In Washington's Womb
Postcard from Washington
But this summer has been about both mind and body. I have shaped my physique, but I have also learned some important life lessons. For example, I have learned that people are intolerant of those who have different customs. I guess this is one of those heartbreaking realizations that we all must face in our own way at our own time—and I faced it when I ate soup for breakfast. For a few days I had been eating ramen noodles for lunch, and this drew a few derisive snickers from my boss, but nothing like the hurricane of mockery and scorn which enveloped me when I heated up a can of Progresso soup (because I was hungry and didn’t have any traditional breakfast foods at hand) and ate it at 10 in the morning. There was general chaos. Faces contorted into fear, confusion and finally rage. People were coming from far-away parts of the office to look. They would say things like “Good GOD! Soup? How can you—but it’s only—what is WRONG—have some DECENCY!” I have been hearing about the soup-eating thing for three weeks now. I am not kidding.
There was also an incident this week involving general co-worker contempt for what I saw as a completely reasonable decision, given that there is no shortage of refrigerator space in our office, to bring a jar of mayonnaise to work and then put it on my sandwich at noon rather than putting it on in the morning and letting the sandwich get soggy in my bag. That topic is still too painful for me to write about at length.
At the same time, I have also been slightly shamed by instinctive fear of my countrymen from the South. The closest I had previously come to prolonged exposure to groups of southerners was spending time with my New Mexican relatives, who are mostly crazy, which I had thought was just a family trait. For example, one of my uncles once visited me in Cambridge and, when we were deciding where to go to dinner, announced that he would not eat “boogers and sticks.” He was referring to Asian food. I found Washington to be much further south than I imagined—you have the native Virginia residents, plus all the people who work for Congressmen from southern states. They mostly struck me as very similar to my uncle. They like being polite, but they like talking about how polite they are even more, and how angry their mother would be if she found out they failed to do something like give up their seat for a very attractive girl on the bus, as if this surefire way to start a conversation with a very attractive girl is actually a really selfless act. But honestly, my conclusions are based entirely on a short period in which I ended up sitting next to southerners every time I rode the bus, and in particular on the behavior of these two roommates from Atlanta who would line up for the bus together every morning. Yet somehow when they got on, would end up at opposite ends, and then, shouting, carry on a conversation that usually went something like this:
“I’ll rassle ya!”
“Rassle me? Haw! I’l rassle ya and all y’all friends!”
“Haw! Haw! Haw! Haw!”
At first I was annoyed, but I eventually grew to love the way their loud, mindless, Southern-accented banter added some life to the morning bus trip, and now that they’re gone, the ride from my dorm to the subway stop is a little lonelier.
Yes, it has been an eye-opening, Southerner-accepting, lesson-learning, womb-like summer in Washington.
Benjamin D. Mathis-Lilley ’03, a Crimson editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Adams House. He is a press intern in the Senate. His responsibilities include copying, faxing and making copies of faxes.