Jan

31

It was a quiet, rainy Wednesday. Another typical day in the office. Eighteen floors below, a neon sign flickered outside, engaged in a valiant but ultimately ineffectual effort against the winter gloom. A few brave souls battled the slushy snow, stepping from puddle to puddle on the uneven sidewalk. With a sudden swish a taxicab cruised by, and in the distance the plaintive wail of an ambulance siren could be heard. Suddenly, the harsh trill of the phone elbowed its way through my thoughts and attracted my attention.

Yeah ? I growled.

It was Rob, who worked in one of the white shoe law firms.

I’ve got tickets for the inauguration. And the Texas-Wyoming Ball. Want to go ?

Sure. Why not. Since we were late off the bat, the shuttles were booked. Rob said he’d organize a hotel in DC for us. We arranged to meet at Penn Station.

I didn’t spot any shadows on the way to the railroad. Rob was there, right on schedule. But he wasn’t alone. I took a closer look. It was Roberto, the Cuban. He’d left his Russian girlfriend at home.

I’ve got the cigars. That was all he said.

I grunted in acknowledgement. We followed Rob into the local gin mill, where we downed a cold one as we waited for the train.

We found a quiet car where we could be unobserved. Once the train got underway, and the conductor punched our tickets, we settled in. Like a good boyscout, Rob was prepared. I brought out a bottle, and he fished out a corkscrew. “Za zdorovia” !

The snow was falling lightly in DC. After an interminable wait, we climbed into a cab, along with an aging musician who clung on to us like a dusting of snow. We managed to ditch him after some forced pleasantries, and made it to the Churchill Hotel at Dupont Circle.

As we checked in, I realised Rob had used his real name when making the reservation. But there were no men in dark suits in the lobby. I guessed we were okay. Then the desk clerk handed something discreetly over. Our contact had left the package for us, as arranged. Examining the envelope, we could see no obvious signs of tampering. It bore the seal of the US Department of Commerce. On the front was scribbled Rob’s name. Inside were the credentials we needed.

After dumping our bags in the room, we headed to a local hostelry. “Timberlake’s” was a dive. Justin wasn’t in evidence, and there sure was no sign of Cameron. And why exactly would an Irish bar be called Timberlake’s ? That’s a question we didn’t stick around to answer. After a quick one, we hailed a cab. Roberto headed back to the hotel, just in case, and Rob and I headed to a more happening part of town. Because there sure wasn’t anything happening in this neighbourhood.

We walked in to the new bar, and ordered our drinks. Then, as the our eyes grew accustomed to the dark, we realised we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This was a gay bar. We split out of that dive in a New York second.

The night passed uneventfully. The three of us rendezvouzed for breakfast. As we made our way into the restaurant, an overweight guy in a rumpled, cheap suit brushed by. We paid no attention and made our way to our table.

The food was notable by its unremarkableness. Still, food is fuel. God alone knew when our next meal would come. As we tucked in, we saw Fat Man re-enter the restaurant and proceed to the table next to ours. We discreetly examined his party. At first (and second) glance they were an unprepossessing lot, seemingly a motley assortment of second rate television journalists. (Is there any other kind ?). They were unmistakably Democrats.

We tried to ignore their liberal platitudes. However, our suspicions were soon aroused. All was not, it appears, as it appeared. By now, Fat man was on the phone. In a conspiratorial – yet unconspiritorially loud – voice, he instructed his contact that if necessary, he could hire an ambulance. The ploy was successful in the past at duping law enforcement and getting him and his camera through the ring of steel. And by now, the money had already been wired. It sounded like Fat Man was engaged in organising an “unbiased” interview with some “impartial” Democrat lackeys who “just happened” to be there to “protest”.

Our suspicions, already aroused, were raised to fever pitch. The conspiracy was afoot. The instructions were being passed along. Fat man concluded his converstion with what was clearly the password.

Margaret is not your friend. Margaret is not your friend !

This must, we agreed, be the rallying cry for the commie pinko liberals that were in town for the inauguration.

Determined to keep our eyes peeled, we headed out. but we didn’t see Fat Man again. Or hear his rallying cry. Hmm. Wrong movie, obviously.

A quick trip by subway brought us to the Capitol. Long lines awaited us. After what seemed like hours, we made our way through the metal detector. Fortunately, our contact Dan had sniffed derisively at our “Gold” tickets and passed us “Red ones”. Fortunately, too, the delay in passing through the sec urity check meant that we were right at the front of the Red section when the Chief Justice appeared to swear in the President, so we had ringside seats. Well, about as ringside as we could expect to get.

