Anacostia life spills into the streets on hot summer afternoons. Tight crowds of damp people stand waiting for their buses. Kids, hanging outside fast-food restaurants and record shops, rock to the pulsating rhythms in the air, intermittently waving at passing friends on Metro buses.
Police patrol the streets, watching. Young ladies stroll by, some smiling at flirting males. Young men ask for a dime or a quarter or beg a bus rider for a transfer.
Teen-age boys speed their mopeds down Martin Luther King Avenue, oblivious to the debris-strewn sidewalks, vacant lots and dark clouds of pollution being kicked up in the street.
All in their own, the young people -- by the frequent hand slapping, ng, the cock of a head, the multicolored beaded braids, the slang shouted back and forth, the shadow boxing -- are establishing and projecting identities.
Most are unemployed, and for them every day is almost a carbon copy of the day before.Some are content with the "same-ole, sameole," but others want much more.
Cramped, hot houses and apartments push many of them, like Don Bryant, into the streets. "I don't like staying home," the 15-year-old says of the two-bedroom apartment he shares with his mother and six brothers and sisters on Southern Avenue SE. "It's too hot."
An unemployed Ballou High School sophomore, Bryant rides his three-speed bike near Alabama Avenue SE all day, every day.
Recreation centers in Anacostia rarely have enough sporting equipment, if there is any at all, and lighted basketball courts, the means for most young men's favorite pasttime, are scarce as hen's teeth. Service organizations generally do an unsuccessful job of attracting youths to their programs.
Approximately 100,000 school-age youths live in the Anacostia area, according to a Southeast Neighborhood House survey. The majority are from single-parent families, averaging five to six people.
"Nothing" is a standard reply here. When one of the youths is asked what he or she is doing, plans to do or just finished doing, the response is likely to be, "Nothing."
That is to say, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing of interest and nothing special is happening -- just the routine activities of summer in their predominantly poor, black community.
Their routine centers on street corners listening to radios, talking or shooting dice, walking neighborhood streets visiting friends, bay-sitting younger brothers and sisters, playing sports, swimming, riding bikes and watching television.
Hundreds of young men begin their summer days with basketball. Some get on the courts early to practice for the Barry Farms Summer Basketball League games, which are played in the evenings. The league has about 10 teams from all over Anacostia.
Others sleep mornings, having spent their nights in the streets. Some work the "night shift" as self-employed drug salesmen, peddling marijuana, heroin and other illegal drugs.
All of them are making do.
Anthony Simpson, 21, dropped out of Ballou in 1976, but now he is learning clerk typing at Franklin Vocational School in Northwest D.C. "I want a skill so I can get me a government job," he says, "get me some security."
He sometimes spends all day at the barren Barry Farms Recreation Center, a stone's throw from the apartment there he shares with his mother, doing "nothing" sitting around with friends, just passing time.
Patrick McMillan, 16, works mornings as a minimum-wage yardman, and cares for his 6-year-old brother Aaron in the afternoon. In his free time, says, "I play basketball, go swimming, go back home, then shoot some more ball and maybe play a little baseball" -- every weekday." It's basically routine, but it's all right, I like playing ball."
McMillan, who lives in Barry Farms, says he is determined to rise above despair and poverty. A senior at Ballou, he plans to be a doctor someday.
Maxine Mock, 18, is spending this summer raising her year-old daughter and happily anticipating her second child, due in November. Mock, one of five children living with their mother in a modest house at 650 Atlantic St. SE, graduated from Martha Washington Vocational School last year, having majored in medical technology. "I've always wanted my own babies," she says.
She and her 20-year-old boyfriend plan to get married when he gets out of the U.S. Navy next year. She is unemployed.
Mike Johnson, 20, says he does the "sameole, same-ole thing every day." But the CETA landscaping trainee says his routine is enjoyable because, "it's just like a movie over here in Anacostia. You see some pretty wild things happen.
"Like today, I saw some guys fighting and some people get locked up; but I had a good time with my buddies, you know." He and his friends "drank, smoked and talked."
"Basically, I do nothing," 19-year-old Arnold Tyree, an unemployed Ballou graduate, said. "I look at TV, walk around the community, see my friends, go to parties and go to Savoy (a local recreation center). I'd be happy to have something else to do, but until then, it's the same ole thing."
Seventeen-year-old William Johnson is annoyed by routine. He says he stays out of trouble and breaks the monotony by spending most of his time at home experimenting with radio electronics with his 15-year-old brother Roy, and training his three dogs -- two Belgian shepherds and an Irish wolf-hound. "Dogs don't get you into trouble," he explains. "People do."
