Archive for the House Post Office Category

The History of Creativity Part I or Men in Black

Posted in Architecture, Art, Capitol, Corcoran School of Art, House Post Office, Longworth Building, Photography, VCU on November 16, 2011 by smpiv


I’ve written this one in my head any number of times.  I’ve written it in my head going south on the NJTP.  I’ve
written it in my head going north through Scranton.  I stopped writing it in my head when I realized I was on 87 vs. 287 and had to be sure I didn’t miss the Cross Bronx.

I thought that I would throw a lot of art history at it and go through some long winded dissertation on the state of art over the last two hundred years, but……

Am I creative?

Well I don’t know, but I think I’ll tell what it means to be creative to me-my own little story.

I build things.  Always have.  I disappear into my creations, I mean way gone.  Models, forts, rubber band guns, rebuilding my bike–anything with my hands.

I’m a perfectionist.  So much so that if it isn’t right–just right–I’ll destroy it.

In a nutshell I am both a creator and a destroyer.  I’ve always had that; it just took time to make it work for me.

I would love to say that I was repressed, that others held me back from my passion, that no one recognized my
genius, but until I was twenty three years old, there was nothing to repress, held back or recognized.  I was your
average, aimless young man.

Most Likely to _________?  I was most likely to do what?  I was so ill defined I didn’t have a clue what I would like to do.  Like most people, I had a long list of things I didn’t want to do, but no real handle on what I could do.

It wasn’t until I was twenty three that I made a move that was of my own volition and desire.

Family, friends and strangers had long said I had an artistic bent and, in truth, through my humility I thought  they might just be right, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

My work history following graduating from college was sketchy at best.  Through the lens of a poor economy and no discernable talent I went from one minor job to another.  A short—eight days—stint in the military would have given me a good foothold into the working world.  However it was there that I made my first Big-boy decision—a career in the Navy Supply Corps was not what I wanted to do with my life.  I dis-enrolled (DE’d in military parlance).

A brief career as a baby photographer (six months) was a first step toward my future—a horrid experience on the whole, but I had a knack for the photographic aspect of the job.

And then one of those odd jobs that leveraged it all—the House Post Office, pitching and delivering mail.  Such a mindless position that I had more than ample time to think about things.  What to watch on TV, what to have for dinner that night, oh and what to do with the rest of my life.

I was living the single DC life in Silver Spring, Maryland, just where East West Highway makes a hoop-di-doo to
avoid going through DC.  It was a short walk to the Metro that took me to the House Post Office in the Longworth Building and then, later, to the Crypt in the Capitol Building.

I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember my friend David Barnes convincing me to put together a
portfolio of my photographs, drawings and doodles and apply to the Corcoran School of Art.  He was one of those people who told me I had a talent, maybe not a gift, but at least a talent.  He was big into penny-stocks, so he was used to betting on long-shots, but it was enough to motivate me.

And damn if they didn’t accept my application.  I was thrilled for a day or two, and then horrified that perhaps they didn’t look closely enough at my work and had made some egregious error.

I was convinced before I got there that I would be surrounded by young da Vincis, Picassos, et al.  At twenty three I was the old man in the program and probably more nervous than I would have been had I been seventeen.  As it turned out I had more talent in my pinky than most of these darkly dressed pretenders.

As an aside, our culture has this misconception that if you are antisocial, quirky, gay or can’t match your socks
that you must have a creative disposition; that you must need an outlet; that your “problem” can’t be discerned by inkblots, but by creating them.  For this reason I wasn’t surrounded by the aforementioned artists, but by a motley collection of antisocial, quirky, gay, and non-sock-matching people with varying levels of talent.

Just for clarity, except for the gay part, I was a high functioning antisocial, quirky, and non-sock-matching member of the group.  I blame my inability to match socks on my color blindness.

My point is that creativity has no recognizable look.

But there I was, a pig-in-shit.  The Foundations program was one of my more lucent periods.  It was a
moment in my life when my skipping stone touched down.  Everything was fresh and new.  Everything I had imagined I could do with a blank piece of paper, a blank canvas, a piece of clay was all put before me.  It was a door unlocked.

I had entered the program with all intention to continue with photography, but as one new media after another
presented itself I wasn’t so sure.

My walks from the Corcoran to the crypt in the Capitol Building usually included a stop at the East Wing, the Hirshhorn, the Renwick, the Air and Space, the Museum of American Art and the Portrait Gallery—obviously depending on the day, but to that point and since had never spent so much time in art galleries and museums.  Their creative collections are immense and they were washing over me.  It was daunting and inspiring.

While I was at the Corcoran, and later at VCU, I never called myself an artist, but when asked I said I went to art school.  Most of my friends referred to themselves as artists right off the bat.  I had no such pretension.  In a lot of ways I still don’t.

So what does it mean to be creative? I still don’t know. I am now an architect—come to by a very roundabout route, but one that has taken every creative instinct that I’ve had and put it to use.  I think what I’ve done is best summed up by the notion of the creative instinct.

