The Pleasant Pause of Expectation

January 20, 1989

Henry Allen, Washington Post Staff Writer

It was George Bush.

It was the weather, 58 degrees at 3 o’clock, that had you looking for crocuses out of the corner of your eye.

It was 9,000 high school kids nice enough to put their hands over their mouths when they yawned during some of the speeches at the Looking Forward gathering at the D.C. Armory.

It was the flags lolling in a south wind, the ice melting on the rink in front of the Willard. It was the easy sound of Texans in hotel lobbies, saying people’s names with question marks on the end, as in “Barry? How yew? Jeannette? How yew?”

Which is to say Washington, on the day before George Bush’s inauguration, had an upholstered, buoyant feeling to it, as if the whole city had been turned into one of those pneumatic trampolines kids jump on at carnivals, and instead of an air compressor keeping it pumped up, there was the noise of helicopters, sirens and sound technicians saying, “Test one two …”

It was Kamil Kubik standing at his easel on a corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, looking up toward the Capitol and painting a picture of the flags and architecture gone soft as pastry in the sunlight. He had painted street scenes in Reagan’s two inaugurations, too. He said the difference in atmosphere yesterday was the weather, a different kind of Republican and a different kind of country in 1989.

“The first time it was … it was California, boisterous, more boisterous, it was after depression, people got so depressed back then. This time it’s business, very professional, the Yankees, very Yankee. Also, in normal weather, if it was colder, they would act more normal.”

He held up a Christmas card reproduced from his painting of the wintry 1984 inauguration. “I painted that for Barbara Bush,” he said. “She bought it for George.”

At Constitution Hall, a small crowd relaxed with a historical pageant that was everything you ever wanted your high school patriotic pageant to be if you were in high school in 1953. Patrick Henry stood up there in knee breeches shouting, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Union and Confederate soldiers glared across a tableau vivant while the U.S. Army Band and Chorus offered a soundtrack of “one wore blue and one wore gray.”

Outside the East Wing of the White House, a group of drivers waited for a number of celebrities to emerge: Mickey Rooney, John James of “Dynasty” and somebody from the cast of “The Facts of Life” were said to be inside.

“Very calm,” said David Keller, who was driving for actor Paul Sorvino. “I expected it to be much more frenetic today.”

“It’s kinder and gentler,” said Anita Powell of Washington, echoing Bush’s call for a kinder and gentler America.

It was also groups of inaugural visitors standing on street corners, all pointing in different directions and saying, “We came from that direction, so maybe we’d better …” It was the rich and powerful behind the smoked glass windows of limousines, which slid around town with the impeccable heft of safe-deposit boxes.

“It’s subdued,” said Jerry Kane, a teacher from Long Island.

“But very pleasant,” said his wife Nancy.

Down on the Mall, a Buddhist organization called Nichiren Shoshu had claimed a chunk of the Washington Monument grounds with a 47-foot-tall Statue of Liberty and a 51-foot-tall reproduction of the chair George Washington sat in during the Constitutional Convention. How strange! How pleasant! Next to the chair was a bas-relief of the president-elect, but it looked more like Alan Alda than George Bush. Kind and gentle, in any case.

Across 14th Street, women in fur coats and men in profoundly gray suits waited on line for hours to get inside the Museum of American History for a few minutes with vice president-elect Dan Quayle, at $20 per person.

Two reasons were given.

“It’ll be the last time we see him,” said Barry Ertrelt, a contractor from Guilford, Conn.

“He may be the president someday,” said Earl Fitts, an accountant who is also mayor of Siler City, N.C.

Earlier, up at the Armory, Quayle apologized to the 9,000 high school students for his mediocre academic record, saying that if he were in school nowadays, “education is one of the things I’d take more seriously.”

George Bush humbled himself before the students by referring to a campaign gaffe on Sept. 7, which he had momentarily confused with Dec. 7: “I certainly learned the importance of education during the campaign. I learned how vital it is to memorize dates — Pearl Harbor Day, for example.”

The students gave him a hearty, cheerful hand, the sort of applause that Bush seems to get a lot, not a trace of excess in it but no shortage of respect and gratitude, either.

There was no rock ‘n’ roll, there were no youth-cult innuendoes, there was not a trace of irony. Yakov Smirnoff, a Soviet e’migre’ comedian, said: “In the Soviet Union, the state owns everything. Here [crucial pause] Japan owns everything.” It wasn’t clear the students thought this was entirely appropriate.

So many speeches! Hae Kyung Lee, of Woodson High School in Virginia, was asked if she was bored.

In the tone of the Texans saying Barry? Jeanette? she said, “Not that much?”

It was all so stunningly normal, yesterday, no sign of the outlaw edge that slices through American life now and then. There was that sense of cultural pause that middle-aged people can remember in the early ’50s, just before rock ‘n’ roll hit.

