"Who is Chris Warnock?"
Kelly looked up from the manuscript and smiled back at the delighted look I had on my face. It was the perfect thing for her to ask. That's why I liked her so much. That's why I gave her all my stuff to read. That's one of those things about myself that I just can't help; I'm always trying to provoke a reaction. It's one of those things that even though you're totally conscious of it, you still don't have any real control over it. Not exactly an addiction… it's more like when a crazy person really is crazy… but then acts a little crazy in addition to that. That's not really it either… you'll just have to deal with the fact that I don't always know what I'm talking about.
Anyway… The whole point of me putting that line in the story was so that someone would ask who Chris Warnock was. And I always knew I could count on Kelly. All that setup for one joke that only I'll think is funny.
So I told her. And then I wrote it down. And now you're reading it. Its funny how that all works out.
It was cold, and I'd never been to D.C. before. The first thing you realize when you show up to one of these things is that everyone's a liar. Or maybe it's just you, but it doesn't really matter anyway because a week from now none of these people will matter to you anymore. This is exactly how every convention works, especially the ones filled with high-school students… especially the ones where all the counselors are lawyers.
My history teacher submitted my name for this thing: The National Youth Leadership forum on Law. I don't remember if there was an application process or not. Maybe they just wanted money, and didn't care who it came from… that would explain a few things. Like how on the first night six kids got kicked out for having an orgy in the room across the hall from mine, and before you ask, I didn't rat them out.
When I first got to my room, Ben was already there. He made a point of playing with his nipple ring, in what I assume was an effort to make me uncomfortable, as he changed his shirt for dinner. When Dan arrived a few minutes later, it did bother him a little bit, I think. And because Dan had set himself up like this to be the weakest roommate, it was easy for me and Ben to convince him to sleep in the cot while we took the good beds.
I'm not sure why I wore my sunglasses to dinner; it just seemed like the right thing to do. And when Ben and Dan followed suit, it really set us up as a team from the beginning: the three of us against about a thousand preppy lawyer kids. It was inevitable then that someone would ask the question. It was a strange and wonderful twist of fate that she was absolutely gorgeous.
"So why exactly are the three of you wearing sunglasses?" Her tone was playful, as if she was here to have a good time… like one of those six kids who would get kicked out later this evening. Her name tag said, "Hi! My name is: Katie Ziliski, from Annapolis, Maryland."
I refused to wear a name tag. And later on when our counselor made me, I refused to wear it anywhere you could see it. I still hate wearing a name tag, and if it weren't for the threat of being hauled off to the brig by a pair of burly MPs, I wouldn't.
To this day I wish that Dan wouldn't have answered her. He said, "We're wearing them so that people like you will stop and talk with us."
Her reaction confused me at the time, but knowing what I know now, I'm surprised he didn't get slapped. Katie Ziliski grabbed Dan's tie, flipped it over his shoulder, then quickly spun around with a sharp click of her high-heels and stormed off in a huff.
"What the crap was that, Dan?" Ben asked as he watched the beautiful girl walk away.
Dan didn't answer for a bit, as he tried to wrap his mind around everything that had just happened. "My name's not Dan," he said finally.
I don't remember what Dan's real name was, but I remember very distinctly that from that moment on, that's all we called him.
In order to get my mind off the beautiful young woman that obviously wanted nothing to do with our little crew, I quickly became annoyed with "Hello My Name is Jim, from Coalfield, West Virginia." I happen to be from West Virginia myself, and I hate it when people stereotype the residents of my state as a pack of backwards, dirty, inbred, yokels. What I hate even more is when I meet someone in a place like this, proudly displaying his home state on a nametag, that lives up to that stereotype. This is another reason I hate nametags, because I refuse to be associated with some evolutionary anomaly from the hills, that can't speak one sentence in English without saying: "ya'll."
