Counter Intelligence

Sunday Reading: Wishing The Post had its own version of “Bending Elbows.”

Posted in District of Columbia, General Interest by melissamccart on March 11, 2007

raven.gifI wrote the vignette below after my first time at The Raven.  It was the Mark became one of my favorite DC bartenders.  I changed the customer’s name in the piece. 

. . .The bar is lined with regulars aside from a pair of visitors. “Who’re you?” John the regular asks them. Mark the bartender wanders over to find out.  They join the visitors for a round of drinks.  “You guys slummin’?”  They laugh in acknowledgement, since the neighborhood turned over a long time ago.   A retired marine, a father of two sons, and a lifelong resident of DC, John says he has come to The Raven for twenty years, “or so it seems.” He and his wife divorced this past June.

Since then, John has been renovating his mother’s house on Kenyon Street, where he and his eight siblings grew up.  John said that the house, which his mother bought for $17,000, is now worth, “close to a million.” He and his siblings inherited it when their mother died.  John moved back recently to help oversee renovations with his brother, a DC postal worker.  He took a forced vacation for a couple of weeks while it was rehabilitated into rental apartments.  Rather than live in one of them, John will “find a studio somewhere” once they’re rented.

He steers the conversation to his son, a freshman at Woodrow Wilson, when he finds out the visitors are teachers.  “He’s at church right now!”  It was 6:00.  He was glad.  “I don’t know where he gets it from, since I never set foot in the place.” He cracks a smile.  “He plays basketball at the Boys’ Club,” he said.  “But it’s $80 dollars to play.”  He remembers when it was free. 

John notes how expensive it is to raise kids in this city.  He asks the visitors if they have gone to Nationals games at RFK and observes how much more expensive tickets will be at the new stadium once its built.  He wonders whether he’ll be able to afford to take his son to see the games.

“And where are all those black people going to go?” he says, regarding the residents who live near the proposed stadium. “Where does the mayor plan on moving them?”

John gets sentimental about former mayor Marion Barry. “Say what you want about Marion Barry.  . . .He cared for our children.”  He recalls Barry’s summer jobs for youth initiatives, which Barry had proposed and implemented in various forms in his twenty plus years in DC politics. John doesn’t think highly of Anthony Williams.  “Williams does not care for black families.  Anthony Williams cares about money.”  He wipes his eyes.

The bartender swoops over to rescue the conversation and to fill empties.  “Here I am getting emotional about my kids and Mayor Williams.” He shrugs it off and assures Mark that he is ok.  “I’m not afraid to get emotional,” he says.  “It’s a sign of being passionate.” 

He finishes his beer and gathers his bag to leave.  John may not know where he will ultimately settle, but he knows one place where he’s expected.

Mark waves as he heads for the door.  “See you tomorrow, John.”

Not that its particularly good or resonant, but I wrote this after reading a bunch of columns from Work and Other Sins, by Charlie LeDuff, one of my favorite journalists.  When I lived in New York, I used to look forward to his column in the New York Times, “Bending Elbows.”  In 2004, I went to his reading when the book was released.  Le Duff left New York because it was too haunted for him, after the intensity of covering the city after 9-11. He’s a reporter in LA now and just came out with US Guys: The True and Twisted Mind of the American Man. 

Maybe the Post’s Metro Section has had something like “Bending Elbows.”  But if they don’t, I’d love it if they (or some publication) had an impressionistic column that shows moments in the lives of people who work as well as eat and drink in DC kitchens, restaurant dining rooms, bars, and other food places.  I’d appreciate the texture that pieces like LeDuff’s provide, since they give readers access to a city’s characters.  For me, it’s one of many draws for going out in the first place.


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