Chapter 11: I SEE DC

We're near the nation's capital, but we're not stuck up-at-all;
So take a stand and shake the hand of every crab in Maryland.
We touch four states, and several bays, the highways mostly run two ways;
We hope you come and say hello and maybe stop and spend some dough.

I didn't care whether he spent any dough or not, but I certainly hoped M. Anders 'Andy' Beekan was going to drop by Kensington, Maryland, and say hello sometime soon. Apart from a short trip to 'Barbarian Books' in nearby Wheaton to pick up some comics, we'd been waiting all day for Andy to come over and fix the lights on Avedon's car so that she could use it to get to her evening class.

Andy eventually turned up at 5.30 pm and had the lights fixed in no time. I was impressed. So was Avedon, who leapt right into the car when he was done and took off for her class, leaving Andy and me to our own devices. Andy was about my height, though stockier, had thinning blond hair and spoke with a slow, soft drawl. He'd been a friend of Avedon's since the days of her misspent pre-fannish youth. We decided to get acquainted over a few games of pinball.

Avedon Carol - pinball wizard

In the basement of the Avedikian house is a full-size, arcade-standard pinball machine on which was then taped a note proclaiming a record score of 1,251,250 by "The Fabulous Avedon Carol". I sniffed dismissively, knowing this was exactly the same score that had been there four years earlier when Dave Langford visited, as recorded in THE TRANSATLANTIC HEARING AID. Clearly, Avedon hadn't improved in the meantime. I'd've been less dismissive if I'd had any idea of how hard it is to get scores that high.

Andy wiped me out. In the very first game he scored 707,000 -- with 354,000 of that from one ball (as an indication of how impressive this is, I should tell you that it would be another ten years before I equalled this feat on that machine). Only once did he score less than 400,000, and only then did I beat him. Andy insisted this was all a fluke but I know when I'm being hustled.

Avedon finally returned at 9.15 pm, about half an hour after Andy left, and we took off for pizza at a place called Ledo's which, quite simply, serves the best pizza I've ever tasted. Every trip I've made to DC since then has included at least one visit to Ledo's. Stocking up on enough pizza to provide breakfast as well, we then set off for the house of Bob Weiler and Applesusan (aka Susan Applegate), a lapsed-fannish friend of Avedon. Bob is a lecturer and they had a visiting professor from Europe staying with them. The prof, a guy of uncertain age and nationality (uncertain because my notes record neither), was delighted to meet someone else from Europe (or 'Yurp', as Americans call it) and decided to tell an appropriate joke.

"What's the difference between heaven and hell?"

None of us knew the correct answer.

"Heaven is where they have they have Italian cooks, German bureaucrats, and British policemen. Hell is where they have British cooks, Italian bureaucrats, and German policemen."

The faith foreigners have in our police force is really quite touching. I wish I could share it.

Something surprising that came up during conversation is that the state song, 'Maryland, My Maryland', is sung to the tune of 'The Red Flag'. Dating back to the Civil War, it was written originally to encourage Maryland to secede from the Union. It includes such splendid lines as:

The despot's heel is on thy shore, his torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore, that flecked the streets of Baltimore.

The 'despot' referred to is generally assumed to be Abraham Lincoln and the song further asks Maryland to "spurn the Northern scum". Anyway, Maryland Delegate Howard A. Dennis had recently suggested it was about time the song's anti-Union sentiment was eliminated, and this had been picked up by Public Radio's Larry Massett, who came up with new lyrics of his own. Here's another of his verses (copyright Larry Massett c 1983):

I have a dog whose name is Jack, I threw a stick, he brought it back
My sister had a cat, I think, my mother had a kitchen sink.
My father was a decent man and we all lived in Maryland,
Oh Maryland, my Maryland; oh Maryland, my Maryland.

The next day, Wednesday 12th September, we were up and showered early so that Avedon could fulful a medical appointment and I could meet up with Dolly and Alexis Gilliland, who were going to take me around the tourist sights of Washington.

Dolly & Alexis Gilliland, Albert Einstein, and my finger

Dolly provided most of the commentary, with Alexis contributing the occasional laconic observation, drawled in that improbable accent of his. Our first stop was the statue of Albert Einstein outside the National Academy of Sciences. I dutifully took a snapshot of Dolly and Alexis in front of this while Alexis explained that the star-map cast in its base was originally going to be set at Einstein's date of birth but was ultimately set at the date of the statue's erection since it was felt the former smacked of astrology. Quite right, too.

