I love Washington DC. I love the city, love the history, love the monuments. Sure, it has some rough neighborhoods and a host of horrible problems I’ll never solve. Still, I love D.C.
In a different life, I’d live in a high-rise condominium in D.C. with a bellman. He’d know my name, but I’d pretend not to know his. I’d spend my weekends at the opera or maybe a concert at Wolf Trap. I wouldn’t own a car. The metro and a bicycle are all I’d ever need. I’d spin the antique globe in my study and pick a different country every night. Touring the world, exotic cuisine by exotic cuisine, and never leaving DC. Better yet, you can eat your way from continent to continent. Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Peru, where will I eat tomorrow? The first-generation waiter would expect me to have a working knowledge of his language and his politics. His politics would be more real than mine. He’d lived his country’s politics. Often, he’d escaped it. I can only complain about mine. You can tour the world living in DC. I love DC.
And so, our children grew up there. Not DC of course but a quiet suburb just over the bridge. You see, nobody really lives in DC. I guess some people do, but most “Pentagon” workers opt for the quiet neighborhoods of Northern Virginia. Maryland is nice too. But they have higher taxes, and the commute is longer. For obvious reasons, we chose Virginia. We settled is a small development in Alexandria Virginia named Hayfield. Jennifer and Jason went to Hayfield Elementary School, Hayfield Junior High and of course Hayfield High. Go Hawks! Sometime in the sixties and long before we showed up, the big round barn in the community park came down. Some homeowners still had bricks from that barn. That barn used to store hay. Hayfield was the hayfield of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. We settled in George Washington’s hayfield. I love DC.
I remember traveling to DC before Lillian and the children moved there. Our house in Omaha still hadn’t sold. We couldn’t afford two houses, let alone the one we had. While Lillian, Jennifer and Jason remained in Omaha, I drove cross country to DC alone. For the first few months or so, I rented a room from an older lady who had a beautiful house in Alexandria Virginia. I remember her furniture being mostly pink. I remember her little dog. Mostly pink. She was a clean freak and would vacuum after I came home, and I’m told she did it again after I left. During those first few months, I kept myself busy as best as I could. I toured the Smithsonian museums, the Lincoln and Washington Monuments and even sat for a spell in the Library of Congress. I spent at least four months in DC as a tourist, before Lillian and the children showed up. I love DC.
I was a tourist because I couldn’t go to work. A month before I was transferred to DC, I flew there to finish my job interview. I flew to DC to take a polygraph. Because of the new job and the location where I would work, I needed to take the polygraph at CIA Headquarters. If you get past the CIA’s front gate, your name better be on the list. Instructed not wear my uniform, I arrived at the Security Station at CIA Headquarters. Thankfully, my name was on the list. But so much for the list, my visitor badge clearly said ESCORT REQUIRED. And so, I was led through the turnstiles and badge readers, past the CIA’s Memorial Wall. If all this was intended to be intimidating it worked! I went into a windowless room more like a closet than room and got strapped to the chair. The only person I’d talk to on this entire trip then disappeared into a back room with a one-way mirror. That large one-way mirror hid the other CIA Officers behind the glass.
“Was I now or had I ever been a member of the Communist Party?” “Your wife is a foreigner. Is she a Communist?” Then I was done. No “thank you.” No twenty bucks on my pillow. No “You did a good job.” Just goodbye. It would be four months before I knew the results.
War Story 84. The CIA’s Memorial Wall commemorates CIA Officers who died serving our Nation. Many of the names are still classified and not listed. Just a Star. Over the years, on visits and before meetings, I’ve stopped and read the names and stories many times over. A single star is all they get. No Medal of Honor. No Casson at Arlington. When the Military shows up, it’s like a Beyoncé’ concert. When a CIA Operative dies, it is often alone, and nobody brings them home.
Back to the polygraph. I didn’t know if I had passed? You walk in, confindent and sure of yourself. You feel like Nathan Hale. When you leave you’re defeated, exhasted. You’ve been transformed into Benedick Arnold. My new DC bosses didn’t know the results either. I relocated to DC, and I didn’t even know if I had the job. My new bosses didn’t know my status and weren’t quite sure what to tell me. Often, to avoid security concerns, they just wouldn’t talk to me or at least didn’t know what to say. So, I just sat. Later I toured. I love DC.
