"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, January 19, 2004
Innocent in the Big City
heart-beat Function: noun
1 : one complete pulsation of the heart
2 : the vital center or driving impulse
3 : for the United States, Washington, DC
(Here's another Blogger Idol entry. For me the 80's is just too big to cover in one post, or even in a hundred. The last post was about the final part of the 80's. This one will be about the beginning.)
It was 1980, and I was riding the whirlwind.
In the late spring of that year, I had been introduced to Congressman John Jenrette. For those of you who don't immediately recognize the name, he was one of the congressmen indicted in the ABSCAM investigations, and he served time for it too.
When I went to work for him, things were just beginning to heat up. In the midst of all of this, he was also running for re-election. And, like hyenas, anybody who had a desire for power was trying to topple him and take his seat.
I was there during the primary in South Carolina. I saw the opponent use some really dirty political tactics, such as making statements in public that were out and out lies, then calling later in private to apologize. I saw them try to hire key staffers or bribe people. I saw them buying votes.
We still won the primary.
So, now it was June and I headed to Washington DC to be the congressman's assistant press secretary. I arrived on a Friday afternoon and checked into his office. I had no earthly idea where to stay, and they gave me the name of a place called "Hartnett Hall" in the Dupont Circle area of DC. So, I headed that way.
Now, remember here, I had little experience of any city the size of DC at that time. I was as green as it gets.
After a few escapades such as heading the wrong way down a seven lane one way street just as the light ahead changed (can you say "kamakaze"? How about "sidewalk"?) I found Hartnett Hall. The office was in a well apportioned brownstone, and when I walked in they took my money for a weeks rent without any question.
They also told me it was nonrefundable, as of right now, no matter what. It was a sign of my naivete that this did not send up any red flags, but I gladly walked around the corner outside so he could show me the room. We climbed the stairs from the street to the entrance, there were two locked doors to get through, different keys, still no red flag, and three more flights up to my room. On the way he pointed out the communal restroom facility (it was an all male building), and finally at the end of the hall we came to my door, which required yet another two keys.
We opened the door.
Lets see if I can describe this room. The walls were a dark matte forest green, except just a tad towards kelly green. They swallowed the furnishings, which was not hard since there were only two, a bed and a chest of drawers. The chest of drawers was metal and had seen better decades. The bed rested on cinder blocks and was well used. Very, very well used.
There was no air conditioning, and it was Summer.
I said thanks, and headed to unload my stuff.
I had to park around the corner, so every load I was bringing in I was walking by this bar called "Friends." The streets seemed pretty busy, men and women milling about. I made several trips, and was unpacking my suitcase in my room, sweating in the heat and humidity while listening to a little portable cassette player.
Then there was a knock at the door. I opened it.
"Pardon me please, but would it be too much to ask you to turn your music off, as I am trying to take a nap?" asked a man with a perfect British accent, class and style oozing from his words.
The entire effect being spoiled by the fact that he was standing there buck naked in the hall.
"Uh, sure," I quickly said. I watched as he returned to his room across the hall and lay back down with his door left open.
'Odd,' I thought to myself. 'Maybe he is just trying to keep cool in this awful heat,' I added, giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking of which, the heat really was awful. I tried opening the window and after some effort broke through the old paint and got it open a bit. But the next building was only feet away so there was no air flow, and the room was getting more like a sauna than a bedroom. This was simply not going to work!
So, I formed a plan. Step one, go buy a cold beer. Step two, go buy a fan. Step one would be quick and easy, there was a bar just downstairs! That's the ticket!
I head to the bar and walk in. The place is full of people sitting at picnic tables, swinging back and forth, arm in arm and singing like they were in Bavaria.
Problem was, they were all guys. Not a girl in sight. Now, remember, this was 1980. Things like this just didn't happen. Not anywhere I had been before, anyway.
I retreated to the street, and took a closer look at the guys and girls out there. Every one of the girls was really a guy.
I was in the middle of the gay area of Washington, and I was living in a male boardinghouse.
Well, I still wanted that beer and needed that fan, so off I went.
I headed down the avenue until I came across a street that looked like it had lots of stores on it. I parked ($5 an hour in 1980? Even then that should have sent up a red flag, but I was in short supply) and I headed to a drug store I had seen.
When I walked up, it was closed. Drat! I turned around to go find my car again when a young lady, very cute, was walking up.
"Are they already closed?" she asked.
"Yeah, we must have just missed them," I said. "Is there anything else in this area?"
"What are you trying to find?"
"A window fan. And maybe a beer."
"There's another store down the block, follow me."
So we walked down the street, chatting each other up the whole way. All of a sudden, she stopped and said "Well, here's where I work, just keep going about a half a block, bye!" and vanished through a doorway.
I looked at the building. All the windows were painted over, and they all said "Girls, Girls, Girls!"
I was betting they had beer, beer, beer too. So I went straight in.
What greeted me was not what I expected at all.
It was a small room, and there was a lady standing there behind a podium thing. Otherwise, the room was empty except for a rack of porno magazines. There was one door in the rear.
She looked at me and said, "Would you like to see a movie?"
"Come, I'll show you."
We headed through the door.
She went about halfway down this dark smelly hallway and opened one of the curtains that lined the hall on each side. Inside was a little cubicle with a single bed on a wooden shelf, a folding chair, and a TV in the top corner playing a porn movie.
"For $25, you can sit in here for 30 minutes and watch a movie with the woman of your choice."
"Yes." She looked at the TV.
"With the woman of my choice?"
There was one of those real uncomfortable pauses while my brain added a file folder it didn't know it needed. "Um, frankly, I wanted a beer."
I bailed as quickly as I could, trying not to come into contact with anything on my way out. I went down the street to that other drug store and bought a fan. Oh, by then I had figured out it was 14th street, the vice capital of DC at that time.
Two weeks later, I moved across the river to Alexandria, and air conditioning.
Hate no one; hate their vices, not themselves.
-J. G. C. Brainard