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By which I mean, I do so resolve. I work about three blocks from the White House, in a building that once housed the Washington Times-Herald. In the early 1950s, a recent George Washington University graduate with a B.A. in French literature took a job for this paper as a photographer for one of those "person-on-the-street-type" features. Her name was Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. This was shortly before her fateful meeting at a dinner party with a young congressman named John F. Kennedy. Interesting stuff, really. Can't say if there are any ghosts of the old reporters, photographers, editors, press workers, etc., still wafting through the heating ducts or strumming the elevator cables. When I moonlighted as an English teacher at colleges around DC, I did come in late nights to grade papers here but it's unclear whether the noises I heard those nights were coming from spirits of journalists past or the reiterated cliches of freshman English papers (and of English teacher comments).

I take my smoking breaks on the loading dock, which is probably structurally unchanged from the 1950s, not renovated like the rest of the building. There I often meet up with Donny, the building custodian. He likes to be called Donny. He calls me, merely, brother, or my brother. I guess he's not good with names, but that's OK. I like brother. We are close in age, creeping up on 60. He used to grate on my nerves, too positive with his "good mornings" and "how was your weekends," and that kind of thing. When he talks he talks about fishing the Anacostia River, drinking a few beers, growing up in Southeast, DC. His mother was prominent in SE DC community organizing in the 1960s. A major crisis in my life caused me to change my view of Donny so that in the last year I talk with him more, let him talk much more, and listen. Donny loves to talk. It seems to me that he seeks connection and agreement.

He knows I'm not much of a talker, so he seeks ways to initiate conversation when we run into each other on the loading dock. This morning, he softly sung the lyrics to a song. I couldn't make it out so as usual, I was quiet. To get things started, he said, "I just don't get what those lyrics are supposed to mean." He then said the line "You ain't even really gotta be my girlfriend."

"I mean," he said, "What's that supposed to mean? What kind of grammar is that?"

I thought, what should I say? Start pontificating, talk about how poets (or lyricists) or these days rappers or hip hop artists literally create language and culture. Quote Shelley that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world or whatever he said? Today, it might be bloggers. What I question mostly nowadays is whether what I have to say about anything to anyone at anytime that has value judgment attached really matters. I ended up asking Donny if he was familiar with Alice in Wonderland--what I was thinking of was Jabberwocky and other nonsense-type verse that becomes "literature" with a capital "L." In fact, he was familiar with the book and said he liked the recent movie based on the book and when his grandaughter was laughing like crazy at the Mad Hatter, he asked her what was so funny about it. She just said "That is," pointing to the screen and "almost fell off the bed laughing." He didn't get that it was THAT funny. I probably wouldn't either.

Anyway, I was inspired to google the lyrics and found them, from a song by Ernie Halter, called "Just Friends." I wasn't familiar with the artist or the song, so I pulled up a You Tube of it and listened I liked it, a folksy, jazzy, joyful kind of song. Thank you, Donny, though you didn't seem to like the song much.

Why did I share this, someone might ask? Well, I read a lot of postings and comments here. Sometimes I post a comment or two. These strands of thought, debates, differences of perception, disagreements and shows of support are quite fascinating to me. Sometimes I "hear" individuals advocate on behalf of the poor and working class. Sometimes I "hear" individuals comment on the relative intelligence of those who seem duped into believing this or that crackpot idea. Sometimes I wonder how intimately some of the commenters know individuals among the groups for whom they claim to speak.

I don't really know Donny at all. Not because he is black and I am white, and he works in a field that is considered "blue collar" and I in a field that is considered "white collar," though I once worked exclusively in fields considered blue collar myself. We really don't know each other because...well, there are probably a lot of reasons. Still, my alleged status as a player in words and thoughts does not allow me to also pretend to understand him or anyone else, either, their ultimate needs or what would make them happy or contented or fulfilled. Nor do I want to delude myself (anymore) that I have insight into what is ultimately wrong with their adherence to religious beliefs or spirituality, or to have the last word on what's gone so wrong with the world. I will also not presume to assess people's capacity for sophisticated thinking as it might compare to mine especially since lately, I've come to question the payoff for such a lofty endeavor as sophisticated thinking. I get more satisfaction these days from serving food in a church basement every week to people who don't often have people serving them.

And the bottom line to all of this is that, like many of us still blessed enough to have a place to call "work" I get scared when I think of not having a place to call work. I also went to a funeral last week for a person my age and don't relish the thought of dying all that much, as messed up as this world seems to me sometimes. I kind of like it here. I imagine Donny would feel the same, so while it's bothersome at times to listen to others who can get flip or glib over fiscal cliffs or curbs and why it's OK to go over one or to cut this or that funding, I remember that it is something we enjoy doing here while we are still animated (possessed of anima, I mean). And it is fun, mostly, to read what others think or even to wonder over the truly amazing and vast talent pool of writers and thinkers and compassionate people there are, here representing just one portion of such that must truly exist across the country. I recall Kurt Vonnegut's "Biafra: A People Betrayed," how he recounted how many beautiful, artistic and poetic individuals existed in that nation as it was going down the tubes, how he wept. I am amazed at how many truly poetic, artistic and beautiful people live here, too, and I know, or think I know only a fraction of them, and that we are not immune from going down the tubes. And, I think, after all, I truly do love this goddammed place.

Originally posted to dannyboy1 on Thu Jan 03, 2013 at 07:45 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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