I'm not really mad at Jim. Despite the fact that I made a point of not speaking to him or being in the same room with him for the rest of the week, it was painfully obvious that what I was really mad about was the fact that the hottest girl I'd seen at this thing so far had just stormed off with no apparent reason. I suppose it's not surprising then that after dinner, I signed up for the gun-control workshop with the intention of picking a fight.
What I should have realized was that in a forum such as this, the only people that sign up for a lecture on gun-control are those vehemently opposed to it. Our speaker, "Hello, my name is: Randy, from Omaha, Nebraska," should have realized this as well and spent his evening at the Big Red Keno on 72nd and Dodge instead of walking into this Den full of hyenas.
"Our lobby isn't about taking guns from the people. It's about making the households that have guns in them safer." Randy was off to a good start as he passed around a replica 9mm with his company's patent-pending trigger lock with its three tumbler mechanism reminiscent of the suitcase sitting unpacked in my room one floor above us.
"The idea we're trying to get across," he continued, "is that mandating safety measures such as this lock don't infringe anyone's rights, and that any costs incurred will be offset by lives saved in the process. This is the same as mandating seat-belts and airbags in cars." At this point I put my hand in the air.
Randy paused his speech to acknowledge me.
"Excuse me sir," I began, "but I believe your logic is flawed. You see, a car's purpose is to get its passengers from place to place, so the safety features here are assisting in that end; they help ensure that the passengers arrive safely. But the gun's purpose is to kill people, so when you fire it at someone it's working correctly, and this lock isn't doing anything except getting in the way."
Randy had taken quite a bit of flack from the audience up to this point, but my comment seemed to really get to him, as his face flushed a bit. Looking around the room, I saw that the blonde girl handling the replica was trying quite hard not to laugh. She passed it to the tall lanky "Hello, my name is Tony, from Dover, Delaware" on her right, and he quickly started rolling the tumblers on the lock through various combinations.
In the meantime Randy thought he had a good comeback and asked me, "Is the gun functioning correctly when someone's baby gets shot?"
Randy was obviously unaware of how mad I was at Jim, or how angry I was about Katie Ziliski getting scarred off by Dan, or just how much I hate everyone in the first place, and thus was completely floored when I said, "If the baby dies, then yes."
At that exact moment Tony had opened the lock and pointed the gun at Randy. The click of the hammer falling seemed to punctuate my point rather well, so I took that moment to put on my sunglasses, and leave the room.
I returned to my room in time to see Ben hand a bottle of pills to "Hello my name is Rick, from Harrisburg, Virginia" and accept a twenty dollar bill in return. I remained silent as Rick left the room, and then looked at Ben questioningly.
"I told him they were percocets," he said.
"What were they?"
As it turned out, Rick lived next door, and decided to demonstrate his displeasure at being sold fake drugs by pounding on our wall from midnight until about one-thirty, and making prank phone calls for another hour or so. It was during one of the phone calls that Dan had a stroke of genius. He produced a mini cassette recorder from his suitcase and taped what turned out to be one of the most incriminating calls.
An hour or so later a massive security guard knocked on our door. "I don't suppose you know anything about this?" he asked, pointing at the shaving cream on the outside of our door which spelled out: 'fags' with a big circle around it.
Dan answered the man by pointing next door and handing over his recorder. It's funny how things work themselves out.
The next morning Chris Warnock arrived. A trial lawyer, born and raised in D.C. he was our camp counselor of sorts, in charge of about thirty of us. Except for his close cropped hair cut, and expensive suit, Chris Warnock evoked the memories of an ancient Mongolian… you know, the ones that they built that big wall to keep out.
In order to make sure we all knew each-other, our assignment at this meeting was take five minutes to think of an historic figure that we admired and share our reasons why with the group. None of the answers given were particularly surprising. There were a few Washington's, a couple Lincoln's, one Rosa Parks, my own General Patton, and an Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson. It wasn't until we got to the last person, the blonde girl who laughed at my gun control commentary, that someone had the guts to say what most of us had at least thought about before deciding that it was inappropriate or too risqué to say to this crowd.
