A monologue on the human price we are willing to pay for our government, with some dramatic license (obviously)
I look at the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson in my hands for what must be the ten-millionth time when the question pops into my head: who are these people? It’s like a virus in my head - a computer virus. I obsess over it. I stare at these unflinching, small pictures printed on squares of linen and I know I have to find out where they came from.
A few days later I stand at the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. It is a place without history. It’s not really a city, and it’s not really a state - it’s something the government euphemistically calls a “federal district”. The only other place they have this is Puerto Rico, which should tell you a lot about the whole setup. Isn’t that remarkable, how our government is actually run out of Puerto Rico and no one knows it?
My plan was to walk up to the door and attempt to talk to the President himself, but the locals tell me, “That’s… different. That’s a really bad idea.” I tried getting reservations the day before, but I was told the waiting list for the tour was several months long. So I decided to follow my instincts and simply go to the main gate.
The first thing I see are the guards. And they are carrying guns. All around the vast, sprawling compound, a twelve-foot fence keeps the workers inside. You see, there has been a shooting not too long ago. Strolling in the park one night, President Garfield was shot by a disgruntled coworker.
I suppose that’s what passes for a more perfect union in Washington.
Now you may say, well, homicides happen! But did you realize that almost ten percent - ten percent! - of US presidents were assassinated? Two of those happened while I stood on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue. I saw William McKinley carried out on a stretcher, and I spent eight days by his side as he slowly and sorely parted with his immortal soul.
Later that day, I sit on a barstool facing a man with bright, droopy eyes and a weary grin. He holds a pen in his right hand - a hand that was badly damaged in defense of his country just moments before we met. I ask him what he used to do before that, and he tells me he represented the state of Kansas in the US Senate. I reach into my backpack and pull out my keychain, the one with the World’s Largest Prairie Dog on it. At the sight of this, the ex-senator’s eyes fill up with tears. “Bob Dole’s never even been to Prairie Dog Town in Oakley,” he says.
The next day, following a seemingly endless cab ride - something right out of THX 1138 or The Matrix or Tootsie - I am back at the gates. I see a group of people leaving the gray, imposing structure, dragging their sweaty and tired bodies over the enormous lawn in the sweltering 98-degree heat, their shorts crumpled and their klean kanteens nearly empty. I stop one small, shy woman and I ask her how old she is. “Thirteen,” she says. “Umm, excuse me, you’re in my way,” she adds. She then joins her parents as they study the city map on the sidewalk.
I am telling you that I don’t speak bureucratese. I don’t live inside the Beltway. I am not a government employee. But I do know that in my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met tourists who were fourteen years old. I met interns who were eighteen years old. I met staffers who were forty years old.
I met the White House’s pastry chef who was not allowed to leave his post for twenty-five years.
I saw the house tours completely suspended in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
I saw the building repainted after the burning of Washington.
I met a sandwich-delivery worker whose tip came out to $3.40.
I saw Aaron Burr challenge and mortally wound Alexander Hamilton.
I saw Vice President Spiro Agnew convicted of tax fraud.
I saw George Washington chop down the cherry tree.
Do you really think The President doesn’t know? In a government obsessed with the details, with your tax return being filled out just so, with the revenue being perfectly fit into the budget, do you really think it’s credible that they don’t know?
THE REST OF THE STORY IS IN YOUR HANDS.
If you think this is a truthful account, turn to page 41.
If you think this is satire, turn to page 18.