Inside wonky Washington is a wacko struggling to get out

Petula Dvorak
Columnist August 18, 2011

Sure, we’re a landscape of khaki and pinstripes. We have more policy analysts per square mile than New York has tortured artists. The fashion world laughs off our annual glitter gala —the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner — as the “nerd prom.”

But make no mistake: Wonky Washington is seriously weird.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Just check out the events of the past few days. The sad death of Georgetown socialite Viola Drath revealed the strange life led by her husband/alleged murderer as a fictitious Iraqi general. Then there’s the woman who’d already been charged once with whacking away at art at the National Gallery of Art and then allegedly returned to launch a second attack.

What makes Washington’s weirdness so delicious and intriguing is that it’s mostly genuine and largely hidden. Kooky runs on the inside here. But it does run fast.

While a place like New York is largely full of normal people trying to act wacko, D.C. is a place of wackos trying to act normal. And I’m not even going to delve into Congress to make this point (I get only so much space).

Let’s start with last week’s homicide of Drath, a 91-year-old woman who was seen by her peers as an elegant intellectual, a graceful doyenne who was versed in U.S. diplomacy and policy and who lived a full life of public service and accomplishment.

Only with her death did we learn of the bizarre life behind the doors of her Q Street home, where she was abused and assaulted by her second husband.

Albrecht Muth, 47, walked about Georgetown in a self-styled military uniform, carried a baton, smoked a cigar and occasionally wore an eye patch.

Born in Germany and looking a bit like a member of the von Trapp household staff, Muth insisted that he was a high-ranking Iraqi general who had serious Washington connections. And plenty of people here didn’t bat an eyelash at his shtick.

The couple held salons in their Georgetown home. Like characters in an old British television film, they trotted out fine china, crystal and candelabra for diplomats and dignitaries. Their guest book showed ambassadors, high-ranking government officials and even a U.S. Supreme Court justice. (I won’t say who, but his name rhymes with “Malia.”)

Muth convinced some U.S. government officials with his playacting that he was, indeed, connected to Iraq. They’d see him at the embassy, in his wacky regalia. But the local Iraqi delegation said he wasn’t one of theirs.

After Muth was arrested this week in his wife’s death — oops, he sent us her obituary with the cause and time of death before the investigation was complete — we learned even more about their odd marriage.

Twice in the two decades they were married, Muth assaulted his wife and police took action. At one point, he moved in with the man he had been romantically involved with, then left him and returned to Drath.

I challenge any Kardashian to beat that.

Now let’s meet Susan Burns, who is accused of going into a rage and pounding an $80 million masterpiece by Paul Gauguin in April because of its same-sex nudity. This week, she apparently turned her attention to a $2.5 million Matisse that depicts nothing more than a woman in a plumed hat. She tried to rip the oil painting off the wall, slamming its frame three times, police said.

Burns, a 53-year-old Alexandria resident, looks like the woman who does the PTA bake sale or your taxes. Nothing outwardly weird about her. But inside . . .

And that’s just it. Except for a few desperate souls who try to signal their individuality by wearing something offbeat like a fedora, most people in Washington fit the boring stereotype people have about us.

They ride the Metro, wear an ID badge, carry their lunch in an insulated cooler — and then go home to their secret lives as professional female football players or urban beekeepers, puppeteers or gold prospectors. (Yes, these people all exist.)

Trust me when I say it ain’t like this in other places.

In Southern California, the woman at my father-in-law’s office party who wore leather pants that barely covered her many swirling tattoos and flipped her oddly streaked, multihued hair is a medical assistant and mother of two who lives in the burbs. And that was it. Yawn.

In Washington, the mom I chat with at school pickup wears pearls and suits and is a lawyer specializing in a level of finance far beyond me — and she used to date Tupac Shakur.

Welcome to the capital of stealth-weird.

E-mail me your encounters with Washington wackos at dvorakp@washpost.com.

SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=3, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=15, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=3, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=3, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=3, max_items_to_display_top=15, moderation_required=false}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=3, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=15, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=3, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=3, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=15, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=3, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=3, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=3, max_items_to_display_top=15, moderation_required=false}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, comments_period=3, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=15, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=3, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments