All day long. Irv Nash tended to his customers' wants from his little stand in the lobby of the Bender Building on Connecticut Avenue, selling them candy, gum, cigarettes - and newspapers that yesterday told of seige, terror and hostages.
"I know it will turn out OK . . ." "Such a shame, Irv . . ." "Heard anything at all, Irv?" the customers offered.
Among those being held hostage inside the B'nai B'rith building a few a blocks away was Irv Nash's wife, Yetta, and all his regular customers knew it. Nash, a small bald man with horn-rimmed glasses tried the usual greetings he has perfected after eight years runn ing the stand. "How ya doin', John?" "So how was Florida?" But it wasn't much good. When he spoke of his wife of 36 years, his sad brown eyes filled with tears.
He had kept sleepless, helpless vigil at the Gramercy Inn next to the B'nai B'rith building Wednesday night. His face and his thoughs showed the exhaustion and frustration of the endless hours.
"I was standing there, staring, hoping I would see her face. Nothing . . ." he said yesterday. "They (the police) don't tell me anything. Mark (their son) came down and joined me and we just sat it out."
It was like in Washington yesterday; with a tense stalemate in the three locations where armed men held hostages, while relatives and loved one of the hostages kept excruciating vigil.
Some stayed home to look after children or to be near their phones, while wothers went ot one of the special gathering places get up for them near the besieged buildings.
"I have two young children and I have to keep up the routine for them," said Diane Grip, whose husband Alan, an aide to D.C. City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, is among those tied up in Tucker's District Building office.
"The children keep me busy and that's good," Diane Grip said. "I'm tired, I didn't sleep much last night, but I'm feeling all right," she said. She planned to remain at home wiht "friends, and commotion, and talk about other things."
The gray stone Foundry Methodist Church, at 16th and P Streets NW, became a sanctuary for dozens of relatives and friends of the B'nai B'rith hostages, the numbers swelling as the day wore on.
Their faces turned expectantly whenever a newcomer appeared at the door. There was little news and as the stand-off continued, they sat in plastic chairs and watched a color TV set, or worked a large jig-saw puzzle, or talked.
"Their main sources of comfort seems to be in each other," said the Rev. John Campbell, who was at the church. "And I think they see as a positive sign each hour that passes without additional violence."
The mood, generally, was one of grim self-control and determined optisism, according to Mr. Campbell and others, with "no hysteria."
At first, Irv Nash heard from customers at midday Wednesday what he thuogh was news of a fire or fire alarm at the B'nai B'rith building where his wife has worked for 18 years. "Then they told me, 'they're taking hostages." I called and got no answer . . . on any of the numbers I dialed . . ." His voice trembled. "That was it."
Yesterday Nash listened anxiously to the siege bulletins that came from his portable radio, propped next to the cash register. Nash repeated what everyone felt. "You are just so helpless.What can I do?" he asked again, "what can I do?
"I saw one of the hostages that came out last night - crying and trembling. I hope and pray Yetta. How she can hold up?" he aske dof his 58-year old wife.
Irv Nash's willingness to talk about his wife and his feelings was in marked contrast to the respone of many relatives of other hostages. They wanted nothing to do with the media, fearing that somehow their words might further endanger lives of the helpless.
"It is critical to us avoid the press," said a B'nai B'rith spokesman who was related to one of the hostages and who was barring the Foundry Church basement to reporters.
Many relatives refused to speak to the press and others asked that their names not be used. Some became highly emotional at the very sight of a reporter or photographer.
Red Cross volunteers have been supplying the family members with coffee, sandwiches, cots and blankets since Wednesday at the three locations. (They have also supplied food for the police, the hostages and their captors.)
About two dozen relatives and co-workers of those trapped inside the Council chambers of the District Building gathered in the offices of a District official in a nearby building and have been keeping watch there since about 10 p.m. Wednesday night.
An unofficial spokesman for the group said they have been "risking" calls into the District Building in an effort to find out who was in there.
By 5:30 p.m. yesterday, Irv Nash was getting ready to close his shop and walk up to Scott Circle, where the press was camped, and then to get through the barricades to stand near the B'Nai B'rith for yet another night's hopeful, helpless vigil.