Washington Horror Blog

SEMI-FICTIONAL CHRONICLE of the EVIL THAT INFECTS WASHINGTON, D.C. To read Prologue and Character Guide, please see www.washingtonhorrorblog.com, updated 6/6//2017. Follow Washington Water Woman on Twitter @HorrorDC ....

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Run for Your Life

Glenn Michael Beckmann puked again, then sat down in the grass. In all the excitement of the last couple of weeks--including his failed attempt to blow up the Rally to Restore Sanity yesterday to impress former girlfriend Christine O'Donnell (with the defective underwear bomb he left in the port-a-potty)--he had completely forgotten to train for the Marine Corps Marathon. A volunteer approached him with a cup of Gatorade, but he hollered at her that Marines don't need Gatorade, and she backed away cautiously. (He had never been a Marine, but he thought he had.) He closed his eyes, "remembering" how he had liberated Iraq, and did not see Charles Wu run past in the yellow t-shirt his mother had hand-embroidered with a lucky dragon. (Wu had never run a marathon before, but something about his recent family dramas had prompted him to bolt outside several times in the past two weeks to run thirty miles. With the lucky t-shirt and his astronomical level of chi, Wu was almost guaranteed a top-ten finish.) Beckmann opened his eyes and saw a giant banana run past, then Batman, then a witch, then a trio of Lady Gagas, then a group of people dressed as the "Glee" cast in Rocky Horror Picture Show costumes. "HEY!" he screamed, jumping to his feet. "How dare you mock the Marines!" "Dude, it's Halloween!" pleaded an actual Marine dressed up as a Jedi knight, just before Beckmann tackled him to the ground.

Over on Capitalism Hill, Ann Bishis was uploading photographs from the Rally to Restore Sanity (or Keep Fear Alive) on the website of Congressman Herrmark. She did not actually believe spying on the rally was the best use of her time the weekend before Election Day, but she had been so glad to be hired back that she would have done anything. (Some time had passed since Congressman Herrmark had enjoyed the breakthrough year that resulted in his being voted Upper Class Twit of the Year in 2008, and he was a little nervous about this election, but his opponent had finally started slipping in the polls after Herrmark aired the campaign ad about his opponent's voting in the state legislature to fund Viagra for convicted child molesters.) Bishis hesitated for a moment before uploading the photo of the bare-chested woman who had loudly proclaimed to everyone around her that it was her birthday and they needed to photograph her "tits". In Greece, tiny breasts with nipple rings would have signalled drag queen or sailor from Cyprus, but this woman had apparently thought her barely adolescent body merited a great deal of lust. Most importantly, Bishis was not uploading the photo for titillation but to reinforce to Herrmark's base that the massive rally consisted of nothing more than comedians and sleazeballs. Click. She uploaded a few more "legalize pot" shots and bear photos, but she still had a large number of photos she was undecided on because they might have had more than one layer of irony: "My sign is better than your sign!", "I see dumb people", "Green Tea Express", "I'm a socialist - Obama is not", "Obama is not Satan - I am", and "Asses of Evil". She puzzled over the sign for "washingtonhorrorblog.com", looked it up on the Internet, was unable to make heads or tails of it, and decided to leave it out. Finally she uploaded the shot of Stephen Colbert impersonating a Chilean miner because this would really galvanize Herrmark's constituents. She emailed the Chief of Staff to take a look at the website and told her that she had some additional photos to discuss, then paused to say a quick prayer to her spirit animal, the pelican.

Over at the White House, Bo's canine narcolepsy had returned--with him fainting every time he heard the words "mid-term election", "Boehner", or "majority". With most of the White House staff off doing campaign work, there were few people left there except national security wonks. Bo was enjoying the peace and quiet of the White House garden, where Regina and Ferguson were flitting about in their beautiful Alice in Wonderland costumes, waiting for their mother to be ready to take them trick-or-treating. "Off with her head!" the queen suddenly screamed, and Bo leaped to his feet in surprise as the pre-schoolers suddenly jumped at each other, then landed in the White House vegetable garden, rolling around in the kale and Boston lettuce. By the time their mother came out to get them, their costumes were tattered and smeared in green. "It's not our fault," Regina said preemptively, and Clio looked around to see if there was possibly anybody else whose fault it could be, but there was nobody there except a distant security guard standing next to Bo, who had trotted over to him. In the trees, the White House ghosts were not laughing, even though they had been trying hard to stir up some fun. (This place has become a drag.) Clio summoned Reggie and Fergie to go trick-or-treating, too tired from her HIV to even think about doing anything to clean up or repair the costumes.

