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).
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.