Philip Terzian, down and out in D.C.Apr 27, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 31 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
During Christmas vacation 1968-69 I ran into a high school friend much wiser in the ways of the world than I. He had stumbled onto a curious job for the next few weeks— collecting the proceeds from a chain of bowling alleys in the Washington area, counting the loot, and delivering it to corporate headquarters—but he needed a driver. The work required no particular skill, was done quickly, late at night, and he was willing to divide the fee. So I signed on.
I was, at this time, in what might be called the Orwellian phase of my working career. Inspired, to some degree, by Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), I had resolved to supplement my higher education with a string of part-time, blue-collar, low-wage endeavors that would give me some exposure to a workaday world of which I knew virtually nothing. So I labored on construction crews, in a bookstore, at a concrete company, picking up laundry, washing dishes, shoveling pigeon feces, taking tickets in a movie theater—all to remind myself, I suppose, that I would be happier in life while seated behind a desk, preferably reading and writing and wearing a tie.
Yet the bowling alley job was intriguing, in its way: I had been unaware of the existence of such things as leagues; my colleagues at the different venues were a varied lot, to say the least; and midnight was an interesting time to show up for work. Curiously, I proved more skillful than my friend at the fine art of opening safes.
All went well, all things considered, until late one evening in early January when we found ourselves in the back office of one of the alleys, counting and recounting the cash. There was a gentle knock at the door, and when I opened it, there stood a gentleman in a lime-green Nehru jacket, wearing sunglasses, and pointing a gun at my chest. Of course, it took me a few seconds to perceive what was happening, during which time our unexpected visitor and his three (or was it four?) confederates pushed their way past me into the tiny room, brandished their weapons, and ordered my friend and me to lie on the floor.
Sad to say, this was a rancorous period in the social history of our nation’s capital, and apart from full-scale rioting nine months earlier, there had been a well-publicized series of armed robberies in Washington in which the perpetrators had shot (and killed) their victims for good measure. I was, of course, fully cognizant of this—as I was also aware of a knee grinding into my spinal column, rather painfully, and the awkward fact that I would probably be required to open the safe.
It is often said that criminals are more nervous than their victims, and certainly the shaking hands, barking voices, and generally unbusinesslike demeanor of our visitors suggested either mild hysteria on their part or, perhaps, drug addiction. But I was in no condition to dwell on such things, only thankful to recall the combination to the safe, to dial it successfully, and watch in wonderment as our visitors spilled coins all over the room in their haste.
From here my friend and I were marched at gunpoint, along with a janitor and late-shift mechanic, into a storage room and, once again, ordered to lie on the floor. When I saw that the robbers were collecting pieces of rope and string with which to bind our wrists, I guessed, with some certainty, that we were not to be shot. And when they bolted from the room to make their getaway, and shoved a pool table against the door to block our exit, I was still more confident: For the door opened from the inside.
When we were sure that they had abandoned the premises, and were unlikely to fire at random, we unfettered ourselves, opened the door, and—laughing nervously, but laughing—pushed the pool table back into place.
It is a curious thing, in retrospect, to have come so close to oblivion without feeling too many effects. In subsequent decades I have driven near the scene of the crime without remembering it, and I am almost wholly indifferent to the fact that the case remains unsolved. I remember looking at hundreds of snapshots of bad guys at a police station, even being driven to a courthouse in southern Maryland to gaze at a lineup—to no avail. My principal memory of the lineup is reading Robert Rhodes James’s biography of Lord Rosebery on the long drive in a police car to Prince Frederick. And my only souvenir of that perilous night is an old pocket watch, its crystal smashed and hands frozen in time, which I keep in a drawer.
Feb 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 21 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
"More than 13 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in a world still menaced by terrorists and in a city at risk of attack as few others, how is it possible that basic radio communications used by the District’s first responders could fail in an emergency?” asked the Washington Post editorial board. “How could the District’s transit system be unprepared to ventilate smoke from a subway tunnel? What other lapses in preparedness will the region’s residents discover, and will it take an emergency to discover them?”
9:20 AM, Jan 22, 2015 • By REBECCA BURGESS
While many critics skewer President Obama’s recent amnesty-granting executive action, D.C.’s municipal lawmakers have their own plans for the next battle on the immigration-citizenship front. Invoking considerations of fairness and justice against “anti-immigrant hysteria,” D.C.
