ON BUSY DAYS, Garvin's Grill at 2621 O Connecticut Ave. is a chaotic blur of busboys, busy waitresses, bartenders and herds of hungry diners. But far from the din of disorganized beverage stations, deep in the kitchen, Rudy Norris, breakfast and lunch chef, is keeping order. By 7 a.m., Rudy, brown, bald and handsome despite several missing teeth and a bulging belly, has cooked everything from gourmet hamburgers to New York sirloins without delaying or confusing an order.
There are a lot of people like Rudy in Washington -- hardworking, affected by all the nation's economic reverses as much as your GS-15 or GS-18 administrators. But Rudy and others like him have a special cross to bear: they have had to live with the knowledge that someone in their family has a drug problem.
They're not the sort likely to speak out about it because they feel terribly insecure: they don't want to risk what they have struggled so hard for. So they suffer in silence, preferring to hide behind a quick smile and to mask their anger with apathy. They bring to mind a phrase my grandmother used to use: "Folks gotta make it somehow."
For 20 years, Rudy has punched in at 6 a.m., cooked until 3 p.m., and worked an extra hour to insure a smooth turnover. Recurrent power failures and occasional kitchen fires never have stopped him from getting the job done.
"Ain't nothing but a thing," he says, smiling.
In l979, Rudy began teaching his son, Derek, about making it. He trained him on the job. But while working beside him at the grill, he discovered Derek's growing drug habit. Derek used speed, LSD and a host of other drugs, all easily available from the Connecticut Avenue pushers.
"I was angry when I first found out," says Rudy, "because I thought I had it all together. Next thing I know, I had to watch him all the time at work because you never knew which way he was coming when he had that stuff in him. One morning, he tried his best to cut me, so the police had to come to the job and get him."
After hospitalizing his son in St. Elizabeth's seven times, Rudy allowed Derek to return home when he promised to give up drugs.
He went back on drugs nonetheless.
When Derek's persistent drug habit spurred him to steal from the cash register, Rudy insisted that his son be fired. "I didn't want to come to the job one day and see that he had got blowed away. I'd rather he give it up."
On the day his son was fired, Rudy did not stray from his usual work routine. "I didn't feel ashamed cause I brought him up right, tried to help him out and explain things to him . . . If that's what he wants to do with his life, why should I feel for him?"
As Rudy talked about the experience, I waited for the angry diatribe in which he would denounce all responsible for his son's addiction -- things like the poor security system at the junior high school where Derek first smoked pot and the availability of drugs on Connecticut Avenue.
The anger was nowhere to be found. "City and country -- drugs are everywhere, so you can't blame it on D.C.," he says.
Rudy seems to have locked his anger behind a smile where it will do no harm. He cannot afford anger because he believes it fuels despair and the belief that he has no control over his life. "The way I see it, you just accept it and go on from there," he says.
But deep down, I believe Rudy is angry. Angry that he has "gotta keep goin' to save for that rainy day." Angry that he must feel afraid to help police track down drug dealers because it would endanger his family. Angry that he must have so little faith in rehabilitation programs.
His rationale is straightforward: "People can show you the way, but you gotta do it yourself. I tried to learn to take life the way it comes. If it comes hard, then you gotta lay hard."
Rudy is not alone in his belief that in hard times you "lay hard." Basic survival always takes more time, energy and effort for the poor than for others. This city is full of people like Rudy who refuse to confront their anger because they fear the crippling despair that might result. Like Rudy, in order to make it, they swallow their anger -- about bad housing, inadequate schools and the drug traffic. They prefer to show the world complacent smiles.
Anger too frightful, too paralyzing to express suggests a loss of faith in our ability to improve our lives. When that faith is gone, we are dead or dying. The anger must be turned outward -- constructively -- because that is the only way to motivate government and our fellow man to do what is just and right. Smiles and silence will not do it, failing to vote will not do it.
We must express our anger constructively. I am sure my grandmother would have nodded in agreement and then said knowingly, "Folks gotta make it somehow."