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  • I wanted to live in Adams Morgan because it was a funky, hip and cool place to disappear. Adams Morgan is a hip, urban section in DC that brags. “300+ languages spoken here.” I lived on the third floor of a corner brownstone that overlooked an alley on the city’s busiest street.

    The landlord, a Rastafarian with waist length dreadlocks who’d migrated to DC from Addis Ababa, hated the Eritrean restaurant owners two blocks down on Kalorama Road. I returned with a steamy Eritrean vegan dinner; carrots, shouru, and potatoes smothered in herbs and spices that spoke standard English to olfactory nerves. The landlord glowered at my styrofoam plate and explained the difference between Eritrea and Ethiopians. Ethiopians and Eritreans didn’t cook the same, he said.

    I said okay and ascended with the traitor’s plate to my bedroom on the third floor. I thought I’d get the corner bedroom that overlooked 18th Street’s weekend parade of endless people, but apparently the Rastaman knew better. I didn’t have curtains, blinds, and I didn’t have a car. Two days after I moved into the bedroom with a east and west view of the alley, the landlord hung three natural burlap curtains that he’d silk screened with rows and columns of egg head shaped, red, white and blue happy smiling faces. The drapes were about fifteen feet long. They covered eight feet windows. Never, ever would I return from showers, a shadowy peep show for voyeurs below.

    When I moved there, I was made. Made like young mobsters, daughters, molls and wives in international gangster families. I had Rastafarian godfathers--full-time cannabis dealers moonlighting as musicians and artists--in the most lucrative and important sections of the city, the Northeast Quadrant by Catholic University and Northwest Corner by the National Park Zoo. My fathers were Antiguan, American, and Nicaraguan. They introduced to me to the Ethiopian landlord who painted, tie dyed, and sold "yes, I'm rooted trinkets" from a vending table at his front door when he felt like it. And when he didn’t feel like vending, trusted tenants did the work for him.

    Friday and Saturday nights on 18th Street during city summers were the best. In the door front I sold trinkets, rolling papers, and tee-shirts to passersby who were curious about the house with the red, yellow and green Ethiopian flag with a fighting lion in its center hanging from the edifice's second story window. A carefree and relaxed African American woman, hair neatly braided, in a sexy, but not at all profane, summer maxi stopped at the house. I was immediately intrigued by this atypical customer who, unlike most AA women, didn't cross the street when she saw waist length dreads, smelled burning sandalwood incense, and heard Black Uhuru pumping through speakers positioned at the second story windows. The woman purchased a package of marijuana wrapping papers and left. She returned 40 minutes later and said, quite flatly, quite unashamedly that she needed more.

    "Hey, didn't you just get a whole pack?" it was a fair enough girlfriend question.

    "Yeah but," and she looked up the street in the wave of darkness, street lamps and people to a group I couldn't see. The other user was a covert face in a parked car, perhaps, or just another loiterer on a street of many more.

    "Just two," she softly snatched two papers from the book and melted away headed north against the tide of people flowing down 18th Street.

    On weekends, I eavesdropped on drunks and thieves from my bedroom window. An old man had stolen sex from a young prostitute.

    “Did you like me inside of you?” the throaty Sudanese man was seductive, sweet, yet, tauntingly and abusively manipulative. He’d been drinking and I was convinced the heat and humidity had carried fumes of his alcohol from the ground to my bedroom window.

    “I want my money,” the prostitute's cries of anger chided her unguarded moment of gullibility. Her angry cries also scoffed the man who'd lied for her piece.

    “I didn’t want it like that,” the man swore. “I want us to get married. For you to be my wife.”

    “Give me money. I want my money,” she said.

    It was the end of the second summer I'd spent in Adams Morgan. Soon winter would return. The blizzards.The radiator that didn’t work. 20 degrees outdoors meant 45 indoors.

    In November, I left the bedroom on 18th Street and moved into an efficiency several blocks over.

    The rest of my time in DC, working, but not living, was miserable. Soon after I left the city, gentrification and 9/11 had reshaped Adams Morgan. No longer is Adams Morgan a feminine slut of city on her back, legs spread apart, willing, wide open. And waiting.

    Today, Adams Morgan is masculine. The taker. All of the Rastas are gone. Most of the West Indians, most of the Ethiopians and half the black Americans are gone. Many Latinos are homeowners after community organizations and civic groups taught them to purchase city housing projects converted into condominiums.

    The Roman, Greek, Persian, Asian and Eritrean restaurant owners, including Bardia, the Iranian who owns a New Orleans café at the house on 18th street, did, somehow, pull through.

    image: google maps
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