16 July 2010

We're not the only curmudgeons on the block

Neighborhood listservs were the digital precursor to many neighborhood blogs in DC, and they are still home to large readerships and healthy discussion and debate in many neighborhoods. I've personally been a member of the Shaw listserv for many years, going back to when I lived in the neighborhood. In that time, I've seen lots of interesting debates, crazy arguments, and angry flame wars.

But one of the most reliable things on the listserv is the writings of Ray Milefsky. Ray has lived on the 800 block of Q Street NW for over 20 years, next to the vacant eyesore that was, in the very recent past, known by many as the "Slum Historique" building. Today, the "Stinky Whore Cafe" is merely a memory, but many of the other challenges of urban life still exist in Shaw, and Ray has a way of dealing with them with a writing style that is sharp and mischievous.

In the last week, Ray wrote two biting posts that I want to share with a wider audience than just those who live in Shaw. The first was titled Shaw Slum B&B?:

The scene out my front window this morning (and this week). He has taken up residence since the new neighbors next to the vacant pizza place at Ninth and Q chopped down the undergrowth in front of the vacant lot.

As the city won't declare the boarded up property either blighted or neglected, perhaps we can go after the owner for operating a B&B without a license? I suspect that would involve a separate DC Gubmint agency. I would hope in the meantime one could serve something better than Steel Reserve for breakfast.

Please, before you judge me for being callous, provide me with your address so he can take up residence on your front stoop so we can all share the collective benevolence.

My new neighbor Kirk just had all of the copper piping stripped out of the largely gutted house on the other side of me. Kind of makes it hard for him to take a shower now. That, I reminded him, is the Shaw Welcome Wagon. Same thing happened to me when I moved in. Old traditions die hard.

And here's the second, the Theft-proof "Jardins de Shaw":

Even though the busy young moderns have replaced most of us old front stoopers, it remains consoling to know that my new neighbors have taken great pains to retain some of the classic gardening traditions of our historic slum. I give you three styles from my block you might consider emulating for their tried and true historic aesthetics, low maintenance, and psychic powers to suppress rising property values. I can assure you, no one will want to steal any vegetation from these yards.

The first is the full-weed garden [Vollunkrautgarten]. This is testament to Darwin's survival of the fittest. If it grows it stays. A fully textured yard with subtle shades of green and brown, offset by the vibrant blue of the wheeled recycling container provide a welcoming "Entre vous, s'il vous plait" through the contrasting unadorned black bars and windowless white door. You know these folks are way too modern and are unashamed to show everyone they have ELECTRICITY! writ large with a panel almost as big as the front door. The garage door, however, is the architectural pièce de résistance with that distinctive Secaucus, New Jersey Provençal look that sets this property apart from all the dull historic DC architecture in the neighborhood. Now this is just the kind of garden that calls out for a decorative angora goat or two and not a yapping pomeranian.

The second example is the classic "Form folgt Funktion" Bauhaus Betongarten (concrete garden). Ayn Rand would love it. Vegetative green has to really want to compete to survive between the cracks among the functional green of this boarding house's burgeoning trash cans. Here too the owner is proud of the fact that he too has electricity with a massive panel as well as dishes noting multiple satellite audio-visual stimulation units. Still the residents are not so electronically addicted that they'll pass up now and again sitting out and listening to the flies buzz lazily around the trash cans through the haze of the dim tree-covered street light. This is Shaw Life at its finest.

