Thursday, May 26, 2005

One tooth

He looked like a quiet retiree and I didn't notice him until the moment he interrupted my reverie. I was at the hardware shop on my way home studying the different types of sanders, trying to compare their power, their rpm, their weight. Puzzled and lost by the choice, I hear a smiling voice saying from just behind me "Are you buying it for yourself?" I turned around to meet the face of the old man. He has a mass of rebel white hair, blue eyes and the white shadow of a beard. One of them bobos? He smiles and I know that something is not quite right. He has just one tooth left in the middle of his upper jaw. I can't help noticing that all his mouth seems rotten. I replies that yes, the sander is for a project I have, all the while trying to not look at his mouth too much but attracted by its car-wreck fascination. We started to talk for a while. He lived for several years in Berlin, speaks a bit of French (not much though so we switched back to English). He worked in the military, some kind of electronic intelligence, he says with the air of someone who would like to tell more on the subject but can't. He was there when the wall came down. "Do you know this famous photograph of that night?" he asked.
Of course I know the photograph. "Well I was there but you won't see me in the picture: I was right behind the cameras and the photographers. You understand, in my line of work, I had to stay unseen". I nod and smile. The discussion soon cover Germany, Berlin, the city architecture and the resentment of the Wessies toward the Ossies. I have stopped staring at his tooth but I am still puzzled by what could cause such a devastation in someone's mouth.
The tooth is there, standing alone, a visual reminder of what should be.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Human zoo

Sunday toward the end of afternoon and the zoo is filled with people. My friend A. and I came here for a stroll. We have to fight our way through people.
We pass the "Great cats", the "Great Apes" which prompted my friend A. to ask if there was something called "the so-so reptiles" house, and we are on our way to the cheetahs.
A. is pushing his scooter, sometimes sliding on it, sometimes just pushing it. The scooter is clearly capturing some kid's imagination. A young boy, about 8 or 9, comes up to us and asks A. "Is this an electric scooter?" His mother is rushing toward us with a younger boy, maybe 4 or 5, in tow. "No", says A., "this is a standard scooter, just much smoother that the one you're used to". The kid's eyes opened and he launches in a long monologue where it appears that he has been lobbying his mom for some times to buy an electric scooter. "It goes so much faster", he says longingly.
The mom is trying to excuse the kid's behavior. She calls after him and his younger brother, tell them not to disturb us any longer. I don't mind. A. neither. We both enjoy these unexpected discussions with people in the streets. The kid follows his mom but runs back suddenly with a shout "I have another question!". We laugh and A. answers once more time on the advantages of a non-electric scooter. The boy runs back to his mother. We go on to visit the cheetahs. They have grown so much, I can't recognize them. They've lost their baby cuteness. We all go through this, and it's their turn. They're just small cheetah now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


On my way to work this morning, a wall with what I mistook for tags or graffiti until I could decipher the words: "Don't piss on wall"

The spare is flat too

Coming back from the 7/11 with the morning paper. I heard the noise and only then realized what I was looking at: a woman driving a car with a flat tire. Only her flat tire is the spare tire used temporarily after a flat.
Someone else notes it and I hear the comment "that gal is driving on her flat spare" and then laughs. Not quite sure what was so funny.
She does not stop at the local garage though, she keeps going down on 16th street and disappears.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pick up lines.

A trip to Home Depot after work is to me what a bar is for others. A place where I can look around, let my imagination run wild and just relax. I came in to pick up some electrical wires (I am rewiring a lamp brought from France) but somehow end up at the paint department, looking at all the different colors. "Applecrunch" or "Warm Cocoon"? I am awaken from my thoughts by a similar question coming from a man, about 40, holding a small piece of paint in his hand. The paint is disgustingly dirty, a maroon color that once was yellow or beige. "What do you think" he is asking, holding in front of me a piece of paper with a small range of yellows. I'm not sure that this is even a color, so I hesitate. "I'm not sure", I venture, "this does not look like the same color at all." He nods and explains that his is working for this old woman, doing a small paint job for her and that he wants to get it exactly right. I nod still thinking about the Warm Cocoon.
He is clearly taking great pain to match the color of this small speckle of old paint. I tell him just to chose a color that will look good and forget about the matching idea. "I can't", he says, "otherwise I would have to paint the whole thing and not just the small part she is paying me to do. I'm a professional painter." Until that point I was paying little attention to the fact that he had started the conversation. It happened in a hardware store, just like in a bar. But professional contractors don't ask the opinion of the next person at the paint department. As I am thinking "This is strange", he says "I may just do it though, paint the whole thing so it will look nice. Even if she does not pay me". So now I understand his game and I am just waiting for the hook, that is not long to come. "If you need a painter, I can give you my card. I usually pick a couple of jobs here every day." I smile and decline. Home Depot is like a bar after all, except he came here to pick jobs, not women.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Unpleasant market.

