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Tight Corner

At North Capitol and New York Avenue, Two Different Worlds Go About Their Business, On and Off the Books

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page D01

Vortex (vor-teks) n. a whirling mass of water forming a vacuum at its center, into which anything caught in the motion is drawn; whirlpool; a whirl or powerful eddy of air; whirlwind; any activity, situation or state of affairs that resembles a whirl or eddy in its rush, absorbing effect, catastrophic power, etc.

"You don't have mints?" a man in a blue jacket and black horn-rimmed glasses shouts, squeezing the words through the small openings in the bulletproof glass. "The kind you put in your mouth," he yells, gesturing as if the thick barrier is blocking the clarity of his words.

Poet RasD says the corner exudes "anti-life." (Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post)

"Why would you go over there and get a pack of potato chips when I said mints? He got a [expletive] bag of potato chips when I said mints. Why would he try to give me a pack of potato chips when I said mints?" he says to no one in particular as he walks out the door.

A woman in a pink knit poncho with white fingernail polish orders 10 small bottles of vodka, as if the request is normal.

The Big Ben Liquors cashier, standing high on a platform behind the glass, repeats: "You want 10?"

"Yes," the woman says, "as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10." She presses her fingers with each number, making sure nothing gets lost through the barrier. The cashier wraps her bottles in brown paper and the customer leaves.

"Give me two packs of Dittos," another woman says. "No, I didn't say pickles, damn it."

The misunderstandings over words and accents at this liquor store at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street give way now and again to promises:

"Give me a pack of Skittles. I'll bring a nickel back. I'll give you 5 cents tomorrow, promise. Please. Pretty please."

"I'm short a dime," a man instructs after lining up his coins to buy a bottle. He turns and asks a customer who speaks Spanish whether she has one to spare. "You got a dime? You know, 10 cents?" -- explaining the figure as if she, too, can't understand.

A woman in a black hat and red jeans enters: "Anybody want to buy a watch for a mother or sister?" She digs into her purse and pulls out a watch with a pink plastic band. People look. Nobody says anything.

"I guess ya'll goin' deaf around here," she announces.

Nobody says anything.

"Anybody want to buy a watch for a mother and sister?" she repeats.

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