Then I remembered the incompleteness of our exploration of the National Portrait Gallery from last week, and suggested, to general approval, another visit. We roped in the Matriarch, Wonder Woman, and those children who were not already committed to other engagements, and ho! for the District. (Which already has enough ho's, snark snark.)
Parking of a Sunday near 9th and G was ridiculously hard to find, so, in a moment of paternal clarity, I hove the car into a garage that advertised a flat $10 rate. Worth it under the circs, I thought. Day's a-wastin'. A snaggle-toothed gentleman of indeterminate national origin appeared at the window and demanded his baksheesh. Just as I was handing him a ten-spot, I noticed a sign saying that the garage closed at 4 PM on Sundays. Knowing that we intended to stay at the museum well past that hour, I asked -- and I will admit that this, in retrospect, was poorly phrased -- "What happens after four o'clock"?
"You go out through building," came the reply. I am pretty sure, now, with the benefit of hindsight, that this phrase, and "Park on P-2, P-3," made up the sum total of this gentleman's English. I took "You go out through building" as a rational response to my original question, implying there was a separate after-hours egress -- some kind of sensor that opens a gate, shuts it after you.
Having parked and ridden up in an elevator to street level, we found ourselves in an office-building lobby, complete with sleepy security guard and check-in desk. As I opened the door to the street, it occurred to me that we were going "out through building," and the slightly nauseating idea occurred: that my conversation with Snagglepuss had had something of the non-sequitur about it.
Foo! I pushed the thought out of my head, and we traipsed along to a lovely afternoon with History.
I won't dwell on the museum, save to say that The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly in their Folk Art collection (enlarged image here -- bear in mind the thing you're looking at filled the artist's garage, and not all of it is displayed) is without doubt the weirdest and most wonderful thing I've laid eyes on in thirty years.
At five o'clock, through the magic of cellphones, we reassembled in the lobby, footworn and replete. I offered to go fetch the car while the ladies rested. Betty and I marched back to the office building and were admitted by the slumberous security guard. Elevator back to P-3, car found, all going according to plan. Round the winding route back to the land of the Eloi. Turn the last corner...
The. Gate. To. The. Street. Is. Closed.
Not a soul in sight.
Ohhh... KAY. Thinking that maybe an electric eye or some such device would trigger the raising of the portico, I nudged the car forward until the bumper was nearly touching the steel curtain.
A sign on the wall, hitherto unseen, mocked me: "Cars left after hours will be kept until the next business day."
Thanks, Snagglepuss. Thanks a whole bunch.
But the blame really rests with me, for not having asked him the direct question, "What will happen to cars left after hours?" and not been satisfied until I knew I had a reliable answer in the form of the complete sentence, "Cars left after hours will be kept until the next business day."
Some folks might panic in this circumstance. Succumb to claustrophobia. Run around with hair on fire.
Not your Neddie. Contemplating the major-league hassle involved in the admission of defeat -- cab ride out to the Matriarch's (a place not well served by public transport), where she would have to ship us the 50 miles home to Lovettsville and then drive back -- I reached back into the reserve of sang-froid that has flowed in Jingo veins all these centuries and set myself with steely resolve: This shall not stand.
I exited the car, senses aquiver. Having tried shouting "Open Sesame!" to no avail, I reasoned, with the deadly logic gleaned from years of Sherlock Holmes stories, that something must trigger this portal. Magnifying glass in hand (I keep one in the glove compartment for occasions such as this), I examined the edges of the unyeilding gate. Then, mirabile dictu, my eyes fell upon two buttons on a switch not a foot from the portal itself. With nearly mocking simplicity, they were marked "Open" and "Close."
With a trembling finger, I pressed the "Open" button. Creaking and moaning, the hitherto immovable object groaned into life, and blessed daylight shot into the murk.
Now I had been forming a plan. When the gate was fully open, I would drive through into freedom, park on the sidewalk, bravely go back into the hideous hole, press the "Close" button, and scurry back out, Indiana Jones-style, before the steel curtain could crush the life out of me. And all would be well.
The first half worked perfectly. Car and Betty successfully freed and basking in the sunshine. There would be no 30-mile cab rides today.
No, it was second half of the adventure that unmanned me. Having gone back in to the garage, I pressed the "Close" button, and the giant machine once again groaned back into life. I did my Indy thing, leaping back onto the sidewalk -- and the damned door just reversed itself and raised to the ceiling again. I had not considered that there might be a safety device -- as there is on any standard automatic garage-door opener -- that prevents the door from closing if it senses that an object -- in this case, my all-too-vulnerable flesh -- stood in the transom.
Okay, I mused, what sets off this device? Is there a sensor of some sort that I might, through acrobatic means, avoid triggering? I pressed again, leaped back into the sunshine with my feet as high in the air as I could manage (about four inches). Failure. Perhaps I have to go under the sensor? Pressed the button, and this time emerged hunched over making myself as small as I could.
Eleventh Street on a Sunday is no deserted place. As I was performing my antics, leaping out from under closing doors in various ridiculous poses, a small crowd began to gather. And here's the curious thing: I didn't know it at the time, a rally for the people of Iran was just breaking up a few bare blocks from us, and I noticed that quite a few of these folks were wearing green and carrying signs saying "Where's My Vote?" and the like.
One more attempt, which again failed to raucous laughter, and I thought Fuck it. I flashed a V-sign to the assembled folks, hollered "Sea of Green!" leaped into the car and hightailed it. I did stop in at the sleepy guard's desk, described to him as succinctly as I could what was now his problem, and ran.