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Mary McGrory

Too Many Comebacks

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, March 17, 2002; Page B09

The Federal City is having a time. It is becoming a mecca for would-be comeback kids who should stay where they are.

We begin with Mike Tyson, the ear-eating fighter who has been granted a license to box here because our mayor, Anthony Williams, ordinarily a sensible and prudent man, has got in his head that one night in June will revive the drooping tourist trade. He also hopes, apparently, that championing Tyson will stay the charge of some that Williams is "not black enough," despite the fact that Tyson acts like an animal inside the ring and outside it. At the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission meeting, Tyson scored a knockout. No one dared speak for the opposition. As Post columnist Marc Fisher wrote, "Sadly, the opponents' silence only deepened the perception that this is strictly a question of black vs. white."

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The mayor may take the "not black enough" aspersion more seriously these days as Marion Barry circles ominously overhead. The District's bad-boy mayor was supposedly iced on the night in January 1990 when he was found in a downtown hotel with a woman not his wife and a stash of crack cocaine. Barry gained worldwide notoriety for his epic indifference to the details of running the city. He had only one card in his hand, the race card. Mr. Chaos threatens to run for city council. The same people now clamoring for Tyson's right to fight and "feed his family" will soon be telling us that Barry deserves another chance to wreck the city, because we are all sinners.

Another individual seeking to regain a voice in our affairs is D.C. Superior Court Judge Evelyn E. C. Queen, who presided over the appalling case of Brianna Blackmond. Brianna was the baby who was snatched out of a warm foster family and sent "home" to a retarded mother and a godmother; the latter slammed her against the floor until she died. Judge Queen made the fatal decision.

After the child was killed, Her Honor said nothing and retired from the bench. Now she wants to come back part-time. The D.C. Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure is taking some time on what should be an hour's work. Interested parties on Capitol Hill -- where a separate family court was voted for largely in response to the Brianna outrage -- wrote letters against the return of Judge Queen, but were told that the letters could backfire. "This is a home rule issue," they were warned.

Into the divided and confused city, the D.C. Public Library has introduced an uplifting idea. The library is proposing a book that would bridge the gap between blacks and whites, between the people who occupy stately mansions in Cleveland Park and high perches in the national government and the people who live lowly and toil at the lower reaches of the District government. The idea is that the city that opens the same book closes it in greater harmony.

The mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, recently prescribed "To Kill a Mockingbird" for his citizens, hoping it would open their minds to the idea of tolerance. We could just follow his lead, because the book depicts a white man's dangerous attempt to right a wrong done to a black man.

I have thought of a couple of books to recommend. Who could not like the Jackie Robinson biography by Arnold Rampersad? Robinson, a superb athlete, is inspirational all around. He nobly endured abuse, verbal and physical, beer cans hurled at him in the field, insults slapped in his face by clerks of hotels he couldn't stay in. He hung in. "Jackie Robinson" is a powerful antidote to self-pity, which stalks us all.

I think almost any of Evelyn Waugh's early works would cheer people up. Before he turned metaphysical, he was a satirist who cracked up his readers. He harpooned hypocrites and empire builders of both sexes. "Put Out More Flags," "Scoop," "A Handful of Dust" -- any one will do. They are wicked and perfectly written and in a city of few laughs would have great therapeutic value.

My other favorite is "The Book of Abigail and John," which fits in with a number of contemporary themes, including patriotism and marriage. John and Abigail Adams lived the Revolutionary War, which he helped to start. It was a time when patriotism could not entail, as it does now, putting out more flags or spending a weekend at the Waldorf. Patriotism meant real sacrifice -- painful partings of a pair in love, separations that lasted for years. They adored each other and their country more.

I submit these suggestions along with an endorsement of the one comeback Washington does perfectly -- the return of spring. It's just started, but it will build until the city is veiled in tender green buds and flowers, and shrubs explode in blossoms and gentle zephyrs blow. It's an annual miracle and so beautiful you forgive everything else.


© 2002 The Washington Post Company