Adventures in the District

We call it “the nunnery.” An all-women’s dorm, no booze and no boys under threat of immediate eviction. There are rumors that once girl was kicked out while moving in because her father helped her carry her things to her room. People always find it strange when any of us who live here describe the place — my favorite reaction: “Oh! You’re living at the Virgin Vault!” But, it is within walking distance of the Metro, and is only $900 a month for room and board — which is unheard of in the District. I arrive on a Saturday evening and struggle up the stairs to my new home with all my belongings — one massive suitcase full of clothes, my purse, dulcimer, and broken camera.

§

A friend told me about an amazing bookstore at the Eastern Market. I got to work at a decent time this morning, so I’ve got time after to check it out and still make it to dinner at the nunnery.

I walk slowly up the staircase, which is lined with bookshelves. This man wastes no space — if he could have fit any more shelves in the space, he would have found a way. I suspect he is really good at Tetris. There are shelves floor to ceiling on every wall — even in the bathroom, and in the dank, low-ceilinged basement. The store owner does not allow backpacks in his store, not because of shoplifting, but because his store is so cramped that people with backpacks serially knock books off the shelves.

“There’s free wine and cheese downstairs,” an employee says as he passes me. When he is gone, and no one is looking, I whip out my cell phone to take a picture. I pick up a copy of Heart of Darkness, and eventually wander downstairs. There actually is free wine and cheese. I thought he was kidding. I help myself to some cheese and crackers, and a plastic cup of wine, and start exploring the lower level of the store. I refill my cup, once, then a few more times.

After noticing it is around 6:00 p.m., I fill my plastic cup one more time and hop in the checkout line with my Heart of Darkness. The cup falls from my hand and spills on the floor. I figure I should fill it back to where it was before I dropped it — but then decide filling it to the top is a better idea.

I see a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on display when I get to the checkout desk, with a bookmark sticking out of it reading, “Ron dies.” I like this place. As the owner checks me out, he smirks at my face, which is by now flush red from the wine.

§

I am sitting on the nunnery porch with Juliya, who is a Ukrainian Jew, Shaynah, who is half Polish Jew, and Evie. Evie is Israeli, and no one is more proud of being Jewish than she is; her sister is in town to visit.

When she arrives, Evie introduces her to us as such: “This is my sister, Zohar. Zohar, this is Shaynah, she is half Jew; Juliya, she is all Jew; Gabby, she is not Jew.”

According to Evie, I look just like Jewish women and would blend in perfectly in Israel.

§

I’m at a bar ordering a second round when, in my peripherals, I see a man approach and stop about a foot to my left, facing the bar as I am. He asks me what I ordered.

I glance at him and respond vapidly, “Um, Amaretto and Coke,” hoping he will pick up on the disinterest in my voice.

“Amaretto? What’s that?”

“What is Amaretto?” I respond. What the hell sort of question is that?

“Is it strong like tequila?”

“Uh, not really.”

“Well…Do you want some tequila?”

You’ve got to be kidding me…

I briefly consider taking advantage of him at the prospect of a free shot, but quickly decide against it. I would have to endure at least ten more minutes of this conversation; thus far I have hardly survived forty-five seconds of it.

“No thanks.”

He turns toward me and I try my best to remain composed as I see the left side of his face. There is nothing in the place where his left eye should be. Nothing. No eye patch, no glass eye, nothing. I see an empty eye socket with shriveled eyelids caving in around a deep burgundy hole.

§

There are fucking Boy Scouts everywhere. Forty-thousand, apparently. It is one thing to see a group of people in matching shirts — “clones” as I call them. I see clones in DC every day — so I don’t usually give them a second thought. However, seeing forty-thousand people wearing the same shorts is simply fascinating.

I am walking across the National Mall, and there are four in front of me, all holding cameras. They slow down, and then stop, looking at each other and whispering something.

“We could ask her,” one says, thinking he said it quietly enough that I did not hear him. All four turn around and look my way.

“Could you take our picture?” one finally asks. They seem floored that I offer to take one for each of their cameras.

“Happy Pioneer Day,” one exclaims, as I hand their cameras back.

“Happy Pioneer Day to you, too?”

“It’s a Utah thing.”

§

My time in the District is almost up — so I am trying to take advantage of it in the remainder of my time here. Saturday morning I step out of the nunnery, turn my iPod to Pavement’s “Shady Lane,” and head to the Mall for some lame touristing. There is nothing in the world like touristing alone. It is the most liberating experience, and one that most will never have. I can spend as much or as little time as I want anywhere, without having to worry about someone else’s comfort. This is my favorite part about living alone in a tourist town.

I stop midday to spend some time at my one of my favorite spots — the World War II Memorial. I find a good spot for people watching and sit down, and rest my feet in the water. There is a fascinating group to my right that catches my eye — a group of five jovial old men, wading in the water, laughing, and swapping cameras for pictures. I suspect they are a group of World War II veterans, and that they would probably love a picture all together.

I stroll over and offer to take their picture. I am half right — they did want a picture together. However, they are not World War II vets. I realize now that I am closer that they are only about sixty years old, and also that speak hardly any English. I suspect they are Turkish — though I’m not really sure why. I snap a picture with the two cameras given to me, and when I hand them back they motion to me with the cameras.

I shake my head, “Oh, no, no, no,” I laugh, “I don’t need a picture.”

“No…you…picture!”

The language barrier has me confused. I laugh and shake my head profusely, “No, no, no. Thanks…”

Before I know what’s going on, one puts his arm around me and the other snaps a picture.

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