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A Half-Assed But Useful Guide To Visiting Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 20: Cherry blossoms near peak bloom around the Tidal Basin on March 20, 2023 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about gluttony, isolation, birthday parties for dogs, and more.

Your letters:

Jeff:

I'm taking three of my kids 21, 18, 16 and visiting DC for the first time in March. We're staying in an Airbnb that’s pretty centrally located. As a local, what is something you'd suggest we check out? What is not worth our time? I love eating local when travelling. Any recommendations?

I’m not confident that I count as a D.C. “local” when I’ve lived in suburban Maryland this whole time and only venture into the district a handful of times per year. When we first moved to the DMV, I was still salty that my wife had convinced me to move there from New York, so I made a point to knock D.C. every chance that I got: the pizza was garbage, the bagels lacked a good chew, the subway was too unreliable and far too clean, etc.

I don’t subscribe to any of that bullshit anymore, especially now that Manhattan has been refashioned into one gigantic Tyson’s Corner. I know D.C. well enough now that I think it’s a very, very good city. It’s not as good a city as LA or Chicago, but few American cities are. You can come here as a tourist—not even on a school field trip!—and get your money’s worth. Let me offer a few tips to Jeff for his visit, and then all of the D.C. people in our comment section can tell me I’m wrong and give him smarter recs.

  • As you may have heard, all of the national museums here are free. They’re also crowded, particularly this time of year. So if you’re gonna check out the Air & Space Museum or the National History Museum, go early unless you want to be surrounded by hordes of tiny Eastern European children. Better yet, skip the big-name museums and visit the Hirshhorn instead. Then walk to the Lincoln Memorial (warning: it’s a long walk) and make sure to go through the Vietnam Memorial on your way to it. That’s how I’d do the main tourist shit. Speaking of which…
  • Jeff will be arriving in D.C. right at the peak of cherry blossom season, which is fortuitous but also unpleasant if you’re not ready to trade elbows with millions of other visitors who descend upon the Tidal Basin—which is a true pain in the ass to get to—to check out the pretty flower trees. Every spring in D.C., the cherry blossom crowds get so large and unruly that you’d think the Capitol Riot was still ongoing. The good news is that cherry blossoms are everywhere here, because this town does spring better than just about any other. Fuck around online and you’ll find places in D.C. or the burbs where you can take in the blossoms without feeling like you stumbled into Day 3 of Coachella by accident.
  • The better Air & Space museum is actually the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is way out by Dulles airport but has enough space to display both the Enola Gay AND the space shuttle Discovery. All you gotta pay for is parking. Four stars.
  • See a show at the 9:30 Club.
  • Don’t expect to eat well if you remain in the area around the National Mall. Every restaurant is a longass walk away, and many of the good restaurants are in neighborhoods that are still much farther away. Take the L and eat at one of the decidedly average food trucks bisecting the mall that day.
  • When you’re more interested in food, this is the city where I discovered pollo ala brasa, so get that. D.C. also has great Ethiopian food, and Northern Virginia is home to some of the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had.
  • Don’t bother with Georgetown, the National Archives, the Jefferson Memorial, or the new Wharf district.
  • If you have it in you to make a day trip, Annapolis kicks ass. Or do the Alexandria/Mount Vernon twin bill. Your feet will die, but at least the scenery is pretty.
  • Wizards tickets are probably really cheap, and you won’t care if they suck or not. Caps tickets are another matter.
  • If you come to my house I WILL smoke you a pork butt, because these days I only get to use our smoker when we have visitors. No one else in my family eats pulled pork and it’s an ISSUE.

That’s it! That’s all I got! Enjoy your stay, amigo!

Alex:

Hey I just had this thought in the shower: "My Best Friend's Girl" is sung from the perspective of an older, sadder Jessie. Yes, my job lets me take showers at 3:30 in the afternoon.

That can’t be possible, seeing as how The Cars recorded "My Best Friend’s Girl" three years before Rick Springfield recorded "Jessie’s Girl." HOWEVER, here’s another theory for you: What if “Jessie’s Girl” itself was sung from that perspective? Let’s look at the lyrics to determine if that alternate theory can hold water:

Jessie is a friend

Could be a friend in the "asking for a friend" sense, so we haven’t fallen off the cliff just yet.

Yeah, I know, he's been a good friend of mine

He lives in Canada, but we call each other every day!

But lately something's changed that ain't hard to define

Jessie got older, and fatter. He got a dead-end job that he has no way out of. He lost his leg in a drunk driving accident (his fault) eight years ago and the medical bills have put him in the red permanently. His wife left him. His daughter is a heroin addict and never speaks to him. No secret what’s happened to Jessie lately: he’s a bum!

