference to the sandwich and how it speaks volumes about your European socialist tendancies. Yes, Mike, you are being tracked by Homeland Security based on what you order for lunch.

    I agree. Best. Post. Ever.

  8. I’m wondering if I could get drunk on a bottle of sin, too.

    And how you managed to not only spot a counterfeit iPhone but authentic Louboutins is remarkable. I’m really, really wondering about you now. ;)

    • The iPhone’s were real — they’re all made in China — and I’m fairly certain the Louboutins were, too, although I’m no expert in women’s shoes.

      Really, I’m not.

  9. You put me right there with you. From the moment you rolled out of bed til the moment you sprang out of bed and ran to the window. It was a night to remember. And yes, most of us are still idiots lol. What in heavens will 2016 bring ((shutters violently at the thought))

    • I wonder if there won’t be a conservative backlash? That they party will say and do whatever it takes to get elected and them implement their real agenda once that happens?

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