A block away, former Senator Evermore Breadman was in his Prince and Prowling office reviewing another campaign ad video set to air as soon as it got the lawyer's stamp of approval. {Leonard Blotzsky voted 385 times to raise taxes. He supports a constitutional amendment to return the United States to the British Commonwealth. He is against school prayer, but has defended his daughter's right to run a witch's coven out of her high school locker. He takes money from health insurance companies, then spends it on medical marijuana for himself, his staff, his wife, and his cocker spaniels. He is a secret Muslim who has voted with Nancy Pelosi 2,000 times. When he was mayor, he slashed public library funding after he got served with a $600 fine for failing to return a library book. That book? "Lady Chatterley's Lover!" We cannot tolerate another two years of Leonard Blotzsky! Paid for by the Committee to Elect Suzy Succotash.} Breadman checked on a few things, replayed the video once, then emailed the campaign team that it was OK to air except for the secret Muslim comment. ("Change it to 'Muslim supporter'") He reached into his bottom drawer for another stomach tonic, glad his campaign days were far behind him.

Back at the Marine Corps marathon, the police decided to let Glenn Michael Beckmann go since he was showing signs of dehydration-induced hallucinations, but advised the nurse to keep an eye on him. The runner dressed as Gumby who had gotten her head stomped by Beckmann (who could not get at her ribs because of the padding involved in the costume) was not amused, but Ardua of the Potomac was laughing her head off deep in the bowels of the river.

Coming up: the secret lives of millipedes and squirrels.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

Glenn Michael Beckmann carefully loaded his plastic explosives into the rucksack he would take to blow up Green Festival. He had already forgotten about his foray over to take potshots at the Pentagon earlier this week (he was angry that the military was again allowing fags to enlist) and thought he had spent the whole week preparing for this mission. (He didn't specifically remember what he had done earlier in the week, but he was fairly certain it was memorizing the layout of the festival and where the exits were.) He filled in his rucksack with cilantro to overwhelm the guard dogs' sense of smell, then headed out from Southwest Plaza into the brilliant sunshine. He was hoping this would help him win back former girlfriend Christine O'Donnell--whose Satan-worshipping, witchy handlers must have been preventing her from returning his calls or emails. (They probably think I will trip her up with lust, but really I just want to help her on the campaign trail!) The lust could wait: he had a lot of self-discipline when focused on a goal. (She will need me to keep the leeches and closet liberals at bay once she becomes the junior U.S. Senator from Maryland!)

Over at the Convention Center, Henry Samuelson and the chairman of the Heurich Society were jotting down notes as they surveilled the renewable energy pushers and radical environmental groups with new interest: they had recently launched Project Prometheus in response to Gwynne Dyer's "Climate Wars", and it was essential to verify accurately the what/when/how of the forecasted climate changes, and make their own contingency plan for worldwide water wars, famines, and mass migrations. Samuelson had been trying for years to get the Heurich Society interested in CIA analyses of climate change doomsday scenarios, and it was with mixed gratification that he finally got the society to stop believing it was a vast liberal conspiracy theory and start dealing with it. (Hell, even the Bush clan had already bought up a huge watershed in South America!) They had quickly agreed on purchasing an enormous tract of land in Canada where the freshwater supply was forecasted to last at least three-hundred more years, but other issues were more complicated. The biggest sticking point was what they would do about nuclear power, since it was the most obvious solution in many respects but held the highest risks of terrorist sabotage. Then there was the fact that China was leading the way in clean energy technology research, which was unacceptable economically and strategically. Samuelson announced he had a headache, and the two men went off in a fruitless search for a "normal" cup of tea.

