This Week On Metro Connection: Independence (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

This Week On Metro Connection: Independence

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and believe it or not, this coming Wednesday is already that all-American holiday when we celebrate the anniversary of our nation's Declaration of Independence, the 4th of July. So today, we're bringing you a show all about independence. We'll learn the surprising ways Capital Bike Share is affecting small, independent bike shops across the city.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

We'll check out a Fringe Festival show that's performed for and with one audience member at a time and we'll hear the tale of a painter who took his artistic license to the extreme with rather stunning results. But before we get to all that, we sent our new intern, Raphaella Bennin, out on the streets to talk with Washingtonians about their ideas on today's theme and the role independence has played in their own lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1

Freedom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

Independence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2

I've always been a creature of independence.

#1

Freedom of expression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2

When I hitchhiked to California in 1967 at 16 years old and went to San Francisco, the summer of love, that was my first bout of independence, right out of Catholic school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #3

I was seven. I went off to summer camp. I didn't feel very independent at that time. I felt, you know, homesick. But then once I got over the homesickness, I felt very independent in achieving goals and, you know, learning how to be myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #3

When I was in Afghanistan, I grew up in Afghanistan. In 2001, I was just in high school. I turned on radio and I would hear the news and I heard, you know, American forces with Afghan troops came in and they kicked out (unintelligible) went out of power and that was a great moment for, not just only me, for my family and the whole people of Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #4

First time I felt independent, graduating college and starting a job where it really sinks in that, you know, you are an adult and I'm in grad school right now and a lot of my classmates are a lot of older, like, my parent's age. So that made me feel I'm more independent. It was great, it was liberating for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #5

I know I've been independent all my life because I come from Scotland and I wear the kilt. I'm independent. I have been reared to obey the rules of the family but at 18 I became a voter and was able to make up my own mind. That's when I felt independent. So that's my story.

SHEIR

Those were Washingtonians in Tinley Town and Metro Center speaking with "Metro Connection's" intern, Raphaella Bennin. If you'd like to share your idea of personal independence, you can reach us at metro@wamu.org or if you can independently sum it up in 140 characters or less, send us a Tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

As you just heard, we often associate independence with growing up, right? getting older, and learning to navigate the world on our own. Well, if you have a disability, then that navigation can be a bit more challenging. I recently visited a place that's preparing blind and visually impaired young people to go it alone in the so-called real world, while they're still in school.

SHEIR

Now is this the boys' house or the girls' house?

MS. MAUREEN BISESI

This is the girls'.

SHEIR

We're in Parkville, Md., at the Maryland School for the Blind, or MSB, the 159 year old institution offers on-campus day and residential programs for roughly 185 blind and visually impaired students.

BISESI

Now I've not been here since they left from graduation, so I'm not – well, we'll see what the condition is.

SHEIR

The condition it's in. Residential and related service director Maureen Bisesi is taking me inside MSB's new independent living home, which opened on the 95 acre campus in January. It still smells new.

BISESI

It does still smell new, and when they first moved in here, one of the girls asked if they sell candles and air freshener that are new house smell, because they never want to lose the smell. So if you come across that in your travels, let us know.

SHEIR

I'll let you know. Around 2005, the school built its first independent living home. Since then, male and female students have switched off living there each semester. But with two independent living homes, now guys can reside in one house and girls in the other, all school year long. This past semester, four girls called the new house home.

BISESI

Each of the students has their own bedroom, two students share a bathroom. They're responsible for the cleaning of it, they're responsible for the maintenance of it.

SHEIR

They're also responsible for buying and cooking food, managing a budget, and of course, cleaning not just the bathroom, but the whole house.

BISESI

I hear lots of comments about how challenging it is for them to clean this floor, that this is a bigger floor than they've even had to clean.

SHEIR

It's so big, big wood floor. The one story independent living home is pretty roomy, with a ton of natural light. The spacious central area contains a large, flat screen TV and leather couch, a big wooden dining table, and a kitchen, with features like a talking microwave, and a raised coil stovetop that loudly clicks when switched on and off.

BISESI

Even something as simple as equipping the kitchen is an interesting process when you're talking about setting up a house that is going to promote independence. So one student did go with me to actually take a look at some stoves, and which one would be best, and getting their input is part of the experience.

SHEIR

And MSB president Michael Bina says the independent living home experience is just the beginning. Not only does he plan to build more independent living houses on campus...

MR. MICHAEL BINA

And maybe the highway's called Independence Boulevard or whatever.

SHEIR

...he also hopes to tear down the school's dormitories and add to MSB's existing fleet of cottages, where students receive far less supervision.

