Within less than a half mile of my house, not far from the U.S. Capitol, some memorable scenes unfold that speak in different ways to the variety that is the spice of city living. Not always uplifting but always energizing.
A: A disheveled mentally disturbed woman 'of a certain age' (is a man ever that same age, I wonder) walks out suddenly to a popular street corner near Pennsylvania Avenue SE and begins shedding her clothes. All of them. It is a warm day for sure but one that hardly calls for going naked in the streets. She chooses - of all places - a spot opposite young Marines who are guarding their base, home of the Marine Corps commandant. Two witnesses reported this to me - and how quickly one of them dialed 911 to alert police, or an ambulance. Doubtless, she was quickly hustled into a private space and either taken away for confinement (i.e. an examination) or simply told to dress. These same witnesses now see her frequently roaming the streets - it is autumn now - mostly covered. Freedom from constraining garments must have felt wonderful while it lasted.
B: An Eastern Market vendor regularly hauls a load of every imaginable sort of goods for sale in his tent along 7th Street SE, closed off to traffic on weekends. On this particular day, he brought used furniture that caught the eye of a strolling shopper (i.e. tourist) who inquired about prices. Savvy vendor saw the chance to bargain - if only to be able to sell off heavy items he would then not have to pack up and take back to storage. His customer, eyes brightening, loved the deal and asked if vendor had more of the same to bring him the next week and possibly deliver the goods to an address on Chain Bridge Road, just the other side of the Potomac River, in Virginia. That section is known for extremely lavish and expensive homes. Lo and behold, a large amount of cash was paid; a personal card produced - exciting the vendor who recognized the place. What he didn't at first realize that the man was likely a Saudi Arabian prince, if not the ambassador himself, whose wife and friends were seen, well covered, farther up 7th Street. On delivery day, vendor passed through two gates manned by guards with guns who then escorted him up to the front of the mansion.
Vendor now awaits - perhaps - an invitation to tea.
C: At a recent open house sponsored by my local Firehouse (Truck No. something, I forget), coaches stood outside the open door hailing passersby to learn 'Hands-Only CPR For Witnessed Sudden Collapse." First on the (English and Spanish) printed list of instructions was a warning to 'check the scene' - ie. be careful you, the observer, are not part of some personal feud that might involve bodily harm to yourself. Only then, check the person. Ask/shout 'Are you okay?' after a shoulder tap. Next, if no response, call 9-1-1. (This supposes your own emotional and mental state equips you to do so...) Ask others to help call. The Chest Compression lesson most surprising of all: Remove all clothes from the person, including underclothes Yes, a bra or whatever conceals the center of the chest above the heart. No more offering mouth-to-mouth. Keep arms straight, intertwine fingers and push down hard and fast - at least two inches. At least 100 times a minute. Keep going until the professionals arrive. If the patient shows signs of life and starts breathing, turn him/her over on his side away from you.
Good luck is you are inebriated yourself when you come across this stricken soul.
Oh, and try to have some disposable gloves handy for the procedure.
Modern living is so very complicated.
IF READER HAS GOT THIS FAR, BEWARE A DELIBERATE SWITCH IN SUBJECT MATTER FOLLOWS.
Famed architect Rem Koolhaaas - a true urbanista (male division),in his perch called Office for Metropolitan Architecture, is as cool as they come. His latest definition posted of the countryside is 'anything that is not the city.' Trendy guy, yes? Seems he has caught up with the populist movement, for better and worse, how small-town America (try defining that one) made such a difference in the last American election.
Consider another definition: The city is a place where public libraries post Behavior Rules - 10 pages in booklet form - as the DC public library did this past August. DCPL feels the need to say that no bare feet or bare chests are allowed on the premises. Large bags in excess of 9/14/22 inches are not permitted. And prohibits 'odorous' patrons who annoy others from six feet or more away.
And then, and then: perhaps we are too often eager to draw lessons from the mix of people and backgrounds that get thrown together in a city. Today (apologies to participants), I had the son of New York cops over for Irish coffee with the emigrant wife of an entrepreneurial El Salvador husband, sitting together and - in a way - comparing notes. Notes on how to make your way and sustain your goals in a chaotic indeterminate political scene. Patricia, smart and self-effacing, across from Sean, talented garden expert. What decisions for each of them justify staying on in America? How else would either of them ever have met, since she is in Virginia and he makes a base in Maryland for clients in DC. Her husband's business has been suffering, she says (dump trucks); his choices narrowing by virtue of a deadline for health insurance application. How to move, what to do? Each with barriers in a way.She never would return home to El Salvator where gangs extract protection money; he thinks moving to Ireland an option. The insecurity is frightening for both. Sean worries about health insurance in the future; Patricia, for the welfare of her grown children.