PETER PIPIM picks up a big, gray Samsonite suitcase, loads it into the back of a U.S. government station wagon and heads for Annandale. It's 10:15 on a Friday morning, and showtime is 45 minutes from now. Pipim will be the solo act in a one-hour presentation. He doesn't look a bit nervous.
Inside the suitcase are sculptures, musical instruments and cape-like garments. Each object is borrowed from the National Museum of African Art, where Pipim works as an education specialist.
"I go to nursing homes, retirement homes and senior day care centers," he says of his Friday routine. "Most of the people I visit would not normally be able to get to the museum, so this is an opportunity to share with them what's going on there."
Pipim is one of scores of government employees who are available to speak to groups.
"The IRS, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Defense Department -- you name the agency, it'll probably have speakers you can get to come and address your club," says government-giveaway guru Matthew Lesko. "They're usually available for free in this area. The government may charge for traveling expenses if the speaker has to appear out of town."
Supposedly Pipim is available only to senior-care facilities within a 15-mile radius of downtown Washington. But, he notes, "Sometimes schedulers make mistakes and I go farther."
Pipim's audience at the Annandale Adult Day Health Center -- two dozen aged people seated in folding chairs -- watch him raptly and silently. Many are hearing-impaired, many can't see well and a few seem bewildered about him and everything else around them. Throughout the hour he manages to keep all his comments at a fourth-grade level without sounding patronizing.
The presentation is one part entertainment, three parts therapy. After describing the origin and significance of each object, he hands it to an audience member, explaining which visual and tactile details merit special attention. The objects get passed around the room.
The show approaches its climax when Pipim says "Let's get creative!" and distributes cowbells, a thumb piano, a bongo, a tambourine and a rattle made from a gourd. "One, two, three, four," he says, bandleader style, and a splendid cacophony takes the room for a minute, followed by a wash of applause. Ten minutes later, the suitcase is packed and he's on his way back to Washington, leaving behind -- what?
African art lovers? Well, not quite.
When Pipim is lucky, he says, he can impart "a better understanding of African art and cultures and peoples." With very senior audiences, like today's, he settles for something else: the satisfaction of creating an event in a place where the dull ache of uneventfulness is common and chronic.