"Adolf Hitler. I think he was one of the greatest leaders in history."
She didn't explain her position any more than that. To me that made her the most beautiful girl in the room. Tony apparently felt the same way. Perhaps his pointing the fake gun at Randy and pulling the trigger made a bigger impact on her than my speech did, a talker versus a doer, perhaps… who knows? Whatever the reason, it wasn't meant to be. Still… I always admire someone who isn't afraid to speak their mind; there's too much crap in the world.
I suppose it's inevitable, that when a group of young people such as ourselves sit in the back of a tour bus together, the subject of religion will come up. As it turns out we were able to have a few good discussions and several heated arguments.
Both Tony and "Hello my name is Zoe from Seattle, Washington" were Catholics. Zoe had attended an all-girls Catholic school her entire life, which naturally led us to ask if she was a lesbian. Her reply was somewhat less than complete, but she made it clear that we wouldn't get anything else out of her. My personal thinking on the matter is that she let us think what we wanted because it made her a mystery; it made her stand out. I've always been strangely attracted to women who have this inferiority complex. In fact I think I love everyone almost as much as I hate everyone.
"Hello, my name is Satie from Manchester, Indiana" was a devout Hindu, and during one of the trips I sat next to her and discussed at length her position on arranged marriages. I must admit that before this discussion I was opposed to the idea, as I find most red-blooded Americans are. It seems to chip away at our fundamental belief in freedom. I have since changed my mind. I think that the reason so many arranged marriages are successful is that the couple is freed from the need to maintain some absurd lustful romantic interest in each other and instead focus on developing a much deeper attachment related to their mutual commitment. I still don't see it catching on anytime soon.
It was about this time that Tony dropped his riddle on everyone.
"Ok, pay attention. There's these three guys see, and they need to split a hotel room. So the bellhop tells them that the room costs thirty dollars per night. The guys think that's just great 'cause they each happen to have a ten, so they pay the bellhop and then head to their room."
"Wait a minute." Ben interrupted. "These three guys get a thirty dollar a night room right?"
"What the crap kind of room can you get for thirty dollars?"
"I don't know. I guess it's just a lousy room?"
"The whole thing just seems a little contrived to me. I mean you happen to have three guys who don't mind sharing a room and they only have thirty dollars between them which happens to be exactly the cost of the room?"
The Hitler girl, the blonde sitting in the seat next to Tony, finally came to the rescue, "Will you just let him finish the riddle?"
She turned back around from the conversation with this little flip of her hair. I don't think she really cared about the riddle at all. In fact I'm sure of it, and if I was a little more paranoid or egocentric than I am, I would swear that she was only hanging out with Tony to spite me personally. I know that doesn't really make any sense, just forget about it. Still, I wish I could remember her name.
Tony continued his riddle. "All right, the guys pay thirty dollars and go to their room. A little later the manager comes to talk to the bellhop and tells him that there's a discount on the room, and its actually only twenty-five dollars a night. So he gives the bellhop five ones and tells him to run the money up to the three guys. On the way up to the room the bellhop is thinking to himself that these guys will never know how cheap the room was supposed to be and he pockets two of the ones. Then he gives the three remaining dollars to the three guys.
"Ok, so here's the meat of the riddle. Each of the guys got one dollar back, right? So they've each only paid nine dollars to the hotel right? And nine dollars times three guys is twenty-seven, right? Ok so the bellhop took two dollars, plus the twenty-seven equals twenty-nine… So what happened to the other dollar?"
About this time our bus let us all off at the Smithsonian and no one really cared enough to find out the answer to the riddle. Either they didn't care or they just didn't want to give Tony the satisfaction of feeling superior. Tony wasn't a bad guy at all, and I really don't think he was trying to feel superior, but he had this quality that made it really easy to resent him. I still don't know what the Hitler chic was doing with him. He'll probably be president someday.
If you try to take a picture of The Scream by Edvard Munch in the Smithsonian Art Gallery, it won't turn out. There's probably a very simple explanation for this that any amateur photographer could point out to me, but I rather enjoy my blissfully ignorant opinion that this is instead due to some inherent magical property of the painting. Regardless, it was while I was transfixed by this work of art that I was first approached by "Hello my name is Katie Rose from Hartford Connecticut."
"This is my absolute favorite painting," she said.
Before I go on, I should explain that if it weren't for Ben's incredibly significant answer to the question she would later ask, I would have left Katie Rose out of my story entirely. So, I apologize for any confusion resulting from the inclusion of two Katie's in the story. If it helps to keep them straight: I never had any interest in Katie Rose because she wasn't all that pretty, and I'm pretty shallow.
So the not-as-attractive-Katie and I admire the painting for a few minutes then caught up with Ben and Dan for lunch. I don't really think that either Ben or Dan found Katie Rose all that attractive either, but the facts remain: we were all young men, we were in an environment with a significant lack of women, and Katie rose was a very good conversationalist.
Our group of four spent most of the rest of the day together. We saw tons of monuments. We met Supreme Court Justice Scalia. It was when we came to the Vietnam War Memorial that I felt I was seeing something worthwhile. I had chills in my spine. The wind was blowing gently and the air was brisk. I can still see some of the other visitors in my mind. There was an old woman in a light brown overcoat kneeling and dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. There was a middle-aged man with an umbrella just standing there starring silently.
When Katie Rose could stand the silence no more she asked her question. I don't remember what she asked, and it doesn't matter. Ben's answer, however, was one of the most profound and enlightening things I've ever heard in my life. He starred coldly at Katie Rose. He wasn't mad at her, but the vehemence in his voice made it seem as though he was personally offended by this object in front of us.
"Look at all the fucking names on the wall."
Not much else happened that day. On the bus ride back to our hotel Chris Warnock sat next to me and joined in on our religious debate from before. Flying in the face of all expectations it turns out the Chris Warnock was a Rastafarian, or at least partially. He would tell us whether he smoked pot or not, and he had a few other strange ideas too.
"You see," he said, "it's like when you get in your car; you're part of this massive powerful machine. And then you get a little aggravated because some jerk in front of you is going thirty-five in a fifty. See, normally without the car, you'd just let it slide, but now you have this machine with you that's a lot more aggressive and it just feeds your anger."
Tony was nodding with understanding. "Right," he said, "so it's like you're part of the car at that point, it controls you to some extent."
Chris Warnock was smiling and nodding, "Exactly, except since the car's so much bigger than you, it actually starts to dominate your personality."
No one else seemed to be buying into our chaperone's ideas, and I took a moment to look over my seat and saw that the Hitler chick was ignoring the conversation completely. On closer inspection, I noticed that she was reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It's not really important, but its something I remember.
Not much happened for the next few days, and the week quickly wound down. During our last night there was the obligatory dance. If you haven't gathered, I'm not exactly the dancing type, and thus, while Dan and Ben immediately took to the floor looking to bump and grind with whatever they could find, I stuck to the wall trying to look as self-important as possible.
It was at this moment that Katie Ziliski happened to walk by. "Where are you friends, shades?"
"They're out there making fools of themselves. I thought you weren't speaking to us anyway."
"Well, you seem all right, but that tall guy was a complete jerk. Didn't you hear what he said to me?"
I shook my head, "No, what did he say?"
"You were standing right next to him. He said you all were wearing sunglasses so that I wouldn't stop and talk to you."
Like I think I said earlier, I wanted to go back in time and punch Dan in the face and then clear up this whole misunderstanding. Instead I just tried to wipe the disgust off my face and not think too much about what a missed opportunity the whole week had been.
"No… what he said was: we were wearing sunglasses so that you WOULD stop and talk to us."
She seemed to take the whole thing in stride. "Oh… would you like to dance then?"
So we did. And we had a great time. I have a picture of her somewhere, but I'm not much of a photographer, so it's not a great picture. To tell you the truth, I don't even know where it is anymore.