Where I work is two blocks away from the White House. I wander over that way at lunch whenever the weather and the absence of errands permit; I'm trying to make a habit of it, not because of the White House but because of Lafayette Square. I find downtown DC a little dull to look at, as so much of whatever individuality and color it might have had has been developed right out of existence. My favorite things are the increasingly rare little survivals. But Lafayette Square has turned into a find. It's just exactly the right size for people-watching, and I find that if I just go somewhere and just watch for a while without feeling compelled to justify my existence in any way I get a big lift out of it. There is always always someone demonstrating; last week there was a group from the Congo, and yesterday a Vietnamese lady presiding over some anti-nuke signs. Yesterday there was also a street preacher. I had my iPod (of course) so I only caught little bits of his act: there was something about Jesus! Jeeeesus! Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus! and then I think the Vietnamese lady or some sirens drowned him out, and then a little later I heard him say, "You can say your blah blah blah, you can say yadda yadda" but I didn't make it to the end of whatever that thought was.
A regular in the park is the still rather buff older black man with long white locks and a long beard, who sits on a bench in his underwear or something looking very like underwear.
I passed him on my way to the pond on the east side of the park, where I was hoping to see baby ducks. But there were no ducks in that pond. All the ducks were taking naps in the other pond, and the only bird in this one was a struggling pigeon. He was just out of reach, and after looking at him for a while I started taking off my shoes. The place is swarming with cops as you can imagine, and I'm pretty sure they would not approve of someone climbing into the fountain. But I couldn't spot any of the park rangers (it's a National Park) and I didn't think it was the sort of thing you could ask one of the guys guarding the White House to do. So I thought OK. But then along came this blond kid about 16, he looked, a tourist who didn't speak a word of English. He caught on to what I wanted and waded into the water, grabbed the pigeon and handed it to me, and then just buzzed off to wherever he was headed.
Well there I was standing in the park with this soaking wet half-drowned pigeon in my hands. Still no sign of a park ranger, so I just sort of held it hoping it would recover. But after several minutes of wandering around looking for a ranger I realized that the pigeon had other problems than being half drowned. It was not long for this world. Rescue was not in its future, so I was started to think maybe I could hand it off to someone who would know how to put it out of its misery. And then I realized "I am standing here in the park holding a sopping wet diseased and dying pigeon in my hands." It was not exactly the sort of handful anyone would want to relieve me of. So I laid it on the ground under a tree and wished it the best--a gentle sleep.
Yesterday's best was the old homeless black man, sitting on a bench in the shade with a big suitcase and other assorted luggage, including several large sheets of poster board. These he had written on in blue, red and black magic marker--large, careful block letters. He was reading from a big, well-thumbed, leather-bound gilt-edged Bible. I got just close enough to him to read what was on the sign that was at the top of the stack--I was very curious to see what it said. I must say I was not disappointed.
"LATINO SERIAL KILLER RING OPERATING OUT OF UNION STATION
MCDONALDS MANAGER IS THEIR LEADER"