Please note that this is the nineteenth in a series of short stories known collectively as Naptown Tales. The series of stories can be found on my GayAuthors Page and on the Naptown Tales Page at Awesome Dude. Slightly modified versions of some of these stories that are suitable for younger teens can also be found on the Altimexis Page at Codey's World. Please see the Introduction for important background on the series.
Spendin' spring break with my best friend, Paul, an' my foster brother, Trevor, on a trip in Washington, D.C. was like a dream come true. Tuesday dawned bright an' sunny, so I woke up kinda early. Lookin' over at Paul, sleepin' so peaceful, I couldn't help but feel so lucky ta be where I was. Just last year I was lucky ta be home with my mom when she wasn't strung out on crack, an' even then, half the time I was sportin' bruises from all the beatin's she gave me.
Now, I lived in a huge bedroom I had all ta myself in a large house I shared with my bro. I had my best friend, I went to a good school where I had lotsa friends and everyone treated me with respect. Life was good . . . no . . . life was great!
Paul's a good friend, even though he's a little slow. He has Down's Syndrome, but that doesn't make him any different than any one else as far as I can tell. His face looks a little different, but he's so sweet, an' kind, an' a loyal friend. I really love Paul as much as I love anyone. Well . . . not that way. Paul an' I both like girls . . . a lot, and hope we'll have girlfriends someday, but we do like ta fool around a little now an' then . . . like last night. Last night we jerked each other off . . . it was fun. Way more fun than doin' it alone.
So after we got up, showered an' dressed, we chowed down on a hearty breakfast at the hotel, an' then headed down ta the National Mall ta start a day of memorial and monument sightseeing. First thing we did was stop off at the ticket booth for the Washington Monument an' purchase our tickets for later on. Calvin warned us it could be a long wait for what would be a disappointing view, but it was one of those things we had ta do once in our lives.
From there, we walked due west, ta the World War II Memorial, which he said was the most recent of the war memorials ta be built. It was shaped like an amphitheater of sorts surrounding an oval fountain. It was very solemn, for sure. Beyond the WWII Memorial was the long reflecting pool that led to the Lincoln Memorial, but we took a detour to the north to visit the Constitution Gardens and to see the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial. "Sammy," Calvin said to me, "we'll be seeing the memorial for the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence a bit later."
Just beyond that, we came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Man, I'd seen pictures of people walking up to the wall an' searching for the names of fallen comrades, but there we were an' there really were people doing that. There were so many names, too. If the WWII Memorial was solemn, this one was somber. Yeah, I thought that up on my own. So many lives wasted, just like we were doing in Iraq in my opinion. Not all my friends agreed to be sure, but the world sure didn't seem any safer from terrorism.
I didn't know about it before, but there was a Vietnam Women's Memorial, too. I thought that was pretty cool. After all, there were women soldiers, but no one seems ta acknowledge the sacrifices they made for their country, an' God knows they prolly had ta put up with a lot a shit from all the men soldiers, too. The only thing worse was being a gay soldier.
The Lincoln Memorial was fuckin' huge! Man, Lincoln was so larger than life. Calvin spent quite a bit of time talking about Lincoln an' all he did for the country. He really did a lot ta make America what it is today . . . I had no idea. Before the Civil War, America was a bunch a independent states, kinda like the European Union today. Afterwards, we were a true nation. It was Lincoln that believed in the sovereignty of the federal government. There are some who still believe state's rights should come first, but thanks to Lincoln, the Supreme Court always has the final word.
After we saw the Lincoln Memorial, we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, an' then we stopped at a plaque for Martin Luther King, Jr., right on the Tidal Basin, where they plan ta one day build a memorial ta the great civil rights leader. As we all stood there, Calvin asked us how much we all knew about the Civil Rights movement.
"I know a lot about it," David answered him. "Dr. King is one of my all time heroes. He modeled his tactics after Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of peaceful disobedience. His `I've Got a Dream' speech is one of the most masterful of all time. It's thanks to him, and people like Rosa Parks, that we were able to elect Barak Obama to the White House. King paved the way.
"But in spite of King's message of peace, it was a bloody struggle, complete with lynchings in the South. Three white college boys who came down from the North to do nothing more than register African Americans to vote were killed. School desegregation did not occur peacefully. Sometimes, it took federal troops to bring it about in the 60's. There's still places where you can find the old `White' and `Colored' drinking fountains as vestiges of the old South. And of course there was that horrible day in 1968 in Memphis when Dr. King was brutally gunned down, and cities throughout America burned."
"The riots of '68 set us so far back," Calvin said. "I can only hope and pray we never see anything like that again."
"Our struggle is far from over," David said with a sigh, "Jeremy and I, and Trevor and Kurt are all part of a minority that's still subject to discrimination. We're a small minority, but not insignificant. It's only been a few years since we could legally have sex with those we love, without fear of prosecution in some states, and it's still illegal for some of us to do so if we're underage in most states. We can only legally marry in two states, and most states outright ban us from marrying. Some states even go so far as to prohibit us from passing property to our spouses, or adopting children, or even allowing our own spouses to serve as guardians for our children after we die.
"And to add insult to injury, should we choose to make the ultimate sacrifice and serve in the armed forces, if our country ever finds out, we'll be summarily dismissed without a moment's hesitation. It doesn't even matter if we've earned a purple heart or a Congressional Medal of Honor. It doesn't matter if we're fucking war heroes, no sir. Same with the Boy Scouts, for that matter . . . you can be a damn Eagle Scout and have every merit badge known to the organization. If you come out, you're history. No so-called `immoral' behavior allowed."
