In Defense of L. by Robyn

It's all a Blur
photo by Sanjay Suchak

Ed. Note: This is a slightly different take on Robyn’s “in defense of” series. I certainly don’t think homelessness is a trivial matter but I do believe that some of the characters in the neighborhood most definitely add to the beautiful life. When I lived in Woodley Park, there was a great guy named Stoney who would light up my day nearly every morning saying/singing some impromptu rap/poetry. There are characters and there are trouble makers. I hope we don’t mix the two together. Do you have any characters that add to the beautiful life in your neighborhood?

Meet L. She’s been on the block for 45 years, and she’ll tell you that within seconds of meeting you. Well actually…L doesn’t necessarily ‘meet’ people. She prefers to walk up to you uninvited, size you up, and if she deems you fit, proceeds to tell you some news, then asks for either a cigarette, change, or a job offer to clean your stairs. L spends most of her time occupying a neighbor’s front porch, fence, or stairs, and walking up and down my block gathering the day’s gossip. Then at night you can find her spreading the news and otherwise being an uncouth, slightly jarring staple of Monroe Street. While I don’t know her complete story, L’s weathered the years. Her voice sounds like she swallowed granite, and her sobriety is always in question. Once she crashed party I threw and started her own dance party (remember, Prince?). When I first met her, I must admit I was a little dismissive. I’d put my head down and pick up pace as soon as I heard her charismatic baritone. But L caught onto me. It started slow, with a simple “What’s up deeeeva?” whenever I would pass. I’d nod back (who doesn’t like being called a diva?) and move on, but this wasn’t enough for L . One day she parked herself in the middle of the sidewalk not leaving room for any awkward maneuvering. Then she proceeded to give me the most bizarre interaction I’ve had in a while (besides for any I’ve had at Charlestown Races and Slots).

L: “DIVA!”

Me: “Oh, hey L.”

L: “Can I get my face back?”

Me: “Ermm…I don’t think I have your face? Maybe you lent it to someone else? Also, it appears that you have your face on right now.”

L: “No. I got YOUR face.”

After a few seconds of confusion, it was clear I wasn’t allowed passage in this Monty Python-esque challenge. I decided the best response was to play L at her own game.

Me: “Well, then L, can I have my face back please?”

She smiled, winked and said, “When I let it go (snap)!”

I didn’t get it, but it made me laugh for a good day and a half. When I see her today, we exchange our metaphorical faces, wink, and go on our separate ways. Now and then I’ll see new neighbors in their first L encounter. Not realizing she’s harmless, they clutch their belongings and look for the nearest cop car. I’m defending L. Sure, she’s loud not entirely trustworthy, and can be a bit of a nuisance when in a hurry. But she’s a staple of the block, and even though the neighborhood’s changing, I hope she remains for a while. Because eventually I would actually like my face back.

13 Comment

  • I like stoney as much as the next guy. I grew up in dc and he has been in WP forever. I liked him for the services he provided. His pot isnt much better than his shoe shine though. i mean from what i hear. but he is also a trouble maker. dont be fooled.

  • Shine in adams morgan is the best…

  • Is she homeless and sleep at a shelter? I couldn’t tell between your story and what PoP said 1st. “Spends most of her day on a neighbor’s porch…” I hope they are friends!

  • Absolutely nothing beats the guy on 7th and H NW who steps up to direct traffic in a clown wig with balloons tied to his ears. He’s there randomly though the intersection is most often gridlocked. When the police are no where to be found, up steps George Clintons long lost cousin to save the day, complete with super funk steps. I just worry he’ll get hit someday…

  • my favorite homeless guy is the dude who sits on the M street bridge at the east end of georgetown. he’s super hilarious, not a drunk, and very funny.

  • one follow up to my favorite guy – that day a few years ago that the blackberry servers weren’t working, when i walked by he looked at me all panicked and said “my blackberry is down!”

  • One of my favorite poems by Rilke:


    Have I said it before? I am learning to see. Yes, I am beginning. It’s still going badly. But I intend to make the most of my time.

    For example, it never occurred to me before how many faces there are. There are multitudes of people, but there are so many more faces, because each person has several of them. There are people who wear the same face for years; naturally it wears out, gets dirty, splits at the seams, stretches like gloves worn during a long journey. They are thrifty, uncomplicated people; they never change it, never even have it cleaned. It’s good enough, they say, and who can convince them of the contrary? Of course, since they have several faces, you might wonder what they do with the other ones. They keep them in storage. Their children wear them. But sometimes it also happens that their dogs go out wearing them. And why not? A face is a face.

    Other people change faces incredibly fast, put on one after another, and wear them out. At first, they think they have an unlimited supply; but when they are barely forty years old they come to their last one. There is, to be sure, something tragic about this. They are not accustomed to taking care of faces; their last one is worn through in a week, has holes in it, is in many places as thin as paper, and then, little by little, the lining shows through, the non-face, and they walk around with that on.

    But the woman, the woman: she had completely fallen into herself, forward into her hands. It was on the corner of rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. I began to walk quietly as soon as I saw her. When poor people are thinking, they shouldn’t be disturbed. Perhaps their idea will still occur to them.

    The street was too empty; its emptiness had gotten bored and pulled my steps out from under my feet and clattered around in them, all over the street, as if they were wooden clogs. The woman sat up, frightened, she pulled out of herself, too quickly, to violently, so that her face was left in her two hands. I could see it lying there: its hollow form. It cost me an indescribable effort to stay with those two hands, not to look at what had been torn out of them. I shuddered to see a face from the inside, but I was much more afraid of that bare flayed head waiting there, faceless.

  • Ms. Lillian is actually sort of home-insecure, not homeless. She stays with her family in the neighborhood but they won’t let her in if she’s been drinking so she doesn’t go home all that much. She’s a riot when she’s sober and can be bad news when she’s been drinking. But all in all, she worth talking to and having a chat. She’s also probably lived in this neighborhood for longer than all of us. Like most homeless people, she’s fighting a few demons but generally she’s a good person who will do work for you for a few bucks if you need it.

  • i love the homeless guy who hangs out along Mass between 2nd and 3rd NE. Hes got more crap on his carts then i think i own but he has awesome gems as you walk by. I’m not sure of his sobriety/sanity/issues sometimes hes seems pretty with it, other times hes a little off the wall. But hes a nice guy and a fixture of the neighborhood.

  • my favorite homeless guy is the dude who sits on the M street bridge at the east end of georgetown. he’s super hilarious, not a drunk, and very funny.

    I’ve seen him around, too. He seems capable of carrying intelligent conversation. It makes me wonder why he’s homeless.

  • he’s very capable of carrying on intelligent conversation – seems like he’s homeless by choice. odd scenario.

  • Miss L is one of my favorite characters. We adopted a dog named Lily shortly after moving to Monroe Street in 2007 and L would always call out to our pup– “How’s my namesame?!”

  • Moses, the king of Quincy, is the bomb. Except when he’s using the “public” restroom in the woods, of course.

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