It was pretty awesome (using the term advisedly, and in the sense of ‘awe’ rather than ‘shock and awe’) to be there. The whole atmosphere was good-natured and patriotic.

Once the actual swearing-in was completely – after about twenty minutes – we proceeded over to Pennsylvania Avenue. A leisurely stroll of perhaps 15 minutes, it took about an hour to get there due to the children on vacation from college who were there protesting – although exactly what they were protesting about wasn’t entirely clear.

It seems to me that they were an assorted bunch of Democrats and various others from the lunatic fringe. And their governing philosophy seemed to be that democracy was fine, and elections worthwhile – unless their candidate didn’t win, in which case democracy was not so fine, and really their opponents should resign, go home, and their supporters not vote in future elections.

Really, I was grateful for the street entertainment provided in DC on such a cold day. It certainly livened up the two hours or so between the swearing-in and the inaugural parade. One thing that was refreshing, too, was the friendliness of everyone lining up for the parade. All – other than the protestors, it seemed – were having a smashing time, wishing each other well and being thoroughly nice to each other. I guess there must be something in the air in those red states.

So how was the parade ? Well, Dan – our contact – outdid himself. Our seats were spectacular, being right next to the Presidential reviewing stand. We had a fabulous view of the President and First Lady walking up the street – maybe 10 yards from us – as you can see in the picture above. Unfortunately, Rob had a slight audio-visual malfunction and, while amply supplied with camera film, had neglected to bring spare batteries for his camera. Fortunately, however, the kind gentleman seated with his Texas Roses in the row in front of us provided me with a copy of his pictures.

After the parade, all that was left was to adjourn to Sam and Harry’s for steaks, a bottle of Penfold’s Grange, and some of Roberto’s cigars. Alas, we decided to pass on the Texas-Wyoming Ball, since work awaited us on the morrow, and we wended our weary way back to the train station. Rob still had a bottle of wine left, so we toasted the First Family on our journey back to New York.

Jan

2

It was a hectic end to 2004.

Christmas took us to Ireland this year, to see the cousins, aunts and uncles, and Grandad. Upon our arrival at Clontarf Castle, Orla informed us she was the princess, and her pet dragon would soon meet us there. Eoghan was equally enthralled with the dragon story. They both loved the knights and the ambience of the hotel, enjoying looking at the suits of armour and checking up on the dragon’s lair. Daddy was more interested in knocking back some Irish coffees, and enjoying a quiet read in the lobby.

Our first meal in Ireland was at The Beachcomber, because Orla insisted on having her favourite dessert (that she’s been talking about since last Christmas) – Bailey’s cheesecake.

Christmas Eve saw me in Neary’s for his annual get-together session, while Jenn and the kids went shopping on a bustling Grafton Street, and battled the crowds in the Westbury. This was the 20th anniversary session; we’re all a little older (and maybe wiser) than we were back in December 1984.

It was, as usual, good to catch up with our friends, including Frank, who had been the last man standing, but now appears to be completely besotted with Noriko and blissfully happy to settle down as a culchie in the depths of Wicklow (or rather, Wickla).

Christmas Dinner was at Ann’s house. Jenn and I got to have a quiet meal, since Caitriona was by now old enough to take care of the other kids. The children all played games and opened their presents without shedding any tears – although Orla and Sean were a little unsure of each other; Orla thought Sean wasn’t sharing, and he thought she was “bossy and cross” !

There was only one heist that night – perpetrated by the Nativity Thief, Orla, who pocketed the donkey from the crib. This theft was more successful than her previous brazen attempt at morning mass, when she tried to make a run for it with Baby Jesus, in broad daylight.

On St. Stephen’s Day we didn’t manage to make it out to the races at Leopardstown, since the kids are still young, but we managed to have a quiet dinner with family at the castle.

The kids did pretty well on the trip, although the jet lag kept them up most nights. One night, at about 3 in the morning, in an effort to help them sleep we separated them, Jenn taking Eoghan and I took Orla. Unfortunately, Orla missed her brother too much and informed me

Daddy, I need Eoghan. I miss the cute little guy.

All in all, we all had a wonderful time, although tiring; the kids in particular were thrilled to play with their cousins. Unfortunately Donal wasn’t at home for Christmas, as he was in England with his parents, undergoing cardiac surgery, but so far the progress seems promising. We’re all continuing to say prayers for him.

Then on the trip back, who was sitting beside us only my cousin Ciaran. Fortunately, the kids weren’t too obstreperous on the flight… 

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