Sunday, December 25, 2005

Simple dialogue.

3 PM at the box office of the Dupont Circle theater showing "Brokeback mountain". The two men in front of me are buying their tickets.
"Two tickets please for the 7 PM show. One senior and one student."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Magic carpet

This morning I went to pick up a couple of rugs that I had given to clean to Bergmann's. I had been told by friends that this was a Washington's institution and the place to go for all things related to cleaning rugs. I arrived pretty annoyed already: it had taken a phone call a couple of days ago to learn that my rugs were ready (and had been for more than a month), that after 30 days they could not guarantee that the rugs will still be there, and that the price will be about $ 100 more than I had expected to pay. In addition, when I had told the woman on the phone that I was expecting a call from them telling me that the rugs were ready, she treated me as the worst liar in the area (and I live in Washington DC!). In short, I arrived at the store worried about getting back all the rugs (among them, a rug from my grandfather's household) and ready for a fight.
It does not help that a woman carrying a rug into her car is swearing aloud that this is the last time she comes there. I ask her about her plight and get a tale of lost or badly cleaned rugs. She tells me "This store used to be so good! When it was the four old men. Now it's a disaster!". Maybe this is what my friends meant when they said it was a Washington's institution.

I walk in and quickly get reassured: they still have all the rugs I gave them (including my grandfather's). It is now just a question to check carefully how much they are charging me.
A woman is waiting in the hall as well and it appeared that she had a problem identical to mine: she waited for a phone call from the store while they were waiting for hers. Now they can't find her carpet and she is not happy. I pay and start carrying the rugs into my car. One of them is too big and heavy for me to carry, so I ask for help from someone. A tall black guy with three front teeth missing comes up and grab the carpet effortlessly. As he reaches the car, he looks at the torn wrapper around the carpet and asks "How long ago did you give the rug to clean?" I tell him about a month and explain the misunderstanding about it. He shakes his head "Rugs walk out of here. You should keep an eye on them." He explains that the torn paper is a sure sign that someone, attracted by the large size of my rug, wanted to have a closer look at it. Clearly it was not valuable enough for that someone to risk stealing it. I'm happy although somewhat vexed by the thought that my grandfather's rug (a Moroccan rug from the beginning of last century) didn't pass the test either. Its wrapper is a bit torn but maybe the thieves don't like wool woven carpets. Only fancy Iranian ones.
As I realized what could have happened, the man is explaining the cleaning process. I'm curious about it and ask some questions when he suggests "I can show you the machines if you want." My eyes brightened. A big smile. "Sure!" I say. I lock the car and we walk back in the store. I am not unhappy to see the look of astonishment that the woman at the counter is giving me: I am going where no costumer is allowed. I'm following the man down a flight of stairs and enter a parallel universe. It is a huge warehouse filled with people (most of them clearly South American) folding clothes, loading machines, unloading machines. There is steam everywhere and it smells like a giant laundry room (which it is after all). We walk toward the back and the man shows me a large machine with pipes everywhere. He is pointing proudly to all the tubes. "Warm, soft soap comes from here" "the rugs are hold in place here" "there is water coming out from here" "the brushes clean the rugs here". I imagine the rugs being brushed with the constant stream of warm mild soapy water. The next station is the drying stage. I can see large rugs hung and I feel the hot air blowing onto them. At the other end of the large drying station, there is the "rolling machine" the one that put the rugs into the wrapper, the one that was torn to check the quality of my grandfather's carpet.
I am so happy with this unplanned visit that in return, I invite my host to come and visit my work place whenever he wants. I hope that he likes computers...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Upside down

The Christmas tree at the corner of Columbia road and 16th street. In the garden of one of the many churches around. It is covered with blue light that change from blue to white progressively: first the top, then a small patch below, then another patch below and so on until the complete tree is lit in a bright white light. Then all the lights turn blue again before the top turns white again.
Something in the pattern does not seem right but I can't put my finger on it until I realize that it is normally arranged the other way: the base of the tree lighting up, then a bit more, then a bit more keeping the top for last until the whole tree is lit. It should not matter but somehow it does. An upside-down display of lights.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Time for prayers

A framing shop on Connecticut Ave, near the Van Ness subway station. It is a little after 10 in the morning and there is still a "Closed" signed posted although the business hours indicate that the store is opened from 10 AM to 6 PM everyday.
I peer inside and see a woman at the counter. She is wearing the traditional head cover of religious Muslim women. She gestures toward me and I push the door open. She smiles widely in explaining that she just had forgotten to change the sign. I explained to her what I want: a new cut in a mat I already have. I show her the picture that I want framed, the mat and new cut I'd like to do in the mat. She told me that the machine can't do that because there is a minimum length for a cut. She seems to know a lot on the different cuts available, the advantages of each techniques. The bottom line is that I am probably going to have to buy a new mat. $12. I'm not sure I want to do that so I tell her that I will think about it and come back during the day if I decide to do it. "Do you close for lunch?" I ask. "No" she said, "I am opened for lunch but I close for my prayers." She pauses as if she was computing something and then adds "Today I'll close around 3 PM and around 5 PM. I'll put a sign outside." I smile and ask "How long is the prayer?". She does not smile back but answer gravely "about 15 mn." I nod and tell her that I'll be back if I decide to buy a new mat instead of just cutting the old one. I did recognize the flame in her eyes: she has the fervor of the newly converted.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Paying customer