BINA

A lot of the students go in there kind of, what I call, a little bit of the chin on the chest. They don't really have the confidence, but when you trust them that you're going to be independent, you can do it, it promotes dignity, confidence, it's a bud that just blossoms. So when they go to an apartment complex, and the person may be renting will say, well, but you're blind, well, they can say, but I've lived independently at the Maryland School for the Blind in a house without anybody there to do it for me, and I know I can do it.

SHEIR

Not that attending the Maryland School for the Blind is just about learning independence, it's almost about learning, you know, reading, writing, arithmetic.

BINA

Algebra's important, science is important, every activity, but that's just a subset of the big picture of independence. You've got to go on and get a job, be self sufficient, and achieve your full potential. So I mean, it's a dynamic that we're giving them a diploma, and we're giving them the confidence. And I sometimes think the confidence is maybe sometimes more important than a diploma.

SHEIR

MSB student Lois Cooksey is just one year away from getting that diploma. The soon to be senior isn't blind.

MS. LOIS COOKSEY

I wear contacts, so I'm like 20/40 in both eyes.

SHEIR

But without contacts, she says...

COOKSEY

It's like looking underwater.

SHEIR

Lois has gone through the rigorous independent living home application and interview process, and hopes to move in this fall. What is it that makes you want to change your living situation?

COOKSEY

I want to be more independent. I want to learn things that I don't get the chance to learn in the dorm, or if I do learn them in the dorm, I want to have a chance to do them on my own, without supervision.

SHEIR

Things like cleaning, she says, and cooking, even if the latter isn't quite her cup of tea.

COOKSEY

I don't really like cooking, so cooking all my meals is gonna drive me a little bit crazy.

SHEIR

What's your favorite food?

COOKSEY

Cookie dough.

SHEIR

You can just buy that out of the package and just eat it with a spoon. You're in luck. Ok, not really. Though independent living students are mainly on their own, Maureen Bisesi does say the school ensures they're making healthy choices. In any case, Lois says she was pretty sheltered growing up, so she's excited at the prospect of her new home. Well, excited...

COOKSEY

I'm kind of terrified.

SHEIR

...and scared.

COOKSEY

But I know if I want to be independent after MSB, then I'm gonna have to do it.

SHEIR

Because Lois has big dreams, she wants to go to college, and major in art. And she wants everyone to know that, given the chance, blind and visually impaired people can do most anything.

COOKSEY

I think that people need to be more aware of blind and visually impaired people in general, and that we're just like you. We can be independent, we can live on our own.

BISESI

We sort of use the phrase, living the learning, as our independent living house mantra, because that's what they're doing.

SHEIR

Back at the new independent living home, Maureen Bisesi says this learning isn't always easy, especially during the students' initial probation period.

BISESI

We actually observe and assess them as they go through their first month. Are they applying safe practices with cooking? Are they applying safe strategies with answering the door? We actually set situation up where we will knock on their door at 11 o'clock at night to see how they're gonna handle it.

SHEIR

And if students pass those tests this fall, she says, they're in for an exhilarating and challenging year, one that carries out something the Maryland School for the Blind declared years ago.

BISESI

Our war on dependence.

SHEIR

Sure, girding up for that battle can be daunting for some students, Maureen Bisesi says, but in the end, their victories are sweet as sugar. Or cookie dough? You can learn more about the independent living homes at the Maryland School for the Blind and see photos of the new houses' first residents on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

After the break, how Bikeshare is affecting independent bike shops, and looking back at a time when summer meant total freedom.

#1

In the middle of the day, when the heat was the worst, the kids would walk up to Mrs. Porter's store. The store was dark and cool, and we always got popsicles.

SHEIR

That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir, and welcome back to "Metro Connection." With the 4th of July coming up in less than a week, today we're bringing you an hour of stories and interviews all about the notion of independence. In just a few minutes, we'll find out what independence can mean on the dating front. And later in the show, we'll hear all about independence as it relates to one of America's most treasured expatriate artists.

SHEIR

First, though, how about independent businesses? With the advent of Capital Bikeshare, many small bike shops began to worry the program will ran them out of business. Now that Washingtonians have been bike sharing for almost two years, have those fears come true? We'll find out on our weekly transportation segment, From A to B.

SHEIR

Martin Di Caro headed to several bike shops around town to see whether the worries about Bikeshare were justified and how the culture of cycling is changing here in the nation's capital.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

Russell Martin treats his bike like his child.

MR. RUSSELL MARTIN

The Trek 7.6 FX. It's a nice fast hybrid bike.

CARO

That sounds kind of fancy.

MARTIN

It's, yeah, it's my baby.

CARO

Your baby?

MARTIN

Yeah. I love it. Now, it's kind of an extension of me.

