Momma, the lady who was too friendly, is wiping her runny nose with the back of her sleeve. She's been crying, and her high cheekbones glisten with tears.
"I like people," she says. It's not much of an explanation, but it's all she's got.
She likes people so much that when they would walk into her little newsstand and dry cleaners in the Homer Building at 13th and G streets NW, she would literally bounce up and down. She would walk into the hall to say hello. She would ply them with free merchandise.
"I like making people in the building happy," says Momma, which is what everyone calls Monica Yi, 66. "They complain."
Some of them did, anyway. Momma had been running the shop for about a month when a few of the tenants in the building complained to management about her overly outgoing personality. So today is the last day for Momma.
On Wednesday, as word spread that she was leaving, loyal customers stopped by her tiny store to wish her well. She couldn't stop doing what she always did: pushing free sodas and chocolates and bags of potato chips into their hands.
It was Momma's 42-year-old son, Paul Yi, who set her up in the business. It wasn't like she needed a job. The Yis have run dry cleaners and newsstands all over Washington. Before they sold them, they ran Capitol Hill Valet and Rosa's Dry Cleaners in Adams Morgan. "We don't have to work," says Paul Yi, a self-made millionaire. "We don't have to do anything."
But like a flare of natural gas, Momma is a bundle of energy that needs to be burned off.
So in September, Paul arranged to take over the lease of the Homer Building newsstand from his aunt and uncle, who had run it for 14 years.
"It was a great opportunity to have a place for her and use her energy and bounce around," says Paul. It was a way for her to "bring a little sunshine, the way she always did."
But one person's ray of sunshine is another's annoyingly bright light. The buzz going around the Homer Building is that someone claimed Momma pestered him, urging him to buy something from her shop.
"Someone say I say, 'Come into my store,' " says Momma. "Not true. Very, very hurt me." She balls her fists and presses them against her chest. "They hurt me."
What she did, she says, was invite him to look at some flowering plants she'd been given by a customer but had no room for. She wondered if he wanted them.
"If [I'm] no good, okay," she says. "If somebody complain I charge them too much money, okay."
But no. She was too forward. Too friendly. After Paul had signed a three-year lease and had shaken on the deal -- but before his Akridge company landlords had put their signatures on it -- he was told they would prefer a month-to-month lease.
He asked why and was told they'd had some complaints about Momma's "strong personality," the way she would wave to people and give stuff away.
That bothers Lea Franklin, who works at a law firm in the building and quickly became a customer. "Everybody shouldn't have a cookie-cutter personality," she says. "It's unfortunate that society is like that."
Brian McGill, a lawyer who works across the street, stops by to pick up some dry cleaning and show off pictures of his baby. "This is like something you'd see in New York," he says. "You walk into a building and it's like a family: boisterous and overflowing with joy and love."
Momma's always been generous, Paul says. In her native Korea, she gave a pair of her husband's shoes to a transient. When Paul was a teenager growing up in the District, she gave his bicycle to someone she thought needed it more. And his guitar.
"It's in her nature," he says. He decided it was better just to pull out of the store than to try to explain to Momma "who to be joyful to, who not to be, who to give a bubble gum to, who not to give a bubble gum to."
Lea says Momma has something the people who complained about her don't have. What's that, I ask.
"A son who's very successful and loves her and who's willing to make sacrifices for her. And maybe they don't like that."
It's time for me to take the elevator up to the third floor, where the Akridge headquarters are. Is it true that you wanted to change the lease because Momma was too friendly, I ask Akridge's Shannon Small?
"I think it's a little more complicated than that," Shannon says. She can't get into the specifics of the complaints, but they did prompt Akridge to ask some questions about the newsstand.
What sort of questions?
"The overall tone [of the newsstand] and does it match a building like the Homer Building?"
And a building like the Homer Building is what, exactly?
"A historic, trophy-class office building, one of the premier office buildings in the city. . . . Anytime you have a building, you want to make sure you're doing what's right with the building's clients."
I tell Paul that there was some concern about the tone of the newsstand, which is down a hall off the lobby, near the loading dock and the trash dumpster, where the air has a slightly antiseptic smell.
"But it's a newsstand," he says. "People buy newspapers and candy bars. Do you have to wear a tuxedo to buy a Snickers?. . . . To me, it sounds like hogwash."
Akridge's Shannon Small wants to make one thing clear: "We're committed to having that amenity in the building."
They'll have an amenity. They just won't have Momma.
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