Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The principal feature of this city, once you cut through the polished marble overlay of historic places and storied names, is its transience. It's an acknowledged truth that no one (no one who's anyone) comes from here. To make small talk in DC, no one need resort to the weather (however notable) or their health (however poor). We just ask each other where we've come from and what we're doing here, as though we were all acquaintances on the deck of a cruise ship, turning pink in some Caribbean sun.

Many that really grew up here, somewhere between Takoma Park and Reston, and marked by a twinge of tobacco belt drawl, seem at best quaint. At worst, theirs is a largely statistical existence, a gloomy number in a newspaper article dire enough for Jeremiah. Because these are the inhabitants of the poor, black and immigrant wards south of the River, now spreading north and south, city block at a time, like the relentless spread of the Sahara. You could live, work, and even attend church in this city for years without knowing such people shared your oxygen; unless, perchance, you passed them on a dimly lit Anacostia sidestreet and prayed to God to be elsewhere.

For that majority, exposed to the effects of impervious unemployment, high infant mortality, AIDS, and the usual brood of urban ills, little changes.

But for the rest, mostly engaged in saving the world or becoming kings of it, variability is constant. It is said that in fashionable, rich-blooded Georgetown, wedged between Embassy Row and the putrid Potomac, all the houses come up for sale every election cycle. Administrations come and go, Democratic, Republican, but all equally bureaucratic and enth(conf)used. Mayors step up, step in, and step out. Each one pours its new political tonic down the District's throat, then throw her a few sucker punches on the way out of office, to leave her stumbling in a voteless daze amidst all this grandeur of Republic.

The revolving door, the shell game, makes it hard to sustain a communion of anything. Acquaintances are as disposable as fast food wrappers, and just as short-lived. Friendships are difficult to cultivate, and love, platonic or erotic, is a vanishing horizon grasped at with clutching fingers. At Georgetown University, dating was virtually unheard of, replaced by a "hook-up scene" that shocked even us, like a parody of college promiscuity. At least drunk, fewer will remember it that otherwise might have.

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