Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 23 1997 3:30 AM


       At the Naval Observatory, this post-inaugural period feels like the end of some figure-skating performances that I have seen: The exhausted performer nervously fixes various parts of her disintegrating costume as the music builds to yet another crescendo. I hope we can hold it together for the last events--my parents' hands are blistered from endless shaking, and I caught myself waving at the bushes as we drove up to the house.
       On top of this, our phone system (which is quite complex and extends to the bathrooms, halls, closets, etc.) has gone haywire. The first sign of this was when I was excitedly relating a long, indulgent account of the day's events to a friend, and he called on the other line to say he was cut off five minutes ago. The problems got worse and have created an urgent imperative to answer whatever phone happens to be working. We don't have voice mail and often there are important calls, so a distant ring demands that you scramble toward it. It's a little Pavlovian.
       This crisis in communications was especially trying during the quest for Albert's drum set.
       My brother left it at a friend's house after band practice, but my mother had assured Thelonious Monk Jr. that it would be here for our jazz brunch. The severity of the problem increased as I learned that Monk was planning to play the drum accompaniment to Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Aretha Franklin. After a brief panic--diving at phones and negotiating with security at the front gate--the drum set returned home.
       Brunch was paradise--jazz legends, an espresso bar, and the chatter of ball memories. As I stood between my elementary school principal and Trisha Yearwood, listening to the Queen of Soul (who looked very low-key) belt out a song, I worried briefly that the temporary floor would collapse, and we would all fall into the underlying pool.
       But it all went well. The propane leak didn't happen until hours later, and my mother and I were the only ones here. We were totally unfazed by the sound of loud sirens and the sight of an army of firetrucks outside the window, and had to be convinced that it was time to evacuate. Bleary-eyed and protesting that this was all completely normal, we eventually conceded and were led to the basement, where we had a nice chat with some apocalyptic-sounding Secret Service agents.
       Now I'm back inside watching blue-suited men peel plastic off the front yard. In 1993, Jan. 21 was the first day in a new house--picking our bedrooms, searching for secret passages, and daring each other to ride in the dumbwaiter. This year, we are more settled, and there is sometimes a strange déjà vu. The experience of a second inaugural must have something in common with that of a second wedding. You shouldn't constantly compare it to the first one, or expect it to happen again, but it is a familiar blastoff into an unpredictable period.
       "Four More Years" is the chant of the incumbent. During the 1992 campaign my father used to quote the George Bush supporters and then say, "That sounds more like a threat than a promise." When I heard this chant recently, I thought of the uncertainty and risks of this strange lifestyle and considered whether, for me, my father's line still held. It doesn't--I have four more years as a proud daughter and a lucky bystander. The burdens rest on my mother and father and, watching them completely outdo me on the party circuit this weekend, I am not worried.
       So now it's time to return to Seattle and, as I put away my sequins and pack up my fleece, it feels appropriate to leave this double-time celebration of American tradition and light out for the territories.