City Paper is not for tourists
First sighting of the day: 8:30 a.m., a white-colored latex glove, the kind surgeons use, at the corner of L and 15th Streets, NW.
Second sighting of the day: 9:32 a.m., glove No.2 (its plaintive partner?), off-white, at the corner of L and 13th.
Third sighting of the day: 4:23 p.m., two off-white gloves, with a Snickers bar nestled in the palm of the one closest to I Street, in Franklin Park.
I live in a large high-rise building on the corner of 13th and Massachusetts Avenue, a decent enough building where residents regularly switch from one side of the building to the other in a vain attempt to escape the noise from the hookers on L Street and the screeching of fire trucks from the firehouse on 13th Street. I have seen many strange things on my block, but the gloves captivate me. What do they signify? A transaction? Do strangers on L Street exchange something mysterious through the use of latex gloves (bodily fluids? hand sores? cash payments? loan applications? classified info from upscale New York City co-op applications?), then peel off the gloves and leave them on the sidewalk to mystify me?
This has obsessed me no end. Gloves for what purpose? For no-fingerprints, no-tell, no-trail financial transactions? For glow-in-the-dark performance art? I’ve fretted about this ever since I moved into the L Street area five years ago and started spotting gloves everywhere I walked downtown. It’s been the dominant downtown mystery of my life.
Are the gloves peeled off by EMS workers called to the scene to resuscitate the libidinally laid-low among the johns on Hooker Alley? Are the gloves deployed by drug addicts shooting up? Are they the couture of aesthetically finicky hookers—you know, “I’ll do it but I won’t touch it”? Are they donned by out-of-town stamp collectors who, overcome by a sudden urge to examine their stamps under the night lights of 15th and L Streets, pause to pull on latex gloves so as not to damage their treasures? By surgeons-in-training? Free-lance proctologists on the prowl?
A few years back—and then a few months ago—I asked some cops sitting in a car near Stoney’s at 13th and L and was told (with the no-interest, no-curiosity, why-do-you-have-to-know? are-you-a-reporter-or-something? look that all D.C. cops seem to have—unlike New York City cops who often enjoy a good chat) that this area is considered relatively safe, no big drug shooting-up zone, not a major-league killing field, no sleazy move-the-financial-paper-in-the-dead-of-night-with-latex-gloves K Street back-office area. So why the gloves, waving plaintively all over the streets and sidewalks? Why is downtown, my doleful backyard, Glove City? And why do I never witness anyone taking off their gloves?
It’s a quintessential downtown mystery-menace, so pathological, so pleasing, so replenishingly on-offer. Aren’t you fascinated? OK, maybe I take a bit more interest in urban detritus than the average two-income, three-cell-phone District resident, but if one of these people would set aside his plot to take over the world for just a minute and stop on the way to the BIG MEETING and look around, he might see he is on a goddamn Treasure Island. Like the mystery of the garbage can on the corner of a street I won’t mention. (Hint: It’s near a museum that often features exhibits with titles like “Minerals of the World” and is located near a side street where the likes of Newt and Bob Dole get ambushed by the press after their appearances on a certain TV network.) I’ve been baffled by the enigma of this one garbage can for about two years, ever since I first happened upon it and discovered a couple of same-day Wall Street Journals carefully laid on top of the trash (always placed sometime during the late afternoon, often enough to keep me pumped, often enough to keep me mystified since I never witness it).
(Frenzied morning phone call to spouse, gainfully—even meaningfully—employed in federal office building in Foggy Bottom: “Honey! Don’t buy today’s WALL STREET JOURNAL! I know where I can get one free!” He mentions something about being “with someone right now,” but that he’d be happy to call me back.)
Why are a couple of Wall Street Journals regularly dumped into that one garbage can? Why just that one can? Who’s dumping them? Why haven’t they learned after two years that they are getting too many/ordering too many/pilfering too many and then having to dump the residue so seemingly carefully and lovingly into this one garbage bin?
And who is Marcelo—I know his name is Marcelo because it’s printed on the top right-hand corner of his paper—whose Financial Times I almost daily retrieve from a garbage can on Connecticut Avenue? It’s perched so enticingly and so salmon-colored right on top, begging me to grab it. Why does no one else ever grab it? It isn’t even buried deep in the pile but skims the top of the refuse bin. I want to thank him for his courtesy, but I don’t know who he is. Why does he never bring it home—is he too embarrassed to be seen with it?
It’s 7 o’clock in the evening; my husband is lying down after a long day at work. He’s reading the found-in-the-street, salmon-colored Financial Times belonging to the man with the incredibly poetic name (Marcelo—who are you? What do you do for a living? How old are you? What do you look like? Why don’t you ever bring the paper home with you? Does your wife not approve of it? Your male lover? Your rabbi? Why am I so obsessed with your name and your life and your daily grind? This mysterious connection with you just because we—literally—read the same news?)
And then I’m asking my husband over and over again who is leaving their gloves all over the streets of downtown D.C.—and why. He’s real patient with me, used to my playback petulance, to answering repeat questions over and over. He soothes me, in my distress. But I keep wondering. Who is that older woman who seems to live somewhere near Dupont Circle and who always wears a raccoon hat and pulls a cart behind her with some kind of sign attached to it? And where is that Afghan resistance-looking guy who used to stand all the time across the street from the Capital Hilton? And who is that older man who sits on the sidewalk, often on the corner of 15th and L Streets, who’s always writing, writing, writing something with lots of numbers on it?
Should I give up on the mysteries of downtown D.C. and (like a normal person) move to the suburbs, to Virginia? Somehow I don’t think so. So I stay in the downtown building with the musical apartments, searching for that ghostly magical mystery caravan where everyone on it wears and then discards off-white gloves. Which fall to the pavement along L Street. In Glove City.CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Lisa Montanaro.