CARO

The 24-year-old sales manager at a boutique hotel company meets me in Foggy Bottom on his way to work. He commutes on a bicycle every day and got hooked by trying Capital Bikeshare right after the program started.

MARTIN

I ended up selling my car and buying a couple more bicycles, and I haven't looked back since.

CARO

So you have how many bikes now?

MARTIN

I guess I have three now. I'm looking for a fourth.

CARO

Had D.C. bike shops known the Russell Martins of the world would treat Capital Bikeshare like a gateway drug, they might not have been so nervous. Inside Bicycle Space on 7th and L Streets Northwest, business is brisk. But owner Erik Kugler once wondered if Bikeshare would take away potential customers.

MR. ERIK KUGLER

In the back of my mind, there was that concern.

CARO

What's happened since?

KUGLER

Well, what we've seen is an explosion culture.

CARO

He sees more bikes on the streets, drivers acting more courteously. And, he says, money people might spend filling their gas tanks is now being spent in the shop and in his neighborhood.

KUGLER

You see new restaurants open up, cafes, knit shops, small businesses like ours. These people are great employers also. We employ 18 people here. We're in the business of culture change.

CARO

The Bikeshare program's shortcomings have also brought in more customers. The bikes are a bit heavy, not built for speed, plus the program is so popular it's users often cannot find a bike when they need one or can't find a dock with an open space to return them.

MS. KRISTIN FRONTIERA

When I started riding Bikeshare, there was a phase where I would see another person on a Bikeshare and we'd be like, hey, Bikeshare, this is awesome. And now I see them and I'm like, I need to pedal faster. I need to get to the dock before them.

CARO

Kristin Frontiera is a 25-year-old, recently returned Peace Corps volunteer who just bought her own bike on Craigslist for $40. She brings it to Kugler's shop for repairs and to buy other stuff anyone new to the bicycling scene would need.

FRONTIERA

I'm having work done on it. I'm putting more money into the bike than I spent on it. And I'm spending all of that money here. And then I'm going to buy all the stuff, like I need a basket and a lock and I need lights.

CARO

Dan, how are you?

MR. DAN WEST

I'm doing all good.

CARO

Across town at City Bikes in Adams Morgan, the story is the same, Bikeshare is credited for more business not less.

WEST

Yeah, there were some concerns that it might hurt business for local neighborhood shops. But there had been also kind of hope that you get more and more people cycling.

CARO

Dan West is the marketing manager in a shop that's been selling two-wheelers for 25 years.

WEST

I'm getting more and more of these people that have loved using the Bikeshare and now are saying, wait, I want something that's my own. I want something that's custom-designed for the kind of riding that I'm doing.

CARO

So after immersing myself in this culture, I felt the eyes of the bicycling world glaring down on me and a Bikeshare dock just a couple blocks away. All right, these are supposed to be so fun to ride. So I'm going to give one a try and on the road.

CARO

Whoo. Speed up. Oh. Hey, how are you? I'm with WAMU Radio. My name is Martin Di Caro. I'm trying out a Capital Bikeshare bike for the first time.

#1

Very cool. I just bought this bike. It's a Jamis Sport.

CARO

What do you think of these bikes?

#1

I think that the concept is really good. I've never ridden one, but I think it's a really cool concept. Yeah.

CARO

Actually easy to ride, you can't go very fast but that okay.

#1

Cool. Do you mind if I try it?

CARO

See? Bicyclists are one big family. What could better testify the bicycling love than what Michael Samuelson did for his girlfriend Anna Walters. She fell for bicycling after using Capital Bikeshare and so he bought her a brand new bicycle.

MR. MICHAEL SAMUELSON

It was her birthday so that helped.

MS. ANNA WALTERS

Well, actually we went shopping together, buzzing the different shops around town and I did a lot of research online and, I don't know, I found this one and I knew that this is the one.

CARO

The one. She was talking about her bike, not her boyfriend. For now. I'm Martin Di Caro.

SHEIR

Have you become a regular cyclist since Capital Bikeshare came to town? We'd love to hear your story. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

Deciding whom to date and whom to marry can be a major way we declare our independence. And a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows inter-marriage among people of different races in the U.S. has more than doubled since the 1980s, especially among black men who are more than twice as likely as black women to marry outside their race.

SHEIR

An author from southeast Washington recently tackled the topic in a brand new novel, one that explores the connections between online dating and interracial dating in Washington, D.C. Kate Sheehy spoke with author Ron Hanna and others in the District about the local dating scene and whether old attitudes about interracial dating are going by the wayside.

MS. KATE SHEEHY

Ron Hanna lives in the same house he grew up in with his grandmother on Savannah Place in Southeast, D.C. He says, in this predominately African American area, people tend to stick to their own.

