And so it is (as Damien Rice would sing) that I am here, sitting, drinking, and writing.
I’ve spent most of my time here in the
I read a paragraph.
I take a sip of wine.
I stop and think for what seems to be a moment but is actually several minutes.
I read the same paragraph again, and take another sip of wine.
Alejandra is blow drying her hair in the bathroom, but she stops for a second to holler at me to help her find her other shoe. I shake my head in disdain as I imagine the piles and piles of clothing on the floor of her closet and beneath that, an even larger pile of shoes in no amount of order whatsoever. For some reason I obediently walk to the closet and begin crawling through the massive mound of laundry and footwear in search of a single black sandal. She interrupts me with a thought: “Oh! It’s probably underneath the couch!”
I dutifully make my way to the sofa and humbly, down on my hands and knees, locate the missing sandal. I’m only slightly shocked.
“How could you have even known that it was under there?”
But with the blow dryer running at full blast, I receive no answer and go back to the bed to read.
Tori Amos is playing over the stereo system.
Alejandra is getting ready for a date and she’s nervous – nervous like I’ve never seen her before. She asked me at least 13 times if she looked alright. She insisted that her face was too shiny and that she was sweating too much.
In her anxiousness even this morning, she was inspired to bake a pie. Of course, this idea was slightly born out of spite toward none other than me. Her kitchen, being approximately the size of a small walk-in closet, is nearly impossible to do anything in and I would imagine most frustrating to someone like Alejandra, a person of great culinary knowledge and ability. So as she was doing dishes this morning she randomly announced that she felt like baking a pie. It was in the morning. We had just both finished our breakfast of instant oatmeal. I wasn’t sure right then what had brought on the urge, but I immediately muttered that it would be near impossible to bake a pie in that teeny tiny kitchen – especially while there were still last night’s dishes stacked to unmentionable heights on the 7-inch-wide stretch of available countertop. Alejandra, smelling both doubt and a challenge, nodded her head smugly and pulled the previously rolled pie crust out of the refrigerator and promised me a pie that “tastes like sex”. Her will is definitely stronger than my doubts and I had no reservations from that point on that within the next hour or two she would produce a masterpiece that would indeed taste like sex. If nothing else, the pie would at least work to eliminate the stench in her apartment that, despite our many efforts, continued to greet us upon each re-entrance.
I arrived in D
The trouble could have been fixed if I could have properly remembered her damn room number. I was certain it was 517, but couldn’t really be sure without talking to her. I buzzed room 517 at the main door and was met with an answering machine that didn’t really sound like Alejandra. I tried 417 and received no answer at all. 317 was the wrong person altogether and they weren’t too embarrassed to make me feel like an idiot for making the mistake.
At this point, I was unnerved. I had called our mutual friends to see if they had heard from her at all. They had not and furthermore thought her a bitch for leaving me stranded outsider her apartment building for the past 30 minutes.
I was growing weary of buzzing people’s apartment only to be met with disappointment. I didn’t want to try another door. So I finally, after 45 minutes or so, decided to meet the rest of the gang in sucky
I was wearing pajamas and had to actually change in my car, parked on the street, so that I could meet the kids in
It was at this point that Alejandra caught me, literally, with my pants down.
I didn’t even see her coming, but there she was, knocking frantically on my passenger side window.
“What the HELL are you doing?!”
I jumped (as much as one can jump while positioned awkwardly beneath a steering wheel).
I leaned over and opened the door.
“Bitch! Where have you been?!”
She laughed and I immediately felt that it was I who had been the idiot all along.
Alejandra HAD been in her apartment, room 617, waiting for me to arrive for the past several hours. Why hadn’t she answered her phone? Oh, well, it’s broken… completely. The hard drive has completely shut down and the screen no longer displays a festive wallpaper and digital time, but instead a solid blue screen with indecipherable white writing. It won’t even shut off. If you pop out the battery and turn it back on, the blue screen comes right back.
Yes, only Alejandra.
Minutes later, I was entering her apartment (number 617, as you recall).
“It’s a little bit of a mess…”
I was used to hearing these words from Alejandra, and they were so familiar that they were nearly welcomed, not just tolerated.
