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Mayor Anthony A. Williams wants to remake the District’s image one key to the city at a time. An investigative report by Paul Schwartzman in the Feb. 11 Washington Post chronicled how Georgetown sculptor John Dreyfuss has redesigned the city’s ceremonial keys to better reflect the District’s elevated status in the world—or, as Dreyfuss told the Post, “the new technological world that the District is a leader in.” The newfangled keys are made of stainless steel and feature inscriptions in Latin (“Justitia Omnibus”) and English (“Opportunity for all”). The keys also come with a mini D.C. flag and a not-so-mini price tag for taxpayers of approximately $2,000 per gift. The article has momentarily put the mayor and his keymasters on the defensive. But now is not the time for fiscal prudence. The District is on the rise, and it’s going to take more than some fancy keys to make the rest of the world take notice. It’s time for us to trick out our entire ceremonial tool chest:
If you’re going to dig the District’s image out of its historical hole, you’re going to need a spiffy-looking shovel. Ceremonial shovels come in all shapes and sizes. But why mess around with anything but the gold standard? The A&A Trophy House of Baltimore offers a gold-plated shovel with a luxurious walnut handle for $425. For an extra $5 (plus 15 cents per character) the mayor and his speech writers could adorn it with an updated shovel-appropriate slogan. In Latin: “Sordes Omnibus.” Or in English: “Dirt for All.”
In March 2003, the mayor stood onstage at the new convention center and cut a symbolic red ribbon using a pair of gold-handled scissors. Perhaps those scissors could make the cut back in the day, but the new District deserves better. Enter Golden Openings Inc., a Minnesota-based business that offers upscale ceremonial scissors. For making a big impression, the friendly salesperson recommends a giant pair of silver scissors that stretches out to 5 feet in height—or roughly the size of Alice Rivlin. Price: $5,000.
When it comes to ceremonial headwear, nobody beats the Brits. In the past, Patey Hats of London provided ceremonial hats to Buckingham Palace, the Ministry of Defense, and the Tower of London. In the future, it should be outfitting District pols. “We make a number of different ceremonial hats for civic leaders,” writes Trevor Campan of Patey Hats by e-mail. “The usual choice is a tricorn. We supply both male and female (female are smaller) and can add as much braid as your pocket will allow.” Mr. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, meet the tricorn hat—aka your destiny. Prices start at £350, or roughly $660.
Ceremonial scissors and shovels mean nothing if the presiding dignitary who wields them can’t dress his way out of a Kmart. And though his bow tie has given the voting public a recognizable characteristic to latch on to, Mayor Williams may need to lose it in the interest of making himself more presentable. Local fashion consultant Pamela Burns says, that right now, the mayor “looks very stuffy” and she’d like to make him appear “a little more approachable.” For starters, she says, he should consider wearing an open collar now and then. When Williams does feel the need to dress more formally, Burns, who charges $600 per day for her services, suggests a straight tie. She’d also like him to ditch the sweaters. At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, the reigning queen of Wilson Building fashion, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In Wyoming (pop. 498,703), where official function is taken seriously, residents have five verses of a glorious ode to their state to sing at Wal-Mart openings. In D.C. (pop. 563,394), where official function means nothing, residents have exactly zero lyrical verses to croon at ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Though not for lack of trying. Ever since the ’20s, efforts have been made to name an official tune. In the mid-’80s, Progressive Review editor Sam Smith entered a contest sponsored by Mayor Marion Barry with “Washington, My Home Town,” a biting ditty that he’d originally helped pen as part of a D.C. musical revue. (Lines include “We’ve got chicken wings for two up on Georgia Avenue.”) The contest was canceled due to a lack of “range of submissions.” Longtime local songwriter and 2005 Best Children’s Music Grammy winner Cathy Fink of Kensington says that she thinks D.C. could use an official song and that it might fall under the category of something she would do pro bono. But she adds, “If the city is going to underwrite the wealthy baseball industry, then they might as well underwrite me.”
Over the course of a year, the mayor sends out countless pieces of important mail, ranging from the personal to the congratulatory to the solicitous. For too long, letters of this sort have arrived in the mailboxes of dignitaries looking no different from your average piece of junk mail. That’s not acceptable. It’s time to replace the city’s envelopes with something more special, more spiritual. Maryland-based artist Robin Raindrop offers the perfect replacement for municipal envelopes—handcrafted shaman boxes for only $70. (Carvings start at $50.) The nifty-looking containers are small, wooden, and sacred. According to Raindrop’s Web site: “It is said that Sacred Objects know where to go even before they are created.” Translation: No postage necessary.
If anyone deserves to benefit from an extreme makeover, it’s D.C.’s trash-truck operators. On the streets as early as 6:45 a.m., these folks have to pick up after a city that—just ask any gentrifier with Web access—is swimming in garbage. Q, manager of West Coast Customs, the detail shop that was made famous by MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” series, suggested adding the show’s typical DVD player and PlayStation 2 accouterments to each truck’s current limited entertainment setup. He also suggested installing a hamburger dispenser so the trash crews “wouldn’t have to take breaks.” Adding the DVD player and PlayStation 2 would cost $1,000 apiece; a full-vehicle pimp-out could run up to $700,000. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Gus D’Angelo.