Monday, May 28, 2007

Reflections on a neighbor and a neighborhood, the latter an impressionistic view from the window of a Georgetown law student who muses about doings on Massachusetts Avenue.

A Door Slams Shut; Will Another Open?

The note arrived about 36 hours after we did. It was slipped under our door, silently awaiting our return from work. The note was written in careful, deliberate script, each letter legible and leaning ever-slightly to the right. The note was stern and unforgiving. "Please be aware of the noise created by slamming the apartment doors," it began. Despite being first-time home buyers, my wife and I didn't appreciate this impromptu lesson in communal living.

The note arrived nameless, without so much as a greeting to new neighbors. There was no contact left, no condominium number listed, no way, save process of elimination, to know which next-door neighbor we could approach to tell that we would be spending very few weekends hiring movers and moving furniture and that we understood how gently doors need to be shut lest the volume become a bother.

We think the anonymous neighbor, so sensitive to noise and disturbance, lives to our right. We see her rarely, sometimes doing laundry on weekday mornings, other times in fleeting glimpses as she enters the elevator. I can't quite figure her age, probably somewhere between my mother's and my grandmother's. I'd like to know her name; I'd like to be sure it was her, because I'd like to give her some warning. We figured out how to ease the doors closed pretty quickly, but when our first daughter comes in August, it might take us longer to quietly ease her to sleep.

-- Eric Fulton, Bethesda

Awaiting the Evolution of Mass. Ave.

Massachusetts Avenue, 2007.

In the day, from my window, it looks like "War of the Worlds." Six cranes spin. Blocks of cement swing. Pile drivers clink.

In the night, ownership changes. At 2 in the morning, more people than there ought to be are out on the street. They move quick and jerky, fast-forwarded, and mingle outside an empty lot. I pull aside my blinds, fixated. I once saw two men dig a hole outside the shelter at one in the morning.

On weekends, construction quiets, but a spotlight remains. Cats swarm on Sunday mornings. A woman in a station wagon comes to feed them; they climb vertical walls, then vanish into an abandoned video shop.

Some weekday evenings, the street fills with the sounds of "Thriller," eerie in its absence of visible musicmakers. The grocery store is coming soon and the prostitutes will disappear like the wax museum before them. I wonder if, when I return, Chinatown will still smell like soy sauce, vaguely rotten. I feel like it ought to have seeped into the ground by now.

With so little land, we layer histories. And in the intermediate period, the layers become temporal, dividing up the day so that they don't cross paths. But when the construction crew goes home, the spotlight remains. And, I think, maybe the spotlight is a warning and a reminder. The night people hurry because they have so little time left on this block.

-- Sarah N. Conde, Washington

© 2007 The Washington Post Company