There are a lot of ways to look at the search for love in Washington. One is to consider it a losing proposition, since love is like the snow in this city. There is less of it than people expect, but when it does come, no one here is equipped to deal with it. Most folks just slip, slide and roll downhill until it turns to slush. And no real harm is done. Most of us are just passing through and someday we'll return to where there is real snow and real love. A more hopeful view is to compare it to searching for clothes in thrift shops. If you know what you like and are willing to sift through the junk, sometimes you find a real treasure.
I thought Ann was impressive the first time I saw her, but circumstances kept me from knowing her as well as I wanted. The chance arrived gift-wrapped last Christmas when Ann was trying to reach Madison and I was driving to Chicago. We spent nearly 30 hours together in my car. After we talked awhile I stopped trying to think of things to impress her. As darkness fell she spoke of her family and her hopes for the year. I revealed my New Year's resolutions to wear a tuxedo somewhere and date a ballerina.
Coming back into D.C. I asked her if she'd like to stop for a drink. She was tired but wanted a raincheck. I had heard the song before. But it turned out we did go out. It was a dinner in Annapolis rather than a drink. Afterwards, feeling my oats and my liquor, I told her she was attractive and interesting, not quite in those words. She blushed a little and said, "Shucks." She also said she'd had a good time, but was going out with this guy and, well, the evening was pretty much over. She did say, though, she'd like to get together again.
I was excited, perhaps inordinately, but it had been a long dry season.I wanted to nudge things along, please her without putting her off. I wanted to present her with an extravagant but non-threatening bagatelle. No billboards, skywriters or prieces of my ear. A limerick seemed just the ticket.
Limericks evoke memories of Edward Lear, not Browning. You seldom hear them at weddings. Yet the limerick is a rigid art form demanding a lot of work. Writing one would show my interest, but Ann would know if she didn't share the feeling I wouldn't go brood on some windswept heath or volunteer for El Salvador.
My first efforts were pretty lame -- a lot of words about how hard life is for everybody, blah, blah, blah. Then I started from the end and pieces fell into place: What seems to me far more deluxe IThan to dance pas-de-deux in a tux Is to say what I feel Then time stops to reveal Your smile soft'ning to say to me "shucks ."
I like it. But I wasn't Emily Dickinson writing for myself. I didn't know whether to send it to her. I would really be sticking my neck out, and like so many in Washington I'm about as willing to make myself appear vulnerable as Alexander Haig. However, it was a pretty good limerick and she'd probably appreciate the idea, even if she thought the implicit presumption way off the mark. Anyway, if I struck out, no big deal. Guys probably sent her limericks regularly. I mailed it and waited.
She liked it. We got together. It felt great. Did I already say she really is good looking? And intelligent, sensitive, and funny? She is, she is.
Since then we've made most of the stops on the D.C. romantic circuit: bike rides to Mount Vernon, Standing room tickets for the Kennedy Center, the Corcoran, Dumbarton Oaks, Circle double features. (We haven't tried any hanky-panky on the Capitol steps yet -- the tourists keep getting in the way.) At times it's looked like this might finally be that tenure-track relationship.
However, what could have been a novel will probably be a short story instead. Ann is moving back to Wisconsin this summer to start grad school and I'm staying here, where my work is. Might have been great, and, who knows, might still be across the miles. But we won't be together anymore. Hey, this is D.C., you know?