Part of committing to be a professional writer is establishing discipline. I chose Stephen King’s advice: Write every day, no matter what. I’m too busy, I’m sick, I’m on vacation, none are acceptable excuses. A visit to Washington, DC with my mom and my oldest son tested my resolve. Julie’s assignment to me was a short story to be submitted to a writing contest. Every evening, I assiduously typed away in the hotel lounge. I came up with 1500 words that will never see the light of day. Mr. King never said you have to write well every day.
As for the rest of the visit, let’s see…There’s the poofing effect of brutal summer humidity on Ortmeier hair. My enthusiasm for a nightly pint of Yeungling and mom’s remembrance of it as Lingling. Ben’s hero worship of Casual Business Guy who returned a dropped twenty-dollar bill. Seeing Receipt Guy lose his mind in two different and distant Metro stations. George Washington’s lifelong and increasingly obsessive attempts at introducing live fences to Mount Vernon. The shambling wraiths the three of us had become by day five. And, of course, the constant, maddening rainbow swarms of middle-schoolers tormenting our days and coloring our nightmares.
Each of us have our own favorite moment that was more than anecdotal. Something that brought history to our fingertips or moved us as Americans. I think I know Jane and Ben’s, but you’ll have to ask them personally, if you’re fortunate enough to know them. Mine involves someone I’d be fortunate to know but I don’t. And I can’t.
The one monument I couldn’t bear to visit was the White House. I’m one of those weirdos who believes the White House belongs to me as an American and every four years a family moves in there at my pleasure or displeasure. Right now, a loathsome orange spider occupies it and the best I can do is look away until the right time comes along to squish it. The slightly sickening knowledge of its presence was a constant shadow.
The best antiseptic is light, so I had to experience the FDR Memorial. It’s my considered opinion that Franklin Roosevelt was our best and most effective president. If you have been so foolhardy as to draw me out with Yeungling—or any other beer will do—you are not unaware of this opinion. The memorial is laid out in four sections representing each of his terms. Each section has increasingly complex waterfalls and etched quotes.
“In these days of difficulty we Americans must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow man.”
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
“We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
“I have seen war…I hate war.”
“I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.”
These are the words of a president who understood what this country represents and exactly what his role as its leader was. These are words, especially that last quote, that are bane to the squatter in my house across the Tidal Basin.
Here’s where that young stranger who made my day, my week, my year comes into the picture. She was with her high school, touring the memorial en masse. No, they weren’t wearing the colorful matching t-shirts, but they were no less loud, poorly mannered and disrespectful. Except her. She listened intently to the park ranger who lead the tour. The features of the memorial that caught my eye caught hers too, and we both took care to stay out of each other’s pictures. While her classmates were posing for “cute” shots amongst the hunched figures representing bread lines, she was reverently taking in the tableau of FDR’s funeral procession.
The chaperones declared the group’s time in the memorial at an end. Ben, mom and I were grateful for some quiet time to reflect on this president’s effect on our country. As the dull roar faded, the thoughtful teen trailed behind her classmates and looked back. Did she want another look at the place that so obviously moved and inspired her? Did she feel envious that we would have the quiet time she certainly deserved? If it were in my power to grant it to her, I would have.
We didn’t see her again like we saw Receipt Guy. It’s always the bad pennies that seem to turn up over and over again. If I do see her again, maybe it will be to ask for my vote to let her family move into my house. Sure, it will be my pleasure.
Michael and Julie write separately, but when they write together they are...M.J. Ortmeier!