7pm. Tryst. Adams Morgan.
I’m at what I like to call the “orphan table. It’s a simple, wooden affair that could seat ten easily, eight luxuriously. The orphan table is the first one you encounter when you walk through the door, when you’re clutching your backpack and it’s junior high lunch all over again. I don’t mind it, though. The table, that is. Two other parties are sharing it, a couple to my right, and a trio to my left. It’s very communal and sweet…something that I don’t exactly experience everywhere. There’s a large, chipped-urn in the center of our little collective. The lilies that fill it share the same startling pink as a salmon’s interior. The sight of meat or fish (what I like to just call FLESH) always startles life-long wegetarian me. That’s why salmon-coloured things always make me look twice, as I picture the white lines that run through the slices of fish these flowers resemble.
I felt a toxic one-two punch of lonely and crazy a few hours ago, so I forced myself to leave the house. I took the metro to Adams Morgan (really, to Woodley *(^&*^%% park) and I came here because it’s a good place to be. It’s excellent for thinking, eating, writing, observing and escaping to. Even if you’re all alone. That’s what the orphan table is for. I haven’t done anything substantial here…just caught up on bloglines and read my email. I find that my adoration of a place increases geometrically if they have free wi-fi and it’s Mac-friendly. I would think that all free wi-fi is Mac-friendly but Panera Bread Company was a total cock-tease about it. In I went, purchasing assloads of bagel and muffin, a mug of “endless” coffee ready to go…and I couldn’t connect. The douche bag across from me with his Dell could. He exclaimed about it loudly to his co-douchers, that’s how I know.
Free wi-fi is concomitantly delightful and dangerous. It sates my Internet addiction, but it also keeps me from just writing, like I’m doing now. There are far too many distractions for ADDled me. DCist (and its cousins Gothamist and especially SFist) might appeal to me for exactly that reason: plenty of little things, constantly updated, no opportunity for ennui. Huh. That’s what some of you love about sepia mutiny. ☺ It’s not the same for me, you know. When you throw the party, you never, ever enjoy it as much as your guests.
The firefox window with a view of DCist is still up…my indecision keeps it there. Apparently, there’s a Washington blogger meetup tonight at Soho coffee on 21st and P, and it started at 7pm. When I first read this, I felt electrified by possibility; I’ve wanted to attend one of these (or a DC fotolog meetup) ever since I moved here nine months ago. For whatever reason, it never meshed with my schedule. Google Maps says that my destination is 0.9 miles away. I knew the morg was near Dupont, now I know just how near. I start to ponder whether I could or should walk it, and another ten minutes disappears. That’s an essential and wholly unwanted part of my “process”; time is stolen and when I wake up, I wonder what happened to it. It’s 7:45 and I start to get worried. What if it ends soon? Maybe I should take a cab? Something within balks at this, b/c I’ve made this silly commitment to myself to start walking more since I’m not a huge fan of my gym (ah, for the gyms in CA…)
I haven’t been car-less in quite a while. Guesstimating how long it would take to walk a mile feels murky. I finally remember that when I’m really slow (as I would on a day as obscenely hot as today), I walk at about 3mph. Okay. 20 minutes. I should leave RIGHT NOW, but I feel like there are invisible straps keeping me in this chair, in my tryst.
I’m torn. I can’t decide what to do.
“Hi. I am sooo sorry, I don’t mean to be a pain…it’s just that…um, are you going to order anything else? Not that I mind if you do or don’t…I just…my shift is over and I was going to close out or transfer my tab.” My waitress has kneeled down at my left so that she’s looking up at me with huge whiskey-coloured eyes. I wonder if she’s a bicyclist, her calves are amazing. She regards me with apprehension as I study her.
I smile widely. “Close it out, then. No worries.”
“Omg, are you sure? You are so sweet! Seriously, this makes my life so easy.” She’s got her hair coiled up in princess leia buns and she’s smoothing overgrown bangs behind her ears as she talks. Her smile is beatific and her dimples make acquiescing more than worth it.
