Saturday, July 30, 2005

Breaking up in the street

Walking around after dinner with a friend visiting from out of town. We're walking in silence, enjoying the mild weather, the deserted streets right off Dupont Circle, 19th street, one block away from the Safeway. The street is dark and we hear them before we can see them. A young woman with her cell phone glued to her ear and a young man, in front of her talking to her. It takes us a few second to understand the dynamics. She is saying "How rude you were!
He is answering, pleading "How was I rude? I came here for you!" Her answer is "I can see you, wait for me there for few minutes" and it is clear that she has just called a cab (or a friend) to pick her up. We pass them quickly and as if on cue, we both turn to each other and declaim "I came here for you!" laughing cruelly at the man's misfortune. We both agree that his line's delivery lacked some pathos.

Friday, July 29, 2005

A friendly game

I went yesterday to see a friendly game between Chelsea Football Club and DC United. My first professional soccer game in the US. I used to go very often to the "Parc des Princes" with my dad to see Paris Saint Germain play so I kept a love for the ambiance of a stadium at a soccer game, the crowd and the supporters.
Chelsea's fans are known to be a bit rowdy but this is a friendly game so I don't expect any problems.
We're sitting near to the DC United fan base spot. Drumming for the all game, the cheers as their team open the score. My friends are English and they have brought in a "Chelsea" flag, that they fly over their heads when the game becomes too quiet.
Everyone seems to be having a good time when I noticed that the people in front of us are not looking at the game but at something happening on our left. I follow their graze and see a browl between supporters happening 5 or 6 rows away. Nothing serious it seems, just two guys with too much alcohol in their blood.
What was amazing was the reaction of the crowd. In France, this would have been dealt with by the people around. Pulling the fighters apart or sometimes escalating the fight with more shouting. Something that would involve them.
Here the reaction is quick and surprising. Everyone turns around toward the entrance of the section and calls out for a security guard to come. The man who shows up looks more than 50 and frankly I'm not sure how he could stop a fight between two twenty something drunk men.
He does not have to. As he is walking toward them, another guard shows up (probably summoned by people at the other end of the section) and he is escorting one guy out.
Everybody resume watching the game...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Flirting with old people

In a hardware store as I am waiting for help from the guy who seems to be in charge and in control of the "nuts and bolts" aisle. He is talking to a colleague and an old lady accompanied by a much younger man. The two employees are looking for staples for an old stapler that the odd couple has brought in. After about 5 minutes of discussion, they realize that the store does not carry this stort of staples (special ones to staple cables in place). One of the employees leaves to help someone else but before doing so he bends toward the old woman and kisses her on the cheek. "Goodbye Mrs Jones" he says, "Come to see us again!". As I am wondering if they treat all their costumers this way, the woman turns to the guy whom I've been waiting for and she says "I'm sorry -- this is Mr. Jones" introducing her companion. The guy eyes him and says, jokingly, "I always knew you liked young guys. I didn't realize you liked them that young!" and he laughs.
Mrs Jones seems to be well known around here. She goes along with the joke until the store employee introduces himself to the young man, adding "I suppose you're the son?". "How did you guess?" is the answer he gets from the thin, balding guy who was on the phone when I first walked in the aisle looking for help.
The two men talk about staples and what needs to be done. It turns out that the woman needs some wires stapled in place in her home. The employee offers to come to do it. The woman can't believe the offer "I've asked you before and you always said you could not!" she starts. "That's because I was not sure what you wanted from me" answers the man jokingly. "I was scared." It strikes me that old women are the only ones with whom American society tolerates this form of teasing. In Europe, women have to fight not to be teased at work or in the streets. It is accepted as a form of compliment. "We tease you because we love you" sort of way. This is a no-no here, in a society jealous of its individual's rights with strong anti-harassment laws to protect them. So only old women are fair game. A tacit acknowledgement of their loss of power, their loss of appeal.
The old lady agrees to a visit by the guy to her house on Friday afternoon ("Not in the morning, I teach" she told him). She and her son leave. I turn to the guy and joke "I need your help but you won't have to come to my place to fix anything". He looks at me blankly and I know I've crossed an invisible line. I mumble something about the pieces I am looking for, forcing my smile and my French accent.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Picking up trash

