Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction - DC Style

Yesterday I watched TV at the gym while I did sit ups. Fortunately, the DC council hearings were on. Most normal people would immediately change channels to something more stimulating, like the latest coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith follies or one of those “how to sand your floors in 15 minutes” shows, but I am an unapologetic DC politics wonk. I actually stop what I am doing (even sit ups!), get a cool drink (H2O now that I am in my menopausal days), and put my feet up to relish a good council hearing. You never know what will happen or who will show up or – as my friend Crystal likes to say – who will show their ass.

Yesterday, the Department of Health was at bat, more specifically, the section on addiction services -- APRA. (Don’t ask me what it stands for.) In most places, addiction services would represent a small corner of society, but here in the District – what with a robust drug trade, a wistful police force, and a captive population of frustrated mid-level federal bureaucrats – addiction services can cover a broad swath of the population.

The Honorable David Catania, a veteran councilmember, was closely questioning a gentleman sitting at the presenter’s table. The man wore an impervious smile and a light blue suit.

“So what, exactly, do we get for the $4.3 million the city pays you?” Catania asked, cameras rolling. (Actually, this was worded quite differently. I have translated from the original “policy speak” Catania used, a language that can render simple sentences nearly opaque with phrases like “fiscal repercussion” and “output estimate” and, my favorite, “sustainable potentiality.”) The gentleman smiled -- because he is fluent in “policy speak” -- and rattled off detox capabilities, staff counts, and bed capacities. It all sounded so clean white tile and neat bed sheet corners. Under the bright lights of the council chamber, it was hard to remember that they were talking about how many addicts they could dry out for that price tag – or the intense effort and suffering that would go into it.

Then, a gruff voice, barely audible, asked a question off camera. The cameraman woke up and refocused on, (who other than) our own dishonorable “Hizzoner” Marion Barry. The camera swung back to Catania.

“The Ward 8 Councilmember has a question,” he said frowning at the interruption, but determined to keep order and decorum ruling the room.

“Yes, I do,” said Barry affably. He leaned over the microphone, still as media savvy as ever. His face was thin and sunken, and his eyes rheumy and unfocussed. His hands waved awkwardly in the air, as if he were not sure they were connected to him. He rambled on a bit about “need for the community” and “good works” and “the importance of people getting themselves together.”

Everything he said would have made anyone nod and agree, if only it had not been him who said it. This was our mayor who got caught using drugs on camera in a hotel room with a woman of questionable employment, who lost his job and his freedom, who regularly gets pulled over in the predawn hours in neighborhoods where he doesn’t live. We all know what he’s doing there. This is our mayor whose speeches could make you cry even though you hated how he embarrassed us, the everyman who once had everything it took to save us -- but didn't. His biggest achievement lately has been not landing in jail for breaking his parole. The crime: failure to pay his taxes.

In anyone else, he behavior would scream “get this man to detox.” But, here in DC he is approving spending amounts for detox programs as an official in our city government. Talk about supreme irony, plot twist, and complicated story structure. Who needs reality TV, when you have free access council hearings? I sigh and go back to my sit-ups.

“Could I change this?” a woman in a perfectly mismatched yoga outfit asks me. Well, she doesn’t quite ask, because she already has her hand on the channel button and her tone of voice has that pro forma lilt to it that says, “I’m just asking, because of course nobody watches this DC city council crap.”

“Sure. Go ahead,” I say. And before I utter the last word, CNN is emblazoned across the screen. A cerulean blue sea stretches behind a newscaster with perfectly coiffed hair.

“The funeral had a pink theme,” the newscaster says earnestly, “and it was a star-studded affair.” It’s a recast of Anna Nicole’s funeral down in the Bahamas.

“I’m just waiting for the stock market report,” Miss Yoga Analyst assures me. She bends her arms and legs into an impossible swami pretzel.

I just smile.

I’m not one to look down on anyone’s media ya-ya’s, after all. I mean really. I watch city council TV.

1 comment:

lisa schamess said...

"a wistful police force" - I like it!