I was in Washington for the display of the AIDS Quilt and was struck most not by the Quilt itself but by the dinner Friday night (although 38,000 panels stretching the length of the mall from the Washington Monument to the Capitol are not unimpressive, representing, as they do, about one panel for every ten of the 350,000 Americans who have now died of AIDS).

The dinner was held in the National Building Museum Building, which the first few times I visited it I assumed was some sort of bureaucratic parody — the National Building Museum Building?

I might also say that the first few times I visited — for the annual Medical Education for South African Blacks benefit, another fine group — this gargantuan space was only barely utilized, like a giant cardboard box in which you’ve collected all your toy soldiers in one corner. That was true even this past April, when billionaire international financier George Soros (bless his heart) was MESAB’s honoree. Barely a third of the floor was used for the benefit.

Not so this past Friday night. Every inch was filled with tables, to the point that fire marshals apparently had required tents to be pitched outside for the actual cooking — a sort of caterer’s bivouac. Fourteen hundred tuxes, dark suits and evening gowns, raising $1 million between them, seated at more than 150 tables of 8, each centered by a 3-foot candelabra, thousands of candles running the length of this colossal building, that had once been known as the “pension” building before it was turned into a museum but now, with all those candles, and with small portions of the Quilt hanging down from three stories, looked more like a church.

But that wasn’t what most struck me either.

I was most struck before we even entered the Building building, as we stood in line waiting to show our tickets and file in. (It takes a while to register 1,400 people.) We were a dignified group, not quite somber, but each filled with memories of a brother or a son or a daughter or a parent or a lover or a friend — or many of them — lost to AIDS. It was basically a giant memorial service.

And there across the street (this is the part that most struck me) were perhaps a dozen Christians quietly singing, holding up signs only one of which I could clearly read: 2 Gay Rights: AIDS and HELL! The group leader had a bullhorn and, in between the quiet songs, would say things like, “Sodomites, repent!”

What a great country. Here were these citizens, outnumbered perhaps 100 to one, safely and peacefully and selflessly doing what they felt Jesus called upon them to do — so they were feeling pretty good about the evening — and here were 1,400 friends and relatives of victims of a disease that’s now infected some 30 to 50 million (mostly straight) adults and children around the world doing what they felt called upon to do, also feeling good about the evening — indeed, the whole weekend.

If God was displeased by the Quilt, He wasn’t showing it in the ordinary ways. The weather all weekend was magnificent.

And then He pushed the Dow up above 6000.

Tomorrow: Margin Interest


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