MR. RON HANNA

So I used my literary pen and used my literary license to mix with some people that I can't imagine in real life that they'd ever come together.

SHEEHY

Hanna is a writer. And in his novel "It's all in the Game," online dating sites allow for an African-American man and a white woman from very different parts of Washington to hook up.

HANNA

I got a brother from Southeast going and hitting up a gal in Bethesda. He calls her the shark because everybody in there has a name of a fish. And the shark is coming to swim into the dark waters of the Southeast.

SHEEHY

Hanna says economic conditions continue to keep many African-Americans isolated in D.C.

HANNA

Without considering racism at all, if you are going to date someone outside your race, you have to have access to them, you understand what I'm saying? I'm not going to a party in Georgetown if I'm unemployed and don't have the economic means to be in that social sphere.

SHEEHY

And he says that interracial dating causes friction among African-American men and women.

HANNA

If you are clean, got a job, single, disease-free and all these black women out here don't have a man and you choose a white woman, black women don't look at that too kindly, and a lot of black men don't either.

SHEEHY

Lenora Robinson is waiting with her son at Classic Cuts Barbershop down the street from Hanna's house. She says she prefers to be with an African-American man, but is open to dating someone from another race. Still, she says that's not likely to happen.

MS. LEONORA ROBINSON

I think black men have the option to date outside their race and have more variety. I think a lot of men of other cultures don't want black women.

SHEEHY

Robinson says she feels like most white men wouldn't consider her as a partner.

ROBINSON

I've seen some white men that are absolutely gorgeous and single, but they either are not attracted to me or don't look at me in a marriage material kind of way.

SHEEHY

But she says interracial dating is becoming more common among younger people.

ROBINSON

Because they haven't experienced the same type of experiences that the older generations have and the repercussions of being in a mixed relationship.

SHEEHY

Twenty-five-year-old Ashley Speights and her boyfriend, 32-year-old Shane O'Neill are playing with their dogs, Parker and Beans. They live in an apartment a few blocks from DuPont Circle in Northwest, D.C.

MS. ASHLEY SPEIGHTS

My friends joke that my type is, like, a white guy with brown hair and pretty eyes, you know.

SHEEHY

Speights, an African-American, is from the affluent Chevy Chase neighborhood of the District. She says race has never really been an issue for her, but she has felt pressure when it comes to dating.

SPEIGHTS

Especially growing up in an environment where I've been very fortunate and, you know, I got to go to a private school in D.C., and there were other males in the same situation who have been very fortunate and, you know, an education that's different than the most in D.C. And I can tell that sometimes there was an expectation that you guys should be together. You match and you're the exception to the rule.

SHEEHY

For his part, Shane O'Neill says he doesn't worry about what other people think.

MR. SHANE O'NEILL

I think that dating should be all about who you can connect with, and who you like, rather than what your background or what your race is, and it's moving towards that.

SHEEHY

Still, Speights says she has girlfriends who say they don't feel comfortable dating a white man.

SPEIGHTS

Some of it might even be self-confidence, everyone wants to feel wanted, you know. And you're more likely to be wanted by someone of your own race, at least as a black female, than you are outside of it.

HANNA

Hey, I got a new book out.

SHEEHY

Ron Hanna strolls down his street in Southeast, talking with his loyal neighborhood fans about his latest book. Hanna says it's a picture of what's to come. He says no matter who they end up with, the couples in his book all share one thing.

HANNA

The common thread is happiness. You know, if you enjoy somebody, then enjoy them.

SHEEHY

He says it's a matter of personal choice, which he predicts, more and more people will continue to embrace with time. I'm Kate Sheehy.

SHEIR

Do you think attitudes toward interracial dating and marriage are changing? You can send us an email, our address is metro@wamu.org or tweet us, our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

Now that summer is in full swing here in the Washington region, many schoolchildren are getting to taste a sweet slice of independence. We recently asked people in WAMU's Public Insight Network to share their favorite childhood memories of summer, and here are some of the responses we got back.

MS. CYNTHIA CHASE

My name is Cynthia Chase. I live in Laurel, MD. I'm 71 years old. Summers were very hot in Meadville, and in the middle of the day, when the heat was the worst, the kids would walk up to Mrs. Porter's store. The store was dark and cool. And we always got popsicles. She had every flavor you could imagine, from lime to root beer, cherry. I always got banana, that was my favorite. That's my memory of Meadville in the summer.

