[reprinted from The Diner]
He's been berated, baited, and playahated. He reached the Vista , only to be brought down, only to be lifted up, only to be left out with the Buzzards. First act. Second act. Third Act? It's coming. This November, redemption's coming to Ward 8. Don't hate. Participate.
Poets old and new sing tales of Great Men. Men who stood the test of time. Men who alone lasted against bitter and near unwinnable odds. Men who inspire, perspire, respire, and finally expire. Men who were and are at work, answering the eternal questions, like "Who could it be now?" and "Would you like a vegemite sandwich?" Later, we became enlightened, and the poets sought out tales of Great Women. Women steadfast heroic and true. Occasionally, the poets inspired tales of Men Who Were Not Great, Indeed Who Suffered Mild Forms of Mental Retardation who nonetheless stood out as models for parents to tell their sons and daughters: "Get the fuck out of bed, you jerkface! Even that gimp Forrest Gump ran a shrimp boat!"
I have not come here to write of a Great Man. Or even a Great Woman. Or even a Lovable Dog with Noteworthy Qualities. Indeed, the subject I seek to write about here in these pages could not be considered Great, or even good. His contributions to the edifice of human accomplishments, what meager crop there was, have long faded into memory, eclipsed by scandal and mockery and shame. The chance of this man doing something worthy with the rest of his life, well...I'm not going to shit you: it's not at all likely. The people this man may have inspired to follow in his path--stay the hell away from them. The man of whom I speak is none other than Marion Shepilov Barry Jr., and he'll be considered a Great Man by nary a soul who comes after me, nor by me, thanks to what remains of my good sense. Yet Marion Barry became something that I hope one day I can be myself, something that may be the best I and, most likely, many of you readers will ever make of ourselves. On September 14, 2004 , Marion Barry became not a Great Man, but a Man Just Good Enough By Default. Of he I sing.
Oh for a muse of fire, that would alight the brightest crackpipe of invention! A council for a stage, members to act, and the editors of the Washington City Paper to behold the swelling scene. Then should the warlike Barry, like himself, assume the post of Ward 8 Councilmember, and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, should Allen, Brazil, and Chavous, get on line for unemployment.
For years, DC tolerated and continually reelected spurious popinjays like Harold Brazil, Kevin Chavous, and Sandy Allen. This year, DC Voters rose up and said, about a million years too late: "Enough. We want a change." And so, with a casting of votes, Council layabouts Brazil , Allen and Chavous were done away with, along with their bone-dry lack of accomplishment and the slack-jawed ways they used to comport themselves, and replaced by new blood. Now, in Barry's case, he doesn't seem to be "new blood" at all. After all, he was once, famously mayor, and then, even more famously, mayor again. But, I have come to understand that most people who have a career drug habit of Barry's magnitude usually have to have upwards of six or seven blood transfusions, so, for all we know, that pale share of a former mayor may have the stem cells of the recent stillborn coursing through his veins.
Actually, the truth is, Barry is quite frail and hobbled. He's not as spry as he once was, bouncing from a meeting with cronies to a strip club to a soul food joint to an evening of intimacy with the business end of a one-hitter. He's recently been depicted as doddering and weak, lacking the energy to ascend stairs or even get around. It is fair to say that Marion Barry may have one foot in the grave.
If this is the case, then I think it is a good thing that he is all but a shoo-in to ascend to the City Council once more. The way I see it, it's a good thing to call your heroes home. Washingtonians remember that Art Monk, who spent his life playing for the Washington Redskins, only to get dealt late in his career to the New York Jets, was brought back for one day--the last day of his professional career--just so he could don the burgundy and gold one last time, be saluted by DC, and be allowed to retire in the city in which he made his name.
So too should it be with Marion Barry. Having squandered his fortune and exhausted any alternative means of gainful employment, it should fall to the people of DC to secure his final place of comfort on the DC Council, where he shall draw a generous paycheck to work for Ward 8, and, let's face it--probably do no worse than Sandy Allen did.