I'm waiting for the opening of the farmer's market in Mt Pleasant. I am seating in the sun, reading the paper and looking around. The stand on my left is that of a local creamery. The woman setting it up is a regular. She comes every Saturday wearing traditional outfit. A small white cap on her hair held together in a tight bun, a black dress and a white apron over it. She looks as if she had just escaped from a 17th century Dutch painting. Except that she is talking on a cell phone. And what is the greenish one?" I hear her asking. "Ah, ok" she says when she gets an immediate answer. Their truck is parked right behind their stand, the back doors opened for the unloading of the merchandise. A black guy comes walking right behind me. He is smiling to the sunny day and greets us with a "Wishing you a great day!" as he is walking by. He passes me first and continues to the left of the stand passing right behind the parked truck. I see the woman looking at him and rushing behind to check that he is not stealing anything from the truck's cargo. If the man notices her insulting behavior, he does not show it. He keeps walking, clearly enjoying the quietness of this Saturday morning. The woman comes back to her stand reassured than none of her precious green butter has disappeared.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Morning run

I saw the two kids turning the corner running so fast that I thought that the first one was being chased by the younger one slightly behind. Then I noticed the school packs on their back and the bus still picking up people at the stop about 40 meters away.
They caught the bus with time to spare. Neither of them looked out of breath or remotely tired. Their run was magnificent.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Know thyself

A sunny and windy day. It seemed like a perfect day for sailing. Or so thought my friends. So I joined them for what was supposed to be a beautiful morning on the water. We've done it before, going to Alexandria and back.
As soon as I stepped on the boat, I knew this was different. The wind was very strong and the boat was rocking widely. I know nothing about boats and sailing and became quickly scared. I asked to be brought back to the dock. After trying to persuade me to stay on board, my friends relented, dropped me back and head out again.
I didn't want to leave that quickly so I spent some time watching people. One couple caught my attention. In a place where everyone is wearing the latest goretex equipment, the man is wearing a jean and old sneakers. He is a little fat, as is his girlfriend, and they both move about the dock with the demeanor of amateurs. They started to build their boat in front of my eyes, as if they were following an instruction manual. The boat is small, a wooden boat the size of the ones used for a two-hours family rowing trip on a small pond. The mast comes in first, sliding it somewhere in the back of the boat. The woman, wearing a life jacket, is in the boat while the man is unfolding the sail. He gives her instructions to put in place some ropes. She follows with the hesitation of a neophyte. The man has been working on the assembly of his boat for about an hour, an hour and a half when all seems to be ready for the journey out on the river.
Considering the violence of the wind I've experienced first hand, I am both fascinated and worried by the couple. I can't see this small boat lasting more than one second on the choppy waters. The fascination is with the certitude of an upcoming disaster. I keep watching when the woman steps out of the boat to let her friend get on. He is quickly on his way out, the red sail filled with wind, an odd sight among all the standard white sails surrounding him. A few minutes later, after no more than 5 minutes on the water, he is on his way back to the docks.
He quickly maneuvers the boat back with great ability. There is no doubt that the guy is a good sailor tickering with a boat of his making. The couple takes the boat apart like a giant puzzle, folding everything and storing all the pieces in small boxes. The mast comes out and all is packed back in their car. They're gone shortly afterwards. Almost two hours of work for 5 minutes on the water.

It does not sound like a good deal until, as I am ready to leave, I see a police boat towing back to the dock a somehow familiar blue boat without sail. I recognize my friends. They capsized, lost all their stuff (keys, glasses, ...) in the river and are shivering in their wet clothes. I gain some respect for the man with the red sail who knew his limits.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Parental approval

I was heading out to visit a friend. The day is gorgeous and I am walking up the street.
About 10 meters in front of me, I saw a car with Connecticut licence plates. A black Lexus. The doors open and out come an old couple impeccably dressed and very proper in a way that spells "money". Someone else got out of the car. A young guy shabbily dressed with a dirty jean and an old T-shirt about 2 sizes too small. He seems at ease with the couple and points to somewhere a little up the road. Somehow, I know exactly where they're heading. A house close-by that has just been reconverted in "luxury condos from the low 300's". The house is relatively small but I know that there are 7 units in it. All sold the first day of the open house last week.
This is where the couple and the young man are heading. I will bet anything that he just bought a unit and wants to show it (or at least the outside) to his parents.
I am not mistaken. They all stop in front of the house. The young guy is looking at his parents who are looking up to the house. His eyes are saying: "Is it good enough for me, Daddy? Is it good enough for you?

Friday, May 06, 2005

One sure winner

I stopped to get gasoline right before entering DC and went inside the small store to buy the paper. There is a line at the counter. A woman is buying lottery tickets with an unmatched frenzy. She has her wallet opened in front of her and the cashier is counting "17, 18, 19,...". He gets to 30 and hands her tickets. She pays and pockets them all.
More than $20 in lottery tickets. At least someone is winning big at this game...

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Safe passage.

The sidewalk in front of the movie theater is being repaired and the post office right next to it is out of reach of the woman on a wheelchair.
She is an old lady sitting on an motorized wheelchair with a small basket on the front. I see her when she reaches the tape that is blocking the street and calls one of the worker for help. They're pouring the concrete in and a huge truck is backing up to dump in some more. The sidewalk is dusty and filled with construction material. There's no way for the woman to cross.
She calls up the man in charge and after several seconds of talk, I see him waving to a guy who comes running toward her. He lifts the tape that block the sidewalk and shouts orders to the other guys who quickly make a way for her to maneuver around the truck. She rides her wheelchair slowly, across what's left of the ripped sidewalk.
The work resumes after she finishes crossing the work area.
A safe passage to the other side

Monday, May 02, 2005

Packing the car

The car was so full I was not quite sure how they closed the door.
I was coming out of the subway and noticed people looking toward a car parked right in front of the bus station. At first I thought that the driver was picking up somebody but then I realized it was picking up many, many people. As the car back door closed, I could count at least 7 people in a mid-size car. The last one in was actually lying across, her feet poking out of the window.
They were all laughing.