Lying in bed at 2:13, early on a Monday morning in DC\’s Petworth neighborhood. Listening to the traffic rushing by on Georgia Avenue, just one floor beneath the bed. Just a wall of cement between my naked body and the outside life, full of strangers and familiar things.
Every night, I listen to the varying sounds of the passing vehicles. Sometimes a few hours will pass with almost nothing but the hum of passenger vehicles gliding by at 40-50 mph in a 25 mph zone. Every hour yields the rattling of a metro bus, stopping at the corner where my street and Georgia meet. A few times a night, the roar of police cars with sirens, fire engines, and ambulances rush past–some to an incident, and some away from an incident, but many heading to nearby Howard University Hospital. I always wonder how many people in the back of those ambulances ever make the trip home again. Once or twice a week, the soundscape is broken by the raw whirring of a helicopter–sometimes on its way to Washington Hospital Center, sometimes coming or going on federal business, but sometimes its just the police, out doing their thing.
When the police are making their presence known, which isn\’t really very often, the sounds from the people recede into the night; where they go, I don\’t know–maybe home, maybe into the neighborhoods\’ many abandoned buildings–but the din dims to hardly an audible murmur from my window. When the po-po disappear, despite their station only three blocks away, the street chorus proliferates. There\’s the sounds of the crackheads making their way through the alleys, empty lots, and abandoned buildings: a somewhat incomprehensible choir of muttering, profanity, and a long list of demands that usually include \”where\’s my fucking [any personal possession], give me back my fucking [stuff] or I\’ll fuck you up.\” Those are the sounds the adults make. The children are more frightening.
At times, Matt and I have ventured down to the Asian-American carry-out on the corner, which has the unfortunate position of being in front of the bus stop that heads into the city. As such, this carry-out gets the most foot traffic of any of the five carry-outs open within two blocks north and south on Georgia. It also gets the most diverse crowd. It\’s not uncommon to be in there in small hours of the morning and witness lady crack fiends sizing up potential clientele. \”You ain\’t too young; just a dollar, just a dollar\’s\’all I need; you ain\’t too young, honey.\” The boys she hounds for services don\’t give her the dignity of ignoring her: they call her a bustdown and worse. She pays no attention and continues to try and get her fix from the carry-out patrons. \”Can I have a dollar? Gimmie a dollar. How about you? For a dollar.\” Meanwhile, the boys–one of whom can\’t be any older than twelve–are harassing the guy behind the bulletproof glass because their food is coming out slow. The harassment turns from \”Where\’s my fucking food,\” to \”Get me my fucking food, you flat-faced bitch, or I\’ll put my gat in your fucking face and kill your pussy ass.\” French fries for your life, baby. But they do make the best motherfucking egg rolls I have ever eaten, shitfaced or sober.
On the walk from the corner back to our building, we pass the neighborhood drunks, passed out just feet from the warehouse doorway. They don\’t leave much during the day time, either. The sidewalk is their table, chair, bed, and toilet. It\’s not uncommon, even in broad daylight, to see people dropping their pants to piss and shit right in our front yard. The human excrement mixes with the dog shit and the rat feces. The smell from the various bodily functions is covered by the smell from the textile cleaners next door, the numerous mom and pop carry-out joints greasing up the air, and the large quantities of spilled alcohol that is continuously spilled on the street. Empties line the curbs and trash covers what should be grass medians along the sidewalks. Used condoms, half-eaten meals, torn clothing, and the odd shoe compliment the bottles. Sometimes, an entire person\’s life is discarded on the side of the road–from an eviction, or from a homeless person somehow parted with their possessions, it\’s often hard to tell which. And sometimes a person\’s actual life is left there on the side of the road, the blood flowing onto the pavement from the gunshots or the multiple head and chest wounds. I once even saw a man forced onto his stomach in the middle of Georgia Ave, two cops pointing their guns at his head while a third kicked his body; I don\’t know what happened to him, as it never made the crime reports, and certain people are better at cleaning up after themselves than others.
Not the late night crowd, though. As last call pushes folk out of the neighborhood late night drinking establishments, rowdiness ensues. The crowd from The House, our local strip club, make their way the two corners down to the aforementioned Asian-American shop, looking to get some grease in their bellies before heading on home. More often than not, the grease and the booze come back up before the consumer makes it onto the bus or into the car, and it\’s the sidewalk, street, and storefront on the corner that\’s worse the wear. Other times, the patrons just dump their unfinished burgers, sodas, noodles, or wings onto the ground before going home…but not before singing, shouting, starting fights, and drunkenly declaring personal vendettas on half the people they come across before the final commencement of the evening. The hollering back and forth can sometimes get so loud as to drown out the sounds of the revving engines of the minibikes and the souped up automobiles. Silence in the city is a commodity for the gentry.
Matt and I, we don\’t close the windows when we sleep. We keep them open for the sweet breeze, coming in from the park at the Old Soldiers\’ Home a few blocks away, but most of all, we keep it open for the street sounds. When we go home to my place, just five miles north, we keep the windows open for the breeze off Sligo Creek Park and put on some music to play in the background, because the calm of the birds twirping and the crickets chirruping is a silence that is raucous and unsettling. The only audible parallel between my apartment in East Silver Spring and his in Pleasant Plains are the sounds of the trains in the distance. Late at night, when the neighborhoods are quiet(er), I can hear the cars move through the old B&O Station at the intersection of Selim Road and Georgia Avenue, more than a mile from my apartment, and here in the city, I hear the trains moving further south on the same train line, but a full mile and a half east of our bedroom windows, over on the east side of Catholic University.
It is now 3:30am. My apostrophe key has stopped working and I smell rain coming in from the west. One alone is a good enough reason to call it quits for the night, to pull the covers up over my flesh and to curl into the body laying next to me. But sleep will not come, not yet, not really, because I am still waiting for some sort of resolution to the problems facing this town I call home. Cannot sleep; the gentrifiers and politicos will eat me. Only clear method to bring on rest is to leave this place and get some peace by settling away from here. One day, next spring, when my lease is up, it will happen. Until then, my mind will not let me be calm.
Im still twitterpaited, after all these years.