Like any animal that works on instinct I have very little to explain the whys, whats, and wherefores.  So sadly I can’t tell what creativity is or where it comes from.  For me twenty-three was the year I woke up, took my life into my own hands, for better or for worse and walked down my own creative path.   And it is fortunate that I have creative outlets for I could very easily live in my own head at a greater distance than I already am.

So there you have it.  Probably an unsat answer, but at least what it means to be creative to me.


Bullitt Lite

Posted in American University, Bullitt, House Post Office, Longworth Building, Plymouth Horizon, The Italian Job, The Vanishing Point, Trans Am, TransAm, Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 by smpiv


Like many American males I love cars and movies with cars. If I had my druthers and monetary wherewithal I would have a garage full of American, German, Italian, Japanese and whoever’s high performance car.

So, let’s see, my first car, a 1974 Ford LTD. It had belonged to my grandfather.

And my second car? A 1981 Plymouth Horizon that I managed to keep on the road for over eleven years and 130,000 miles. It wasn’t a particularly good looking car and by the time I had it towed to the junk yard it was downright ugly.

The list doesn’t get any more interesting following the Horizon, so I won’t bore you with it.

If I could be a stunt driver in any movie it would be either “Bullitt”, “The Vanishing Point” or the original “The Italian Job”. I was driving the Horizon when I had my Steve McQueen moment, my Bullitt moment.


Easily one of the most interesting jobs I had was working in the House Post Office in the Longworth Building. And one of the most interesting parts of the job was the interesting cast of characters I worked with.

All were there through some direct, indirect and, in my case, very indirect relationship with a Congressman or woman. We were all in patronage positions, every mail pitching, box chucking one of us.

There were a few congressional children who worked all year round, but during the summer a hoard of them showed up. Some even displaced people who had come on with the understanding that they would be gone to make room for the kids. Some of these congressional children worked, others showed up on payday, and some skipped all formalities and had their checks mailed to them. But I digress.

On the particular night I will describe I was with a co-worker whom I got along with very well and spent time socializing with after work. This night he had asked me for a ride home because his car was in the shop and his girlfriend was unavailable—we will call him M and he was not a congressional child.

Our shift ended at 10pm so the streets of DC were relatively empty as we headed toward his house in Northwest, close to American University. We chatted aimlessly, laughed too loud and repeated one of our favorite stories that ended—“I bumped my head………twice,” said with a Southern drawl, the bitter end of a tail of one of our lesser co-workers. You had to be there.

At this point I’m fairly sure we were on Military Road when I saw some headlights coming very fast towards us in my rearview. My car rocked as a TransAm busted past us at a very high rate of speed.

“Holy shit!” screamed M.

“Wow”, I added.

And then? And then a Hollywood stunt turn in the wild. One of those where the ass end of the car slides around one hundred and eighty degrees with the wheels smoking as they try to overcome the cars inertia and get it moving in the opposite direction.

And it did. It literally leaped at us head on.

Now if I got anything from my test-pilot father it would be coolness in adverse situations. I was intent on the TransAm while M, with a death grip on his seat, was screaming—and I have to say it—like a girl. The Trans Am was coming at us head on and accelerating.

At this point all went silent and I remember thinking that this guy was in control. My choices were limited because I didn’t know who he was or what he was after, so I realized my safest bet was to keep going straight and let him do whatever he wanted. He was obviously trying to scare the hell out of us and M had already gotten rid of hell and was onto whatever leaves after hell.

I wasn’t scared. I would be scared later after I extricated us from our predicament.

The TransAm’s lights were growing at a great rate and at the last second, and I do mean the last second, swerved around us. The Horizon was rocked again and this time I tromped on the gas—this is rather comical if you are at all familiar with my car—and we were off.

I looked in the rearview and again witnessed a beautiful Hollywood stunt turn, but I wasn’t going to wait around to see how close he would come this time.

Now, the beauty of mechanical separation is that the Trans Am still had to bleed off a great deal of forward motion in his picture perfect turn. This allowed the four exhausted squirrels that were powering my car to get far enough away to lose sight of the Trans Am.

At this point I was pushing beyond the Horizon’s performance envelope as I flew through red lights, stop signs, one family’s yard, several post boxes and I juked left and right through one neighborhood after another. I checked my six constantly to see if the TransAm was anywhere in sight. It wasn’t.

Sound returned and M was still screaming as I slowly worked my way back to his house, stopping one street away.

“What was that all about?” I asked M.

“No idea. Oh my God I think that guy was trying to kill us.” M replied.

Probably not, because he would’ve had to have done serious harm to himself, but……….


For years I thought this was an isolated, interesting, random event, but like most things it wasn’t.

While I knew M at the post office his brother had been in prison on drug charges and I would find out later through another friend that M would also go to prison on drug charges. In fact nearly the entire House Post Office would go down on drug and money laundering charges ten years after I left.

I have little doubt that M knew who was in that TransAm and we’re probably lucky we never came face-to-face with whoever was in that car.

So kids, remember, just say no and, if you can, get a faster car.