Jessie's got himself a girl and I want to make her mine

That line reads a whole lot like we’re firmly in the present for this story. But then again, our musical protagonist could be singing about his old self in the third person, which suggests that current Jessie is so hopeless at letting go of the past that ***WILLIAM FAULKNER VOICE ENGAGE*** it’s not even past. This older, infirm Jessie wants to go back and get that girl all over again. He used to be somebody, you know. But after that it was just babies and memories!

And she's watching him with those eyes
And she's loving him with that body, I just know it
Yeah, and he's holding her in his arms late, late at night
You know, I wish that I had Jessie’s girl

And there you have it. This song is clearly about an older Jessie beating off. I love any song that has a twist, with "How Soon Is Now" being the eternal heavyweight champion of the form. You thought Morrissey was declaring that he was "the sun and the air," and then he whipsawed that shit right back atcha. I’ve also been closely studying the lyrics to "Stayin Alive" lately, and I think it’s best if I stop answering this question now.

Brock:

If you were the gluttony victim from Seven, but Kevin Spacey let you pick what to eat, what would you pick? 

“So, you like donuts, eh? Well, have all the donuts in the world AHAHAHAHAHA!”

This is a variation on the old, “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?” question, only we’re adding a sadistic element to the equation. Nevertheless, my answer is still Utz Cheez Balls. I know what I’m capable of when a novelty-sized barrel of Cheez Balls is sitting upon a countertop. The devil had best take notes.

Alex:

The only way to stop a second Trump presidency is to serve a four-year term yourself. Assume that your chief of staff is very capable and builds a good team around you. But you need to attend all the meetings, work long hours, make decisions, and serve out the full term. Would you do it?

Ugh. Fine, I’ll do it. I have to live my values, which means taking one for the team (that’s you people) and assuming the office of president for four long, agonizing years if it’s the only thing that can stop Trump from doing likewise.

In all earnestness, there’s a good chance that I would end up being a worse President than Trump was. I’d get nothing done. I’d visit the Prime Minister of England just so I could go visit England. I’d challenge the White House kitchen to make me all the best dishes I saw on Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. I’d tell every last Republican and blue-dog Democrat, to their faces, to get fucked, which would only end up making things worse. I’d try to expand the Supreme Court and fail. I’d try to abolish the Senate and also fail. I’d visit a car factory in Alabama and get caught on tape saying to an aide, “When the fuck can we leave this dump?” I’d ask the Justice Department to file charges against government officials and celebrities that I don’t care for: Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin, Jim Jordan, Elon Musk, Aaron Rodgers, P!nk, etc. None of the charges would stick.

I would have NO idea how to handle any foreign policy or economic crisis, relying instead on a coterie of friends, bloggers, and public figures I admire for advice and then finding myself unable to make any kind of swift executive decision. Someone in the executive branch would give me a strangely compelling argument to keep Guantanamo Bay open and I’d listen to them. Someone else would lay out the situation at the border and I’d probably be like, “Oh wow, that DOES sound bad. Ugh, I guess we have to keep ICE?” Every good-sounding executive order I issue would have massive, negative consequences that I didn’t foresee. I’d take bribes. My sciatica would flare up every day and I’d go into rage spirals over it. All of my old blogs would be weaponized against me and I’d have no good defense. My wife would divorce me. My kids would get caught vaping on camera and it’d be a whole thing. I’d inadvertently say the wrong thing to Xi Jinping and finally set off that USA/China war that we’ve all been looking forward to.

Worst of all, I’d end up hating all of you. I don’t know how you serve as President without developing a strong, longstanding resentment toward the very people you serve. I know this must be true because I’m one of those people, and I’ve complained about and to every single President that has served in my lifetime. Hey pal, why aren’t you doing anything about all the problems? Why are you saying nice things about the shitty people? What’s with all the goddamn wars? Why are you pre-empting my TV night to give a speech that goes nowhere? Fuck man, you’ve gotten old; you look like shit. I can’t wait to vote for the next guy! It’s fun to be on my side of the exchange. It would be less fun to be the singular target of all of that national frustration. After two weeks in office, I’d be like, “You know what? All you people do is piss and moan. I’m not your fucking dad. Figure this shit out yourselves.” And then Ron DeSantis would beat me by 40 points in 2028. So you see why my Presidency wouldn’t be the salvation you were hoping for.

Then again, you might have thought that Trump was being arrested today (on charges that appear to be so thin, they could improve your vision), so you’re well used to being let down by now.

James:

If an NCAA Division 1 basketball team and football team played each other in both football and basketball, who would win by more points? 

