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Washington is out of focus


I HAVE JUST returned from a trip to our nation's capital, where we visited the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and 20 or so parking lots that featured large "WE'RE FULL" signs and surly attendants who did not have the common decency to accept a bribe.

As a result, we ended up parking somewhere in South Carolina. Or at least that's how it felt as I limped back to the car after that horse nearly trampled me (more on that later).

Of course, we took lots of pictures. Given my history with cameras, though, the odds are that very few of the pictures will actually be in focus.

A shot of a Seminole village exhibit in one of the Smithsonian museums, therefore, might more closely resemble the inside of a broom closet.

Or a shot of the Capitol dome might be so fuzzy that it appears to have been taken from the Voyager II on its last orbit.

The other major problem I have is that the people in so many of my snapshots appear to have piercing red eyes, hinting of some sort of demonic possession -- although the only evidence of demonic possession was this stupid horse that tried to kill me, of which you will learn more very shortly.

The day was not without its ironic touches. As we walked past the Vietnam War Memorial, for instance, we were approached by a couple speaking in a clipped British accent.

Naturally, my first instinct was to run in the other direction, fearing these people might be passing out samples of the horrible food that is eaten in that country.

But instead of handing me a chunk of boiled mutton or something equally hideous, the man thrust his camera in my direction and smiled.

"Would you be good enough to take our picture?" he asked.

I wanted to say: Boy, have you got the wrong guy. Ten thousand tourists crawling all over the Mall and you have the sheer rotten luck to run into me. Sure, I'll take your picture. But you could aim that camera at your shoes and snap off a few frames, and you'll get basically the same shot I'm gonna give you.

Of course, not wanting to touch off an incident with possible trans-Atlantic implications, I said nothing of the sort.

Instead, even though I was still pretty shaken up by the horse (in a minute, in a minute) I pretended to know what I was doing. Quite frankly, I'm not even sure the lens cap was off. But the couple struck a typically goofy tourist pose and I hit some sort of button and the camera made this whirring sound. And that was that.

Both the man and the woman seemed pleased. They thanked me profusely, even when I mentioned that there was probably no reason to rush right down to Fotomat to get that baby developed.

OK, now about that horse. The ugly incident began as I was minding my own business and a horse ridden by a U.S. Park Service policeman appeared nearby.

With that, a member of our, ahem, party (my brother-in-law) said: "Stand by that horse and I'll take your picture."

"Yeah, right," I said. Quickly I reminded him of one of the governing credos of my life, which is that the only way I stand next to a horse is if the horse is stuffed and mounted in a museum. Even then I'd probably want to run a mirror under his nose to make sure he wasn't breathing.

Yet even when I explained all this, my brother-in-law and my wife -- who must have taken out a fresh insurance policy -- kept pleading with me to go stand by the horse.

Finally, to get these people off my back, I did. The cop was very nice about the whole thing, figuring correctly that I was just another idiot tourist who would make his life miserable for a few seconds and then disappear forever.

Anyway, I'm standing there, forcing this smile and waiting for my brother-in-law to snap this picture, when all hell breaks loose.

Suddenly the beast reared his ugly head. Then he . . . well, he lunged at me and bumped me and nearly stepped on my foot. I think he was going for my throat, although by this time I might have blacked out for a second.

"Sorry about that," said the cop, who quickly led the animal away.

You hear all these stories about how intelligent horses are, but I assure you these animals are vastly overrated. They get amazingly good publicity, due mainly to shaky anecdotal evidence that a few have saved their riders from quicksand, or alerted other animals to barn fires, etc. Hey, give me a dog any day.

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