Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Homeless at West End Library

A small colony of homeless people camp on the front porch at West End Library. I happened upon them this afternoon when attempting to return an overdue book.

Unable to get away from the office during the day, and out of the continental US this weekend, I really needed to return "Sophie's Choice." (Fabu tome!)

The poor library even wrote me a nice note stating that overdue fines were accruing daily, and that I really must give it back.

I Metro'd across town from Capitol Hill in the early evening to West End. Lovely neighborhood. The Asian dude was playing his Asian instrument at the mouth of Foggy Bottom station. I headed to the library.

As I approached the building, I saw a motley krewe of 5 or 6 scruffy individuals (being generous, here!) loitering under the front awning. No one stood. All were in various poses of repose: lounging, slumped, propped-on-elbows, lying on the slates.

All were silently eyeing me.

Someone raised voice and said, "Library's closed for the day! No book drop." At that same moment, I spied the book drop, taped over, layer upon layer so that, clearly, I wouldn't be dropping off "Sophie's Choice" that day.

All I could mutter was a stunned parrot-like, "No book drop. ...oh-kay," turn on my heel, and walk away, defeated.

The dilemma remains. And book fines continue to accrue daily! Trapped like a rat.

However, the much larger dilemma is regarding the problem of homelessness in our city. The group So Others Might Eat reports that 19.1% of DC residents live at or below the poverty line -- 104,000 people. The same fact sheet states that 62% of the homeless population have a high school diploma, and 44% are employed. So let's not demean or stereotype.

Poverty, incredibly expensive housing and high cost of living make for a large homeless population, wanting of dignity and hope.

I think it is our duty as American citizens to act so that this problem is ameliorated. We should each, in some way, reach out to help our fellow man. Dropping a nickel in the guy's cup isn't enough. There should be a greater concerted effort to help our homeless population, our nation's vulnerable. That costs money - charity or taxpayer dollars -- money that many libertarians and fiscal conservatives would rather not spend. So here we sit!

See ya tomorrow at West End, fellas.

The Power of Blogging

To a newcomer, blogging may seem to be an innocuous practice. Newbies should beware of a keen bloodhound called Google.

In a MSN news article online today, I read that individuals' care-free web personas, scrutinized by potential employers, were hurting their prospects of getting a new job. The article discussed Facebook party photos ending up in the wrong hands and the cropping up of new companies, comprised undoubtedly of lawyers, to destroy slander and to protect "one's reputation."

Hm, this mouse smells a lucrative new trend in mitigation!

New bloggers: achtung, babies. After only one week of blogging away, commenting freely, reviewing restaurants and Twittering, I did a casual search of my own blog name. Many links - nay, pages and pages of links - emerged. Every comment, every semicolon had been found by Google. Sniffed out like a bloodhound. Comments to comments were even found. It was amazing.

Washingtonienne was canned for blogging about trysts at the office. I think most people in sensitive positions, gainfully employed, would not choose to do that. But consider more subtle biases and repercussions of off-the-wall comments or mean notes. Consider how a potential employer - or client- would view any of it. Or all of it. Anonymity on the web is virtually non-existent.

Now, if everyone went around censoring their blogs to oblivion, it would be a pretty dull blogosphere. So, please don't, for our entertainment's sake.

Just be careful.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beach Sceen

Ominous clouds greeted Ms.H. and I as we trekked along the Lewes Beach sand. Not rain clouds- just layer upon layer of silver, dove, steel, mercury, and mist grays. The sun was totally obscured. Brave seafarers huddled close, in chairs, wrapped tightly in their beach towels.

The wind whipped around Cape Henlopen, and we saw the Cape May Ferry roll toward us.

Not the best day for a coastal excursion, but we were grateful to be miles and miles away from the oppression of D.C. for the weekend.

We set out my 300 year old light green sheet on the mocha sand. Seriously, I've had the blanket since I was a little girl. It's softened with age and perfect as an outdoor sit-upon.

After an hour, huddled in the fetal position, trying to keep warm, the clouds blew away.

Like the opening scene of a play, the cloud curtain opened to blue skies, singing gulls, lapping waves, and the sweetest sea breeze. "Yeah, it turned out to be beautiful!" declared Ms.H.

Thank goodness Mother Nature changed her mind.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why Do People Blog?

This morning, Mama asked me, "Why do you think people blog?" Leave it to mamas to ask simple questions that confound us- or at least make us consider what we're doing.

I've just started blogging. My mom and dad were English teachers. In fact, Daddy's a published poet. I opted to rebel and pursued a career in the biological sciences, but the creative urge and wordsmithiness pulse strongly through my veins.