"You, too, shall overcome, David," Calvin said as he grasped David's shoulder - no mean feat given that David was just as tall as Calvin was. "And you know, something tells me you're going to be one of the people who makes it happen."
Slowly, we started walkin' around the tidal basin, which was a riot a color from all the cherry blossoms. We were fortunate ta be there for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Calvin told us that the trees didn't always bloom on schedule, so the timing a the festival was always just a good guess, an' it just happened ta coincide with our spring break this year. Calvin explained that the trees that lined the tidal basin were a gift from Japan.
Soon, we came ta the FDR Memorial, which had several statues a FDR and had a lotta scenes from the Great Depression. There were statues a people standin' in line at a soup kitchen, and everywhere there was water. The way the economy was goin' today, I hoped we weren't heading for another great depression.
Trevor pointed to a statue of FDR in a wheelchair and said, "I read about that . . . how some disability groups had to lobby to get a statue of him in a wheelchair. His family didn't want him to be seen that way, but he was America's first president with a disability, after all, and people with disabilities feel he was someone they can look up to."
"The whole time he was president," Calvin explained, "he tried to hide his disability. He was ashamed of it. He had polio as a youth, and it was something he overcame. Not that it wasn't something to be proud of, but hiding his residual disability was a lot like trying to hide your being gay, or trying to overcome it.
"Today's a different era, and we can all be proud of the man FDR was . . . that someone who overcame polio went on to become President of the United States and to serve his country so well from his wheelchair. I'm glad that statue's here, aren't you?"
Continuing our walk around the tidal basin and snappin' lots a photos along the way, we finally came ta the Jefferson Memorial. Calvin seemed ta stand in awe a the man as he said, "We've all heard George Washington referred to as the `father of our country', but here stands the true father of our country. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, Ambassador to France and third President of the United States. He more than doubled the territory of America. He was an inventor in his own right. He was a true genius, and a renaissance man."
"Doesn't it bother you that he owned slaves?" David asked.
"Of course it does, David," Calvin answered. "I can't ever really forgive him for that, but I take solace in the fact that he fought bitterly to make the elimination of slavery a part of the Declaration of Independence . . . a fight he ultimately lost. Had he won that fight, our nation's history might have been very different. In any case, Jefferson was very much a product of the aristocracy into which he was born. He never did quite rise above it, but the legacy he left behind has resulted in one of the greatest governments on earth, and for that I'm grateful.
"I'm not happy my ancestors were brought here against their will and forced into slavery, but had they remained in Africa, what would my life be like today? Africa's even more of a mess under the Africans than it ever was under White rule."
David suddenly got a strange look on his face, and then he asked Calvin, "You . . . you're a Republican?"
"Remember who it was that recommended me, David. Don't get me wrong . . . I actually think Obama's going to do a fine job as president, but I voted for McCain," Calvin said with a sly smile and a chuckle.
"An African American Republican . . ." David said in seeming disbelief. "Most all my friends are Democrats as far as I know," he continued.
"I kinda lean Republican," Trevor added, apparently surprising several people in the group, but I knew how Trevor felt. When David kept staring at him, he added, "Well, not everything's about gay rights, you know. I like the low tax, small government message."
"And except for their stand on gay rights, I tend to favor their conservative values," Kurt added. Again, Kurt's views weren't news ta me. He was, after all, the son of an Evangelical preacher.
Deciding I might as well add my own two cents worth, I said, "An' I could never vote for someone who favors abortion. I mean, a life is a life, no matter when it begins. Abortion is just plain wrong." I put my hand on Paul's' shoulder an' smiled, before I added, "When it comes ta gay rights, I'm with you guys all the way, but abortion ta me, is murder."
"I don't believe it," David said almost starin' right through me.
"Hey babe," Jeremy said placin' his hand on his lover's back, "we're a nation of many viewpoints. Unless you can accept the differences of opinion of our friends, how will you ever learn to accept the views of your constituents if you do go into politics?"
"Of course, you're right," David agreed, "but it's just a bit of a shock, that's all. Sorry guys . . . I'm just being me."
"Me too," Paul said with his innocent grin. That broke the tension in the air. He had a way of makin' us smile at the right time.
"And before we have our own little civil war break out among the group, I think we'd better move on," Calvin suggested. I really liked Calvin, I started thinkin' he'd make a good diplomat or somethin'.
We continued our walk around the tidal basin, stopping for lunch at one a the many sidewalk vendors along the way, and soon found ourselves standing in front a the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I was definitely not looking forward to this, but I knew it was important ta see it. It was important to remember what happened to the Jews . . . and the gays, and all the other groups that Hitler killed during World War II. Moreover, I knew that genocide was still going on all over the world. Why couldn't we stop it?
When we entered, we were all assigned the identities of real people who died in the holocaust. David, Jeremy, Trevor and Kurt all asked ta be given the identities of gay kids, but there were no `out' gay kids back then, so they chose the identities of young gay men an' the rest of us chose the identities of Jewish teenagers. Man, the museum made it all seem so real, with identity papers, an' going through all the stages of being restricted . . . first with our parents losing their jobs, an' then the infamous Crystal Night when all the shop windows were smashed an' synagogues were burned, an' then having to move to a ghetto. Then we were taken to the concentration camps an' were separated from our parents, never to see them again.
Poor Paul went straight to the gas chamber, because his kid really had Down's Syndrome. He was a defective . . . in Hitler's world; he never had a chance. I felt bad for Paul an' I wasn't sure if he could truly understand what was goin' on.