A hundred feet away, Lynnette Wong had already sold more tea and herbs in the first two hours of the Green Festival than in the previous two days at her herb shop in Chinatown. She was astounded at the number of voracious consumers eager to spend money on products to purify their bodies and environments: where were they the other 51 weeks of the year? She handed out another brochure for her shop and started to speculate that maybe she would be able to buy back Charles Wu's stake in her shop and be sole owner again. But then she realized this thought did not make her very happy--she had actually become a little fond of him since the arrival of his father and brother from England, and now his mother! He was like the wooden Pinocchio who had suddenly become a real boy, with actual human feelings. Not that it wasn't hard--she knew it had been very, very hard because his mother Ha Ling had been calling her to chat in Chinese every day about her roller-coaster motherly emotions after being reunited with her ex-husband and long-lost invalid son Phillip during her visit to America. And when she and Wu would come into the shop, Charles invariably had a sad smile on his face, betraying a depth of feeling previously denied. And out of the blue he had said one day to Wong, "your parents would be very proud of what you have done with the herb shop." And his voice had almost--almost!--seemed to crack in saying that. She sold another colon-cleansing kit for $25, but instead of thinking about buying out Charles Wu, she started thinking about how to spread her herbs far and wide to the people that needed them.

Not far away, the residents of the Arlington group home for the mentally challenged were again standing in line for free samples of organic chocolate as social worker Hue Nguyen tried to coax them into exploring other areas of the festival. "We could go hear a speaker!" she said. "No brainwashing!" shouted Cedric, who had already espied his former colleagues from the Heurich Society and had become wildly paranoid about the true nature of the Green Festival. "We could go look at fair trade clothing!" Nguyen said. "Too bloated," countered Melinda, who had not tried on clothing in a public place since she had surpassed 200 pounds in 2006. "How about the free music performance?" Nguyen asked. "The music is the cuestick of the pool table of life," said Freddy Ritchings (AKA Brother Divine of the International Peace Movement). "The slow is a no-show, but the fast will last. The strings have wings while the winds have fins. I am music, and I write the songs!" Nguyen took this as a yes and asked Millie to help her herd the group towards the performance area. (Millie had a red "I'm a helping dog!" vest on, and Larry had pretended to be blind to get her in, but she was really here for herding and soothing the field trip participants.) The colorful crew shuffled off slowly, with the social worker in the lead while Millie gently nudged one, then another, resident back onto a straighter course. Melinda was momentarily distracted by another chocolate sample hawker, but Millie forcibly pushed her back to the group. Then Theresa was mesmerized by a table of hand-carved wooden toys, but Millie coaxed her, as well, back to the group. It was a little more challenging when Buckner started arguing with the people staffing the Sierra Club booth ("The Sierras kill people! People fall off those Sierras and break their skulls every day!"), but Millie finally succeeded in herding Buckner back to the group as well.

But just as the group started to sit down near the concert, the hair rose on Millie's back. Fifty feet away was a bomb-sniffing dog briefly examining a rucksack left under a table, then wrinkling his nostrils at the cilantro smell and trotting off. The old, arthritic, and generally sedate Millie abruptly bolted, pulling a startled Larry off his chair at the other end of the leash. Millie ran over to the rucksack and started barking furiously--not because she could smell the bomb but because she could smell the odor of the Southwest Plaza real estate demon pouring out of the bag. The bomb-sniffing dog's handler turned back, hesitated for just a moment, then called the code into his walkie-talkie. Twenty seconds later, the crowd was being evacuated as a frustrated Glenn Michael Beckmann shook in anger outside the Convention Center at the sight of greenies pouring into the streets.

In the tree branch above Beckmann, a flock of starlings chattered nervously about the clash of good versus evil, then flew off to report to Ardua of the Potomac.

NEXT WEEK: Will the denizens of Washington Horror Blog attend the Rally to Keep Fear Alive or the Marine Corps Marathon? (Hint: "Wear a costume and hear a possum! Don a mask and complete your task! Run for cover while we discover!")

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Primal

The Drum Circle was under way at Meridian Hill Park, and Sebastian L'Arche was explaining its therapeutic benefits to his pupil, Becky Hartley, who was tapping her cowboy boots and watching the dogs carefully. At first L'Arche had nothing in common with the young Texan and nothing to talk about except animals, but she really had a gift, and he needed the extra help now that his summer helpers were back in school. Hartley was the daughter of a Dallas veterinarian who specialized in prescribing pet Prozac; she was working in D.C. for a pharmaceutical company and moonlighting with the dog whisperer on the side. "The drumming has an immediate effect on the sympathetic nervous system: it commands attention and diverts the creature's conscious mind away from anxiety-filled thought patterns." Hartley nodded in agreement, watching two twitchy Dachsunds wagging their tiny tails in a trancelike state and a Great Dane chewing a rubber bone in rhythm with the drummers. "It's good for monkeys, too, but I haven't had a monkey in awhile." (He was remembering the coal lobbyist who had insisted on taking his wife's pet monkey into the hot tub last spring--that had required a couple months of pet therapy.) "It's important to hold the leash tight: too much freedom can also be frightening." He could just as well have been speaking of the Afghanistan war veteran who was twirling erratically in the center of the drum circle, nearly falling over several times. "The dogs feel the primal force of the drums, but like all sentient creatures, they know primal forces are both creative and destructive." Hartley looked confused. "You can't live with it, you can't live without it," said L'Arche, and Hartley nodded. "It's inside and outside of all of us," L'Arche added. Hartley smiled because her dogs had stopped pulling at their leashes and were now perfectly in harmony with the rhythm.