Leia walks off to bring out my tab and I shake my head. Decision made, and I didn’t even have to make it. When she rushes back with my receipts on a mastercard-logoed platter, I note the time before leaving permission to charge me at least $11. 8:02pm I sign under the $15 I’ve scrawled rather sloppily, thanks to a bizarre scratch in the plastic tray. I frown at this but remind myself not to get bogged down by perfectionism. Putting the bill down, my bag on my shoulder, I get up and push the chair in. That number is really bothering me. It’s kind of messy. Moments like this, I slightly hate myself, as I bend over and trace over the numbers so that there’s no mistaking what I meant. Convinced that I’ve got issues, I bolt. Where I'm at, 18th street isn’t too crowded. I see a cab go by but squash the urge to hail it. I am woman! Watch me walk!
A toothless old man grins at me, his burnished, bark-coloured, wrinkle-less skin stretching tautly over his face, silver curls a Caesarian crown 'round his head. He stands with his hands clasped behind his white sport shirt with its crazy knit pattern of black checks. The shirt is untucked, it relaxes over black trousers. Chappals that could've been Bata, had he been Indian, cushion his feet. I take all of this in from across the cobblestone street, memorizing him as I approach. As I passed, his voice rang out in the air with the same stealth and light that fireflies employ, on these summer nights. I’m always delighted by fireflies. We didn’t have them in California. I always associate them with humid nights in the suburbs of New York City, which is where I saw them (was dumbfounded by them, really) for the first time.
"India o Pakistan!" he declared slightly hoarsely, a lifetime of smoking roughening the brightness of his speech. I grinned back. Usually, like every other stuck-in-the-middle 2nd Gen-er, when someone asks me where I’m from, I do the sigh, bristle, eye-roll or similar negative gesture in response, without hesitation. I can’t help it, it’s ingrained now. If they ask if I’m from India, within, I wonder what an American looks like, since I apparently wore the wrong outfit in order to resemble one. Born and raised in the golden state, where I didn't even know that I was a minority until I was eight, no one will ever assume that I was, in fact, conceived and delivered right here.
This was different though. "India!" I declared right back. His eyes widened before narrowing from the gentle push of his cheekbones. His smile was irresistible, the same way that a baby's is. "Jai Hind!" he shouted at my backside, while I laughed on down 18th street. For a few minutes, I was consumed with the exchange, attempting to play it back and rewind it, again and again in my head. I kept tripping on the "o". Had he said "o" between the two countries? I could've sworn it wasn't a harshly finished "OR". I reconciled my consternation by deciding that no matter what his lips had issued, my brain had remade it into an "o" from years of Spanish classes, since "o" means "or". I shook my head at my unmatched ability to become mired in the inconsequential, my obsession with capturing every nuance of a past moment. I rerun things that have just happened like a kid who’s just discovered how the rewind button works—ad nauseum.
"Little Ethiopia" (apparently the aforementioned DCist decided against "little Addis Ababa", for obvious reasons) surrounded me as if I were in a bizarro version of Jackson Heights. The same little sub-street level cassette and DVD shops that you walk down a few metal or concrete steps to get to, all blaring their wares in a language I don’t speak...the same random beauty parlors where practically no English is spoken and mais oui, restaurants galore filled with "natives" as well as progressive white people who smugly congratulate themselves internally for being so "down" with the chocolate city's offerings. I suddenly became self-conscious as I always do around Ethiopians, since I am often mistaken for one to the point of being accosted by angry older "uncles" who demand to know why I don't speak my mother tongue, right after I innocently ignore whatever they initially say in Amharic to get my attention. Each of these exchanges is inevitably completed with a benevolent smile once they realise that I do, indeed, have quite the excuse for "neglecting my (their) culture" as well as the excited admission that I look JUST LIKE one of their cousins. That explains it, you see.