Then he said to me, "It's OK, I learned about this in school. Little Joseph died back then so that kids like me can live today. There's a little bit of Joseph, right here," he said as he patted his hand over his heart. It made me cry as I hugged him. It took a boy with Down's Syndrome to make me really appreciate the Holocaust Museum. How about that?
By the time we finished the Holocaust Museum, it was late afternoon an' there was a pretty long line at the Washington Monument. Standing in line, Calvin pointed out the paddleboat vendor nearby an' suggested we might want to take paddleboats out on the tidal basin on Friday or Saturday, but I think we all groaned at the idea. We weren't a buncha babies, after all.
By the time we got to the head of the line, the sun was setting an' dusk was descending on Washington.
"Pretty good timing, huh guys?" Calvin asked. When I thought about it, yeah, it was the perfect time to be up in the monument.
The ride to the top took no time at all, but because there's so little space, they sure didn't let us stay long. An' Calvin was right . . . the windows were so tiny, you couldn't really see much of anything. What a disappointment!
For dinner, we went to a small Italian restaurant right by the hotel. It was nice, but nothing fancy. Still, we were excited nonetheless. Tomorrow was to be a big day!
When morning came, Calvin made good and sure we were up with a personal phone call at six AM. Gees! I mean, I knew we had an appointment with our senator, but it wasn't, like, at the crack of dawn or something. Anyway, after we showered an' got dressed in our best clothes, we all went down an' loaded ourselves into the limo right off the bat. Well this was a change from our usual routine.
Francesco drove us right downtown, through god-awful rush-hour traffic, right past the Capitol building up to a sorta modern-looking building that had a sign in front of it that read, `Hart Senate Office Building'. We were all ushered inside, but had ta go through metal detectors like they have at the airports. Right away, I recognized the name of our senator on the office door when we got off the elevator.
As we breezed inside, a nice African American lady told Calvin, "The Senator's waiting for you all inside."
I recognized the senator from his pictures in the paper an' on the news, but it was David, of course, who came to his senses first and remembered his manners.
"Senator," he said, "I want to thank you so much for meeting with us, and for making such an outstanding recommendation of a guide to show us around our nation's capitol for the week." Extending his hand, he said, "I'm David Reynolds, by the way, and this young man next to me is my . . . best friend, Jeremy Kimball."
After shaking Jeremy's hand, the senator said, "David, Jeremy, my good friend, Tom Austin told me a lot about the two of you, and about his own son, Trevor, and his son's boyfriend, Kurt. Come here, boys," he said, "let me shake your hands, too."
After doing so, and then shaking all our hands, he continued, "You know, with four sons of my own, it's a wonder one of my sons didn't turn out to be gay, and if they had, I would have loved them just the same, no matter the political cost. Although it's not common knowledge, I do have a gay grandson whom I love dearly.
"Tom was always a good friend to my son, Chad. Well . . . truthfully, he wasn't a friend, even though Chad saw it that way, but he tolerated Chad's antics, which is more than just about every other kid in the whole dang camp did, and for that I was always grateful."
Turning to face Trevor squarely, the senator said, "Your father's a fine man, Trevor . . . a good, decent, hard-working man . . . a man you can be proud of. I know for a fact he's proud of you, too."
Turning back to David, he said, "Now I've heard you're quite the politician. It's just too bad your heart's on the other side of the aisle, in spite of a good Republican upbringing." Sighing, he continued, "but we're all allowed to make our mistakes.
"So anyway, I've arranged for breakfast for all of you in the Congressional Dining Room, and then Calvin will take you on your tour of the Capitol building, and the White House, but first I'd like to get to know you all a little better."
Before he could say anything else, his secretary, or assistant, or whatever she was, buzzed him and said, "Senator, the President's here along with Mr. Emanuel."
"Now what the Hell is the President doing dropping in on me like this, unannounced! I've got guests," he said to no one in particular.
"Senator, would you like us to leave?" Calvin asked.
"No, Calvin, these are my guests. It's up to Obama to ask them to leave if he wants privacy."
Before I even had a chance ta realize what was happening, THERE HE WAS!
Standing in the same room with us was President Barak Obama an' his Chief a Staff, Rahm Emanuel.
"Oh, excuse me, Senator . . . I didn't realize you have guests. I have something very important I need to discuss with you. Since you're the ranking Republican member of the Foreign Relations Committee, your opinion is critical . . . I didn't think it could wait."
Looking around at us, the president asked, "Are these, perchance, some of your grandchildren?"
"Goodness, no, Mr. President . . . I have enough of my own, but one of them is the son of a good friend of my son from way back, so I guess that makes him an honorary grandson." Grabbing hold of a very confused Trevor, the senator thrust poor Trevor forward and said, "This fine young man is Trevor Austin." It took Trevor a few seconds to regain his composure, but then he shook the president's hand as the president repeated his name.
In the meantime, the senator had moved on ta me an' was saying, "and this is his foster brother, Sammy . . . and Sammy's best friend, Paul."
"I'm honored Mr. President." Although I didn't wanna say anthin', that's all I could think of without embarrassin' everyone with my accent.
When the president shook Paul's hand, Paul smiled an' said, "Hya President Obama," which made us all kinda laugh and helped ta break the ice.
Then things went click. The president's warm smile became warmer an' he put his other hand on Paul's shoulder. "Hi Paul," he said softly. It seemed like an instant, natural reaction for both a them as they drew together in a hug. The president, still smilin', looked over at me an' winked as he released Paul. Two seconds in time can change your life. That's what it felt like ta me.
