Friday, February 12, 2010

I've wanted to go to the Smithsonian Museum of American History for years. It's America's basement, a treasure trove of cultural history. They've got Fonzie's jacket, Archie Bunker's chair, the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. I'm picturing a twisty maze of passages as far as the eye can see. You go down one aisle and there's the set from Happy Days, and a mannequin dressed as Robert Conrad in Wild Wild West. Make a right and there's the original Yoda puppet next to the Partridge Family bus. So finally I book a train ticket and reserve a hotel room.

I pick the Residence Inn because it's gotten good recommendations on TripAdvisor, it's inexpensive, and the location is good. When I check in, I decide I've made a good choice: the desk clerk, who is handsome and friendly, not only upgrades me, but he tells me I get dinner too.

"It's served on the second floor from 6 to 7:30," he says. "Tonight we're serving Lazy Lasagna."

I thank him and head off to explore the city. I'm sure I'll have way too much to see and do, so there's no way I'll get back to the hotel for that tiny window of opportunity. Over the course of the day, though, that Lazy Lasagna starts haunting me. What is it, exactly? I picture boiling vats of noodles, a cauldron full of a parmesan bechamel, a tray stacked high with grated mozzarella and ricotta, and a bowl of oregano-tinged tomato sauce. I'd dutifully stack the ingredients, layer after layer, and stuff my face until extra virgin olive oil seeped out my pores.

And somehow I find myself back at the hotel at exactly 5:59. The door to the community room swings open, I grab a plate, I slide off the cover of the Lazy Lasagna and gasp at what I see inside.

Elbow macaroni in tomato sauce. On the side, there's the cheese that comes in a green can.

As I ladle a small serving onto my plate, I pinpoint my problem. I'm optimistic, and I have an overactive imagination. Which means I'm always disappointed. By pretty much everything.

My first boyfriend tried to tip me off to this. "You shouldn't expect anything," Roger said. "That way you're pleasantly surprised." His words sounded profound to me, but much stupider as I deciphered them. "Wait," I thought, "so I can't expect ANYTHING from him? Civility? Cleanliness? A warm hug after a hard day?" I pictured waking up on Christmas morning, handing him his presents, and finding nothing to open in return. "Unrealistic expectations!" he'd chide.

As I sit there trying to convince myself I'm not stupid, with three of the fattest people I've ever seen diving into the "lasagna" at tiny, separate tables, my face reddens. I had a right to expect better, didn't I? It's totally bait-and-switch. You can't toss in a wacky adjective and get yourself off the legal hook.

You can't try to sell your old Schwinn by calling it a Blind Man's Mercedes. You can't sell Stetson cologne by dubbing it the Straight Dude's Acqua Di Gio. You can't advertise a Backroads Tour of Tuscany and then drop people in Beirut. I feel like inviting the hotel manager over to my house for a Chronic Exaggerator's Turkey Dinner. I'd throw a chicken wing at him and then tell him to fuck himself.

I shovel down enough to fill me up, and then all the carbs and a massive snowstorm convince me to stay in for the night. The next morning, bright and early, I run to the Smithsonian. It'll be incredible! I think. What a treasure trove! I'll be there for hours and hours, engrossed in the riches and overwhelmed by nostalgia.

When I get there, I can't believe my eyes. It's a tiny room, smaller than my apartment, and exactly as they said. Exactly. There's Fonzie's jacket, there's Archie Bunker's chair, and there's the ruby slippers.

And that's about it.

I head back to the hotel, pack up all my stuff and head downstairs to check out. Washington is all about saying one thing and doing another, evidently, even up to the presidency. I feel like whipping out my dick and slapping the clerk in the face with it. "It's the poor man's American Express," I'd insist.

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