The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This Saturday was a mixed bag of things. I worked a race in the morning–for those who’ve not heard, friends A-Squared and I are obsessed with these Amazing Race style things. We run in them, and we now manage them as well. The afternoon and evening was occupied by a funeral for a friend’s mother.

While the funeral ended up as the day’s dominant feature, it’s also a rather depressing one, and I don’t find it particularly fashionable to blog about funerals. The etiquette of funerals, perhaps–oh, I’d better not get started on that, or y’all will never be able to shut me up about it, and the next thing we all know I’ll have rambled on for two thousand words about the socially correct form of cake to bring the bereaved family. By the way, what’s up with Northern and Western people who don’t know to bring food to the family? Don’t they know that a) no one in the family wants to cook at a time like that and b) this gives everyone else a good opportunity to show off prizewinning fried chicken, biscuits and Lady Baltimore cake?

Though the funeral had emotional impact, the race was Saturday’s blogriffic moment. This was no mere race. It took place in that impossible city, Washington.

Now, I understand that Washington is the nation’s capital. At least, it’s the Yankee capital. MY capital is still Richmond, on both state and national levels, but you know this already.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that having spent four years in Williamsburg, I’d be used to tourists? I seem to have lost my W&M street cred, though, because the tourist antics of this morning shocked, awed and amused me to no meager extent.

My mission was to sit in the Great Hall of the Smithsonian Castle, awaiting those who’d embarked upon the race. They had to solve a clue to find me, and then I was to hand them a scroll with another clue. The racers themselves were ept. (If there’s such a thing as “inept,” there must also be “ept,” no? I reserve the right, as an English teacher, to create new words as I go.)

I’d not been in the Castle but forty minutes when the group of Germans arrived. All of you should by now realize that I idolize the German people. They’re frighteningly intelligent; they have a work ethic that makes the Puritans look like woolgatherers, and they are usually rather attractive. I love the German language, and German music. What I do not love is their fashion sense. German women tend to look good, particularly North German women. They can wear flour sacks and still look hot. German men, though, seem to rely on their blue eyes and chiseled visages in the hope that no one will notice the for God’s sake awful clothes they’ve put on. In this group, every last one of them was hot, but while the women wore smart dresses, the men were all wearing weird shirts and extremely goofy shoes. Maybe this is considered the appropriate German attire for visiting what they correctly assume to be a barbarian capital.

No sooner had the Germans moved on when my vision was happily invaded by a very, very hot Theta Delt brother. This dude had a chest the size of the old Capitol Theatre on F street and calves that would make the Diskobolos green with envy. He also caught me in the act of staring at his legs. Evidently, it didn’t bother him though, because he grinned. This can mean one of several things: a) he’s diggin’ me, b) he’s used to 30-something dudes checking him out, c) his girlfriend isn’t putting out, or d) he’s from the Midwest and just thought I was being friendly.

I didn’t have time to find out what the Theta Delt wanted, though, because that somewhat muscly interlude was interrupted by the Spaz Parade. If you’re easily offended by political incorrectness, you might want to skip the next paragraph. Just as I was thinking to myself: Boxers, briefs, jockstrap, or nothing? A new busload arrived at the Castle. This was a busload of retarded children.

As a teacher, I am familiar with levels of retardation. Many people with learning difficulties, and many with reduced abilities (see, I’m trying to be PC) can benefit immensely from trips to museums. This was not a group composed of this sort of child. These were severely retarded kids. These were not Rain Men in the making. They were, to be blunt, retarded kids of the rocking and drooling variety. I believe that severely retarded children may benefit from some things that museums have to offer. However, their teachers chose to take them to an informational movie being screened in the Castle, and a few exhibits that rely mostly on written text. Why on earth would any good teacher take these kids to exhibits that, more than likely, they couldn’t possibly comprehend? Surely, there are more appropriate things for them to visit. Kids who can’t read–and probably will never be able to read–won’t get a damned thing out of the walls filled with text. They could, though, enjoy some of the more visually-oriented exhibits in the other museums. How about Natural History, where they can see the elephant, or touch a live tarantula? Or Air and Space, where they could see the lunar landing craft? I have a sneaking suspicion that this tour group was from somewhere far away and that the teachers really just wanted to see the place for themselves. “Screw the kids, let’s get ourselves a free weekend in Washington.” Ask a Baltimorean; it’s not really that exciting.

Interjection #1: When, oh when, will shoe fashions become normal again? Whoever invented “Crocs” should be shot at dawn, preferably with small bullets that don’t kill immediately but cause a lot of pain. I don’t care how Goddamned comfortable they are, they look foolish. Worse are mandals. (Man Sandals, that is.) Most men have ugly feet. No matter how nice the Theta Delt dude’s legs were, I can pretty much guarantee that I don’t want to see his feet. Guys have calluses and hairy toes. Also, leather mandals produce stank. Just wear Chucks, damnit.