I hadn't known what to expect of the Vietnam Memorial and at first sight it wasn't very impressive, sunk as it is into a gash in Constitution Gardens, near the Lincoln Memorial. But as you slowly walk along its polished black granite walls, eyes taking in only some of the more than 58,000 names of fallen servicemen and women inscribed on them, it becomes powerfully affecting by virtue of its stark simplicity. The Vietnam War was not my war, and in common with many of my generation I thought it was a stupid and unnecessary war, but those who gave their lives in its execution were not responsible for the actions of their government, and it's right that their sacrifice should be remembered. The judges of the competition were unanimous in choosing Maya Ying Lin's from the 1,421 designs for the memorial that were submitted. They chose well.

We viewed the Lincoln Memorial from below (it was a blazingly hot day and none of us fancied climbing all those steps) before turning and casting our eyes up past the reflecting pool and the soaring obelisk of the Washington Memorial, ("Our national penis" -- Avedon) and along The Mall to where the Capitol Building perched on the hill beyond. It was as impressive as all get out and, as in London, all of the most famous sights proved to be within easy walking distance of each other. However, this being America we drove to the White House, Alexis pointing out that, like Buckingham Palace, the face of the White House the public is most familar with is actually the rear. When we drove round to the front we came across an anti-nuclear protest, one that took the form of large numbers of banners planted in the grass directly across from the White House. I'd been on a couple of anti-nuclear demonstrations in London in recent months and, if I hadn't been unsure of the politics of my hosts, I would've cheered.

Rob Hansen, Congress

We drove on down Pennsylvania Avenue towards Congress, passing between the FBI building on the left and the Justice Department on the right, on past the National Archive Building ("Where the government keeps its fanzine collection" -- Alexis), and on to our destination: the National Air and Space Museum. This is directly across the road from the NASA building and, according to Alexis, is often referred to as "NASA's attic". The reason for this became obvious as soon as we entered the museum.

The V-1 and V-2, the Skylab you could walk through, and the huge variety of aircraft in the museum were impressive enough, but it was the stuff in the lobby as you first enter that really got to me. Hanging from the ceiling was the Spirit of St.Louis, the Wright brothers' flyer, the X-1 craft with which Chuck Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier, and the X-15, the last in the famed series that, if not for the political urgencies of the space race, might well have continued and eventually provided craft capable of getting us into space more efficiently than anything we've come up with since. On the floor of the lobby was the Gemini capsule from which Ed White made the first US spacewalk, and the Apollo-11 command module. As a science fiction fan I was in heaven, yet the item in that lobby that moved me more than anything was a piece of moonrock, mounted so that the public could touch it. On that long-ago night in 1969, when I'd stayed up into the early hours with my father and brother to watch the grainy live transmission of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, I'd felt a sense of wonder at the magnitude of the event I was witnessing such as only a fourteen year-old could feel. Fifteen years later, in 1984, I touched a piece of the moon, something I never imagined I would ever do. In that moment I was fourteen years-old again.

Feeling hungry, we ate at a Cuban restaurant called 'La Cantinata', where Dolly and I had Rapa Vieja ("old rags"), which was shredded beef in tomato and wine sauce with all the black beans and rice we could eat -- a considerable amount in my case. Immediately prior to this we'd made our final visit of the day, to the National Gallery of Art. It was here, in the west building, that I got to see my first ever Dali original. It was 'The Last Supper' and it was huge. I asked Alexis if he'd ever tried to do anything as big.

"I did once," he admitted, "but they took my spray can away from me."

We spent some time back at Dolly and Alexis' home, where I chatted to Alexis in his study and admired his Hugo Awards (he only had three at the time) while trying to avoid the attentions of their grumpy cat, before I was driven back to Kensington, Maryland. We got there before 10pm but not before Avedon, who turned up later. It had been a good day.

Our nights are dark, our days are fair, we're right next door to Delaware
Our song before was full of gore but we heard the Union won the war.
We're sorry if it made you mad, it was the only song we had,
Oh Maryland, my Maryland; oh Maryland, my Maryland.