The senator then went up to Kurt and said, "and this is Trevor's boyfriend, Kurt DeWitt."
The president raised an eyebrow when the senator said that, shook Kurt's hand and said, "Nice to meet you, Kurt,"
"Over here," the senator continued, we have David Reynolds and Jeremy Kimball, two of your strongest supporters, I'm afraid. Now David's father has long been a political friend, but even I have to admit that the Republican Party hasn't exactly been inclusive when it comes to gays."
"Speaking of which, Mr. President, I have a bone to pick with you when it comes to the issue of gay marriage, and gays in the military," David said before the poor president even had a chance ta finish shaking his hand. "I know you believe in equal rights and I know you're fair . . . you of all people, but why don't you support gay marriage, and why haven't you put an end to `don't ask, don't tell?'"
"David," the president said, as he looked him square in the eyes, "by any chance do you play basketball?"
David actually blushed, and then said, "I'm not very good at it, sir. A lot of people think that just because I'm tall and all, I should be, but I can't dribble to save my life. I'm a good runner and placed well in the Regionals in cross-country . . . came close to making it to State . . . and Jer and I were both junior varsity in soccer this year.
"Jer's the real athlete," David said with a hint of pride in his voice. "He's won the state swimming championship two years in a row now."
"Yeah, but my times aren't fast enough to qualify for the Olympic Team . . . at least not yet," Jeremy sighed.
"Still, state champion is nothing to sneeze at," the president said as he shook Jeremy's hand.
"But Mr. President, what does any of this have to do with gay marriage or gays in the military?" David asked. He just wasn't going to let the matter drop, and I wondered if Cliff was ever going ta get a chance to shake the president's hand.
"What I was getting at, boys, was the importance of teamwork. In politics, just as in sports, you often have to work together as part of a team in the midst of an opposition that's hell-bent on destroying you. Sometimes you're playing an away game and the crowd's against you, too. For a long time, we Democrats have been the underdog . . . down by ten points, our backs to the wall and the crowd shouting us down.
"Right now, the score's in our favor, but the crowd's still not entirely with us when it comes to gay issues and the Republicans could easily catch the ball. We have to tread carefully, lest we fumble and lose more ground than we gain.
"Mark my words . . . very, very soon, `Don't ask, don't tell' will be history. There's still a lot of machismo in the military and Clinton made a lot of enemies among the Joint Chiefs over that, but if done right, we can accomplish our goals of allowing gay men and women to serve openly," the president explained.
"Yes, but that didn't stop Truman from integrating the military," David countered. "He just did it by executive order, and the opposition at the time to having blacks serve side-by-side with whites was no less fierce." The way David was looking right into Obama's eyes, you could tell they were connecting on a fundamental level. "Even Goldwater said Clinton should have just ordered the military to let gays serve openly . . . that once it became a fact of life, the brass would've gotten over it.
"And as far as gay marriage is concerned . . . marriage is a fundamental right. Now there are two ways to look at marriage. One way is that it's a sacred union between two people, sanctified by God . . . that's a religious definition, in which case by separation of church and state and the first amendment, the government has no right to be involved . . . at the federal or the state level. The other way is that marriage is a legal arrangement for the sharing of property, the power of attorney and the custody of children. In that case, shouldn't it be up to those consenting to the arrangement to decide what constitutes a marriage, so long as they're of legal age?
"Mr. President, one of the most important, fundamental, founding principles of this great nation of ours is that it protects the rights of the minority from the whims of the majority. Ours is not simply a democracy based on majority rule. That's why we have a Bill of Rights. That's why it takes a vote of three-quarters of the states to amend the constitution. We haven't always gotten it right and we fought a civil war over one of the greatest mistakes in our nation's history, and the residents of our nation's capitol still don't have representation in Congress. I feel that amounts to legalized racism, pure and simple.
"But Mr. President, allowing the states to decide who can and cannot marry is also a form of legal discrimination and surely it has to end. Further, the practice of banning otherwise qualified men and women from fostering or adopting children, simply because of the gender of whom they love is wrong. Taking a child away from the only other adult who has cared for them when their primary caregiver dies, just because of their secondary caregiver's sexual orientation is barbaric.
"Sir, I know you have to be careful, but your word carries a lot of weight. You already won the election, Mr. President. Please consider this . . . when a person fails to stand up for what's right . . . when they continue to make allowances for legal discrimination, or to support institutions such as `civil unions' that are `separate but equal', lawmakers are sanctioning the same sort of discrimination that kept African Americans down for so long. Until all Americans are treated as equals, this won't be a free country."
Even I was awestruck - I was stunned and had ta consciously close my mouth - an' I'd heard David speak many times before. Somehow, I knew I'd just witnessed history in the making.
"David, you are a special thinker and everything you said is true . . ."
It was the president's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who broke the mood when he interrupted, "Have you got a summer job lined up yet, David?"
David jerked his head around and for the first time, ever, got a `deer in the headlights' look on his face and said, "N . . . no . . . not yet."
"We usually don't take people so young, but how'd you like to work in the White House this summer? Learn a little about how things work . . . get your feet wet in politics and so on?" Emanuel asked.
"Actually, it's Jeremy who taught me everything I know about politics . . ." David said in a half-way answer.
"Ah . . . I wouldn't want to split the two of you up, anyway, and I expect the two of you make quite a team," the president's Chief of Staff noted. "How would the two of you feel about doing a summer internship with us at the White House?"
"That would be un . . . believable," David answered."
"Awesome," Jeremy answered, "but we'd have to ask our parents, and where would we stay?"