Recently, I wrote a few notes on said blog and decided to give 'em The Parent Test. Here's Mama's reaction:

I read EVERY word of your blog. Why do people blog, anyway? Just wondering. You are such a great writer. Words (rich ones) just seem to roll out of you in the perfect way.

I'm finishing up my coffee and just about out the door for a 30 minute walk. One parting note: Parents job: to worry about their kids. Love you bunches.


The comment about worrying about kids, I'm sure, is in response to the "Day's End" note. I want everyone in the blosphere to know that I have awesome parents!

Getting back to the "why people blog" question. I am sure that this topic, blogging about blogging, is cliche. However, I'll slip the New Blogger card out of my left sleeve and play it.

I think some people blog because they are extroverts. They crave contact with the Outside World. They've got stuff to say and need to share it. Or just spew it out.

Others blog because they are lonely. There is no one close enough to them whom they can call and convey their thoughts-that-become-blogs, as often as the thoughts surface. [Well, maybe District Sniffer's pooch is an exception; GoGo looks like a good listener.] So they blog.

Still others are good writers, and they want to display their talents in hopes of getting "discovered."

Others are okay writers, but they have great insight about politics, news or whatever. They're not good enough or fast enough to be hired as reporters or journalists, and/or they have too much of a creative fluorish in their writing, so they just blog-it-out as a hobby.

Others use their blog as a semi-public diary, like LJ of District Belle.

Still others, such as my scientist friends, use theirs to save and share experimental protocols. Others publish their favorite recipes.

Me? I think it's a mix of the above.

So, Mama: there are many answers to your simple question. Love you.

P.S. Here's a little video of Mama, Daddy, sis, baby Grace and me a few years ago, for your viewing pleasure. Summer supper down in Georgia. M-m-m!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It's that time of the day again: 8ish, August, in Washington, DC. The sun is down, a warm breeze floats between the buildings, and the lighting's just right.

It's soft, cool, hushed: soothing to the scorched monuments.

It's a sweet, blue-gray. Federal blue.

Yellow lights peek out of grand hotel windows like anxious lovers. Traffic and people slow down. Headlights on the street are gaily lined up like birthday candles. Or holiday lights.

Twilight's glow is nature's candlelight.

2 Alarm Fire on Penn

I was awakened at 5:45 this morning by the wailing of sirens. Often, I hear a passing siren or two during the night but quickly disregard it and fall fast asleep. However, I heard one rumbling truck engine, sirens blaring, pass by under my window at 4th and Pennsylvania, Southeast. Then I heard another truck, with its sirens. I heard backing up, voices on the street, pressure brakes chirping and whistling.

Clearly, something was emergent down below.

The siren-after-siren phenomenon brought me eerily back to spring 2007, when Eastern Market burned. It was the same "this is a real emergency" kind of auditory experience.

My heart stirring with nervousness, I pulled my curtains aside and peeked out of my third floor window. The street corner below was red with flickering lights. I dressed quickly, grabbed my keys, and stepped into the heat and humidity outside.

I saw three or four fire trucks, surrounding the corner of 4th and Penn, my corner. I worried that the church was on fire, and I faintly smelled smoke. I didn't see fire anywhere nearby and felt relieved.

I have a soft place in my heart for firefighters. Especially since just the week before, I got an email notifying me of the new Houston, Texas, firefighters' fundraiser calendar. Love 'em! The truck nearest me had five - and two of them were standing in the street (that was blocked off), only steps from my front door. I approached them.

"Two alarm fire," one of them said, his face furrowed and leathery for his age. "What does that mean," I asked. "Oh, it just means that if one group of fighters is at the scene, and they are having trouble containing the fire, they call in a second Unit. Then, if those two Units still have trouble, they call in a third Unit, etc." "Oh, okay," I nodded.

We shot the breeze for a few more minutes as twilight brightened into an early morning glow of gentle blue skies and smothering humidity. I thought the fire fighters looked handsome in their heavy suits, oxygen tanks on their backs like scuba divers. We talked about Eastern Market, about local bars, working on the Hill, family roots.

And suddenly, the truck began pulling away. I waved as they faded toward the end of the block.

I have such tremendous respect for those guys.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

On Walking Out Gracefully

We lost an employee in my office today.

Not one to be spreading rumors, I'll admit that I don't know whether she left because she'd found a better position or because she'd been axed. The mind does funny tricks, though. She left without telling anyone she was going. Why? Was she fired? Did she really not make friendly enough connections over the past 9 months of working with us that she truly didn't tell a single soul in our office that she was leaving? It's mighty strange.

