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By the time I’d worked at Washington City Paper for two years, my desk looked like I’d been piling crap on it for about 20. So when E. Brady Robinson, a talented D.C. photographer, asked in February 2012 if she could shoot my work area for her ongoing series of “Arts Desks” portraits, I wondered whether it was finally the time to tidy up. But on the day Robinson was scheduled to visit City Paper‘s office—-this was before we moved out of our labyrinthine, wonderfully ramshackle digs on Champlain Street NW—-I realized cleaning would be disrespectful to her project. Other than obscuring an idea about Arena Stage I’d written on my whiteboard, I left my desk as it was, down to the yellowing back issues, the unwashed wine glass, and the actual garbage. Here’s what Robinson captured:
Eventually I did clean—and then, after City Paper moved from Adams Morgan to downtown, I occasionally willed myself to toss or give away my accumulated book galleys, promo CDs, and press releases from the many obscure arts organizations that still send missives to anyone who ever worked here and had the title of arts editor. (Brad McKee and Leonard Roberge, you’ve got mail.) But a few of the things in that photo from 2012, and a bunch of things I’ve acquired since, became my trophies—tiny symbols of why I’ve felt so lucky to work at Washington City Paper, with such a smart and fearless group of journalists, for the last four years and 10 months.
Yesterday was my last as Washington City Paper‘s managing editor; tomorrow I start a new gig. Here are the objects I took with me:
A print-out of “The Last Washington Painting” by Alan Sonneman: Writer Maura Judkis did some amazing detective work tracking down this 1981 piece, which was missing for years and thanks to her efforts ended up in a retrospective of the Washington Project for the Arts. City Paper photographer Darrow Montgomery and I had the less enviable task of trying to find the exact vantage depicted in the painting—-I thought it’d be a cool addition to the feature’s layout—-so we tried to find it heading into the District from Northern Virginia. We did not. But we did get pulled over on the way back driving beneath the Kennedy Center on Rock Creek Park. The officer didn’t ticket me, and Darrow continued to go along with my less advisable editorial schemes.
The front page of the Chosun Ilbo, a Korean-language newspaper based in Northern Virginia: City Paper contributor Mike Paarlberg wrote a story in 2010 about a series of pay-to-sing concerts at the Kennedy Center featuring the Little Angels, a children’s song and dance troupe associated with the Unification Church. But he did some of his reporting in the offices of the Chosun Ilbo, whose staff took pictures of his interview with a Unification Church critic and then wrote an A1 story about how the Kennedy Center affair was now getting mainstream American attention. Mike figured I’d be tickled and generously brought me a copy.
An Ari Roth pin: My first two years at City Paper, I spent a lot of time reporting on Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theater J whose taste for button-pushing works has made his troupe one of D.C.’s most interesting but has also entangled it in a handful of uncomfortable situations, like the time he had to back down from a planned play after its fictionalized depiction of an encounter between Bernie Madoff and Elie Wiesel inspired the latter to threaten legal action. My friend and former colleague Ted Scheinman and I wrote a cover story about the dustup in 2010, and Ari kept taking my calls for the next few years even though we had dissected an extremely embarrassing moment for his theater. I grabbed this pin (apparently made for a Theater J fundraiser) around 2011, when Roth let me sit in on a season-planning meeting. I interpeted it as an act of admiration when Roth, in 2012, wrote a one-act in which the unseen antagonist was plainly based on me.
A poster from the final Sockets Records showcase: Sockets Records, the wonderful experimental-pop label run by Sean Peoples, basically soundtracked my mid-20s. The curation was exceptional, the releases were beautiful, the music sounded way more expensive than any DIY effort ought to, and of course the whole effort was unprofitable. I cop to weighting the dice for Sockets Records; when I was arts editor, I don’t think Arts Desk missed covering a single release from the label. Sean shuttered Sockets in 2013, and I wrote this profile of him.
This glass skull: I think this was a promo goodie for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but I treated it as my Yorick. When my colleague Aaron Wiener got a standing desk this past summer, the City Paper staff gambled on when he would sit down. We stored our $1 bets in the skull. Several months later, Aaron is still standing, and Online Developer Zach Rausnitz won the bet by guessing the latest date.
Bulleit and bitters: Wiener gave me the bourbon on my birthday. Contributor Kriston Capps gave me the José Andrés bitters even though I’d dragged him into the City Paper office on a weeknight to carve into a cover story he had written. It was set to run that week; we got it done with some assistance from the Bulleit.
These cassettes, but especially the one on the left: A reader suggested we dig into the story behind “Adams Morgan,” a goofy reggae tune about the neighborhood, for our annual Answers Issue. He provided the tape, which he’d found in a used book store; I reported one of my favorite items ever; and I blasted the song in the office and at home for weeks (it’s been stuck in my wife’s head for nearly two years). Sorry, colleagues!
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Top photo by E. Brady Robinson