"The next station is... Be - THES - da."
Ah, 'thesda, UD's stomping grounds. Her childhood home, her blue state roost.
As her metro car slips down the darkly lit tunnel under 'thesda, images of UD's 'thesdan life "churn down the optic sluice" (to paraphrase James Merrill's Santorini). Her eyes conjure pictures of her privileged ... upbringing isn't quite it, since her loving, marshmallowy parents, in synergy with the 'sixties, stood aside and let willful UD do whatever. "The child's a perfect heathen!" says Marilla of Anne in Green Gables. UD was a perfect heathen.
Her parents, on the other hand, were cultured, placid. Bookish. Her mother read ancient history, gardened, and raised spaniels. At his NIH lab, her father studied the chemistry of immune response. He played piano in the evening, and on weekends drove to our house on the Chesapeake Bay and steamed crabs.
"Attention crew: You have one minute to alert personnel. Otherwise, the third rail at White Flint metro is hot and energized."
UD's at Farragut West, on the orange line toward the Vienna station, where she'll get a cab to the NRA.
During her youth, the political divide in UD's 'thesdan town was between bleeding heart liberals and communists. When Mr. H., a few doors down, died, he was eulogized in Izvestia.
Neighborhood mothers walked the streets with copies of Off Our Backs! under their elbows and PEACE necklaces on their chests. Boycotting went on 24/7. People were Unitarian, Quaker, Copacetic.
Back then UD actually did stand holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Also Hey Jude. At the long-gone Biograph Theater in Georgetown, she sat on a sticky floor and watched Yellow Submarine. Her boyfriend massaged her feet after a long march on the Pentagon.
"This is the Vienna station."
Five mile cab ride in heavy midday traffic along half-completed townhouse developments. Typical hot DC summer day, but pleasant.
The National Rifle Association's headquarters is made up of two large silver-windowed corporate towers, one of which houses a museum. I'm in the other one. At the reception desk I'm given directions to the shooting range, where Sylvia, who runs things, awaits me.
You walk down various flights of steps and then across a dark underground parking lot to get to the range. People outside the range smoke and carry black gun cases. They're mainly men, with close-cropped hair.
At the range, I say hello to Sylvia, who points me to a lounge where I can watch shooters. Two guys with brooms shuffle about the range sweeping up spent shells (is that correct? spent shells?) the way people at salons sweep up hair.
There's this one guy with a big who the hell knows what, and when he shoots it, it makes big sparky fireworks against the dark blue screen at the end of the room, behind the targets.
You staple-gun your target to what looks like a cork board, then key information onto a pad, at which point the target recedes some distance. Some pistols make a little flame at their tip -- comic book style -- when you shoot them.
A few people sit and shoot. Most stand and wrap their hands strongly around their guns. Mainly men, but definitely some women up there too, blast away.
I ask two guys who've finished shooting and are hanging out in the lounge what the fireworks gun was.
"Maybe AR-15 Carbine, steel core ammo, ma'am. That backdrop's also a sheet of metal so you've got two pieces of steel hitting each other. We were shooting copper jacket lead bullets, ma'am. They don't do that."
UD hates it when people call her ma'am. It makes her feel old. She thought: "Man, if I had a gun..."
"Is the fireworks gun more destructive than the others I'm seeing?"
"No ma'am. Destructiveness is caliber and type of bullet."
This will do for Part Two. I'll write about the museum and other stuff in a bit.