"Our office can help you find something," the senator said from out of the blue, "especially if I can talk Trevor and Kurt into Paging for me this summer, maybe you can all share an apartment nearby."
"Paging?" Trevor asked, "You mean like being a Page on the floor of the Senate?"
"That's exactly what I mean," the senator answered. "It's nothing as glamorous as what David and Jeremy would be doing, I'm sure, but you and Kurt could still learn a lot about the goings on in Washington, and you're all at a great point in your lives to be on your own in Washington, taking on a little responsibility for the first time in your lives."
I swear I could see all four of them drooling, but then the president's eyes locked onta Cliff's. "I don't think we've met, yet, young man," he said, and I saw Cliff gulp in return.
As the president took Cliff's hand in his, Cliff answered with, "I'm Cliff, Jeremy's foster brother," his voice nearly breaking as he said, `brother'.
"Hmm . . . we have two foster brothers here . . . is there some special reason?" the president asked.
"Well, Sammy and I are both HIV-positive," Cliff answered. "We were both abused by the same counselor at a camp that Trevor and Kurt were volunteers at. Kurt was abused, too . . ."
"We were raped," Kurt interrupted. "There's no use making it out to be something it wasn't. Poor Trevor was falsely accused, but fortunately we caught the guy who really did it."
"And you saved my life, Kurt," I added, "and got Trevor's parents to foster me, and Jeremy's parents to foster Cliff. You're special . . . I love you, bro."
"You were only twelve, and I was fourteen. I only did what anyone would've," Kurt said, but we all knew better. "Anyway, we did a presentation on it at school, and the presentation was made into a DVD to help other kids get through similar types of abuse."
"You know anything about this, Dick?" the president asked.
"Sometimes Tom Austin can be a little too modest for his own good, but I'll definitely be checking this story out," the senator answered Obama. I wondered just where that would lead.
We never did get breakfast in the Congressional Dining Room. Instead, the president arranged for us ta have a private tour a the White House, includin' many areas that are generally off-limits ta the public, and while we were over there, we had a brunch in the president's private dining room, prepared by the president's own private chef. When the chef asked us what we wanted, an' Jeremy asked if that meant he would make anythin' we wanted at all, he said he would.
So being the wise guy that I am, I asked if that meant that he'd make New England clam chowder, prime rib an' baked Alaska for dessert. He smiled an' said that although he'd be happy ta make all that for us, we'd probably be famished by the time everythin' was ready.
In the end, he prepared a local delicacy, spiced Maryland blue crab . . . man, was it messy ta eat . . . so messy that we all had ta wear bibs, but boy was it delicious. It wasn't 'til later that Calvin told us the crabs was boiled alive, or I might not have eaten them. Paul sure didn't mind the mess . . . he just took his mallet an' his nutcracker thingy an' pounded away `til he got the succulent crabmeat out. It was wonderful . . . an' it was cool that it was prepared by the president's personal chef.
After finishing up at the White House, Calvin took us back over ta the Capitol, where he took us on a thorough tour over there, too. He showed us where they were building a brand new visitor center underground, but it was way over budget an' it still wasn't done yet.
As we toured both chambers of Congress, Calvin filled us in on many obscure bits of history, an' explained the process by which a bill worked its way through committee, an' how the lobbyists would work on lining up votes to try an' ensure passage or defeat. The building itself was a magnificent structure with a history all its own.
When we got to the rotunda, Calvin talked about all the famous people who had lain in state and honor there, but only two of them in all of history were African Americans, an' only one of them was a woman . . . Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man. I always thought it was spontaneous, but Calvin explained that her act of civil disobedience was well planned . . . she knew what she was doin' an' she knew she was in the right. She was even sittin' in a `coloreds only' seat, but the front half a the bus was full . . . I hadn't known that, either.
"Sometimes doing what's right means taking a stand," David said. "It's not the easy thing, but if you don't do it, you're no better than your enemy."
"You sure took a stand today," Brad said to his brother, "and you gave Obama a piece of your mind."
"Brad, I didn't mean to be disrespectful . . . it's just . . . I just hope he got the message and'll be willing to take a stand himself," David agreed.
After we finished touring the Capitol, we piled back into the Hummer an' headed back across the Potomac into Virginia, and out along the George Washington Parkway to McLean, where we went to a really fancy French restaurant. This was a French country restaurant an' the food was sure different than what I'd been expecting. The meal was outstanding. I never knew they served so many courses an' once Cliff and me started asking questions, most of us got a lesson on what fork, what knife, what spoon, and other obscure utensils that were to be used with what course.
Thursday was another museum day an' was spent on all the museums on the north side of the National Mall. We started out at the National Archive, where we saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution an' the original flag that Betsy Ross made. I made a comment about how cool it was to see the original versions, but Calvin made it clear that the real originals were kept safely out of harm's way an' that what we were seeing were very good reproductions. Gees, Calvin, some of us still liked to believe in Santa Claus, you know?
Directly in front of the National Archives was the National Sculpture Garden, which I think wasn't supposed to take much of our time, but I sure had other ideas. The sculptures were awesome. I thought the ones in front of the Hirshorn Museum were somethin' else, but this sculpture garden was even larger, an' it was part of the National Gallery of Art. Did I say the National Gallery of Art? Oh man? If it weren't for the National Gallery beckonin', I coulda spent all my time in the Sculpture Garden alone. I don't know how these artists come up with these ideas . . . I just know I'll never look at the world the same way again. It felt like their imagination took me into a place where I'd never been before - like their eyes saw things I hadn't noticed before - their art made me feel their thoughts. When I was lookin' at the sculptures and paintings, everything else in the world - past, present an' future - was just background noise to the art before me. Awe? Yeah - awesome!