On my way back from work, waiting at the red light at the intersection of Michigan Ave and Franklin Street. I hear some noise coming from the car next to mine. I turn my head to see a woman dumping the rest of her diner (?) on the street. A half eaten burger, a mustard container, a couple of used napkins, a paper bag with a large yellow mark, all are now on the pavement. It's disgusting and I tell her. Not surprisingly she is upset by my intervention.
"If it bothers you, pick it up" she answers. For some reason, I don't get upset at all, not even sarcastic. I just smile and shake my head in disbelief. "Come on!" I say, "this is just disgusting. Is DC your home town? Do you live here?" She seems to want to get even more upset but the driver is laughing and his laughters seem to take some steam out of her. She throws something at my car (some paper cup half filled with soda) while shouting "I can hear you're not from here! Don't tell me DC is your hometown!!"
Maybe it's the heat, but I can't muster the energy to lose my temper. I stay calm, still smiling and pointing across the street while saying "I mean, the guy who lives in this house is going to cross the street and find this garbage. It's just not nice you know...". When she answers, she is not shouting anymore. Almost a plea. "People need the jobs. If there were no garbage in the streets, they'd loose their jobs...". The light is about to turn green and I smile "Not in the middle of the street, baby, not in the middle of the street". She smiles back. The agressivity is gone.
Maybe DC is her hometown. It surely is mine

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Free food but not free napkins

Tonight I went to pick up food for a reception for a play opening night. A friend of mine is working with the theater company and has asked me to help him with it. My role is to get the food to the theater on time for the after-play reception.
The play is an adaptation of the Persians by Aeschylus so the food is Greek, donated by a restaurant in Dupont Circle. When I get there, the manager summons 2 or 3 waiters who start loading my car. Large plates and bowls filled with Greek specialties. One bowl contains hot lamb stew and the waitress is using a couple of napkins to shield herself from the heat. She tells me "I'll put the napkins here, so you can use them when you unload the food". I nod thinking of the two flight of stairs I'll have to walk up with the steaming bowl.
As I am ready to leave, the manager of the restaurant comes out running "You have napkins that belong to the restaurant!". The woman explained that she gave them to me to help me unload the food. I promise to bring them back to appease him and save the waitress from his wrath.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


It's 2 AM and I am driving back home, entering DC via New York avenue on the strip where all the clubs are.
As I am preparing to turn on Montana, I see a shadow on a sidewalk. As I get closer, I realize that it is a man, so completely drunk that he cannot walk straight. He can't even stand up straight but seems determined to cross the road. He is dressed all in black, the cars are zooming by. This is pure suicide.
As I pass him I hope that he will just collapse, too sick to walk but alive. I keep looking in the rear view mirror, "checking" what he is doing and I realize too late that I missed my turn.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Le desespoir est assis sur un banc

Around downtown Silver Spring again. The fountain is a kid magnet in this weather. They're splashing around, mesmerized by the water that comes out each time from different holes in the ground. The air has an heavy smell of chlorine. I am walking fast to the AFI to catch an Italian movie. I walk past an old man sitting far away from the sounds of the fountain. The shouts of the children are almost inaudible from here. The old man is holding a plastic bag that says "This bag belongs to ...." "Room ...." An hospital bag with his belongings. His head is bent down looking at the ground. I'd like to follow the advice of the Prevert's poem called "Le désespoir est assis sur un banc" (Despair is sitting on a bench). He warned us "Ne le regardez pas!" ("don't look at him!") but my eyes are drawn to the white bag with the dots where his name should be.