It was easy to imagine these kids looking back on the Bush inauguration and telling their children: “Things were simpler back then.”

It was a fine day for it, too.

Ghosts Of Mississippi

Go, now, and read Wright Thompson: I came upon a box containing two small notebooks used by the soldier tasked with guarding James Meredith, the first African-American student at Ole Miss. They were Nifty brand, cost a dime and were filled with descriptions of suspicious characters, of license plate numbers and names. I flipped through the pages … until a familiar name stopped me cold.

My great-uncle, the e-mailer’s brother. Last name: Wright.

Two questions went through my mind:

What is the cost of knowing our past? …

And what is the cost of not?

Baby Mangino

Dugan Arnett (thanks, Nigel): Wichita — Not long ago, it came to light that Baby Mangino — the rotund infant who recently earned a great deal of national attention for his Halloween costume depicting Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino — did not actually go trick-or-treating as a college football coach.

This was revealed on a Tuesday evening last month, as Baby Mangino was lounging on the carpet of his family’s home, sucking on his fingers. Baby Mangino, who is actually 8-month-old Bode Lubbers, lives at the end of a cul-de-sac in an affluent Wichita neighborhood with his mother, Angie; father, Billy; and five older sisters who sometimes tie his hair into a ponytail.

Bode has big, curious eyes, a plop of sandy-colored hair and arms that are simultaneously soft and blocky in nature — like marshmallows stacked on top of each other.

Being a celebrity baby like Bode is kind of like being an ordinary celebrity in the sense that people tend to make assumptions about you and your personal life. And at the moment, Angie was clearing up some common misconceptions about her son’s New Hallow’s Eve exploits.

“Everybody likes to think that Bode went trick-or-treating as Mark Mangino,” she explained. “But five-month-old babies generally don’t go trick-or-treating.”

As it happens, turning your baby into a bite-sized version of Mark Mangino is not a difficult task. It requires a miniature KU track suit ($24.99, Target), a tube of brown Mary Kay eyeliner ($10, consultant) and approximately five minutes. Having each of these things handy one evening a couple of weeks before Halloween, Angie — long noticing the resemblance between Bode and Kansas’ Orange Bowl-winning coach — tugged the tracksuit onto her son, penciled on an eyeliner mustache and snapped a photo. Pleased with the outcome (“He gave us his best Mark Mangino look that day,” Angie admits), she drove to Walgreens, had 20 “Happy Halloween” cards printed, sent them to some friends and family members and kind of figured that that would be that.

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Battle Mountain Battles Back

Richard Lake: Several weeks ago, a story written by a free-lancer ran on page 11 of the main section in the New York Times.

It was not groundbreaking, nor particularly revelatory.

It concerned the small town of Battle Mountain in Northern Nevada, halfway between Reno and Utah in Lander County.

The town, whose main industry is gold mining, seems to be weathering the worldwide economic collapse just fine, thank you.

Gold prices are very high right now, which means unemployment in Battle Mountain is low, good-paying jobs are plentiful, and foreclosures are unheard of, the piece declared.

In the normal manner for how the news business often works, a Reno television station followed up with its own report, which was then followed by one from NBC News, which ran nationwide last week.

And so it was that seven years of ridicule began to vanish.

The Death Beat

Stephanie Hayes: The week before I started the job, I sat at the kitchen table with my grandpa. I explained what I’d be doing, the best I could. Truthfully, I wasn’t totally sure.

Dead people. Obituaries.

He had just the gift for me! He went to the basement and brought back a rusty old biscuit tin. I flipped it open, a mushroom of must and news clips swelling out.

A box of death.

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25 Things

Kruse: The “25 Random Things About Me” phenomenon on the social networking site Facebook.com seemed to come out of nowhere, peaked in late January and then began to fade away.

People wrote 25 things about themselves and then tagged 25 friends. It took off. What did it mean? Was it a silly fad? Viral spam? Or was it something more? What did the burst of miniature autobiographies say about us, and our intimacy, our urges or our digital identities? What did it say about the way we live in the early 21st century?

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Onstage, Laboring to Brighten a Dim Picture

Hank Stuever: HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 22 — Jai ho, you Oscar slumdogs, which we think translates loosely as: Shout hallelujah, c’mon get happy!

But how happy? After all, the movie that won Best Picture at the 81st annual Academy Awards here Sunday night is supposed to be the “upbeat” one, and it’s the one where orphans get acid spooned into their adorable eyes. (But at the end, they dance! Jai ho!)


This story limps a little coming out of the gate, but stick with it and you’ll get a tremendous reward. It’s packed with true, deep, surprising insight on a topic that tends to inspire volumes of meaningless bloviation. (Michael Lewis specializes in this.) Before I die, I’d love to write one thing that explains a complex topic as well as this story does.