But… well, I’m not sure if it’s just that I simply never noticed before, or if it’s that it never really bothered me before. Perhaps I had grown intolerance for filth and stench – two things that I maybe had a tolerance for previously. I’m not sure what the case was, but nothing prepared me for her apartment.
The smell… oh, it was something to experience. I can’t even quite put my finger (or nose) on it, but it must have been a mixture of the two bags of trash, open, sitting on the main room floor waiting to be closed up and taken to the garbage chute, along with the newly added litter box for her kitten, Anais; along with the kitchen sink and countertops piled high with dishes (still adorned with food) from the previous three days.
She had done laundry, last week, but the bags of folded clothing still sat, torn into and rummaged through, on the floor near the front door, clothing spilling out from the ripped openings.
The floor near the kitchen was littered with spots of water and kibble from Anais’ dish. The kitchen floor, in addition to playing host to several small heaps of garbage absent of a bag (opened cans of either tomatoes or pineapple chunks, banana peels, garlic clove shavings, used plastic bags, and juice bottles that may or may not have still had juice in them) looked as though it had not been swept or properly cleaned in at least 3 months. A smashed martini glass sat on the floor near the bed amidst 6 months’ worth of dust bunnies and dirt. Her bed table was crowded with books, junk mail, a laptop, and no less than 5 glasses with varying levels of beverage still in them along with several stray and helpless looking earrings and hair pins. The surface of the coffee table was completely filled – not with magazines and books, but with several bowls encrusted with artichoke and spinach dip, salsa, and some other unknown substance from last week’s party. There were quite a few glasses sitting empty as well. Several empty or semi-empty wine bottles occupied almost every square-inch of unfilled space left in the apartment – several of the empty ones had gobs of candle wax melted around the sides of them. Whatever space was left after all of this was a place where clothing had been absent-mindedly thrown; piles of clothing were positively everywhere. All of this was covered in a quarter inch of dust.
I couldn’t bring myself to touch the kitchen, but I did spend my first morning in D
I love the District… I really do. I dream about moving back here to a row house on
Alejandra lives in
As I walked down the street I experienced, for the first time, a yellow sky. Do you know that old Rogers and Hammerstein play South Pacific? Do you remember the song that she sings?
“When the sky is a bright canary yellow…”
I had never experienced that. And this sky, well it wasn’t exactly a canary yellow, more of a 20 year-old piece of paper yellow, or a somewhat dirty dishwater kind of yellow, but it was yellow nonetheless. I loved it. I instantly thought of the song and couldn’t resist singing as I walked, that is until I saw someone sitting in their doorway… I stopped and he stared. I smiled because I didn’t know what else to do. I had just been caught singing Rogers and Hammerstein slightly off-key. What is a girl to do?
Alejandra and I had lunch with
The burritos… well, they’re the fattest little burritos you’ve ever seen in your life. Sort of like a little baby. It was unreal.
Man… it was tasty though. Alejandra and I were too cheap to buy a drink, so we got tap water and loaded it up with lime slices and sweet ‘n’ low, making our own limeade. Tasty.
I was amused by the napkins, considering we had just discussed the fatness and baby-likeness of the burritos. It was altogether too much (to borrow a phrase from Gregory). See pictures below please.
And so this brings me to now… sipping vino while Alejandra is out on her date at Fuddruckers (it was her idea – and they DO have the best pump cheese I’ve ever tasted in my life). Tori Amos has long since ended and I’m listening to old classic Italian folk songs. I just got off the phone with church boy Nathan and we made plans to go see a matinee tomorrow afternoon. I’m leaving shortly to visit my old stomping grounds on capitol hill with all the merry
I was in love with the idea of coming to D
This has been a bit of a vacation, from myself more than anything, but I’m ready to go home. I felt muddled yesterday, but today I feel crazily at peace. Maybe it was the yellow sky, or the vino, or the almond pie, or the burritos as big as my head… I’m not sure what it was, perhaps just God alone… but I’m feeling at peace. I like that. I haven’t felt it in a long time.
The district will not sleep alone tonight.
I am here.
I wonder if Alejandra will bring me back any of that amazing pump cheese…
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The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
By Erik Larson
Release date: By 10 February, 2004