The National Gallery of Art was mother fuckin' huge! I had no idea. An' there were two buildings . . . a West Building with all the old stuff, an' an East Building with all the modern art in it. I didn't know where to begin. Calvin wanted us to stick together, but I wanted to see everything. Even the old stuff was soooooooo cool. No one else seemed to understand what I was talking' about except maybe Jeremy, who'd been to lotsa art museums before, and Calvin, who'd been to all the Washington art museums before, but all the other guys seemed to be bored. Gees! This stuff was great! All of it. I could spend days here.
The East Building was just amazin'. There was this really huge mobile by someone named Calder that was like nothing I'd ever seen. I mean, I'd seen these mobile's that people hang over baby cribs before, but this thing was really fuckin' huge. An' did I say how huge it was? This was a mobile for adults. I just guess the other guys weren't grown up enough, yet. They couldn't appreciate it, but I could. I loved the way it moved with the air currents in the building, an' the way the sun streaming through the windows caused it to cast shadows on the walls an' the floor below.
I guess this is what made humans better than animals. Without art, I thought we were no better than the crack-head of a mother who abandoned me.
I guess we were supposed to have had lunch at Union Station, but Calvin told us we could do that tomorrow an' we ended up having a late lunch in the eatery between the east an' west buildings of the National Gallery. The eatery was pretty cool, too. It was underground, an' there were glass pyramids that acted as skylights, making the whole place bright an' sunny inside. There was a large museum store down there an' after we ate, we spent a little time browsing around. I found a great book . . . it was kinda pricey, but at least it had a soft cover. It was a guide ta all the art galleries a Washington, an' I bought it with some a the money our folks gave me for the trip.
After finishing up at the National Gallery, which I really hated ta leave, we went ta the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, which had just recently reopened after being closed for quite a while for renovations. Now even I had to admit that museum was awesome! I'd seen dinosaur exhibits before, but this museum made everything come alive. Here, natural history was real. This was more than just an assembly of skeletons. Everything was so cool! It was really sick! I heard Cliff say he woulda liked ta spent the whole day, there, which was kinda a slam against me an' my love a art, but hey, it takes all kinds.
Unfortunately, there just wasn't much time to spend in the Museum of American History, which was also part of the Smithsonian. We only had about a half-hour until closing by the time we got there, but from what I could see from the map and brochures, there really wasn't much there that I couldn't see on-line or in a history book. Sure, maybe some girls would get excited seein' all the inaugural ball dresses the first ladies wore, but yeach, that wasn't for me! For once, the others agreed with me.
That evening we had dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant, right across the street from our hotel, an' Calvin asked us if we'd given any thought to what we'd like to see tomorrow an' Saturday. Well you can imagine how everyone had their own ideas about what they wanted to do. Cliff made it clear he wanted ta go back ta the National Air an' Space Museum. In fact, he really pushed hard for us all ta go see the branch out at Dulles Airport.
Calvin finally had to put his foot down an' say, "Cliff, we aren't leaving Washington. Hell, I'd love to take you guys to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It's one of the best aquariums in the country and it's not that far away, but we just don't have that kind of time . . . you'd all have to agree to do that and nothing else. You're welcome to go back to Air and Space on the Mall, but that's it."
"I gotta go back ta th' National Gallery a Art," I said, "but I also want ta see some a the other art galleries." I then got out the book I'd bought at lunch, which I'd brought with me to dinner. I flipped through the pages of the book until I found what I was looking for, an' then turned the book so it was facing Calvin and said, "I just gotta go see this before we leave here."
It was a painting I noticed earlier, back in the hotel room, when I was lookin' through the book. The painting had just caught my eye an' grabbed holda my soul.
"You have good taste, Sammy," Calvin said. "That's `Luncheon of the Boating Party', by Renoir, and it's one of the most famous paintings in the world. We're very fortunate to have it here in Washington. It's one of the finest examples of impressionism you'll find anywhere. It's located in a small, private gallery called the Phillips Collection, and it's not that far from here." Scanning the table, Calvin continued, "You'd all do well to spend an hour at the Phillips. We'll make it a point to go there tomorrow or Saturday before we return you to the airport."
When Calvin reacted as he did, I couldn't help but grin. A smile took over my face an' I was beamin' from ear ta ear.
Calvin went on ta say, "Another gallery worth visiting is the Corcoran Gallery, which is also private, and nearby. It's not the first place most tourists go when they visit Washington, but there are some real art gems inside. Maybe some of you would want to go there as well."
"Some of us?" I asked.
"Actually," Trevor interrupted, "I was going to ask why we all had to stick together in the first place. I mean, I'm nearly seventeen, after all. Why couldn't we split up? We already know our way around the Mall. We all have cell phones. Why can't we all do what we want?"
Calvin smiled an' said, "Actually, I'm surprised you all lasted this long. Most teens want to go their own way after the first day. Obviously, there do have to be some ground rules, and under no circumstances is anyone allowed to be on their own. Is that clear?"
We all wholeheartedly agreed.
"In addition," Calvin continued, "the younger boys must be supervised by at least one older boy." That got a series of groans from us middle schoolers. I understood where he was commin' from, though. "You must stick to the sites on the National Mall," he said, "and not wander outside of it, and you must meet up with the group at designated times." It all sounded good ta me. The others kinda nodded their heads, too.