The football team in the football game. It’d be so ugly that Dana White would start a whole spring league out of it.

HALFTIME!

Terry:

What do you think the farthest distance is that you've ever been from any human being? I've driven solo through some of our most desolate states (Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, etc.), but even then I don't think I've ever been even five miles away from a single human.

Ah well, it appears I’ve just realized something vital about myself, because my answer here will be pathetic. I have traveled alone. I have walked alone. I have ridden my bike alone, and in fact prefer it that way. I’ve done a lot of things alone, but all very much within the confines of human civilization. The one time I got away from that civilization was on a canoeing trip with a bunch of other guys when I was a teenager.

So there’s little chance that I’ve ever been more than a couple of miles away, at most, from any other living person. Even alone on the road, there’s always another car coming over the horizon, or there’s a shitty housing development just past whatever seemingly uninhabited woods are lining the freeway. I’ve never truly gotten away from any of it. Maybe I should. Maybe I should pull a Bon Iver and go live in a secluded cabin deep in the forest. Maybe I’m missing a vital part of the human experience by not living, for however short a time, in true isolation. Maybe the reason I love to read about castaways is because my soul yearns to be one: to burrow down way under my civilized veneer to see what kind of man I truly am. Maybe I’m hardier than I realize, or maybe I’m so dependent on the creature comforts of the modern world—shops, restaurants, etc.—that I’m literally unable to live without them. That’s a pretty heavy thing to contemplate.

Except … fuck that shit. My distant ancestors didn’t create fire just so that I could go back to living in a fucking cave. You people can be really fucking annoying sometimes—enough that I have no interest in ever governing you—but I don’t wanna live without you. I need you. Sometimes I even love you. Not always, but sometimes. And that’s why I’ll never go camping alone, or do anything else that would put me more than arm’s length away from the rest of mankind. There’s no WiFi on South Georgia Island anyway.

Kevin:

My fiancée and I are currently on day three of a heated argument about whether we should go to a birthday party for her friend's dog. I keep bringing up the fact that we shouldn't be wasting money (we're saving up for a wedding), and that IT'S A FUCKING DOG.

What do you mean by wasting money? Is this a destination dog birthday party? Is it in Ibiza? Are you expected to bring an extravagant gift? No? Then it’s just a party. If there’s free food and booze, then you’re the one who stands to profit. I look down on people over the age of 21 who throw themselves birthday parties (and always in the least convenient part of town to get to), so throwing one for the dog instead is at least half a degree removed from that particular brand of self-involvement. This is clearly just an excuse to throw a party, of any kind, and get loaded. So I respect it, even if I would never throw a birthday party for my own dog, Carter, because he’s a dog and doesn’t give a shit. Would I go to this other dog party? No, because I am lazy and don’t like going anywhere. But if I were 20 years younger and merely engaged instead of long since married, I’d go party it up.

Again, I’m assuming this is a relatively normal, and easy to attend, party. If I’m wrong here … if Kevin really is being forced to attend some deranged Sweet 16 bash for a shitty little Pomeranian, owned by some shit-for-brains Hilton To Be Named Later who expects everyone to buy her piss factory a Tiffany collar, then yeah. Fuck that shit.

Michael:

Who in the discourse do you know about, and maybe even find yourself thinking about, that makes you the most disgusted with yourself? The answer has to be William F. Buckley, right? 

Buckley’s heyday was before my time, so I only have to hear about him when conservatives namedrop him like he was fucking Gandhi or something. I get much more crestfallen anytime I see Bill Maher’s name out there. This is partially because I used to like Bill Maher; I would even listen to Real Time when HBO released it in podcast form. I was like, “This is both funny AND informative!” I don’t do that anymore.

It’s also because all of Maher’s fanboys have adopted his particular strain of miserable, haughty smugness. Another bunch of fucking dorks whose sole aim in life is to make other people feel stupid, and are 100 percent relentless about it. Maher is right up with Barstool and the Jesse Singal Traveling Thoughtlord Circus where if you dare to write about them (and I have), their fanboys will latch onto you like lampreys on the hull of a fucking boat. I can shake off other trolls pretty easy, but something about Maher’s lot genuinely bothers me, and then I get mad at myself for being bothered. So if Bill Maher dies tomorrow, I’ll go to his wake at the Playboy Mansion and piss in his corpse mouth.

Matt:

Suppose you were to run for office with a fabricated life a la George Santos, with no real apparent consequences. What lies would you make up about yourself? Would you change your name, take credit for books others had written, give yourself a completely different career, etc?