The third is the post-Apocalypse garden of the future. The new owner of the foreclosed property just had the copper pipes stolen from this now largely gutted wooden house that shows up on the 1841 plat map of DC, the site of a former farmhouse. Once the home of Aunt Mildred, the venerable "variety store" reefer momma on Ninth Street since the 1940s, and her later crack-, pitbull- and gun-purveying kin in the 1980s, I learned most of the words of Thomas A. Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" going to funerals for members of the family. From their earnings, however, they were finally able to concretize most of the front yard, which was tamped down dirt when I moved in next door in 1986. Squatting on a stool, Aunt Mildred would spend entire afternoons pulling weeds out of the dirt, then stamp it down, telling me she was getting rid of bugs and snakes. This, I later learned non-ironically, was African tradition. With the sagging chain link fence gone and the vibrant astro-turf ripped out, the house now looks like nature will take her over unless the city issues the new owner the requisite permits soon. I suspect the Ailanthus (ghetto palm) in the middle column will grow up above the porch before we see the city shift its posterior into gear. ...the stories I could tell about that house...

Finally, here is one from a couple weeks ago. The true gem here is the response from DPW staffer Kevin Twine:

Subject: Are recycling boxes a thing of the past?

Mr. Twine:

For the last two Tuesdays (my recycling day) I have put out my now way overfull green recycling box (compliments of Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly). It has remained full each time when I come home from work. This is not the first time. I don't produce a lot of trash in general -- one box and can every month and a half or so, so don't need one of those large light blue recycling wheeled containers that uglify my streetscape with no alley now that the busy young moderns have moved in and need bigger guilt expiation vessels to justify their trash prolificity. I appreciate that the inadequately weaned youth need those plastic water bottles in one hand to accompany their plastic adult rattle iPhone 4s in the other, but recognize they need the nanny state to tell them their sins are forgiven if they throw all those plastic water and diet soda bottles into the magic blue wheeled cans, whose contents mostly end up in dumps in West Virginia. Mon Dieu, just imagine if regular DeeCee leaded tap water were to pass their privileged lips?

Shall I just go back to my old ghetto tradition of barely half a decade ago of ignoring the recycling scam and just dump recyclables into my regular trash? Are the old green boxes now completely passé?

Seeking DPW absolution,

And here's Mr. Twine's response (bold emphasis mine):


Mais non, we do not discriminate based on the type of recycling container used. We will certainly take your contribution to our recycling program any way we can get it. Your recycling box, while smaller, more unsightly (especially when left in the rain), and more stressful on the lumbar area, is certainly adequate when dealing with minimal amounts of recycling. The fact that your recycling was not collected not once but several times was an egregious error on our part and for that, I sincerely apologize.

Thank you for your letter on the listserv. The one thing that your letter didn't include was your address so that we can give this our immediate attention. We will collect your recycling ASAP and make sure that it is collected in a timely manner from this point forward. To move things along more quickly, please feel free to email that to me directly. I cannot offer you absolution as I am not a man of the cloth. I can, however, promise you that we will make every effort to make sure this oversight does not happen again.

Kevin B. Twine
Staff Assistant
Department of Public Works


  1. I read the Shaw listserv for one reason, to see what Ray Milefsky might have to say.
    Oh, and I ADORE Kevin Twine.

  2. Kevin Twine is my new best friend. What a fabulous response!

  3. Kevin is one helluva great guy. DC Gubmint has a lot of them, DCRA's Nick Majett, and especially the Mayor's constituent services reps. Too bad they'll all go away because the new demographic is too busy and self-absorbed to go out and vote for Fenty. Put down the faux kiddy martini in a color not found in nature and fill out a voter registration form -- yeah, there's an app for that, thanks to Fenty. I know, he's an arrogant SOB, but he gets stuff done. With Gray, I'm afraid, it will be back to the Barryesque Third World routine of having to petition The Big Man for every basic service, which may or may not be delivered. I breezed through car inspection today in less than half an hour. It was not too long ago when it took at least half a day. Mr. Ray

  4. excellent post ya'll! thanks for passing this on. this had me rolling.

  5. Ray is the best. No joke.
    Joke: No that he can no longer swim in Lake Woodson, may the winds of change moderate the temperature of his hot head.
    -Downtown rez

  6. Awesome discouse. If my new iPhone 4 was not maxed-out on local news,listserves and blogs, I would surely subscribe to Shaw's. Best neighborhood writing I've seen.


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?