"So here's what we'll do," he said. "For those interested, we'll take you on a tour of the Phillips Collection and the Corcoran Gallery in the morning, since they're not on the Mall, and then tour the Newseum; it's a museum dedicated to the news media, which is just outside the Mall. Those wishing to do otherwise will be dropped off at the Mall, to do as they please. I then expect everyone to meet at The Castle at one o'clock for a quick trip to Union Station, where we'll grab some lunch and then talk a little about the history of transportation in the growth of Washington.
"Then you'll have the afternoon on your own to explore more of the Mall in groups of your choosing before we meet again at The Castle at six o'clock for the return to the hotel. You'll then have a choice of a farewell dinner, or for the older kids, you can go out `clubbing'. I've located a club just off Dupont Circle that caters to teens."
"Woo hoo," David yelped out in what sounded like a whistle as he, Jeremy, Trevor, and Kurt all seemed to nod in agreement with big smiles.
After we all got back ta the hotel and Paul and I were undressin' and gettin' ready ta, well, fool around a little, the phone rang. When I answered it, it was Brad on the other end.
"Hey Sammy, I know you'll be goin' with Calvin to the art galleries in the morning and all, and that's cool. Me and Cliff are going to the Air and Space Museum with David and Jeremy. What I was thinking for the afternoon, though is that it would really be cool if we could get outta being stuck with having to tag along with our older brothers . . . you know what I mean?"
When Brad said that, I immediately knew what he meant. It wasn't that I minded bein' around Trevor or anything . . . in fact, I loved him very much . . . but there was just something' about having him as our, what is it called . . . chaperone? . . . that puts a damper on things. If we could somehow get away from the older brothers, we'd have a lot more fun, and at thirteen, there was no reason not to. We were old enough to take care of ourselves. Hell, I'd been takin' care of myself on the streets back home for a long time.
"I'm with ya all the way. So what do ya have in mind, bro?" I asked.
"Simple . . . I'll tell David and Jer the four of us are spending the afternoon with Trevor and Kurt. You'll tell Trevor and Kurt the four of us are spending it with David and Jer. They'll all think they have the afternoon free and make other plans."
"What if they talk ta each other?" I asked.
"Easy . . . we'll be pre-emptive." Brad suggested. "At breakfast, we'll tell Calvin the four of us have made plans to spend the afternoon together and arranged for `brotherly supervision'. They'll all think I'm referring to someone else and maybe even nod agreement. If Calvin asks who, I'll whisper in his ear whoever's out of earshot. When it's time to split up in the afternoon, we'll make sure that one couple leaves first, then we'll tell the other we need to go catch up with them."
"Cool," I said. "We'll have fun."
"We'll have a lotta fun," he said before hanging up the phone, and then I did the same.
When mornin' came, Brad an' I executed our plan without a hitch. Calvin didn't even ask who was goin' with us in the afternoon. We jus' said we'd made our plans an' that was that.
Man, the mornin' at the museums was awesome! That Boatin' Party paintin' was un-fuckin'-believable. Calvin arranged for a guide . . . someone called a docent . . . ta take us around the museum and tell us about all the paintin's an' the furniture an' stuff an' all. She sure knew her shit, man. I learned sooo much from her about the different kinds of art an' different periods of art an' all, and a little bit about the lives of the different artists.
Those impressionists were real rebels, man. Before, art was like photography is today - they didn't even have photography back then, but the impressionists were the first artists to try to draw the world the way they saw it instead of the way it was. Renoir was so ace. He even painted himself an' his girlfriend an' her poodle inta the painting! An' he looks like an ordinary guy in a wife beater. How cool is that?
The Corcoran was great, too, an' a whole lot bigger. I could a spent the whole day, there, but Trevor and Kurt really wanted ta get ta the Newseum, which was OK, but nothing ta knock my socks off.
Lunch at Union Station Eatery was a lot of fun. The whole train station had been restored an' there were lotsa shops inside an' there was a large eatery where we could get whatever we wanted. He showed us a map on the wall of the whole Metro subway system. WOW! It was a maze. When he explained the levels and directions you could go just from this station, I was amazed.
While we were eatin', Calvin explained how Washington grew up as a transportation hub as well as the seat of government. Hell, the government couldn't a existed without people an' papers bein' able ta get there an' back from the rest a the country.
Before there were railroads, there were canals to connect what would soon become the capitol a the strugglin' young nation with the interior - the C&O canal bein' the most important.
By the time a the Civil War, however, the railroads was changin' everythin'. Offerin' cheap, efficient, an' fast transportation, the rails are what truly brought America together. Union Station represented the pinnacle of America's rail era, but it, too, was passed by when the automobile was invented. Not only were roads cheaper to build an' maintain, but they could go far more places. An' airplanes could go farther distances much faster, an' so places like Union Station were left to rot.
But rail transport never went completely away. For one thing, with risin' gas prices, freight costs by rail are still a fraction a the cost a freight by truck. As Calvin put it, steel wheels on steel rails are much more efficient than rubber tires on asphalt. An' when it comes to short trips or when speed isn't an issue, a train is still the way to go, and so train travel has come back in a big way. The great train stations have all been restored to their original glory for all ta enjoy.
And now it was time for us ta put our plan inta action as the Hummer let us all off back in front a The Castle.
Trevor took hold of Kurt's hand, right there in public an' said, "Well, we're gonna head out. Thanks for the afternoon off Calvin," which drew a real strange look from David an' Jer, but 'fore they could question what Trevor meant by it, I spoke up an' said, "come on, guys, we'd better get goin' or they'll leave us behind."
