In a doorway on 9th street NW Carmen Jones stood holding her baby as a small, whirring electric fan on a windowsill did nothing but break the heavy silence of heat at 2 o'clock yesterday morning. Five small children on the steps were drinking cold sodas from bottles dripping cold sweat and taking turns teasing one another.
"It's hard to get them the sleep." "You got to hold them and rock them," Mrs. Jones said looking at her baby. "If I could sing, I would sing them a lullaby."
Wednesday night was the hottest night of the year in Washington.
Even at 4 a.m. it was 81 degrees.
In dark doorways, on stoops, in front yards and on the sidewalk mostly old men and old women sat on kitchen chairs eating, drinking talking and waiting for a breeze with some coolness in it.
In shaw, in Anacostia and in the housing projects off 14th st. and the other in places where there are no air conditioning persons lounged outdoors in a sweltering drowsiness that would not let them sleep.
"You know how you sleep well in the winter, with a bunch of blankets," said Willie Lucas as he sat at a cardtable outside a friend's house on Owen Place NW in the Trinidad section of Washington. "Well summer hot weather like this at night, you can't sleep, you stay awake like drowsy . . . you ain't awake and you have dreams but you can't sleep, no way boy."
At 2:30 a.m. under a naked light bulb in the stairwell of Stoddert Terrace, a public housing project in Southeast Washington that has no air conditioning, three men gambled with green dice, "straight up craps."
"Hot. It could be the middle of the damn day out there," said onlooker Ulesy Brahame said as he stood on the steps arms dangling against the bannister watching the dice roll and the fingers snap.
"I just laid back all day, I tried to take it a little bit easy, you know," Brahame said. "You don't be out messing around. You don't push yourself or anybody else too far in this weather."
We been sitting outside all night," said one of the young dice-players, who was holding a bundle of wrinkled one dollar bills in his hand. "Too hot to sleep, too hot to do much except gamble with the boys."
At the Fort DuPont Park recreation center nearby full-court basketball game was going on. The young men, their bodies glistening with a humid coat of perspiration loped through the game sluggishly.
"Everybody just flet like playing some ball tonight," said Darryl Davis. "You can't play under the sun, not when it's going over a hundred."
"After the game everybody will go over to the pool and have a swim before going home and trying to sleep," said Andre Hudges who was watching the late-night game. "It is not nice hot, I think, but this is getting too hot."
Through the city on Benning Rd. NE., on 14th St. NW and in the Shaw area the night people - the pimps, the prostitutes and the hangers-on were dressed stylishly but lightly.
The prostitutes wore the shortest hot pants, some with slits up the side, and the loosest of blouses. One pimp on 14th Street raised his Panama hat to reveal a scarf tied tight to his head to soak up an unending sweat. He was dressed in white linen pants and white shoes with a purple T-shirt that had only straps over either shoulder.
In the city's parks, Fort Mahan, DuPont Circle, and Meridian Hill, people draped themselves over park benches, pedaled bikes in hopes of creating a rush of cool air, and bad-mouthed the weather.
"I'll tell you what to do," said Laura Aikman who was sitting in a small park near 16th and Harvard streets NW. "Spray yourselves with water spray bottles for plants and evaporator.
"She's just been zapped out all day," Aikman said pointing at her friend on the park bench Janice Ambrose. "The weather takes it out of you so you don't want to deal with anybody."
I took three showers today." said Ambrose, who was dress in a loose-fitting white dress and a Caribbean island shirt with palm trees on it. "I was thinking about filling the bathtub with ice cubes."
In this weather all you can do is shed your bra and drink Cuban coffee," said Aikman. "It is hot but it gives you energy."
In Meridian Hill Park two lovers walked slowly hand in hand, towards the waterfalls. As he put his arm over her shoulder she made a face and eased away. "It's too sticky," she said.
On Hertford Place NW, Jackie Frederick sat watching television on her front porch. In the small yard alongside the house, a water hose set a light spray of water over her small garden of cabbages, turnips, cucumbers and onions.
"In hot weather we eat mostly cold cuts and salad . . . of course we drink lots of ice tea and soda too," said Theresa Frederick, her daughter.
"But mostly we just sit out here and talk and watch the garden," said a family friend, James Scott. "You can't do much else with weather like this."
On hot city streets bikers outnumbered cars after 2 a.m.
"I could't come out during the day, no-no-no," said Curtis Kea. "Biking would have been too much today.
"You don't have to be doing anything and the sweat still comes out of you like water," said Cedric Hines, another biker.
On 9th and L. Streets NW Raymond Hines and Robert Ellison sat swapping stories and watching a big black dog sleep.
"I won't get to sleep tonight." Hines said. "I been burning up for the last few days and nights are on fire too. You can't stay inside."