I was glad I got the bus on time. I had just seen a movie and spent some times reading a book in the bookstore. I was not sure I wanted to buy it so I read the first two chapters and then decided that I could just come back to read some more.
She was sitting at the bus stop, an old woman who had just lit up a cigarette. In the instant it took me to turn around to see the bus coming, the woman had already put the cigarette away. As I let her climb in the bus first, she puts her hand to her mouth to feel her front tooth. She is shaking it with the pleasure of a kid playing with a temporary tooth about to fall. I see that her skin is ravaged with large opened wounds on her chin and her forehead. I can see now that she is wearing her coat inside-out and as I follow her in the bus I smell the incredible stench of urine that surrounds her.
She goes to sit in front and the whole bus starts to stink. Two women, wearing the traditional Muslim head covers look at her and decide to sit in the back of the bus. I put a scarf in front of my face to filter the air. I am now all covered very much like the two women hidding their faces at the back of the bus.
After two stops someone comes to talk to the driver. I hear that he is asking the driver to kick the woman out. "There is nothing I can do" the driver said shaking her head. "But it stinks in the whole bus and we can't open the windows because it is so cold!" replies the passenger, clearly unnerved by the idea of sharing his space with the old woman. The driver keeps shaking her head. "There is nothing I can do. She is a paying customer."
The bus arrives at the corner of Columbia Road and 18th street. The old woman, oblivious to the stares, gets up and walk toward the front of the bus. I would have been a bit more charitable toward her if she had not scared the little girl that was getting ready to go out as well. "Walk faster" she almost shouted to the terrified child. Her mom quickly turns around and grabs the girl. The old lady gets out at last. The driver open the window to let some fresh air in. We all breath deeply. It is not that cold and the fresh air feels like a blessing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hidden exit

There is a movie festival going on in town and I am at the Bethesda Row theater after the screening of "Roots" a weird Russian film that was advertised as a comedy but features a rape scene that ends up with the woman asking for more. Very funny indeed.
Instead of heading out directly I chat with one guy I know and who happens to be one of the volunteers of the festival. He wants to show me the place where they put all their material . A door and a small corridor where I see a table and a couple of chairs, folded. As I step in, the door closes behind me and we're locked in.
The volunteer, who must have had this happen to him quite a few time, tells me that we should exit from the "other side". I'm not quite sure what he means but I follow. We walk through one door, then climb stairs and finally another door that opens on a nicely decorated lobby. We've crossed one block underground. We are in a building's entrance located in the street nearby.
The door on this side is hidden, disguised as one of the wood-looking panels that cover one side of the lobby. The door closes silently and locks itself into place. Now the entrance is quite invisible. For a minute I felt like James Bond.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Small prints and large shoes

I am on my way to exchange a pair of boots that I bought on Sunday. I put them on Monday and the right boot bothered me all day. It is too big.
The shoe store is a large store on Connecticut Ave, right before Dupont Circle. There are four almost identical stores in a 20 meter radius. All under the same management. My encounter with the clerk does not go as smoothly as I had anticipated. (After all, this is America as I was explaining my mother, just the day before) "You've worn them" she said. "We don't replace worn shoes". I assure her that the sale person I talked to on Sunday told me that I could bring them back. I had asked him about the waterproof quality of the boots. He had assured me that these were the best on the market. "So if I find myself with wet feet, I can come back?" I had asked. "Sure, no problem. Bring the shoes back and we'll change them"
The problem is: the company policy forbids all exchange on shoes that have been worn. "How am I supposed to test the shoes to see if they are waterproof without wearing them?" I ask the clerk. "Just walk around in your house" is the answer I get. There is no telling if she is serious or not. On the contrary, the fact that it hardly rains inside my house seems to be a perfect reason to test the waterproof quality of the shoes there only.
After half an hour arguing without any result I decide to come back when the manager is on duty. From her description, it seems that the manager is the guy who promised that the shoes could be returned. I don't want to return them, I want to exchange them for a smaller size.

The next day I am there after work. The discussion with the manager starts right away and as I ask him to confirm his promise, he said that yes, I could return the boots if there was a defect with them (like a problem with their waterproof quality) but not if this is just a matter of size.
We argue for 5 minutes until he recognizes that he should have been clearer, that his promise lead to ambiguity. I am happy now. I won the argument with another promise that I can change the shoes. Happily, I ask him to bring me the smaller size to try on before I take them home.
They don't fit. I need the size I have already.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

C'est l'Amerique!

After the trip described in the previous post I went back to Ikea to get a refund on some of the merchandise that I had purchased. Not only I had opened the boxes, I had also put together the cabinet, even drilled into it. "No problem" says the woman with the blue and yellow shirt, "with a receipt, we will take everything back". I am blown away and tell my mother the story. Her reaction is quite typical. She sights with admiration "Seulement en Amerique!" Only in America...