Air Aria

A tree on 10th Street. There is a glass building behind it.

It almost sounded more like squeaking bedsprings than tweets and chirps. Except that there would have been an old time hospital ward full of beds, and those beds would need to be fully exerted in a most athletic fashion to create this level of racket.

Maybe the tree was a bird version of a packed convention center exhibit hall, the echoing din of vendor and vendee voices combining to fill the cavern. Except that the pitch was much higher and frequently punctuated. The noise didn’t grow to a generalized loud buzz. It didn’t fade into the background. It was scraped, like a metal rake on concrete, onto the air.

You couldn’t actually see the birds in the tree, but there were likely hundreds. It wasn’t as much that the tree was large–although it was–but that there were a lot of birds. Peering into the dark foliage you might think you could make out the movement of a bird, but it was as likely to be the movement of a leaf. Undoubtably disturbed by a camouflaged bird. Their shiny black eyes didn’t reflect any light and their beaks and wings melted into the evening shadow of the bounteous greenery.

Walking under the tree, people only thought about birds dropping. Not the birds themselves, you know. The gray sidewalk was splashed with white splatter shapes of guano. It wasn’t slick, but it looked it. Pedestrian heads ping-ponged between carefully looking up to avoid walking into dropping poop–carefully in that they didn’t want anything falling into their eyes–and looking  down at the ground to avoid a slip and a fall onto the fresh “paint.”

But it was the shrill turbulence of peeps and warbles, and the furious rustling of leaves and branches, that drew attention. And questions. Why that tree? Why so many birds? Why this evening?

As the walkers reached the second half of the block, they forgot that they had even wondered.



Bright orange sneakers.

It wasn’t actually a lunge. Lunging connotes quick, sudden and direct. Hers was more like a floating surprise into someone else’s space. It was an interruption, but certainly without direction.

The woman who was interrupted expected that she would be asked for money. But she wasn’t. There was no ask. There was no recognition from the glassy eyes bobbing in front of her.

The other woman, the one who floated in a surprising way, was dressed in a bright orange track suit. It may have been velour. It had a fuzzy look to it. It may have been terry cloth. The jacket was zipped up high, up to her neck. The fit of the pant and the jacket made sense on her long body.

She had one of those jumbo wheeled folding shopping carts next to her. It was filled with bags and maybe a blanket. There was a cigarette lighter and a half pack of Newports in the drugstore bag on the top. There was also two orange bottles without the child proof tops. It was her prescription medicine. But it wasn’t the scripts that glazed over her face.

Her eyes were almost hazel. So they were hazel since they had a bit more color than brown. They bulged out a little bit and the whites had thin variegations of red.

The orange sleeves of her jacket, while filled with her arms, seemed to not belong to her torso. They moved independently of her body. Not in a convulsive way, but fitfully aggressing through the nearby air. She levitated back and forth from the curb to the middle of the sidewalk, like a tethered helium balloon that was starting to loose it’s bounce. Her movements were without rhythm, without rhyme, yet fluid.

Gliding in and out of the lunchtime foot traffic, she silently forced the people seeking sandwiches and grain bowls to move out of the way. Most were glad to avoid her, but a few looked for the cup to toss in some coins. When they searched to end of her orange cuff they only saw a burning  menthol that she never drew to her mouth. And then she receded back until her next teeter into the next wave of pedestrians.

No Sense

Photo of 13th and H St. at 10:55 a.m. on January 4th, 1931

Her hair was strawberry blonde, more strawberry than blonde. When you looked closely, you saw that she came that way. No off color at the ends. No reverse skunk dark roots. No center part outlined with silver or white.

She had a thick head of hair and bangs flew from her face. Although her cut was not high fashion, the ends weren’t split. Somebody might say she was a ginger with her freckled face and arms, but she wasn’t that fair and her skin held a tan just fine.

Her lips were moving, and she was only wordless in that she wasn’t making a sound, but she was most definitely forming words. Her face was more than sun kissed. Maybe a bit weather worn, too.

Her back was to the building and behind her was an unopened bottle of orange juice and an extra large cup from Chick-fil-A, or Five Guys or some other red writing on a white logo’ed joint. In front of her was a medium sized, clear plastic cup with a ring of green leaves that identified this as recyclable plastic. Maybe it wasn’t even plastic. It could be a corn product. The cup in front of her was about a foot from her mouth making the shapes of words. There was green inside the cup as well as bordering the cup. The green was paper money.

Back to her hair, it wasn’t dirty. It wasn’t matted. It wasn’t higgledy-piggledy. But it wasn’t fresh from the salon, either. Her eyes were closed and the teeth behind her moving lips were a little oversized, but there. She was wearing a dress and black hose. Not sheer hose, but tights. The tights were ripped and ran. The toes on her left foot, the one on top, were exposed. Her right foot, the one on the bottom, was almost completely bereft of cover. There was a thread that looped between two of her toes that kept the rest of the stocking on her leg.

She had no shoes. No shoes on her feet. No shoes near her feet. No shoes near her head. No shoes next to the unopened juice. She didn’t have a bag. Not a purse. Not a backpack. Not a garbage bag. Not a thin plastic bag from the Walgreens.

She was more than asleep. More like passed out. She was sprawled on the sidewalk in the mid afternoon on a busy corner in the business district. She was on her right side with her hands near her chest, her legs pulled up slightly. Her nearly bare feet pointed toward the White House.

It wasn’t unusual for people to sleep on the sidewalk or to ask for money or to live on the streets downtown. But she didn’t look like that. She looked different. Like she was either a new transplant or someone who was lost or someone who was dumped.

A few people paused as they walked by her, looking to see if she was breathing, wondering if she was okay. At least two called to have someone check in on her. This is because as one was describing the woman and her location to the emergency dispatch, Engine 16 was in the intersection, making a left turn. The firefighters stepped out of the big red truck.

The one on the phone told dispatch that someone was here, hung up and felt water welling in eyesockets. She turned her head to the sky and said a prayer, hoping that something was there to catch it.

Sharp Dressed Man

Impala painted in flames. Sticks out.

The man standing on the corner stood out. It wasn’t because he was tall. He was likely 6’2″, or was that height when he was younger. But he wasn’t stand out tall.

It wasn’t his suit. It was a black suit. The fit of his pants was a little off, but that was likely because he was on the thin side. His jacket was fine, and he wore a crisp white shirt. He could have been a musician, but if he was, he played a harmonica and it was in his pocket. He carried nothing that would carry an instrument.

He did have a pile of papers in his hand. No folders. He might be carrying some mail. He likely walked past the train stop because he had today’s Politico at the top of his pile. There’s a newsstand next to the station on the block. His pile though? Not really a notable pile.

He looked over the traffic as he waited for the light to change. His silver white and gray hair was blown about by the breeze. It wasn’t wild. It was anchored a bit by its weight. Although it was fairly fine–not thin–it hung halfway down his back. His beard was much whiter than his hair. It was a clear contrast since his beard was the same length as his hair. It hung to the middle of his torso. His beard fluttered in the wind.

His was a ZZ Top or an elder Duck Dynasty beard. That was unusual. He wasn’t wearing sunglasses, even though it was very sunny. You’d expect sunglasses. His glasses were small, oval wireframes. They were silver or chrome frames.

The light changed and he crossed the street. The late summer solstice sun reflected off his face. Maybe he was an old hippie. Maybe he was a preacher. Maybe he was an orchestra conductor. Maybe he was an old hippie preacher conductor. Or just a guy. Just a guy crossing the street.