MR. ADAM EIDINGER

My name is Adam Eidinger and I live in Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C. Well, I'm 38 years old and I moved here 20 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA where I was born and raised. In my neighborhood, there was a gang of kids who took over about 100 acres of land that was sort of abandoned by a slag company. And I would beg not to be put into summer camp so I could just spent all my time essentially gardening and building little structures and getting into adventures in the land just right where I grew up.

MR. ADAM EIDINGER

We built these clubhouses from scrap wood that we would salvage from anywhere. We had, you know, car doors and, you know, cabs for pickup trucks that we salvaged, and we made, like, skylights out of them. And it was cool, it was innocent and it was amazing.

MS. SUSAN STRUTHERS

My name is Susan Struthers and I live in Alexandria, in Park Fairfax. And I'm 65 and I grew up in Clapham, South London and this picture flashed in my mind that had to do with these bombed out buildings that we grew up with in London after the war. So it was the '50s. Right opposite where we lived was this huge house, and it had been bombed out and there were big signs everywhere that said 'No Trespassing.'

MS. SUSAN STRUTHERS

But we went in there anyway, right? And you go up the stairs in these houses, and there would be children's clothes, the odd doll. In the kitchen, there would be remnants of plates, and so we would play house because everything that you needed to play house as a child was right there. And it wasn't until my mother got involved that we really had a go. She would ask us questions. What do you think the father did for a living?

MS. SUSAN STRUTHERS

Where did they go to school? So then we'd start making things up about the families that might have lived in these houses. That was my mother sparking the enthusiasm for storytelling and imagination.

SHEIR

Those were members of WAMU's Public Insight Network or PIN, speaking with "Metro Connection's" Tara Boyle and Rapahella Benin. PIN is a way for people to share their experiences with us and a way for us to reach out for input on stories we're working on. You can get more information about the Public Insight Network by visiting metroconnection.org/PIN.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and with the 4th of July just around the corner, this week we're talking Independence. We've learned how Capital Bike Share's popularity has boosted business for independent bike shop owners and we've heard about the Maryland School for the Blind's declaration of independence for all students.

SHEIR

Coming up, we'll check out a new Fringe Festival show that's performed for and with just one audience member at a time. But first, we turn to an ex-pat American painter known for his rather feisty sense of independence, James Abbott McNeill Whistler. In the 1870s, that feisty independence landed Whistler in a rather interesting dispute, one involving painting, pounds and...

MS. KIM BENDER

From the time the museum was open in 1823 until the '70s, there were live peacocks that roamed the courtyard.

SHEIR

Live peacocks just strutting around?

BENDER

Yes.

SHEIR

Peacocks.

BENDER

A peacock room near the Peacock Room, I guess.

SHEIR

This here is Kim Bender, author of the blog, "The Location," and she'll bring us the scoop on artists and independence and peacocks oh my, in this month's edition of "The Location," our regular segment where we explore the hidden history of Washington's places, people and culture. This week's location is, yes, the magnificent blue and gold Peacock Room.

BENDER

At the Smithsonian's Freer Sackler Gallery, we're in the Freer Gallery of Art right now.

SHEIR

The Freer houses the museum's collection of Asian art and you'll see some pretty spectacular examples in The Peacock Room, like the 254 pieces of Asian pottery lining the gilded walnut shelves. The pieces belonged to museum founder Charles Lang Freer.

BENDER

He was an early collector of Whistler's art and a lifelong patron. And when he started to collect his art, Whistler was the one who actually encouraged him to collect Asian art.

BENDER

Whistler is also the one who painted The Peacock Room all those rich, vibrant blues and golds. But the thing is, he never was supposed to. The story begins about 30 years before Freer purchased The Peacock Room in 1904. So we're talking 1876 when Whistler's friend and patron, British shipping magnate Frederick Leyland, decided to redesign his London dining room.

BENDER

Leyland hired an architect named Thomas Jekyll to build shelving, all this shelving that we see was built by Thomas Jekyll. He also put in some antique embossed leather and redesigned the dining room to display Leyland's collection of blue and white Chinese porcelains.

BENDER

At the same time that Jekyll was doing this project, Whistler was working on something in the front hallway of Leyland's house. And right before Jekyll was finished, he just wanted to consult briefly with Whistler about what colors he should paint the shutters. Leyland was in town at that time and he approved some minor work for Whistler to retouch the walls with some yellow and adorn the wainscoting with a wave pattern and then left and went back to Liverpool, where he was working.

BENDER

And around the same time, Jekyll became ill and sort of stopped overseeing the project. So Whistler, being the kind of guy that he was, just decided he was going to go crazy and fix parts of the room that he didn't think really worked.

SHEIR

So Leyland had given the go-ahead on some very small detailing and Whistler thought, you know what, I'm going to do a little bit more.