Gertie Johnson, his 45-year-old mother, feeds the family on a monthly $129 food stamp allotment.Her husband, an alcoholic, abandoned them this year. She says her sons are doing all they can to stay out of the streets because they both have been in trouble most of their lives. "William has been kicked out of two schools for fighting," she said, "and now no school in the District will accept him."
William says he often hs had to defend himself and his brother, 15, from kids trying to bully them at school and in their neighborhood. When he was 8, someone trying to rob him of 75 cents slashed his wrist.
A piece of steel now connects his wrist to his hand. His mother says she suffers from bleeding ulcers and hypertension from worrying about her sons when they're not home.
When summer began, the District government's Youth Employment for the Summer program promised jobs and, that most welcome commodity, money.
Ironically, paydays are now the most agravating days of all as the young Anacostia workers suffer from the repetitious mishandling of payroll checks by the District summer job program. Some have yet to be paid.
Other youth don't even hope for a pay check. Anacostia is where the District's highest concentration of high school dropouts live and where unemployment -- presently about 50 percent -- has not declined in years.
Atop the rolling hills of this historic community, looking westward beyond the bland tenements and modest houses, residents can see the skyline of a different Washington, one that radiates energy and prosperity.
But few Anacostia youths venture across the river to explore the resources there that so many tourists and visitors flock to see.
As Bryant Strange, 18, stared at the Capitol in the distance, he said, "You know, I never really think about what's over there. It's like some other world saying, 'You'll never get here, you'll never have the luxuries we have over here.'"
The few who do cross the river either work there, have friends and relatives to visit or special interests to pursue. Brian Boddie, 19, is one.
Boddie works as a laborer at Blair Elementary School in Northeast D.C. Five days a week, he boards the A-2 Congress Heights Metro bus, which crosses the 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River. Boddie works from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., then lifts weights at the No. 14 Police Boys' Club.
The stocky youth wants to be a Spingarn High School football star, and refuses to allow complacency to trap him. "I don't spend a lot of time in Anacostia because it doesn't offer me much. I'm ready for a change.I want to go to college," he says.
At night, the neighborhood discos and bars, some with adult entertainment, are hot spots where the young and old mingle. Often, despite the naked dancer who is the evening's entertainment, no one checks the ages of entering patrons.
On the sidewalk outside the night clus and discos at LeBaum Street and Martin Luther King Avenue, young people dance, shoot the breeze with friends, drink and smoke. Seventh District police cruise by often.
Busy corners are heavily patrolled in Anacostia because of increasing drug traffic. Many of the more than 6,000 crimes in the area annually are drug-related.
Mayor Barry visited Martin Luther King Avenue and Talbert Street, a concentrated drug area, last week after meeting with residents and merchants concerned about the heavy drug traffic there in front of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum.
For about 45 minutes, the mayor, in a gray, three-piece suit, stood on the debris-covered corner as youths gathered quickly in front of him under the bright street lights in inquire about jobs.
They walked away disgruntled, telling approacing youths not to bother with the mayor because he "don't have no jobs to give us."
"I don't have a solution to your problems," Barry admitted. "It takes billions of dollars to improve areas like this." If Congress approves the District budget, he promised, those improvements can begin.
After the mayor left in his chauffeur-driven car, Tyrone Pool, 16, told a reporter, "It was a nice for him to come see what was happening, but I don't thing Barry takes Anacostia seriously. Not many people here vote."
"If the mayor wants to clean up Martin Luther King and Talbert," 20-year-old Mike Gray added, "give everybody jobs. Young people ain't got nothing to do. They just out here turning into alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes."
People in the area said Mayor Barry should return to the community undercover to observe the police.
They say the police are contemptuous.
"They jump out their cars with shotguns like they're in Dodge City," Robert Denton, 18, said.
Two weeks ago, a reporter observed the late-night arrest of an 18-year-old robbery suspect near Barry Farms. The suspect was apprehended on Eaton Road SE, where about six police cruisers and unmarked cars converged. Three policemen got out of their cars carrying double-barreled shotguns.
Cocking his gun, one policeman said to his partner, "This thoroughl pisses me off . . . I wanted to drop him in his socks."
As they left, the police checked the time -- 3:45 a.m. In front of the apartment building on the corner of Eaton and Wade streets, seven teenagers, witnesses to the arrest, sat crowded on a small porch stoop watching the police pull off.
Asked what had just happened, one replied, "Nothing."