When You Think “Moron” …

December 29, 2006 psipsina

During our recent trip to visit his parents in Bethesda, the Red-Haired Boy informed me that, when he was a teenager, the City of Washington, not to be outdone by such urban giants as New York City, decided that what it really needed was its own equivalent of the New Year’s Eve ball dropping in Times Square.

Thus began the tradition of dropping a giant illuminated object from the top of the Old Post Office, one of the loveliest buildings in Washington, DC.  (I have a photo of it, taken by RHB’s father, in my office.)  I think it’s best to quote our conversation from here.

Psipsina:  So what did they drop?

RHB:  A giant illuminated postage stamp.

Psipsina:  A stamp?

RHB:  Yep.

Psipsina:  Why a stamp?   Does that somehow exemplify Washington, DC?  Or it is just because it was, you know, the Old Post Office?

RHB:  Not sure.

Psipsina:  Well, that’s moronic.

This morning, RHB did a little research and found someone who claims that this brilliant idea should be credited to no less august a personage than Marion “Bitch Set Me Up” Barry, mayor of the District of Columbia at the time.

So the answer to my implied question, What dumbass thought that up? was “Marion Barry.”  It figures.

It is totally appropriate that Mayor Barry somehow thought that a postage stamp exemplified the city of Washington.  Not only were city services, during his tenure, marked by the same sloth and stupidity that mark the Postal Service even to this day, but during the 1980s, the District of Columbia was quite possibly the only place in America that had more of a reputation for violence than the Post Office.  Violence and incompetence – yep, that’s the image that the Post Office generated in most minds in those days, and therefore a stamp is the most fitting symbol of a violent city filled with incompetent bureaucrats.  When I started college in Maryland in the late 1980s, common wisdom held that Washington, DC was more dangerous than Bogotá.

And here I can’t help telling two stories, one true, one quite likely apocryphal.

The true story:  I owed a small amount of income tax to the District of Columbia in the early 90s.  After I’d paid it off, I could not seem to get the tax lien off the books, no matter what I did.  After nearly a year of fighting, I gave up.  Six weeks after Mayor Barry was succeeded by Sharon Pratt Kelly, I decided to try again.  In a matter of three days, the whole situation was cleared up, the tax lien was not only lifted off the books but declared to have been invalid, and it came off my credit report.

The potentially apocryphal story: in the late 80s there was a pothole in front of the French Embassy in DC that had a queen size mattress in it.  I never saw it, not having had many reasons to venture into that part of town, but given the general state of corruption and disrepair of the city, I never had reason to doubt its existence.  And we wonder why the French look down on us!

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Entry Filed under: 1980s, marion barry, new years eve, postal service, washington dc

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