BENDER

Yes, I mean, the room is called Harmony in Blue and Gold. It's because everything harmonizes with each other. So I think he was probably trying to rebalance what he saw were some problems.

SHEIR

So what did Whistler do?

BENDER

He covers the ceiling with something called Dutch metal, which is imitation gold leaf. He paints over that with a pattern of peacock feathers and we can see that.

SHEIR

Blues and greens.

BENDER

Yes, and then he gilds the walnut shelving with gold leaf, as you can see. And he paints these beautiful shutters with peacocks, these large wooden shutters that go almost the height of the room, have these beautiful, beautiful peacocks. And all of this was inspired by the blue and white porcelain.

BENDER

So he writes to Leyland and tells him how wonderful all the changes he's made are and tells him not to bother to come back until all the details are perfect. But then he starts entertaining visitors and the press in Leyland's home to show them his beautiful work.

SHEIR

And Leyland's away this whole time?

BENDER

Yes, he's still in Liverpool. So, you know, Leyland's not too happy about it. He writes, "I do not think you should have involved me in such a large expenditure without previously telling me of it." Which, when we find out how much the bill comes to, you can understand. Whistler charges Leyland the equivalent of $200,000 for this work that he never asked to have done. It seems that they were friends, and then this really killed that relationship.

BENDER

So Leyland finally agrees that he's going to pay half of that price, but when he sees the work, he decides he's going to pay not in guineas, which is the currency of professionals and artists, he's going to pay him in pounds, which is the currency of trade, which is sort of a slap in the face. And it's also not so nice because a pound is worth 20 shillings and a guinea is worth 21. So he's not even making as much money as they had agreed.

SHEIR

Whew, that's an insult.

BENDER

Well, it's an insult, but at the same time, no one asked him to do the work.

SHEIR

That's a good point.

BENDER

And so Whistler's still in the house when this all happens and he decides to take his revenge on Leyland after Leyland has tried to take his revenge on him. And if we look at the wall, we see two more peacocks standing opposite each other, one with his wings out and his plumage up and the other looking sort of dejected. And you can see below the one with his plumage up, there are little things that look kind of like coins.

BENDER

So what we're looking at is on the left, the sadder, more dejected peacock is Whistler, and Leyland, the angry bird, used to be known for his ruffled shirts and you can sort of see that the peacock has some ruffles on his neck and he has got these coins that he's not going to pay. And Whistler called the painting "Art and Money" or "The Story Behind the Room." So that's his little act of revenge, although it's kind of cool.

SHEIR

It's actually a very beautiful act of revenge.

BENDER

And so Leyland kicks him out of the house and Whistler never sees his room again. And you would think that Leyland would come back into his house and rip it out and change it, but he actually kept the room the way that it was until his death in 1892. In 1904, the room was removed from Leyland's house and installed in a London art gallery.

SHEIR

So like reconstructed piece by piece?

BENDER

Yes, and then from there, the same year, an American, Charles Lang Freer, who was a Detroit railroad car manufacturer, purchased the room.

SHEIR

So Freer buys the room and then takes it back to his home in America?

BENDER

In Detroit, right. And he actually has part of his carriage house outfitted to fit the room and they put it back piece by piece reinstalled and he showcases his Asian ceramics collection. The way we see it now is the way he displayed it. This layout of the porcelains comes from photos of Freer's house in 1908.

SHEIR

So how did it then come to the museum?

BENDER

In 1919, Freer dies, and the whole room is transported here to the Gallery and it's been fully restored since then. They cleaned it and you can really see the vibrant colors.

SHEIR

The Freer Gallery exhibit "The Peacock Room Comes to America," was originally set to close in spring of 2013, but we've just received word it's been extended. The Smithsonian also released a new book, "The Peacock Room Comes to America," with plenty of full-color photos. You can learn more about the exhibit and book and hear our dramatic reading of the heated letter exchange between Leyland and Whistler by visiting our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

While we're talking all things dramatic, all sorts of drama and comedy and hard to categorize unorthodox theatrical stuff is coming up in just a few weeks as part of the capital Fringe Festival and one of the shows that falls into that final category, you know, hard to categorize and unorthodox, is called BFF, short for best friends forever.

SHEIR

It's a one-man show by a guy named Brian Feldman and breaking with thousands of years of theater tradition there's exactly one ticket for each performance. So what you do is you buy your ticket and just ahead of show time you go to the Fringe box office in Chinatown where you'll find a man holding a sign with your name on it. Recently on one steamy summer afternoon, that sign spelled out the name of "Metro Connection's" Emily Friedman.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

That's it, E-M-I-L-Y. That's a nice sign.

MR. BRIAN FELDMAN

Thank you. I appreciate it.

