Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fool's names

Like so much of Washington, the dome over the nation's Capitol is merely a facade. It's pretty. But it does no real work other than keep out the rain and provide shelter for the squirrels, elected and appointed.

When I worked for Cong. Pickle, he served on the Capitol Historical Committee and knew where every bullet hole was from when British troops stormed the building. But that's a different story.

A visiting architect from Austin asked for a tour of the dome and I tagged along. The U.S. Architect treated us to a private, guided trip through history and scaffolding. Is that redundant?

We learned a crazed steel worker had been living in the space between the outter facade and the load-bearing inner dome. They knew he was there. Scattered around the girders were empty boxes of fried chicken and drained bottles of cheap wine. The man had delusions of hanging himself from the arm of the statue on top of the dome.

He put up a helluva fight before they finally hauled him away. Next time he was heard of, he was atop a television tower in Detroit.

Did you know a light shines in the dome when Congress is in a night session? When they adjourn, someone flips the switch and turns off the light. Why? The custom began when the Capitol was the tallest, most visible building in D.C. They lit a torch in the dome so the congressmen could see it from every bar in town. When the light went out, they knew congress had adjourned for the evening. It was time to go home.

I was amazed to find graffiti scratched into the glass window panes just below the statue. Graffiti from the 1800's. As we climbed a ladder into the base of the statue, the U.S. Architect handed me a felt pen. "Want to write your name in the statue?" he asked.

I cringed. Deface the Capitol? Not me, buddy.

"Go ahead," he grinned. "We're painting it next week."

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