I hate the polygraph. Everyone does. Can you imagine sitting for four months not knowing if you had a job or not. A job and you’d already moved for that job. What if I didn’t pass? Every other job I was qualified for required a high-level clearance. I had zero alternatives. What if I didn’t pass? Lillian, Jennifer, and Jason were coming to DC. What if I didn’t have a job in DC. I hated and still hate the polygraph. For those who can’t imagine what I’m talking about, try imagining a root canal on your brain. Anyway, four months after sitting in that chair, I was informed that I passed. Our house eventually sold in Omaha and Lillian, Jennifer and Jason moved to Washington DC. I love DC.
Not having the polygraph is worse. Sometimes nations need to keep their secrets. The polygraph is just a tool. One of many tools. In the world of high stakes National Intelligence, secrets are worth keeping. I know very little about the James Bond/human intelligence type of work. I worked with satellites, or at least the data they gather. I’ve heard human Intelligence is very unreliable. Apparently, people lie. I wish the world was a better place. Until it is, the polygraph will be used.
In our first years in DC, I’d take Lillian and the children on quick tours of the city. Often at night, long after they should have been in bed, we’d drive into the city. Often, I’d take everyone across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and into DC. Looking across the Potomac, the Washington Monument stood glowing above the skyline. “It’s the pencil,” Jennifer would say. Around the Smithsonian museums, the Capital, and the monuments we would drive. When life got hard. When a school assignment went south or someone’s day just wasn’t right, I’d say, “Oh no! I think they moved the monuments.” “But the monuments can’t move.” Jennifer would say. They are the symbol of our Nation. We can count on them. We rely on them.
“We need to check!” Jason would say. “Grab your coats,” Lillian would say. And off we’d go.
The road driving into DC is dark. Once you get close to the dome of the Jefferson Memorial it starts to glow. Finally, you can see him. Holding a few pages in his hand. The few pages that became us. Continuing into the city you see the monuments, standing proud and glowing. As you drive by the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, the lights are on and there he sits. Waiting. You can see him any time you need to. I love DC.
In December every year we went to the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and walked among the fifty trees from all the states. December is cold in DC but not so cold when you watch your children touch our nation’s history. In July, the local radio station would broadcast live from the Washington Monument. WETA’s Bill Cerri hosted a special concert for military families. We would take some food and a blanket, sit under the stars, and listen to “Christmas in July.” The kids would sing carols looking up at the Washington Monument. To our left, the Capital and to our right, the White House. I love DC.
Do you know how many parents it takes to host a youth swim meet? No, you don’t. No, you don’t because it takes one more parent than it took to make those little competitors. That’s four more than it should. Also, not everyone looks good in a white polo shirt and white Bermuda shorts. Not Katie’s mother and definitely not Tommy’s dad. Kid swimming was a big deal in Northern Virginia. First you needed three parents with their own stop watches to be the timers for every lane. After the race, they’d need to average the seconds. This often resulted in big arguments. Drop the one and carry the two, moron! Lots of parents of budding Michael Phelps can’t do basic math. Then you needed a lane judge. A lane judge for every lane. Judges and timers ready to call foul on their own children. Yeah, right. The DC suburbs are filled with quiet peaceful neighborhoods with polite gentile parents and Olympic class children. For us, the herd separated quickly. Soon we learned to enjoy watching Jennifer and Jason compete and excel on the field of parental expectations. I love DC.
Jennifer hasn’t a competitive bone in her body. Her kindness and sweetness have no place on the battlefield of children’s sports. In youth soccer, her coach would implore her to drive to the goal, go for the score. She was quite skilled in moving and passing the ball. Often, just at that pivotal moment, the moment that makes parent’s weep with pride … she’d pass. Not-a-driving-to-win pass, but an oh, you-really-want-a-turn pass. A-let-me-help-you pass. Jennifer would actually pass to the player on the other team. Pass to the opposing player. Because “They really wanted it, Daddy.” We’d leave the soccer match congratulating the children for a good game. “You’ll do better next time.” In my heart, I knew this wasn’t true.
Jason was the opposite. We didn’t raise Jennifer and Jason differently; they just turned out that way. Jason had and still has the athletic skills I never had. He has enough of the competitive gene to be good, but not enough to be disappointed. During his first year of little league baseball, while playing second base, he made a double play. Thinking he’d want to sign up the next year, he simply said, when can we do hockey? Jason played every sport invented and I have the bills to prove it. He played baseball, soccer, hockey, football, and wrestling. He exceled at every one but somehow that wasn’t enough. I have no idea why or how he got the interest, but he took up fencing. He won his first and only tournament.
Finally, together with Lillian and the kids in DC, life swung towards normal. Lillian started working and with Jennifer and Jason in elementary school, we developed a routine. My job was manageable and for once in the last ten years, I didn’t need to pursue additional schooling. We settled into a semi-normal life in the Virginia suburbs. I love DC.