FRIEDMAN

I meet Brian Feldman at Fringe headquarters. When I called him a few days earlier he told me not to plan anything for these next couple of hours. So I didn't.

FELDMAN

What do you want to do? What do you like doing?

FRIEDMAN

What do I like doing? I like...

FRIEDMAN

Within traditional theater settings, I am unaccustomed to showing up for a performance and offering suggestions for the plot. Turns out it's kind of hard to think of something cool to do right on the spot, and by cool, I mean cool.

FELDMAN

I'm glad we picked the hottest day of the year to do this.

FRIEDMAN

Me too.

FELDMAN

Do you have your Metro card?

FRIEDMAN

Yes.

FELDMAN

Okay.

FRIEDMAN

Where do you want to go on the Metro?

FELDMAN

Let's look at the map. What's, like, the coldest museum, the one that would have, like, a freezer exhibition or something? I think I have an idea.

FRIEDMAN

We board an air-conditioned train car with no particular destination in mind. I take a seat and Brian sits down in the aisle next to me. Feldman moved here four months ago and though he's a fixture in Florida's performance art scene, BFF is his first show in D.C. Not that he's comfortable calling it a show.

FELDMAN

I'm always loathe to say if it's a show or not. Like, obviously it's billed as a show, but I'm always trying to find a different word to explain it because I don't want people's expectations to be like, this wasn't a show, this was just, I don't even know what this is.

FRIEDMAN

Back in Florida, he was a known quantity. His first major work, called "The Feldman Dynamic," had Brian and his family eating dinner on stage in front of a paying audience. Then there was that piece where he ate everything a restaurant offered on its menu.

FELDMAN

And, you know, I finished one dish and they brought the next dish.

FRIEDMAN

Another where he didn't watch a movie for an entire year, the year was 2006, in case you're curious. There was one in which he tried to cry for 3 hours, and then its sequel, in which he tried to smile for three hours. When a same-sex couple was refused a marriage license, he put out an open call to all Floridian women, went to city hall and married a complete stranger. And though he's done hundreds of performances, for his first in D.C. he says, why not try to get to know people at the same time?

FELDMAN

It's almost like friend speed dating, like, you know, we have two hours. Should we be friends?

FRIEDMAN

So like in a traditional performance, if you don't like it, you can leave in the middle?

FELDMAN

Yeah.

FRIEDMAN

Are you prepared for someone leaving in the middle of this piece?

FELDMAN

Anything can happen, it would not surprise me in the least. Some people will possibly buy a ticket to the show, not really know what they're getting themselves into, and immediately be looking for an out. Be wanting to say, hey, can I get my money back? I didn't realize you were just going to hang. To which that might actually become what we do, me walking to the bank so I get cash to give them.

FRIEDMAN

We've been talking nonstop for about 30 minutes and have evidently taken the Orange Line to Ballston.

FELDMAN

Let's get off the train.

FRIEDMAN

All right.

FRIEDMAN

Brian leads us out of the Metro into an office building, through a mall, inside an elevator and up four levels.

FRIEDMAN

Oh, yeah.

FELDMAN

I was just thinking it's so hot outside I want to look at a block of ice. I want to go skating.

FRIEDMAN

We're at Kettler Capitals Cineplex in Arlington, Va. We attempt to rent skates, but the rink's not open to the public for a few hours. So we settle for the next best thing.

FELDMAN

Maybe we can get ice pops? Do you have, like, ice pops?

#1

Only Popsicle.

FELDMAN

Popsicle? What colors? What color do you want?

FRIEDMAN

I would like the red one.

FRIEDMAN

We take our popsicles and sit inside the rink watching the figure skaters glide over the ice. I didn't know we'd end up here. Brian says he kind of had an idea, but that what happens at BFF is pretty much a game time decision.

FELDMAN

There's no plan. I mean, it's more about adventuring into the unknown and having a good time.

FRIEDMAN

And for 50 brave souls, he says, willing to spend two hours with a total stranger, anything can happen. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

The Capital Fringe Festival runs July 12th through the 29th at various venues around town. To check out any of the 130 plus productions being offered this year, head to our website, metro connection. Org. Oh, and in case you're wondering whether Emily and Brian really did become friends, well, she says they've emailed and tweeted each other several times since their two hours as bffs. We'll see where it goes from there.

SHEIR

Before we say goodbye today, we here at "Metro Connection" are pleased to announce a brand-new feature. We're calling it "Bookend." At the end of each month, Jonathan Wilson will talk with writers who have deep connections to the nation's capital, whether they grew up here or are simply inspired by the city. In this month's "Bookend," Jonathan introduces us to Kim Roberts, a poet who's lived in D.C. for nearly three decades.

