gall and gumption

Monday, August 18, 2008

Greetings from the Underground Cave!

I've made my move into DC, for those of you who don't already know. I'm in temporary digs in an underground cave in a neighborhood that is 1/3 longtime black folks, 1/3 Latino and 1/3 hipster. The dogs are adjusting; we are a couple blocks from Rock Creek Park and all its glories of lounging on the grass and running around in circles. There are some very brazen urban squirrels (one dropped an apple that almost hit Sweetie on the head) and in the back yard there is a rat whose movements are fraught with mystery and fascination. Also there is something on the other side of the fence that requires long stretches of Sweetie standing very still with her ears up, peering through a crack.

Much chicken is consumed in the streets which is convenient for the sly consumption of chicken bones, which for some reason the dogs can't fathom, I don't like and don't like them to have. On the other hand, the dogs don't like drunk people, or buses. Buses hiss at them and suddenly disgorge people who, from the way they just sort of materialize, might be spooks for all Misha knows. And Sweetie is developing a nervous apprehension of bicycles on the sidewalk.

There are about six what they call in St. Kitts and Nevis "Spanish Bars" within three blocks of here. And one bar exclusively frequented by hipsters. Several pupuserias, three Botanicas, and I can stand on one corner and see four Western Union agencies.

A few blocks away is a sort of informal gathering of hipster dogs in the early morning. We drop in over there sometimes and Sweetie feels bold enough to actually play. She pretty much plays two games: tag and "It looks like those two dogs are fighting: I think I'll go hump the one that's losing." Misha stays on the leash, doesn't want to be off the leash. She just sort of cowers against me.

The main drag through the neighborhood turns into a small Central American town in the afternoons, especially on weekends. An old lady sets up a stall on the sidewalk and sells fruit, including fresh green coconuts that you drink from with a straw. On the corners small groups of Latino men sit and drink and watch the street. I get catcalls, whistles, blessings. Apparently with the sitting on the sidewalk sozzled set I am hot stuff. The area is heavily policed as the saying goes. Most of the police work seems to involve scooping one or another of these drinkers off the pavement.

Four days after I moved in a mentally disturbed man invaded my next door neighbors' house. I got home from work and the supermarket and wasn't allowed to walk onto my street or even peer down it to see what was going on. I had to just loiter round the corner with the 20-lb bag of dog food until they were able to coax him off the porch and bundle him into a van. When I finally saw my neighbors later that night, I said, "You had some excitement today." I was hoping, of course, to hear all the sensational details. "Yes," they said with perfect calm and good-nature, and went on enjoying the cool of the evening on the porch.

The word they use most often when referring to Misha is "precious." A word I myself would not have thought to apply to her. They speak to her sweetly and gently whenever they see her and she's trying to figure out in her dim way whether she can trust them.

Two houses up from them, in a weird old house that backs onto some sort of phone and telecommunications agency and the Western Union place is a nice old man named James. He doesn't have a porch; he has a little metal staircase, the sort of thing you might associate with temporary bleachers. open his front door and you step out onto a metal landing with about four steps into the thick of things (chicken-bone scattering, drunk folks, all the street commotion). James likes to sit on this landing and watch Redskins games on a portable TV set. He is a Redskins fan. He brings one chair for himself, one chair for the little black and white TV, and then he has this enormous golf umbrella that he somehow props up to shelter the TV and himself from the sun. Then he gets himself a little treat (watermelon is in season now and he eats it daintily with a spoon), kicks his shoes off, and just enjoys the hell himself.

So yes, I do feel as though I have gotten once again among the holy angels.

My immediate neighbors consist of Mr. B., and his two daughters Terry and Sherry. Tonight the sisters introduced me to their brother Paul who lives nearby, and they offended him by referring to him in my presence as their "baby brother." Paul is on the shady side of 50, and took umbrage at being called a baby. In fact that was the whole substance of my first conversation with him: that he was not a baby, did not wear no Pampers, did not use a pacifier, was no kind of baby at all and didn't want nobody to call him no baby. "You'll always be our baby brother," said Terry or possibly Sherry, sweetly. So Paul went away grumbling that he doesn't wear no Pampers and demanding to know if anybody sees him using a pacifier. "When he's inside we call him baby brother and he doesn't mind; he only minds it in front of other people," Terry (or Sherry) explained to me after he left.



At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...I am hot stuff."

Plus ca change...

At 1:45 PM, Blogger leslie said...


At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the squirrels' way of "welcoming" you to the neighborhood. Next time, throw the apple back while cursing at them. Then they'll respct you.
The area you describe sounds like Mount Pleasant/Adams Morgan. Great.


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