Moses presides above the hell that is the commute on New York Avenue. Under the bridge, he waits near the red light that takes too long. He waves with his right hand. With his left, he holds a freshly picked weed and sprinkles his blessings on cars that come his way.
From inside a car, looking out, he may appear crazy, standing there all day, every day, shaking his olive branch at the stream of humanity leaving Maryland and pushing toward the District.
But flip the script. Get out of the car. Stop. Stand where he stands.
He is not harried. He does not care how long the light takes. He is not making a trek into the District only to make the reverse trek at night. He is not pulled along by his collar trying to make the clock slow down.
He says his name is Moses, Moses Stone, and he has been to the mountaintop.
"That's S-T-O-N-E," he says, pointing one of his fingers caked in some kind of black oil. "Write that down."
He says he is blessing the cars because they need a blessing. "I am a priest, a Catholic priest," he says. "I bless the cars with this," he says, holding up a common weed. "This is marijuana." It is clearly not marijuana--more like a scraggly shrub.
"You know Mary? She is the mother of Christ. This is Mary."
Sixty-five thousand vehicles pass him every day on this gateway into the nation's capital. His corner in Northeast Washington is just under the overpass of Brentwood Road, down the street from the used car lot called the Auction, about a block from the U-Store storage place and not as far as the Super 8 motel up the street. Right past the sign that warns "Do Not Enter," he has entered and built his sanctuary.
He is a fixture on a fluid road. He is part of the route, just like the apparently homeless man who stands on the line where Maryland becomes D.C. on 16th Street and like the woman on Connecticut Avenue who is all dressed up with no place to go. Like the man with stubs for arms and scars for a shirt who carries a bucket farther up New York Avenue and the woman who appears like a ghost at all the major debates on Capitol Hill. They capture a piece of those who pass their way. As long as they don't intrude, people don't mind their presence. And so they stay, just on the edge, perhaps, of sanity and not far from reality. They have lessons to teach and things to unravel.
Moses has come to this place because he says there is a cross in the road here where the bridge crosses the highway.
"Sorry, I don't have any chairs for you," he says as two visitors step across the guardrail onto the worn path, carpeted with green Kool cigarette wrappers, that is his living room. He is taking a break, lying on the rail. "God rested on the seventh day," he says.
He holds up a cross fashioned from twigs and shoestrings. At his front door, he has fashioned a crucifix out of twine and twigs. Near an imagined picture window, he has hung curtains, and covered a No Parking sign with a pair of green polyester women's pants whose hem is hand-stitched with fine white thread.
A Mack truck screeches to a stop at Moses' corner, hisses and leaves. A yellow cab passes. There is a passenger in the back seat looking out the window at nothing in particular. A woman in a Camry stops. She is wearing an orange summer dress over copper skin. Her windows are up and the air conditioning is on. She does not see Moses.
The light changes. A man in a baby-blue Mustang convertible stops. His top is down. His head is shining with sweat. It is a hot day. The man does not wipe his brow and he does not glance Moses' way.
The light changes.
Another man pulls up in a Land Rover. He is wearing a dark suit. He is dialing a pencil-thin cellular telephone with one hand and gesturing with the other. The light changes and he steps on the gas.
A woman in a Honda stops. She has an empty baby seat in the back. She is listening to music, snapping her fingers, singing. She doesn't know who is watching her or that a blessing is coming her way.
Moses shakes his branch. The light changes.
Seven days a week, he says he is there, all day. He doesn't stand there at night.
"The Devil comes out at night," he says. So he goes home at night.
Where is home?
"I live at the church," he says.
"Why, the Roman Catholic Church," he says, pointing due north.
Oh, that one. But it's impossible to know for sure which one he means.
From a car, one can't tell, but his eyes are pale gray, like water. His skin has a tint of red sealed by the sun. His beard is an untamed gray. His hair is curly and in the back it is beginning to mat.
He says he is from St. Mary's County, where his mother who was a farmer had him in the woods and he had eight brothers and sisters but now he has no family and he is all alone and he went to Vietnam in the Army and when he got out he worked at a cemetery, and he traveled to the moon in the space shuttle and feels sorry for Christa McAuliffe and knows John Glenn really well and then he worked at the zoo feeding the animals and he got married and his wife died and he had three kids and he had to bury two of them and the third one he thinks must still be living and that causes him a lot a pain so he tries not to think about them.
He says he has been working this bridge for 23 years or 10 years--anyway quite some time. And he came to this particular bridge because "this is where Lincoln freed the slaves. You know Lincoln?" he asks. The question hangs there.
"Yes, Lincoln, he freed the slaves here 200 years ago. This is where he freed the slaves."
When Wilhelmina Lawson passes Moses, she is usually riding as a passenger. She can see more that way. She has never stopped and talked to Moses, but she worries about him. Worries when he is not there. Worries that he is standing too close to traffic. She worries about him and she admires him.
"Who are we to say he is not giving us a true blessing?" says Lawson, an administrative assistant to D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-Ward 5). "We tend to look at homeless people as pests or crazy. But who are we to judge?"
D.C. police officer K. Johnson knows Moses, too. When he sees him, first he thinks: "Look at that homeless man out there." Then he thinks: "He's not bothering anyone. He's not hurting anyone. He is just blessing cars. The city needs a blessing. We can take anything we can get."
Don Folden passes that way in his white van and if the light catches him right, he gives Moses a dollar.
"A lot of people might say he's crazy," Folden says. "But he could be an angel from God. I don't look down on people like that. Maybe we're crazy. A lot of people see that man and never stop to ask, 'Brother, what is your name?' That is wrong."
Those people probably never see the herd of deer that lives just across the road. Moses can see them, and he has what he needs: a jug of water, a bag of ice, a garden of weeds untangled by worries. What he owns he can carry in his pocket. He answers to no one.
A delivery truck pulls up, just outside of Moses' back door. The driver smiles and waves. The men do not speak. But they acknowledge each other.
Moses says he doesn't talk to the cars and he doesn't talk to the drivers, either.
"Talk to them for what?" he asks. "They already know what I'm doing. They know I'm giving them a blessing. They know I'm Moses."
CAPTION: A man who identifies himself as Moses Stone blesses commuters with a frond at his spot on New York Avenue NE. He says he chose this place because there is a cross in the road where the bridge passes over the highway.
CAPTION: Fixture on a fluid road: Moses Stone waves a common weed, which he calls marijuana, to bless passing traffic.
CAPTION: Moses Stone says he has been working this bridge 23 years. Or 10 years. A long time.