Mary Jane Kirk, a woman of about 60 who lives in her dusty gray Cutlass with a German shepherd named Babe, owns the five-story Mauritanian embassy on fashionable Leroy Place NW. But she says she is broke because the Mauritanians will not pay the rent.
Mauritania says it has tried to pay her the $1,200-a-month by check but does not know where to mail it because, like the West African country's own population of nomadic Berber tribesmen, she wanders from place to place.
A beleaguered State Department official, who has been trying to keep the battle for 2129 Leroy P1. NW from escalating into an international incident, says Mauritanian officials have deposited the money - about $23,000 - in a bank account, just waiting for Kirk to pick it up.
But matters of money aside, what Kirk really wants is her building back. What she wants is for Ambassador Sidi Bouna Ould Sidi and his staff to pack up and vacate her elegant brick building with the peeling paint and the worn red carpet so she can move back in with Babe.
"It's no fun sleeping on the street," Kirk says. "If they put it off long enough, I'm going to be dead. The dog looks like he's already been put through a meat grinder. I'm old and he's old, and I just want to get into my property."
It is uncertain when the battle for Leroy Place began, but Kirk says her skirmishes with foreign forces of occupation have intensified of late.
The Poles were living in the building when Kirk snapped it up at an estate sale for a song in the early '60s. "They were marvelous," recalls Kirk, who bought it only to have the Poles emigrate 30 days later.
The Jamaicans occupied the building for the next three years, after which Kirk moved in and out until she leased it to the Mauritanians in 1970.
On either side are the Nepalese and the International Meditation Society a group that also lives in a building Kirk owns. Across the street are the Guineans, the Colombians and the Italians.
"The Italians are wonderful, nice people, always trying to help you," she says. 'They used to come weep on my shoulder about the parking, but I straightened it out. The ambassador [from] Guinea must weigh 400 pounds, but he's a living doll . . ."
And she has nothing but lovely words for the Russians, who put their agricultural staff nearby.
"Lovely people, but they can't talk to me," says Kirk. "I think they're afraid. You know what they say: 'If you're bitten by a dog all the time, you stay away from the dog.'"
That's sort of the way the Mauritanians have come to feel about Kirk, though the current ambassador - who presented his credentials only last February after last year's coup - says he is still waiting to meet her.
The vagaries of international politics weigh heavily on Washington real estate.
"We have been looking for Mrs. Kirk for months," says Moktar Haye, counselor for the embassy. He accidentally bumped into Kirk on the street several weeks ago, but when he approached and tried to get her attention, he says, she stepped on the accelerator and roared off. "She probably didn't recognize me," he shrugged.
Haye says rent checks were mailed to an Arlington address where Kirk lived through May 1978. But he said Mauritania stopped payment on them after Kirk claimed not to have received the money.
In February, according to Haye and a Riggs National Bank official, Mauritania deposited $15,600 in a Riggs checking account in Kirk's name. Last month, they said, they deposited $7,200 in the account, rent from January through June.
"We wanted to pay the money, but we had no address," says Haye.
Kirk's Bethesda accountant, Victor Brown, says he is also eager for her to get in touch. He hasn't "seen or heard from her in eight months" and has money to give her and bills to which they must tend.
The Mauritanians say they were "surprised" when the State Department informed them that Kirk had given notice in writing two weeks ago for them to move out, and say they will do just that as soon as they find a suitable chancery building. But Kirk says "soon" is not soon enough.
She says she had already told the previous Mauritanian regime of her desire that they move out. Indeed, Guy D'Amecourt, a real estate agent, says he spent two months "before last year's revolution showing Mauritanian officials other possible chancery sites. But that was another government.
Meanwhile, Kirk, a former technical illustrator who claims Nevada ranch roots, spends the night parked in the Kalorama area.
She says police have been "absolutely wonderful," offering coffee and regularly looking in on her and Babe.
As uncomfortable as she finds sleeping upright behind the wheel, she says she prefers it to the small Arlington house and the succession of tiny apartments she has lived in since 1970. They made her feel "claustrophobic," she says. And, she says, she will wait it out in her Oldsmobile until the Mauritanians move out and she and Babe can move back into the spacious embassy.
"I can't afford a top lawyer, nor do I have the prestige to get one," says Kirk. "I don't care about the money. I just want to get into my chancery. I want to live there myself." CAPTION: Picture 1, Mauritanian embassy and adjoining building are owned by Mary Jane Kirk. By Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Mary Jane Kirk with her dog Babe. By Joe Heiberger - The Washington Post