Anyway, here is the sequence of events as I recalled them. My boss appeared to be extremely antsy and agitated today (not the best day to advocate for a raise - the subconscious is powerful, folks). I was in his office telling him today was the absolute deadline for him to renew my student loan benefit or I wouldn’t receive a payment next month. I lingered around his desk, hoping my silence and hopeful aura would spur him to say something – anything – like, “don’t worry, I’ll advocate for something good for you.” No. Instead he said, agitatedly, “I’ve got to talk to these people.”

As I turned to leave his office, I overheard him say, to Human Resources on the phone, “I just took an ‘Administrative Action.’”

What does it mean to take an “Administrative Action?” Whatever that meant, it sounded ominous to me. Who got canned???

Minutes later, the woman who later left, for good, could be overheard shuffling things on her desk. My paranoia-sharpened hearing detected the sounds of a desk being packed up, permanently. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. I listened: shuffling, packing, shuffling, papers-rustling, packing. Wow – could she really be leaving? Is she the one? What happened?

There were no goodbyes. She just walked out of the office. Calmly, collectedly took her purse and left.

My boss went into the room where our office servers are located – several times. Great; he’s killing her profile one nanosecond after her heels click out the door! Minutes later, he walked back to her desk, sat down and started going through her computer.

He said, pointing towards himself, “Guys, you’re looking at the new [her former position]!” No one said a word, not one single word, but my gosh the tension was unbearable. No one dared speak.

I heard him mumble something about losers as he punched on the keyboard. And that was that.

Working on the Hill is **TENSE,** folks! Definitely not for the weak of mettle!

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Glass Tells All

My friend in the office told me a funny story that I want to share. His friend, Jane Doe, is out at a bar and meets a good looking guy who apparently had a glass eye.

Jane didn't realize he had a glass eye at first. However, as the drinks began to add up, apparently one eye became bloodshot and the other did not. That's how she found out.

Hm...drinking as a litmus test for glass eyes. Highly effective!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Day's End

Poets and songbirds have often mused about feelings at the end of the day. As I walk home, I think about the song, "Wee Small Hours of the Morning," or about a poem, "At the End of the Day," by one of my favorite modern-day poets, Gregory Djanikian.

At the end of the work-day, especially if it has been a long day, I have a strong urge to call someone and verbally unwind: talk about personal things. Someone close to me.

Often I'll call my parents or sister; I've just about exhausted my short list of far-away friends whom I can call under the guise of "having a moment to catch up." I think my parents worry if I call too much... they also worry if I call too infrequently.

Anyway, a warm August breeze stirs my hair. The walking is pleasant. Two couples holding hands pass me on the brick sidewalk. I've worked hard today and am tired.

For me, that special time of calico feelings isn't the "wee small hours of the morning." It's now.

Losing Weight

Here is a tip for all the randos out there in blog land: be very careful how you comment to your friends (and enemies!) who are trying to lose weight.

I am not a fat person. I am within the healthy weight range, according to Weight Watchers. It's just that I've gained, ahem, a few pounds in the past months and want to return to my svelte self.

On several occasions, I've encountered the following sequence. A friend will invite me out for wine, Lemoncello, cheese, chocolate, insert your favorite booty-expanding treat here. I'll thank them, suggest a lighter-fare option, and, as a side note, say that I joined Weight Watchers to regain healthier eating habits.

Undoubtedly, the response is, "Oh, you're not fat! You shouldn't be on Weight Watchers/ trying to lose weight." Or, "Oh, I'm surprised."

The effect of this seemingly innocuous comment is me feeling like I need to provide a reason why I'm trying to lose some weight. I just don't want to go there. It's a complex answer that takes me to some dark places, emotionally. Why should a healthy diet be something one needs to explain? Sheesh.

So, friends, the next time you talk with someone, and they tell you for whatever reason, that they are trying to lose weight, for chrissakes, say something POSITIVE. Like, "Good for you!" Or "Wow, that's great! That's inspiring." Or "Cool - let's eat melon." But be very careful not to tread into verbal negativity.

Hungry people are already cranky. No need to exacerbate the situation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Facial Fake Tanning

During the summers, I enjoy tanning. Now before anyone yells at me regarding the risks of tanning, please know that I understand. It is a risk that I take.

I know that tanning will result in an increased risk of skin cancer later on, but more than that, it can lead to wrinkling and (gasp!) sagging of skin. Let the rest of me sag, but not my face!

For this reason, I am careful not to allow one single beam of ultraviolet touch my face. This creates a quandry in the summer time, because I end up with a pale face and gorgeous bronzed skin. I could always brush bronzing powder on my face to even things out -- and I do -- but what about the random overnight occasion? I'd hate for anyone to see me like this.

So my strategy is to use "fake tan" on my face (and everywhere else) to even it all out. I am proud to announce that after 1.5 months, my face has caught up with the rest of me!