An' with that, the four of us walked off in the same direction as Trev an' Kurt, but as soon as they rounded the corner, we ducked into The Castle and whooped it up.
"Listen," Brad said, "we can't stay here in case David and Jeremy come in here. We need to disappear, and quick!"
"Where can we go?" Cliff asked.
"Let's head out to the street, through the garden," Brad suggested. "David and Jer, and Trevor and Kurt, for that matter, will be staying on the Mall. As long as we stay away from the Mall, we should be safe. Let's move."
Doin' as Brad said, we exited The Castle through the back, out inta the garden and out onta the street.
"OK, now that we're out here, where do you guys want to go?" Brad asked.
Cliff said, "I hear there's a huge shopping mall in Tyson's Corner, Virginia that's supposed to be wicked."
"Yeah, but it's one thing to ditch the older brothers, but to get on the Metro and head all the way out there? We could get in major trouble, don'cha think? We still need to stay close, and besides, I still have stuff I wanna see around here," Brad said.
"I wouldn't mind going back to Air and Space," Cliff suggested.
"But we spent the whole morning there," Brad protested.
"And there's still a lot of it I didn't get to," Cliff said, "but I'd also like to see more of the Museum of Natural History."
"Yeah, I'd like to get back to that one, too," Brad agreed.
"My vote would be the National Gallery," I said, which got a round of groans from everyone but Paul, "but Natural History'd be cool. I could definitely go back there."
"I'll go wherever you guys go," Paul agreed.
"OK, then, we'll go to Natural History," Brad concluded.
"But what if we run inta the older brothers over there?" I asked.
"Simple," Brad answered. "First of all, it's unlikely we will with so many rooms in the museum, but if we do, we just say that the other older brothers are nearby."
"Very clever . . . very cool," Cliff agreed.
"OK, let's go," Brad said, and we headed east on Independence Avenue, toward the Capitol building. When we got ta the Museum a the American Indian, we cut through on Maryland Avenue, and turned north at the Grant Memorial. It was just as we were about ta turn back ta the northwest on Pennsylvania avenue that it suddenly hit me - my best friend was nowhere in sight. Holy shit!
"Where the fuck is Paul?" I shouted.
We all looked around, and then Cliff pointed in the direction of Union Station and said, "There he is!"
I wasn't sure, but it was certainly someone who was dressed just like Paul, but he was way ahead of us. `How the hell did Paul get so far ahead of us?' I wondered. We all took off at a slow run up Louisiana Avenue in pursuit of Paul, but he was still way ahead of us, an' then he turned onta North Capitol Street an' kept right on going, and so we followed. We tried shouting his name, but he didn't seem ta hear us. We picked up the pace an' ran even faster, an' still, he was way ahead.
It was hard tryin' ta keep up with Paul as he crossed one street after another. He crossed Massachusetts Avenue, an' he crossed New York Avenue, which was a huge muther-fucker of a street, an' he crossed Florida Avenue just before he turned right onto Q Street.
Finally as we followed him down Q, it became apparent that it wasn'teven Paul we were following. It was an African American kid! How could we have messed up so badly? Lookin' around, we suddenly realized where we were wasn't so nice. The neighborhood was kinda run down an' there wasn't a white face in sight. Worse still, some black kids was approachin' us from all around us. Oh shit. Growin' up where I did, I'd had this fuckin' feelin' before.
Now it was time for the ol' Sammy charm. Turnin' on my biggest smile, I said, "How ya doin' guys. We's lookin' for a friend a ours. Name's Paul. He got Down's Syndrome. You know . . . slanty eyes? A kid like that could really get messed up 'round here on da street. He's a great kid an' real innocent like. It'd be a shame for somethin' ta happin' ta him. Me an' the boys were jus' lookin' for him. By any chance, you guys seen a slanty-eyed white boy `round here?"
"What youse know about da street, white boy?" the largest a the kids asked me looking down the length of his nose at me. He sure looked like a mean SOB.
"Got a ma who's a crack head an' I spent more time on the streets an' in group homes an' foster care than with her growin' up. Got sent ta a summer camp, where I got raped every day. When my ma found out I was HIV-pos, she dropped me like a hot potato. Cliff here's story's 'bout the same. We both in foster care now, an' got it pretty good for a change. Brad's Cliff's best friend, and Paul's mine, but he's missing. I gotta find him."
"We ain't seen no white boys taday 'cept youse guys," the biggest kid said. "Maybe da question is, whaz it worth ta ya ta get outta here alive?"
"Huh? I could ask you the same thing," I answered.
The kid laughed and said, "For a white boy, yo' OK. Go on, get outta here, an' good luck findin' yo' frien'. An' by da way, a badass like yo' gotta get some ink an' a pierced ear. Drives the girls wild, too. Now git."
As we walked away, Brad said, "Man, I thought we were all dead back there."
"They can sense fear, Brad," I answered. "The only thing they understand is intimidation. If you answer their intimidation with intimidation, just as often as not, they'll back down. Course if they don't, you'll get your ass whipped, but you'll also get their respect, an' still come out ahead in the end."
"So where do we go from here?" Cliff asked.
"Let's head over to Union Station and figure out what to do next to try and find Paul," Brad suggested.
As soon as we got there, it suddenly dawned on me . . . what we should have done in the first place. Whipping out my cell phone, I speed-dialed my best friend. Aw, FUCK! My heart sank as I got a pre-recorded message that the `customer' wasn't available. As so often happened with Paul, he'd forgotten to turn his cell phone on.
"Guys, we're in deep shit now," I said.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Trab in proofreading our stories, as well as Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Codey's World for hosting them.