Robert Lewis, street person extraordinaire and part-time mayor of N Street, has once again rushed into our clinic to hassle the female coordinators, steal a bottle of peroxide, and give the patients a peice of his wine-soaked mind.
His performance follows by mere hours the theft of our waiting room air conditioner.
The days here at Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, 1329 N. St. NW, careen, pop, hop, and jump to the split and splat of 14th Street NW.
We care for the hypertension and VD of Georgetown, Maryland and Viriginia; young and old, well-to-do and poor -- black, white, brown, red and yellow.
Outside, the human parade on our block is dazzling. No, intoxicating. No, not even that. Stupefying says it best.
The pavement of N Street between 14th and Vermont Avenue NW is pounded by the spirited choreography of Omega Psi Phi pledges, from the newly converted Howard University dorm at Vermont and N; the scurrying Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese families housed in a refugee center above the clinic; the determinism of day-care and neighborhood children with their tricycles and homemade kites; the resigned clumping of 20 bag women who stay at theblock shelter.
Add the syncopated siding of prostitutes who maintain an around-the-clock whirligig of taunts, tantrums, and temptation supervised by the calculated striding of pimps with their unmuzzled dobermans and boggy boxes, and the daily galumphing of an assorted gaggle of volunteer workers, clergy, hangers-on and passers-by.
Skittering around and through everybody and everything is Robert Lewis, with his faithful sidekick Muleskinner, and following her own private agenda, Rosemary The Bag Lady.
The street never sleeps. People are always queued up waiting for one or the other of eight private, nonprofit social service agencies to open their doors to provide the free clothes, food, shelter and medical care they need. An entire block-long structure is given over rent-free to thse agencies by the property owner, Luther Place Memorial Church.Church and community volunteers and staff personnel make the block work and function as an oasis, a haven.
Recent gut-clutching city budget cuts have placed an increased demand on our services and time, pushing us into social service areas we've not dealt with before: advocacy, Medicaid, job referrals.
Our facilities have been whomped and bloated with misery, suffering and sad, sad stories. Life is here. Tears, yes. But laughter whoops and soars. Folks bounce back.
Our block is well-known for the wrong reasons. Titillated commuters, tourists and locals detour off 13th and 14th streets to gawk at "Cookie" in her skin-tight bathing suit or listen to "Seattle" purr, "Baby, won't you ease my pain?"
Our surveys show that the overwhelming majority of traffic that passes through are vehicles aquiver with "johns" who come to banter, barter or buy. They ignore or make fun of Robert Lewis, Muleskinner and The Bag Lady.
We want to block to be wellknown for the right reasons. We're here to help The Children. The elderly, The low-income. The well-to-do. Whoever needs it. Including the prostitutes, the pimps, Robert Lewis, Muleskinner and Rosemary The Bag Lady. What other block in the city can say as much?
Nearly all of the agencies have appealed to Councilman John Wilson, the police department and the Department of Transportation to close our block to traffic. They are all sympathetic, realizing that our efforts to make inroads into the city's high rate of ills is being undercut by people who gawk through the neghborhood as if it was a carnival sideshow.
The full potential of this extraordinary block will only be realized after it's sealed off, turning it into a mall, an open play area for the children; manned sidewalk booths dispensing blood pressure checks, nutrition information and referrals for housing, jobs and shelter, making it a tiny oasis for humanity in the inner-city.
We came close in July when we closed the street and held an N Street Villiage block celebration.
Light, warmth and understanding prevailed. Children, senior citizens, teen-agers, marrieds, singles, everybody, relaxed and cooled out. We pooled information about health care, housing and a grab-bag of other community problems and concerns.We all meshed, relishing our diversity and unafraid to be ourselves.
Kurtis Blow, Diana Ross and Ludwig Von Beethoven helped create atmosphere, of course. As did the puppet show, the sing-alongs and the dancing. But the day was a triump because the street people, the volunteers and all who dropped by finally realized they were a community.
But when the communion was over the vigorous onslaught of traffic began again; the hundreds of children we saw for the first time were again hidden away by protective partents and day-care workers. The caterwauling of haggling prostitutes resumed; the pimps re-established headquarters at the children's playground and Robert Lewis, Muleskinner and Rosemary The Bag Lady flatly turned down our offers of programs that made use of their sharp, hair-trigger minds.
It's time to close our rather special block down. For human repairs.