Editors' pick

Festivus in Adams Morgan

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Editorial Review

Holiday cheer? Not here.
No grievance is too sad or small for a bulletin board celebrating Festivus

By Petula Dvorak
Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's better reading than a bathroom wall.

More satisfying -- with angry, red, ALL-CAPITAL rants and lovely, looping cursive -- than an online bulletin board.

The kiosk in Adams Morgan has become a confessional for Washingtonians, where dozens of notes are pinned to a bulletin board, the physical manifestation of a region's woes.

They are sad and funny, sweet and alarming, and it's completely voyeuristic, a window into souls.

"Please don't hit me on my scooter"

"So help me God, I will tear my conductor's heart out and eat it while he watches"

It began as a "silly idea" by the neighborhood business group, a riff on the faux holiday Festivus, which became famous 11 years ago today on an episode of the 1990s hit television show "Seinfeld," said Kristen Barden, executive director of the Adams Morgan Partnership business improvement district.

The anti-Christmas, Festivus includes gathering around an aluminum pole for the "Airing of Grievances." It's the antithesis to all the holiday cheer encrusting the season.

"Really, it's what people are really thinking. It's a little disingenuous to have to be all cheerful, when this is what's on your mind," said Blue Telusma, 28, as she swept her hand over the dozens of paper thoughts pinned to the bulletin board and flapping in the cold, December wind.

"My dad is being a tight ass and not paying for my wedding"

"Parents, please raise your kids so we don't have to. Sincerely, A Teacher"

The business group strung a banner "A Festivus for the Rest of Us" along the roof of a kiosk at Columbia Road and 18th Street NW, and included notepads, pushpins and pens Friday and waited to see what would happen, Barden said.

The response was phenomenal.

There are the ones that are just plain funny, Seinfeldian observances about stuff too small to talk about with your friends but big enough to put the nasty in your day:

"A pair of leggings is not pants"

"My office mate snorts"

"I hate it when my husband cuts his toenails in bed! UGH!"

"Office Cake"

These are things Telusma began to notice in the first few days it went up, as she walked by the kiosk to her job every day. It was part of the tradition of the real Festivus, a holiday created in 1966 by a colorful father to celebrate the day he met his wife. The father had a son, Daniel O'Keefe, who wound up as a writer on the Seinfeld show. That is how one family's tradition became a storyline, which is turning into an increasingly popular holiday.

It's a time to rant about those picayune, urban tribulations that can make city living annoying. On her lunch hour yesterday, Mara Veraar, 30, grabbed a pen and scribbled her way to catharsis.

"I see a dead rat on my way to work every day," she wrote. Then, she said, explaining further: "It's not the same rat. It's a different rat. Every. Single. Day."

She pinned that next to a smattering of other city-centric complaints:

"The bus is never on time"

"POOR ESCALATOR ETIQUETTE"

"Illegally parked police cars"

"Why does happy hour start at 4:30 p.m. when work ends at 6:30?"

These are some of the fun ones, cheered on by folks who are at the kiosk Saturday and Sunday at noon, when the grievances are read aloud by a town crier -- a local business owner in a jester hat.

But as the days went on, the notes on the kiosk this week got more personal. And many of the folks posting didn't know a thing about Festivus, they simply saw the board as a confessional, a chance to air their heartbreaking operettas. Affairs are confessed in lurid detail. Ex-lovers are cursed. Longings are expressed:

"I need to be loved"

"Why doesn't he call?"

"Why doesn't she call?"

"He doesn't want to have kids, but I do"

"The man I love with all my heart doesn't love me"

"My girlfriend killed herself because I dumped her"

In a sweat suit and a headset, out for a speed walk, a middle-aged woman took a paper from the kiosk notebook one blustery afternoon and quickly wrote: "The one I love belongs to somebody else"

She didn't want to give her name. After pinning the paper to the board, she drew a smile across her sad face with one finger. "There's always next year," she said.

Beyond the quintessential sorrows, the economic calamity of the times is articulated in large, angry-looking letters.

"I'm flat broke"

"My mom lost her job and the floor of her house in the same week"

"Can't find a job in this crap economy"

"Save our jobs!"

And then there are a few notes that are accompanied by drawings, written in halting, oddly shaped scrawl and posted down, low -- at a child's eye level.

"I hate it when my mom is away at work"

"R.I.P. WILLOW," referencing a young man killed last week.

"PLEASE get rid of the CRACK in my neighborhood"

"STOP SHOOTING!!!"