I started to wonder just when I might hit Florida Avenue, the Google maps satellite picture still frozen in my mind. I also wondered why people on narrow sidewalks walk so damned slow, and then seem miffed that you want to go faster. Perhaps these are the same assholes who drive 68 mph in the passing lane as if it's their divinely ordained right to set the flow of traffic. I stepped in a bunch of bark=dominated mulch to get around an erstwhile frat boy in last season's diesels. I resolved that I would not gloat about the fact that he clearly wore a 30" inseam while my diesels were a 34" vertically. When he gave me the miffed look DESPITE my attempt at being good, I narrowed my eyes, elevatored him and gave him the nastiest smirk I could muster from my bitchy sorority days. The girl next to him laughed. "You should've just let her get around you. Maybe she has somewhere she needs to go." Word.
Florida appeared and I started to make my right turn...right into a pack of tourists. They were walking (creeping, really) six abreast, just like they do in Manhattan when they want to piss off the locals so that blood pressure medications stay profitable. I abruptly spun on my heel and gratefully noticed that the light had changed. Cross the street, I did. It was hot. Too-hot-to-wear-makeup-hot. Too-hot-to-wear-shoes-hot. Just plain bleeding HOT.
I started to question the wisdom of my decision to NOT take a cab the 0.92 miles...I’d come too far though. I mean, I could practically see 21st st. I pressed on, wincing every now and then at my right ankle's misery, despite the heroic cushioning provided by my reef flip-flops-with-athletic-shoe-soles. Pound, pound, pound. Walking felt like such a burden, like I was carrying around lead instead of a laptop. I hit 21 st and realised I was still nowhere near this Soho joint. My brain felt like fuzzy, scrambled cable. I’d lived in this damned neighbourhood in 2000 and for all my efforts, I couldn't visualize where I needed to go. I was only at T st...S, R, Q, I recited back awkwardly...ugh, four more blocks AND there was probably one of those cursed "state" street-diagonals. I knew I was wilting but I was determined to make it to this silly meetup, since nothing else from my day had developed when I shook it like a Polaroid picture.
Dread filled me when I hit the corner of 21st and P. It was almost 8:30, what if they were already done? I couldn't tell which side of the street had odds/evens, nor could I see a sign for the venue. Finally, at the end of the street, I saw 2150. If there had been a giant hourglass in the corner of the picture I painted to the world, we'd see three grains slowly getting ready to fall through. Seven non-descript people, all with bags milled about the entrance on the sidewalk. When I saw the digital SLR around one of their necks, I wanted to cry. No, it can't be. Come ON. I tried. WHY? WHY IS MY TIMING SO SUCKY? Gulping a loud, awkward breath, I tried to reframe the situation; perhaps this was some other random group of people. I had no knowledge that these were the bloggers who were meeting up. I wasn't psychic. Come on, Anna. Quit giving up--
"Awesome! Can’t wait to see you next month!"
--so easily. Or, you know, give up. Since your inner pessimist IS psychic, after all.
"Absolutely, wouldn't miss it."
I stumbled over myself. I wanted to ask the guy closest to me if they were, in fact, the DC meetup crew...and then my tongue fused to the bottom of my mouth. Fourth grade all over again, though these kind, dough-y looking souls were the furthest thing from my elementary school tormenters. I stumbled back. They were all walking so fast. Desperately, I turned to the cafe, searching for signs of meetup through the shiny windows that were emblazoned with attributes to convince you to forsake starbucks.
Everyone inside was alone.
I had missed it.
I was defeated.
I turned the corner, trying to decide what to do next. Dupont circle loomed as a welcome, comforting bosom for a pillow, with free wi-fi, too. Yes, that was perfect. To Dupont I’d go. Except...after a block and a half, I realised that I was meandering towards a painfully long path to the circle. The heat was melting my powers of logic, not that there's much to dissolve.
Stop, Anna. Take stock. Where are you? All I could think of was how thirsty I was. As I trudged painfully past Mercedes SUVs and BMW roadsters, I piteously imagined that I was lost in the desert, as if I were suddenly in one of those now-ancient cartoons where bugs bunny is part of the foreign legion. Million-dollar brick townhouses were a mirage, yes. The uber-preppy family in matching lacoste chemises and khaki who looked at me strangely? Total mirage. My ability to navigate this city? Mirage. My time management skills? DEFINITE MIRAGE.