A mile to the north, Charles Wu's mother was strolling around Target with her son, walking in perfect rhythm with the repetitive squeak of the cart wheel. "Everything's so cheap here!" she said, still incredulous that 90% of the merchandise in the store was made in China. "Look at this!" she said for the twentieth time, and he dutifully nodded his head in amazement at a trick-or-treat bucket shaped like a pumpkin. Wu had toured plenty of Chinese factories, but his mother was still amazed at all the mysterious Americana which had been manufactured in China and shipped to America. She watched as a child reached into a candy bowl display and an animated hand jumped out to grab at the shrieking child. "Let's get this!" she said, laughing. "Phillip will love it!" Wu actually agreed, grabbed one off the shelf, and tossed it into the shopping cart. His mother had still not admitted that Phillip was also her son, but she was getting there. On Monday she had made Charles take her to Chinatown to buy all the proper ingredients for her to make her lucky dumpling soup for Phillip. On Tuesday she had insisted on going back to Chinatown to pick up herbs from Lynnette Wong to make a paste for the back of Phillip's neck, insisting that he couldn't walk because his father didn't know how to take care of him. On Wednesday she had insisted that Phillip go for acupuncture. On Thursday Charles had summoned all the courage he had and said simply, "Ma, can't you just hug him?", which had led to her disappearance into the bathroom for ninety minutes. On Friday she had finally agreed to sit and have a chat with her ex-husband, Charles Wilkinson Montgomery. Saturday had a lot of awkward silences, but tonight they were going to have dinner together as a family--well, at least with all four of them in the same room at the same time. From behind the skeleton costumes, a frowning Henry Samuelson was watching Ha Ling scoop up candy corn and beginning to think he may have wasted his money flying her out from Hong Kong. Wu caught sight of him and almost smiled because Samuelson's intentions had backfired so spectacularly--but Wu was not nearly confident enough about everything to muster the smile.

Marcos Vazquez's mother was also strolling around Target with her son, both of them relieved to have separated Teresa from her daughter-in-law, Golden Fawn. At first the unexpected visit of Teresa had meant lots of home-cooked meals, scrubbed tubs and sinks, spotlessly dusted furniture, and immaculately pruned houseplants. Then Teresa's rheumatoid arthritis had kicked in, leaving her on the couch most of the time, dependent on her son and daughter-in-law. And slowly the nit-picking began (this soup could be warmer, this bread is stale, this couch is lumpy, that music is weird, it's too dark in here, it's too light in here, it's too cold in here...) until Golden Fawn had retreated to her bedroom, protesting that if they were going to have an elderly relative live with them, her grandmother was needier than Teresa Vazquez. And then Marcos had brought up the rheumatoid arthritis, and Golden Fawn had claimed Teresa was exaggerating it to get sympathy, and they had argued about that. And Golden Fawn was suspicious about why Teresa was being vague about how long she was staying, and Marcos had pointed out that they had a spare bedroom in their condo and it was no big deal. And then Golden Fawn had again said it would be more just to invite her grandmother to live with them, and Marcos had countered that she should, the two women could keep each other company, and she had accused him of not being serious, and he had insisted he was being serious. Teresa Vazquez examined a bronze candle holder carefully, thinking that a larger votive shrine would bring more peace to her son's home-she was worried that her son was no longer a good Catholic, and who knew what that pagan woman had him doing? Dark spirits were always gathering around her daughter-in-law, and she needed to protect her son.

A few miles further north, Liv Cigemeier awoke with a start from her afternoon nap on the couch: it always ended the same, with the labor pains and pushing the baby out, but the baby was dead. Her husband was watching her from the desk, his hands poised in mid-air above his laptop. "You OK, babe?" And she nodded and headed to the bathroom, just as she always did, trying to shake off the real feeling of the dream. And he looked back at his Prince and Prowling memo, just as he always did, trying to shake off the real feeling of her dream.