Then came the Greek Chorus of middle-aged ladies. These were clearly nice respectable middle-class ladies from somewhere in the upper South; I’m guessing somewhere in Southwestern Virginia, based on accents. Somehow, this stratus of womanhood has forgotten itself. These are probably the women who were brought up to believe that no lady goes shopping in downtown Richmond without a hat and gloves, but in the last thirty years, they’ve transmogrified into weird beings who can’t leave the house unless they’re wearing poofy tracksuits and baseball caps. Miss Fluvanna County of 1958 has given up her crinolines for a sequinned nylon jacket. Weep, Virginia!

Beyond the be-sequinned jackets, these women favor T-shirts (I’m not sure that my grandmother knew what a T-shirt was) with cats on them. Let me point out at this time that I am a cat person. I am a creepy cat person. I like cats a LOT more than I like people. When my grandmother died, I was upset for a few hours. When my cat died, I didn’t eat for five days and seriously considered Dran-O as a good cocktail option. A stray kitten arouses every ounce of gushing paternal instinct I possess; a stray child makes me want to stomp on the Buick’s accelerator pedal. Never, but never, will I understand the T-shirts with cats on them. I suspect that these women do not actually like cats, but want to be thought of as cutesy and tender. If they really liked cats, they’d look like me; they’d wear a perfectly normal outfit that is covered in cat hair.

Interjection #2: Big scary white trash guys from western Pennsylvania with full-sleeve tats are hot. So are beautiful women who are dating hopelessly nerdy men.

Probably the best show of the day involved me directly. Remember, if you will, that I was stationed in the Castle as part of an event. I didn’t really have to do anything, but I had to remain at my post with a “treasure chest” full of coded scrolls and little plastic “gold” coins. Apparently, this is a concept that is lost in translation to a good number of cultures, especially cultures that are not used to the full breadth of weirdness that can occur in the United States. Wait, though, I’ll get around to that in a minute or two. First, here’s my take on the day, and what the varied tourists must have thought:

German men: “Dieses Mann unmoglich ist. Warum er arbeitet nicht? Aber, er hat schoene Schuhe.”
German women: “Ich will er ficke.” (I wish.)
Theta Delt dude: “Shit, I wonder if that dude’s into me?” (I wish.)
Group of retarded kids: “Where fuzzy bunny?”
Retarded kids’ teachers: “Can’t believe we got the county to pay for this trip. Once we get all these droolers locked down we can party in DC! Woohoo!”
Ladies from Roanoke: “I wonder what that nice boy in the William and Mary shirt is doin’? He’s just been sittin there an sittin there. I jus know he’s pinin away for someone. Don’t you all think so? I wonder who his people are. They should be lookin after him an not lettin him sit around in a awful drafty ol buildin like this. “
Dude from Western Pennsylvania: “Fuck, I need me a beer.”
Confused Filipino Family: ....

.....oh, wait! This is the best part. As I sat with my treasure chest and “gold” coins and scrolls, a rather large Filipino family approached. Sadly, we had a bit of a language barrier. Their English was awful, but it was considerably better than my Spanish, and while I do know enough Spanish to ask for basic food and plumbing, I don’t know a damned word of Tagalog. This family, which consisted of harried-looking parents, many children, and a grandmother who looked thoroughly annoyed, walked up to me and clustered around the table where I had been happily reading and drinking Washington-priced coffee.

“When, ah, show start?” Oh, I think. He wants to know when the movie starts. (In the Castle, there’s an orientation film that shows you all about the wonders of the Smithsonian.)
“You can go in anytime. Right there!”
“No movie. You, when you show?” (The last time anyone said this kind of thing to me, it was a drunk Marine, and the answer was “Now, right now!” But this was not a drunk Marine, and therefore this would not be an appropriate answer.)
“No, I’m not part of the Smithsonian. I’m part of a treasure hunt.”
“(blank silence)”
“(realizing that Filipino Dad has no idea what I mean) I don’t work here! There (pointing) is the movie.”
“But you have, ah... (points to prop treasure chest)”
At this point, the kids are getting interested. They start to chatter in a language I don’t even recognize, and point to the “gold” coins. And then one of the kids says, excitedly:
“Pirate of Carribean!!!”
Oh, sweet Jesus. Disney has infected the entire WORLD. And now this poor group of Filipino tourists thinks that I’m not only a Smithsonian employee, but a Disney actor as well. In the long run, I probably ended up sounding way too patronizing, but somehow managed to explain that I was not really an exhibit. I also gave the kids a plastic “gold” coin each and, in a flurry of diplomacy, mustered enough Spanish to say “Bienvenido a Washington!”

That is probably the only time in recorded history that, in any language at all, a Baltimorean has ever uttered those words.