Sprite’s on to something with that "obey your thirst" stuff. My thirst suddenly was the North Star, leading me home. I saw neon ahead and I went towards it, certain that there would be a bodega amid the sushi bars and Dupont circle restaurants. Worse comes to worst, there was the anomalously nice burger king. I shuddered at that, though. All I could think of was water. Pure, expensive, French water.
Tucked amid the brick, a tiny newsstand/convenience store caught my desiccated eye. Wandering in, I noticed that the owner was Arab. "HELLO" he boomed. I resisted the urge to bellow “HELLOOOO” right back, a la Seinfeld. At this point, my thirst was so overwhelming; I knew I wouldn’t have one of my typical moments of waffling indecisiveness. I reached for the Evian, frowning that all they had was the pint size. On the shelf above, “glaceau vitamin water” whispered a seductive siren’s call. “Lemonaaade”, it purred. Yeah, so much for the lack of waffling. “Multi-v”-enriched nimbu pani, to go, please.
When I turned around, there was no one behind the register. Smoke curled in my peripheral vision. He was outside, watching me without blinking, smoking unfiltered somethings. Deliberately, he slammed the cigarette down, crushing it on the brick planter he’d been leaning on. He still hadn’t blinked. He went from being outside to behind the counter so fast, I wondered if my eyes were still working properly. “Dollar seven five” he pronounced thickly to my breasts. “Out of five,” they whispered back. Imagine that. The new t-shirt bra works.
Outside, the heat seemed to thicken with the lack of light. I was now in full view of the little park with the fountain and I couldn’t wait to finally SIT DOWN. Haste made me race across the convoluted circles against the lights, dodging exasperated jetta-driving-DCites. Like always, I was slightly surprised by the amount of activity one random little patch of grass with a fountain attracts. People were ending dates, gay couples were walking their dogs, and tourists were confused. Homeless people enjoyed the show and the potential marks. Luckily for me, there was a 30” spot of marble fountain-ledge just waiting for my tired ass. Except there was a weird liquid on it. Fuck that shit. Or potential pee, rather. One of the couples on a date regarded me with amusement as I abruptly shifted paths and moved towards my right. I sat down next to the guy, but not next-next to him. I’m not WEIRD. “Guess she likes me better than you”, he joked to his girl. She was beautiful, wearing a fluid DVF wrap dress, looking absolutely unaffected by the disgusting heat, like she had a bubble of air conditioning around her. Hook me up with some of THAT. Despite my abbreviated cotton outfit and flip-flops, her synthetic dress and pointy pumps looked infinitely cooler, in every sense of the word.
Finally, I can WRITE. The whooshing, loud water at my back acted like a courteous white noise machine, blocking out all the flirting and attempts to holla. My left hand spastically hit loopy key+T thrice, opening up tabs for typepad, gmail and diary. As soon as I noted (with a twinge of disappointment) that there were no new comments to read on my blog, I immediately hit the “SM” on my toolbar. An asinine comment to a cute entry made me bristle and mutter about the stupidity of certain douche bags whom I’m already not fond of, since they make “color-ist” remarks and then try and justify it by saying, “I’m not racist; all the women I’m discussing are desi, whether they’re black or fair…it’s like preferring Swedes to Italians.” My fucking ASS it is. Keep telling yourself that, my dear shithead.
A moment always materializes when my fingers are curled above my keyboard, as I vociferously debate with myself about the wisdom of snapping back something typically…me. Being the only girl on SM has its privileges as well as its curses; I’ve noticed for months that the boys can get away with being meaner than I could ever want to be, and no one attacks their skin, weight, intelligence, sexuality OR tells them to buy “fair and lovely” by the case so that they can finally get married (since that's obviously what MY problem is). My wrists drop around the touchpad, I toggle back to typepad. Better that I should enjoy this moment of dusk when fireflies surprise me with their brilliance, as the fountain rushes powerfully behind me. Periodically, I’ve taken the opportunity to look up at the night sky, to take in how it’s bordered by the silhouetted trees, how the moon is just a fraction of its periodically sated self. It’s a beautiful night, the heat is finally not torturing me (though the bugs most definitely are) and in those moments when I’m looking up, I am happy.