Next week: Glenn Michael Beckmann tries to blow up Green Festival!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Honor AND Duty

They were like two kids at a candy store: triple agent Charles Wu and former Senator Evermore Breadman had all-access passes for every meeting and reception of the World Bank / International Monetary Fund conference in Washington. Never had Wu dreamt that he could survive the rigorous background check of the Federal Reserve Board, nor had Breadman ever dreamt he could get over the rigorous intellectual hurdle of a Fed consultancy contract--but here they both were with FRB all-access passes, taking notes and whispering asides with Chinese economist Fen Do Ping and Italian economist Luciano Talaverdi. Breadman had already emailed three digital photos to his frame shop guy, and by Tuesday afternoon his Wall of Me at Prince and Prowling would be rearranged to spotlight the shots of him posing with Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, and Zhou Xiaochuan. (The latter had not immediately attracted Breadman's interest, but Wu and the economists had convinced him that China's central bank governor was one of the most financially powerful men in the world.)

But the men were ready for a break, and headed over to the Fed marble palace for croissants slathered in honey butter and a tour of the artwork on loan from the Banque de France. Fen Do Ping struggled to understand the placard descriptions of what appeared to be a gallery of paintings depicting French buildings and bridges on fire. Luciano Talaverdi, assuming the paintings to be France's symbolic (and not-too-subtle) indictment of the Fed's role in current international economics, was denouncing the display under his breath. The visual bombardment of flames was starting to give Breadman Vietnam flashbacks, so he focused his gaze on his food plate and eavesdropped intently on a nearby discussion of whether the much forecasted currency war with China would materialize or not. Wu felt his phone vibrating again, and pulled it out to see another text message from his father--this time with the words "URGENT, URGENT, URGENT" leading off the message. (Hmmm...maybe it's not another hyperlink to a story on the World Socialist Web Site.) Fifteen feet away, a member of the Heurich Society--who just also happened to be a Governor of the Federal Reserve Board--watched Wu keenly and dabbed honey butter off his upper lip.

Across Constitution Avenue, Dizzy had temporarily returned to the National Mall to try to score donations from the throngs of people enjoying the warm weather--particularly the bankers and economists playing hooky from their meetings at the IMF and World Bank. Unfortunately, there are few people more tight-fisted than international doom-and-gloom bankers and economists carrying only small amounts of U.S. dollars in their wallets. The Japanese were the most polite, often bowing to the trumpeter before walking past. And the British ones considered themselves very hip to U.S. jazz music, and tended to snap their fingers and bob their heads as they walked past the trumpeter. But the Saudi delegates representing OPEC took a wide berth around Dizzy, disgusted that a criminal vagrant such as this had not been removed from the public place before the meeting, and secretly concerned that they were feeling a tinge of primal response to the music. Finally a female delegate from Brazil broke into a quasi-samba dance for two minutes, then threw a couple dollars into Dizzy's trumpet case. "HALLELUJAH!" Dizzy screamed, and the startled Brazilian jumped backwards. "Somebody finally figured out what the f--- I'm doing here! It was like I was playing music for my own enjoyment! It's about TIME!" Twenty feet away, the Saudi delegates shook their head in disgust--one at the crazy vagrant and the other at the indecent dance display from the uncovered woman (who reminded him of a belly dancer he had once seen during an errant period of his youth, before he became a husband of three and father of eleven). Dizzy finished his rant and paused to drink some water since there was no longer anybody near him. "Maybe I'll go check out those pink ladies," he said to himself, taking notice of the breast cancer walk-a-thon slowly building up for the final rally at the Washington Monument.