My name is Drew Magary and, as you all know, I was a Hall-of-Fame quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings for 15 years, winning six Super Bowls with the team before retiring to spend more time with my wife, Laetitia Casta, and our lovely children. In my downtime, I wrote a novel called Ulysses on my antique Smith-Corona typewriter, before I made a small pivot into quantum physics and, together with my best friend and acclaimed actor Tom Hardy, created a self-sustaining fusion reactor that promises clean, renewable energy for the rest of humanity’s time here on Earth.

I also directed several acclaimed and manly films, including Thief, Heat, Miami Vice, and Collateral, and I won my first Masters green jacket at the ripe old age of 43. I’m also the most feared gangster in the Chicago area, having gunned down 78 police officers in what will forever be known as The Diversey Street Massacre. I am often credited with Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and am routinely congratulated by minorities in America for giving them the equal rights they’ve long fought for. I also invented the Cheez Ball. I can juggle 50 oranges without ever dropping them. I won the 2015 NBA Slam Dunk contest. My asscrack has been blessedly and naturally hairless for my entire life. You cannot disprove any of this in a court of law, because I am also Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Jeremy:

Did Chet Haze ruin the name "Chet" for all the other Chets out there, now and forever? Should Chet Holmgren sue?

Was Chet really all that respectable a name even before Chet Haze came along? Bill Paxton’s Chet was one of the most legendary villains of 1980s cinema, so it’s not like I’ve spent the past three decades being like, “People named Chet are always cool as shit and I hope no dipshit Hollywood kid comes along to ruin their collective rep.” This is why I never liked Chet Holmgren to begin with. He’s both a Chet AND a Holmgren. How am I supposed to like that big dumb fucker? I can’t. I’d have liked him more if his name had been Todd Rodgers.

John:

What are your thoughts on the works of David Lynch? Me and some of my friends started a zoom call movie of the week club during COVID, which we still maintain. I just had to watch Wild at Heart, and it’s exactly like every other product of his that I’ve seen. Man, this guy’s stuff just does not connect with me. I know people who say they LOVE his stuff… I think they’re lying to themselves, because they think it makes them seem intellectual when talking to their friends. Am I wrong?

Like John, I’m also someone who can’t watch any David Lynch movie without rushing to hit the STOP button. And yet I love David Lynch himself. I love reading any interview with him. I love his takes. I loved his guest spot on Louie back when Louie was a thing. But I can’t watch his movies. I’ve tried, and have never been able to finish one. Sometimes I wanna check out Mulholland Drive or one of Lynch’s other classics to give his work another chance, but I’m not wired for it and likely never will be. I didn’t even like Twin Peaks.

The twist is that I still respect David Lynch’s movies, because they’re so wildly different that they essentially occupy their own genre. So it’s not like Tár, where I feel like the filmmaker and his acolytes are deliberately trying to make me feel stupid with their movie. David Lynch is not a cinematic troll. He is, at least for me, a prime case study in the fact that the quality of something is not inextricably linked to your affection for it. I know that man is a great director, he’s just not my thing. And we can leave it at that.

Email of the week!

Chris:

After eating a Chipotle burrito bowl for dinner one night, I went to bed early because I had a flight at 7am the next morning. At the airport, I bump into family friends of ours and their two kids (more on them in a minute). I get thru security and boarding with no issues. But as we pull away from the gate, I get the biggest urge to poop. Damn you, Chipotle. So good going in, so bad going out. To compound the problem, I'm in an window seat with a very large woman asleep in the aisle seat. The pressure continues to mount as we’re taxiing. I'm telling myself, don't think about it.

The captain comes on the loud speaker, "Folks, we need to move to different runway and re-rack." I let out an, "NOOO!" The pressure is now at it's apex. I feel dizzy and might pass out. By some miracle, we take off and seat belt light goes off. I bulldoze the lady in the aisle seat and sprint to the nearest bathroom. It's in first class. The stewardess sees my determination and lets me go past. 

I get in and lock the door. I'm in ecstasy. Euphoria. I see spots and colors, but all the pressure is gone. I look down and see a mound of poop that almost goes above the seat cover. I tried multiple flushes to get rid of all of it, but no luck. Stupid airplane toilets.

After the 10th (yes 10) flush, I said, "Well sorry to whatever poor bastard has go next." I return to my seat. As I sit down, I spy an eight-year-old girl heading to the same bathroom. It's our friend's eight-year-old. I wonder if I should I warn her; tell her that someone else before me made a mess and that she should another bathroom.

But I do not. Am I a terrible person? Probably, but hey kid, that's life in the real world.

As the eight-year-old girl comes back down past me in the aisle, I get the death stare from her. I've never been more shit shamed than by this child. The family still won't return our calls for a playdate. 

That too, is life in the real world, isn’t it?

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