What’s Wrong With This Picture?


Being about the nature of friendship in the Capital City

Hello, I’m your docent for this afternoon’s tour.  By your maps and cameras, I see you’re turistas, no?  Heigh-ho, follow me, please.

We begin with this painting by William Merritt Chase, American, 1849-1916.  Note the brushwork, the composition, the subject matter….

Group: Today I feel frisky—very.  So, gather ‘round whilst I go “off the record.”  Closer, closer, closer.  Cozy, no?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have always thought it the height of anomaly, the absolute apogee, that a painting titled “A Friendly Call” should hang here at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  Indeed!  In this city any call is more likely to be telephonic than one-on-one, and as to purpose it will be fact-finding rather than friendly.  As though social calls required a purpose.

But that’s life in the Imperial City, where it’s de rigorous to put in 14-hour days, place 100 phone calls, and push ponderous piles of paper for the sole purpose of plying one’s pwecious input on behalf on some puny piece of public policy!

Yes, my husband is one of those, and last night—-!

Never mind.

Oh to be sure, tete-a-tetes do take place here.  But, believe me, they are scheduled lon-n-n-n-ng in advance, then cancelled, then rescheduled, then—–  Well, see that pillow on the floor?  As I’ve always imagined it, it was pitched there—whomp—by the hostess driven b-a-t-s by a soon-to-be-former friend phoning her fourth cancellation, citing the exigencies of schedule—in time-consuming detail, mind you—and doing so at the far-gone hour of 11 p.m.  Yes, Washingtonians call until all hours.

And once the rendezvous does takes place, well, after so much planning, rescheduling, deciding on site—Your place?  My place?  Where place?—it plays like Historic Event: ceremonial and brief.  Not “fun.”  My dears, I have done High Tea in twenty minutes.

Understandably, then, to extract something from the event, I go with written agenda—yes!  Though given the teeny-tiny time-frame allotted the personal, plus the general lack of spontaneity here—this city is so Federal Reserve—one seldom gets past Old Business.  And if one does press on to the New, one often gets cut off at the very newest part.

For example, I once had tea with a friend who revealed, whilst leaving the tip, that she was having an affair with the “secretary.”  But before I could ask “Upper-case or lower?” off she’d sped.  Then she was away two months, so when I caught up with her six months later—factoring for more scheduling, rescheduling, blah-blah-blah—my question, once burningly new, was now an Olden Moldie.

What I’m saying is: Public policy is top priority here and friendship tends to get tabled.  My dears, a “best friend” is one you see once a quarter.

Is it like that where you come from?