Over at the White House, the Rahm Emmanuel wannabe was still in shock over the sudden departure of his role model. (And why did Pete Rouse accept being named "Interim Chief of Staff"? Emmanuel never would have accepted something so insulting!) It was a struggle, but the wannabe had finally completed his report to Rouse on why so many Presidential appointments were still not named--"....illegal immigrant nannies, spousal tax return anomalies, need to put woman in position, need to put minority in position, need to put ally from Western state in position, longer screening process for nominees who did not attend Ivy Leagues, insurmountable ideological gaps...." He had left out some of the other reasons though--the refusal to respond to emails drafted in clown font, the prejudice against fat people, the dozen nominees who had walked out on interviews with Emmanuel because they couldn't tolerate his potty mouth, the half-dozen female nominees who had made passes at Emmanuel (who was, as the wannabe knew, the hottest White House Chief of Staff ever), the three male nominees who had made passes at Emmanuel, the two nominees who had thrown their coffee mugs at Emmanuel....The wannabe sighed, and yet he was also starting to feel a weight coming off his shoulders. This has been hard. The beautiful weather was beckoning, but there was no way he was going outside while the solar power fanatics were outside the fence trying to deliver roof panels to the White House in one of many "10-10-10" climate change actions around the country today, so he decided he would clean out his files and prepare for the fresh start with his new boss. "Ummm, hi, how ya doin?" It was a Pete Rouse wannabe standing sheepishly in the doorway. "I have a letter for you." The Pete Rouse wannabe gently lay the letter on the Rahm Emmanuel wannabe's desk (having printed it out for his boss fifteen minutes after the Rahm Emmanuel wannabe's report had reached Pete Rouse's email in-box). "It's been real--take care." And with that, he was gone. The Rahm Emmanuel wannabe felt his stomach acid leap up into his esophagus, hesitated for a moment, then tore open the termination letter. Ten minutes later, he was outside at the demonstration calling for the White House to show more commitment to renewable energy.

A couple miles to the west, Charles Wu was riding in a slow-moving taxi and cursing breast cancer walkers, IMF protesters, 10-10-10 activists, and everybody else delaying his return home--where Henry Samuelson had dropped off Wu's mother after picking her up at the airport. According to his father's urgent-urgent-urgent text message, the woman had mysteriously and abruptly shown up downstairs and buzzed the apartment temporarily rented for Charles Wilkinson Montgomery and his second son, Phillip, giving the elder Montgomery the shock of his life. She had refused to go up to Montgomery's apartment, and demanded to know where Charles was. Montgomery had taken his extra key and taken her to Wu's apartment to await his return. For all Wu knew, the two were yelling and screaming at each other, or throwing things, or sitting in miserable silence, or--in truth, he had no idea, and could not picture them together. What he could picture was his invalid brother, now sitting alone in the other apartment, contemplating the astonishing possibility that his mother had flown all the way in from Hong Kong and would still refuse to see--or acknowledge--her second son. These things don't happen to me. Rage was slowly filling him up, as he felt the headiness of spying on international money managers slip away, overcome by dysfunctional family psychology that ate up his chi and left him feeling...helpless. He exhaled deeply and stared at the ceiling of the cab. What am I supposed to do? From somewhere deep in his childhood, the voice of a neighbor answered him: "You are the first-born son: the honor and the duty are both to you."

A catbird screeched her imitation of the cacophony of downtown car honking while a pink warbler slowly flew above Wu's taxi all the way home.

Next week: the unexpected visits of more than one mother.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

California Dreaming

Liv Cigemeier was sorting out her receipts and notes from the sustainable development conference she had just attended at Berkeley. They had never paid for her to go to a conference before, and she knew the trip was offered to her as a sympathy gift for the miscarriage a month earlier. She would type up the trip report on Monday and work on the expense report on Tuesday. It was good to have to-do lists planned for every day of the week. The problem with staying at the hotel was a lack of to-do lists, which led to watching reruns of television shows that were so old that she had watched them during a different stage of her life, before marriage. The conference was badly planned and not a good use of her time--or anybody's time. Sometimes people meant well but accomplished little. Or maybe the conference was a huge success but she was incapable of realizing that. She didn't totally trust her perceptions anymore. Suppressing her feelings had resulted in her not knowing from day-to-day if she was actually happier than she realized or unhappier. She did know she was happier when her husband met her at the airport and held her in his arms for a long time. She glanced at him across the room, and he quickly shifted his gaze back to the stack of Prince and Prowling files he was allegedly working on while finding it hard not to stare at his wife and struggle for things to say. She loved his silence because there was nothing to say and anything said could only make it worse.

