Thursday, October 4, 2012

L'Enfant Plaza (2005)

            The first car that passed me was an unmarked Ford, searchlight on the driver’s side, a beefy-looking white guy at the wheel. There were flak jackets and automatic weapons on the Metro. Down the way from my hotel was this market, a convenience store really, bigger, with a good fruit section. The hotel served plastic pastry for breakfast so my idea was to pick up some bananas for the second morning in D.C.
            To reach the market you had to cross a busy intersection and then the neighborhood got low-rent really quick: some working-class Latinos and blacks hanging out on apartment doorsteps, everybody looking a little hungry, spiritually, not biologically, like the American Dream hadn’t quite arrived despite the close proximity to Capitol Hill.
            A brother in a wheelchair was entering the store at the same time as me that evening. It was hard for the guy in the chair to push his wheels and hold the door open simultaneously—and he thanked me for my help. Five minutes later we met again at the door, leaving.
            On the sidewalk he pointed at my Low Tops and mentioned, by way of casual conversation, that he bought the same shoe in 1964 for $8.
           Ain’t that a bitch?
           We agreed that eight dollars doesn’t buy a whole lot of shoe these days.
           We were just making conversation, passing the time, unhurried, unscheduled, the way only people of color can be in the middle of rush hour in the white man's world. You couldn’t help but notice that this nigger had a great deal of decorative silver in his mouth. To describe him, he was a little older than me, his legs didn’t look spindly like he had never walked but more like he had been able to walk at one time and got shot or was in an accident or met with some kind of Act of God, maybe he was a veteran but he didn’t have that proud sacrificial air that vets can get, no see-what-I-gave-up-for-you-motherfucker, he was just a brother on the streets of D.C. who couldn’t walk under his own power.
            Being in a wheelchair he probably hadn’t come far, this was his neighborhood, he might, it seemed to me, be able to point in the right direction to hook a brother up. Pussy—weed—a weapon—is it's always best to buy local.
            In order to do that you have to talk to the locals and not just ask directions.
            We were still in front of the store. A blue-and-white police car passed by, white officer at the wheel, didn’t even look in our direction. Good thing about Osama he was keeping The Man busy.
            The day was cool but pretty, it still felt good to be outside.
            “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
            “Is this the kind of neighborhood where I could find something to smoke?”
            He looked around at traffic, both cars and on foot, people talking on the sidewalk or just coming home from work, none of them looking exactly poor but definitely lesser means, yeah, black or brown, what you expect a mile from the Gates of Hell? Then—out of nowhere—a couple of dressed-for-success white people, briefcases and brisk walks like they were headed to testify before a committee.
            Looking at the white couple this guy in the chair confirmed my guess. “It’s that kind of neighborhood,” he said.
            He said that down the block, around the corner, there were young dudes with various pharmaceuticals for sale. But it would be difficult to make a buy he explained, “Because they don’t know you.”
            Could he introduce me? Could he speak for my character and for my need?
            No he could not, he said. He had seen people get jammed up doing that. He mentioned he had a friend also in a wheelchair who facilitated a transaction involving a little “medicinal herb”—for what aches you—and got busted for it.
            There were some starts and stops in the conversation after that. The dude in the chair was offended by an offer of money if he would help me score. His head turned to the side as he listened politely to my denials of employment, officially or on a contract basis, by the District of Columbia Police Department. We parted ways but he called me right back. A little airlock plastic baggie was now cupped in his hand. It must have come from under his coat. A change had transformed him and he smiled all silver again.
            “I copped the dime for you.” 
            He was the neighborhood connection and somehow we just hooked up.
            Life can be good that way sometimes. You get just what you’re looking for, when you need it.
            At the right price.
            The brother parked his wheelchair to give me time to run back into the store and get change. Korean dude behind the counter wouldn’t break a fifty without a purchase, so in exchange for the herb the brother in the WC got my sincere thanks, $10 and an Eskimo pie.
            First rule of any drug transaction is check out the goods ASAP.
            If you been burned before you don’t wanna get burned again and it’s not like you can complain to the Department of Consumer Affairs. Pulling apart the ziplock of the little baggie was enough. Out came the smell of mountains, Michoacan or Guerrero, Sinaloa or Nayarit, southern Colombia—sierra somewhere—Sr. Valdez tending his plants in the cool lush air, a DEA plane lost in the clouds somewhere overhead.
            My nostrils widened. There was just a hint of paraquat for authenticity and enough in the bag for two maybe three good-sized joints.
            A nigger’s freedom, it seems to me, is what he makes of it. Mine hasn’t been limited by this administration, not even in a pretty tight radius of the Bush's White House.

No comments:

Post a Comment