Washington owes Barry that. He is owed for the memories he has given us. He is owed for once saying that "The law of gravity of racist." He might have been on to something there. He taught us to look on the bright side, saying once: "If you take out the killings, Washington actually has a very very low crime rate." Until the serial arsonist came along, that was probably true. Barry is owed for his wonderful way of looking at the world. Only he, that night owl extraordinaire, could discern the difference between a strip club and an "erotic bar." Among all of us, dissatisfied with our elected representatives on Capitol Hill, only Barry could give voice to what we have all thought from time to time, "What right does Congress have to go around making laws just because they deem it necessary?" Only Barry could give us the elongated and nonsensical free verse that was: "The contagious people of Washington have stood firm against diversity during this long period of increment weather."
But of all the things Barry taught us, one single phrase stands out. "Bitch set me up." Now, those four words, to some, may sound like the desperate and semi-delusional sputterance of a man in the act of being dragged off by police after being caught on video smoking crack and soliciting sexual witchy-witchy-waaah from one of DC's finest hookers. But read the deeper message! "Bitch set me up" is actually a powerful evocation of man's eternal conflict with the fickle finger of fate. It is a message that particularly resonates in DC, but can be embraced by all people. Did you get caught in traffic? Bitch set you up. Did you fail to get that promotion? Bitch set you up. Do you ever wake up and start your day, only to develop an increasing sense of dread that somewhere out there, perhaps around the next corner, events are conspiring against you, and that a few hours hence, you will be brought low for all to see? That's not paranoia, my friend, that's RECOGNITION that somewhere, out there, the bitch is lying in wait, giggling and grinning, waiting to SET YOUR DUMB ASS UP.
One day, years from now, when DC finally has fair representation in government, they will remove the slogan "Taxation without representation" from the DC flag and from the license plates, and replace it with "Bitch set me up."
But what of DC's suffering and suffrage? What of Barry's legacy in that regard. Well, now we've finally gotten to the real reason we should lionize Barry, hold him close to our bosom and find a cushiony job on the DC Council for him, upon which to fade away. It has been said that the pre-eminent reason the Congress does not give Washington , DC full representation in Congress is three simple words: Senator, Marion, and Barry. Yes. It is widely believed that the minute DC is given the chance to install a full Senator, the voters of the District will elevate Barry to that level, and thus let loose a crack-baked, whoring, Malvolio loose upon the fair maiden that is our Constitutionally-elected guvvamint. Let me assure you: that is PRECISELY what Washingtonians would do. And they wouldn't even hesitate. And yes, the outcome would probably be disastrous--though, I don't know...the Senate has thus far survived Virginia Senator George Allen, and that man has the intelligence of a nosebleed. Indeed, if it fell to me to choose between saving the life of Senator George Allen or buying a cup of coffee, I'd be looking for some half and half within eighty seconds.
Because of the threat Barry poses, DC is made to be chastened. It is that bad decision of electing Barry, again and again, that has kept them at the little kids table of American democracy.
However, where many see a dead-end, I see opportunity and possibility. If you think about it, the stigma of Barry and the way it has affixed itself to Washington means something good for the District: As long as Barry lives, there is nothing that any DC resident could do that would in any way jeopardize the future of DC Statehood any further than Barry has already. Barry is a living license for all who live in the District to act as foolishly and as shortsightedly as they damn well please.
Piss away money. Burn down the monuments. Parade around in hoisin sauce and pull down the pants of summertime tourists. Practice crony politics. Give away scads of tax dollars to Major League Baseball. Be so inept that you don?t even manage to get on your own party's nomination ballot despite being the incumbent and the frontrunner. NONE OF THIS MATTERS IN ANY WAY AT ALL. Barry's legendary sins outshine them all. As long as Barry lives, no one else will ever be held up as the reason that DC hasn't figured it all out yet. As long as Barry sits in a government office, drawing a taxpayer provided paycheck, no one else's misbehavior or wrongdoing will ever be recognized for being the thing that kept DC down. Whether you trust it or not, if you live in DC, you are allowed to act a fool whenever, however, and as often as you want. Barry has absolved you in advance.
So this is the reason it is a mighty good thing that, com November, Marion Barry will be back where he belongs--the halls of power. Not merely because his previous debasement brought the world to our door. Not just because of the sentimental way we forgiving humans are. And not simply because "Bitch set me up" is a pearl of wisdom more precious that anything in Poor Richard's Almanack. Barry deserves to go out on top for one simple reason: he is both the cause of and excuse for all of Washington , DC's problems. Arma virumque cano, motherfucker.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
[reprinted from The Diner]