Downtown, Bridezilla was at the office struggling with her own stack of Prince and Prowling files and the need to improve her billable hours after getting distracted with all that unexpected dating in September. She paused again to look at the photo of her and her new boyfriend taken on the sightseeing boat that had toured the San Francisco peninsula. While it was true that flying in his private jet actually did save a lot of travel time, the surprise trip had still required taking off a lot of time, and she suspected that the powers that be may not have believed her sudden bout of "strep throat". (There was a kernel of truth to that story, since she had, in fact, thought for a couple of hours that she had strep throat, though the emergency room physician [who had instantly recognized her from the recent shredded pinkie episode] had quickly assured her that the white speck on her tonsil was simply food lodged in a crevice.) She put the incriminating photo into her drawer and tried to focus on doing some actual work, but it was hard to stay motivated now that she understood her new boyfriend was ridiculously rich. She was accustomed to boyfriends (and fiances!) spending money on her, and had even been taken to California before, but the Ramada in Pasadena was a whole different experience than staying at the Handlery in Union Square. Her boyfriend had actually let her spend one entire day simply shopping! (And he paid for everything, of course.) They rented electric bicycles another day and rode all over the hilly city, which made her feel (for no obvious reason) like she was starring in "Charlie's Angels" (the movie, not the television show)--though she did not say that to him because he was from India and she had learned that he rarely understood comments like that. In the evenings they would dine at fancy restaurants, then swim leisurely small circles in the tiny heated swimming pool under the stars. (In Pasadena, the pool water was cold, and the stars were muted by haze drifting over from Los Angeles.)

Bridezilla realized her mind was wandering and stopped to re-apply hand sanitizer. (She hadn't thought as much about germs in California--perhaps because people seemed healthier and happier than in Washington.) She inhaled the alcohol deeply while her hands dried, trying to sharpen her mind's focus, but these files all seemed so pointless now. What if he asks me to marry him? I could be like that sari-wearing White House party-crasher from "Real Housewives of Washington"! But we would get real White House invitations. And we could set up a foundation, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and I would be on the board of directors! She realized her mind was wandering again and picked up her cup to splash water in her face just as former Senator Evermore Breadman walked by her office, thinking, again, that she had to be the most hormonally unbalanced woman he had ever seen. Then he remembered being told he had ovaries a couple weeks earlier, and frowned at his own hormonal imbalance.

A few miles away, Golden Fawn Vazquez was a little unbalanced herself, sitting on her balcony, watching the mysterious helicopter circle their block for the sixth time. She was thinking about the mysterious sawdust appearing all over her pots and pans, with no sign of termites. And she was thinking about the mysterious inability of caulk to remain adhered to their bath tiles. And she was thinking about the mysterious way her chives had grown like gangbusters while her cornplant had died immediately after the move. And she was thinking about how lousy their dishwasher was, and how disappointing it was that this condo they had purchased in a building without a real estate demon nonetheless aggravated them in countless ways. But mostly she was trying hard not to think about her brother, whom she and her husband had spent ten days searching for in California after he had gone missing--and how their search had ended at the Ramada in Pasadena, where they had tracked down her brother's ex-girlfriend (a front desk clerk), who told them he had decided to live in the desert and stay off the grid for awhile because modern society was weighing him down with too many encumbrances and he needed a period of simplicity to reconnect with his spirit animal and find his next path. And Golden Fawn was trying not to think about how hurtful this had been to her grandmother, who had been worried sick about him for two months, and how in God's name her brother could think his spiritual path was independent of the flesh and blood who had raised him. And Golden Fawn was trying not to think about how much she had wanted her husband to call in every law enforcement favor he could to track down her brother, but you could not arrest a man for being a selfish jerk. And Golden Fawn was trying not to think about how the boy she had grown up with had turned into a man she barely knew or understood.

Then the raven alit on her balcony railing, and the thoughts she had been suppressing about her brother all rushed to the surface. She whispered to the raven, then went back inside to deal with the sawdust and the caulk and the dishwasher, because these are the problems given to us so that we have something to work on when we have no idea how to work on the bigger problems. When her husband Marcos returned from work, they would move the furniture away from the windows so that the mandatory window replacement could take place, and he would again tell her it was no big deal, and remind her of all the reasons they were happy in their new place because he was the master of not sweating the small stuff and had long ago told God he would never complain about anything ever again if she survived the breast cancer. (But she still wanted one day without any problems--just one--but that was an illusion.)

Back at Southwest Plaza (where the real estate demon was still alive and well), Glenn Michael Beckmann awoke from his mid-day nap disappointed to realize he was not actually in California helping the Governator machine-gun hippies and members of the nursing union. The starlings on his balcony then flew off to report to Ardua of the Potomac, because one thing she still did not understand about humans was their dreaming. (This was because she never really slept.)