Nov 24, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 11 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
After the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts approved a revised design for the Eisenhower memorial last month, a New York Times reporter asked Anne Eisenhower, Ike’s granddaughter, whether the controversial design could now, at long last, get built, despite the objections of her own family and countless other appalled critics.
“There would be one more hurdle,” she said, “and that’s funds—unless [the commissioners] are going to build it themselves.”
Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
In the event of nuclear war, only three things are expected to survive—cockroaches, Twinkies, and the political ambitions of the Kennedy family.
With the announcement that William Kennedy Smith is running for local office in Washington, D.C., it’s becoming apparent that something needs to be done to stop Zombie Camelot once and for all.
Aug 18, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 46 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
You don’t have to be an Eisenhower Memorial groupie—yes, there are such people—to enjoy a new 56-page congressional report called “A Five-Star Folly.” But it helps. The mound of detail will bury all but the sturdiest student of what is shaping up to be one of the most memorable Washington fiascoes of our young century. A blend of incompetence with arrogance, the saga of the memorial is like an Obamacare rollout for architecture buffs and history weenies.
Obamacare is keeping health care costs down, by making it difficult to access exchanges.10:02 AM, Mar 10, 2014 • By IKE BRANNON
My wife woke up Saturday with a badly swollen knee. We had no idea what could have caused it—her hot yoga class puts her in poses that put stress on the knee but she didn't remember the knee hurting during her last session.
Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
It’s not often that The Scrapbook finds common cause with Vincent Gray, the mayor of Washington, D.C. But occasionally, worlds do collide. And in this instance, we are in full agreement with the mayor about a familiar topic for readers of this page: the United States Secret Service.
Matt Labash gets a LyftMar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By MATT LABASH
Now that “software is eating the world,” in the words of Marc Andreessen, every once in awhile, we dinosaur types like to try our luck in the land of Web 2.0, 3.0, or Whatever.0 we’re on at the moment. To that end, I recently applied to become a driver at Lyft, the “ride-sharing” service where drivers who drive their own personal vehicle with a giant pink moustache lashed to the grille (the Lyft trademark) are summoned to your location at the touch of an app. This way, users don’t have to do the unthinkable, like look away from their smartphone while hailing a cab.
Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook confesses to a soft spot for the preservation of historic architecture. We understand, of course, that cities are dynamic, not static, and that sometimes progress demands sacrifice. But we also understand that the march of “progress” sometimes points us upside-down—has New York ever recovered from the 1963 demolition of its 1910 Beaux-Arts Penn Station?—and that today’s monstrosity might well be tomorrow’s masterpiece.
Feb 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 22 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), as its name would suggest, is a longtime denizen of the frozen north, customarily ranging in the polar regions, upper Canada, Alaska, and northern Eurasia. In recent years, however, it has been migrating southward and, during the past few decades, has been sighted in places like Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. In the midst of this snowy, and decidedly frigid, winter, the Snowy Owl’s progress makes a certain sense.
Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
All politics is local, the late Tip O’Neill is alleged to have said. The Scrapbook isn’t quite sure if that’s true. But it has certainly been true during the “shutdown” of the federal government, in which President Obama has used metropolitan Washington, D.C., as a stage on which to dramatize his talking points.
Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
While it was inevitable that a government shutdown would involve vindictive theatrics designed to make life irksome for ordinary Americans, the directive from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to close off the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was remarkable in that it was designed to punish some of our most extraordinary citizens. Since 2005, the organization Honor Flight has had as its mission to get as many World War II veterans as possible to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorial, at no cost to them.
12:50 PM, Sep 23, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
The question at the core of most of today’s debates in American politics is whether all people have an unalienable right to keep the fruits of their own labor—as the Founders believed and the Declaration of Independence (properly understood) asserts—or whether the government should funnel vast sums of money to the nation’s capital and then magnanimously redistribute it back to the tributaries. Well, the stats are in, and it seems that neither of these two notions is really being fulfilled. To be sure, Americans’ money is flowing to the nation’s capital. But it’s not flowin
9:03 AM, Sep 12, 2013 • By KEVIN R. KOSAR
Are you feeling impulsive? Well, if you are in the District of Columbia there is nothing to fear—the government is doing all it can to protect you from yourself. D.C.’s health department has issued draft regulations that would require anyone seeking a tattoo to wait 24 hours to be inked. A spokesperson for the agency, explained: “We’re making sure when that decision is made that you’re in the right frame of mind, and you don’t wake up in the morning... saying, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’”