It was a day a bit like today—-mostly sunny, bright, albeit at least 10 degrees warmer—-only a decade ago. I was taking a stroll through D.C.’s Franklin Square. It must have been around lunchtime, or thereabouts. A few scattered park benches were occupied with folks taking their midday meal al fresco.
Back then, the park was a much different place. It was not the mecca of mobile vendors you see parked along the periphery today. The food truck thing was still years away.
At the time, I was working as an editorial intern for this very same newspaper. Those were heady days, indeed. The internship was a paid gig, if only minimally. And this was years before the blog thing happened, so an enterprising cub reporter on a weekly deadline could actually escape the clutches of the computer screen from time to time. You had ample opportunity to literally pound the pavement in search of stories and even absorb some much needed Vitamin D in the process.
And that’s what I was doing. Or trying to. I vividly remember cutting through the park’s diagonal walkway when I noticed a guy lying in the grass to the far right. One arm was tucked casually behind his head. His eyes were closed as the sunshine lit up his face. I watched him let out a big yawn. The man was wearing no shirt, his pants were pulled down around his ankles, and his right hand, well, it was very busy. If a police report had ever been filed on the incident, I’m certain the language would have chronicled the nether-region action very mechanically.
Am I seeing things? I wondered. Perhaps this was the manifestation of some sort of heat-stroke-induced mirage or something.
Nope. Sitting on a nearby park bench, a middle-aged African-American gentleman in shades and a baseball cap was also taking in the unseemly action while chowing down on a Big Mac, fries and soda.
I walked over and asked the guy if what I was seeing was really happening. He took a big bite of his fast-food lunch, looked up at me and shot a wide grin. “It’s the PCP, man,” he told me. “Makes everybody wanna get naked.”
We had a few laughs, wondering how long the guy in the grass would keep it up, so to speak, here in broad daylight, smack in the middle of downtown Washington. A few minutes later, a very lovely lady came clicking her high heels down the same diagonal sidewalk. She was tall, tan, and brunette, clad in a rather tight-fitting sun dress and clutching a fashionable-looking purse. When she spotted the guy in the grass, she immediately stopped. Then she looked up to see me and the other guy watching her and also watching the guy in the grass. She hastily strutted over.
“Is he OK?” the woman asked us.
“I think the only person he could harm is himself,” I replied.
The woman was not amused. In fact, she seemed truly concerned. “I’m going to go see if he’s OK,” she said.
I remember thinking, this could end either one of two ways for the guy in the grass—-happily, or not. It turned out to be the latter.
When the woman bent over to inquire, the half-naked man immediately jumped to his feet, pulled up his trousers and snapped at her. Then he turned around, saw Mr. Big Mac and I watching, and starting shouting at us, too. His language was filthy and laced with racial epithets aimed at the black guy with the Big Mac. He quickly stormed over. At that point, I smartly decided to split. I’ve never seen him, or the svelte woman, or the guy with the Big Mac, ever again.
I’ve told this story countless times. But I’ve never put the words to paper, or blog screen, until now. It just seems like the right time, what with me yet again leaving the city I adore, the town where the missus and I fell in love over crab cake sandwiches at Tunnicliff’s Tavern, the place where we got engaged, the place where many of my best friends still reside, and the place where my favorite newspaper in the world will still carry on its grand tradition of cranking out full-length explicit riffs.
I’ve often thought back to that day in the park, in search of some sort of meaning. Clearly, the incident speaks to just how much the District has changed over the past 10 years. It’s hard to imagine the same scenario playing out in 2012. If it did, I guess that all those folks standing in line at José Andrés‘ pricey Pepe truck would have something else to talk about when they returned to their desks beyond the simple matter of whether that $20 Pepito de Iberico is worth it or not. And I suppose the would-be circus performers behind Fojol Bros. would have some new competition for your daily gawking time. If nothing else, at least us spectators would have some better food options to gnaw on during whatever sordid scene is taking place in front of us.
Maybe there is no greater meaning to take from this bizarre incident, just a zany anecdote to dish over dinner from here to eternity. Or, better still, after dinner.
Whatever the case, I suppose I’ll just leave it here: Thanks for the memories, D.C. I’ll never look at a Big Mac the same way again.