SHEIR

In addition to writing her own poetry, Roberts's also serves as editor of the online Beltway Poetry Quarterly and is boosting the city's reputation as an art center by delving into its history.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

The range of subjects Kim Roberts tackles in her poetry is vast. In her latest book, "Animal Magnetism," you can find meditations on the frailty of the human body, imaginary husbands, and golden retrievers. But as I talked with Roberts in the living room of her home in D.C.'s Parkview neighborhood, she told me her house, her street, the places she spends her daily life, inform her poetry as much as anything else.

MS. KIM ROBERTS

I'm a poet who is very much influenced by place, by a sense of place and so a lot of my writing has been about places I've been. It's really sorted of rooted in that landscape and so many of my poems are based here in the landscape of the city. I'm writing about the parts of the city that I have made mine.

WILSON

As poet in D.C., a person who works creatively for a living a lot of people wouldn't kind of identified D.C. as a place to stay. We identify writers in New York, San Francisco, the South. Do you think it's fair to say that D.C. doesn't have that reputation or is that an unfair thing? I don't know.

ROBERTS

It's very fair to say that people don't think of us as an arts city. They think of other cities that have less going on as being more of, you know, an arts identified place. And in a way that's been good for the literary community because I know of no other city where people are quite so generous to one another. I mean, this is a great literary community.

ROBERTS

We support one another, we go to each other's reading, we buy each other's books, we publish one another. It's really, you know, I've got friends who live in New York and L.A. who they here about the community we have here and they're jealous of what we've got going. So in a way, having that sort of underdog status has helped, but we also, I think, are beginning to change that public perception.

WILSON

You have also -- you're also not just a poet. You have really dealt into the history of other writers who've come to D.C. and perhaps been inspired by D.C. Talk about that and kind of why you started doing that and how it's affected your own poetry, your own life.

ROBERTS

My interest in that was personal. I had taught Walt Whitman and read Walt Whitman for many, many years before that. But I went back because I was caring for a friend who was dying of cancer and was looking for texts that would help me do a better job of caring for this friend. And I remembered that Walt Whitman had written very movingly about his experiences as a volunteer nurse in Civil War hospitals.

ROBERTS

And so I went back and I reread his work and it really did help. It helped me to find the strength that I needed to do what I did for my friend. And I wanted to know where he lived in D.C. I wanted to know those places, none of them still stand. But he lived in a series of boardinghouses in the older part of the city, the central part of the city and I was able to find seven boardinghouse locations and map them out and figure out what years he was in each and what's now on that site. So that was the start and then, you know, it just kept growing from there.

WILSON

If you had to recommend a few things that people should read, that you have been inspired back looking back, is there a Whitman poem? Are there, you know, novels by some of these authors that you've read that you really would like people to go back and look at?

ROBERTS

I think everyone needs to read, at least once in their life, "Leaves of Grass." I really, I would recommend the very first version. You know, he printed different editions of it. The 1855 original version of "Leaves of Grass" is just an amazing piece of literature. But also I think for sheer sort of D.C. interest to go back and read some of his nonfiction, particularly "Memoranda," which you know, covers his Civil War experience and after. It's just gorgeous writings about the city in a major period of crisis and transition.

ROBERTS

I think that everyone should read Henry Adams wonderful novel, "Democracy." It was published during his lifetime anonymously and it talks about what life was like in D.C. during the gilded age and being sort of so entwined with power. And Jean Toomer wrote his book, "Cane," which combines poetry and short fiction and half of the book is set in D.C. It's just a brilliant, it's a masterpiece.

WILSON

Kim Roberts is the author of "Animal Magnetism." She's also the editor of "Full Moon on K Street," an anthology of poems about Washington D.C. Kim Roberts, thank you.

ROBERTS

My pleasure.

SHEIR

You can hear a clip of Roberts reading one of her poems and find a link to the "Beltway Poetry Quarterly" on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro's Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Emily Friedman, Jonathan Wilson, Martin Di Caro along with reporter, Kate Sheehy. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our interns are Jessika Officer and Raphaella Bennin. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and "Turn Your Face," our theme for "The Location," are both from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the "This week on "Metro Connection"" link. To listen to our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week for "Down the Hatch," our annual show all about food. We'll chronicle the rise and fall of D.C. eateries to see why certain restaurants thrive and others struggle to survive. We'll go inside the city's craze over a college student's staple, Ramen, and we'll raise our glasses to the long and surprising history of toasts in the nation's capital.

#1

One of the things about toasting would be whether you fast-forward to today or you go back to the earliest days of the republic. It was always a moment of bipartisan celebration. You would say, no, here's to the Union. You know, Congress, courage and cash.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.