Last Sunday was my “interesting interaction with the neighbors’” day.  Or to put it another way: “Have you freaking lost your mind you think you are so “entitled” because you’re a 30’s something White person?” day.  Both encounters happened to be with women, and I say “happened” to be with since I’ve had similar experiences with male 30 somethings as well. More about that later.

A bit of background.  This is my second tour living on Capitol Hill; the first was back in the mid-1970’s.  Very different neighborhood back then than it is today.  Suffice to say I decided to move away back in 1978 the day I chased a purse snatcher down the street in the pouring rain - he outran me, not that I would have known what to do if I had caught up with him. This defining incident occurred after my apartment was robbed twice and my car booted twice for unpaid tickets.  But that’s another story. 

 Today with the city’s best weekend market, Eastern Market, convenient METRO connections and small, two story, two bedroom townhouses starting at $650,000, it’s a totally different place.   In 2013 Capitol Hill is populated by young, White, upwardly mobile couples for the most part.  I have to admit that I do enjoy living here – probably as a result of my maturing years and not wanting to have to deal with neighborhood “strife” more than anything else.   And today we have a Harris Teeter, Starbucks, “Yes” Organic Market and a slew of upscale retail outlets and a couple dozen trendy restaurants. 

It was my house-mate who asked me one day (he jogs twice a day past a large park just two blocks away) why Americans – at least those in DC - own so many dogs?  “Status candy” I told him, like the enormous baby carriages young couples use to shepherd their infant to 4 year old youngsters to coffee shops and then take up as much room as a pickup truck inside.   Admittedly, the dogs and babies are an integral part of the fabric of Capitol Hill but overhearing some of the intimate conversations between dog owners and their canine charges does make me wonder if the dogs are as much psychoanalytical sounding boards as pets.  I won’t say a word about conversations overheard between Mummy and Daddy and their progeny.

Back on point.  Sunday is “trashcan putting out on the sidewalk” day.  For us, there is a 30 inch pathway next to our house that serves as access to our backyard (we have no alley behind us) and serves the same purpose for the backyards of six townhouses that front on 7th Street.  Every Sunday evening I can hear the rumblings of folks pushing their green (trash) and blue (recyclables) wheeled plastic cans out to the sidewalk on C Street. 

I was cleaning up the front yard (for some reason my house-mate cuts, trims and slashes plants, shrubs and trees leaving the detritus in piles for me to dispose of.  I guess I should ask him about this.) and I was about to enter the narrow path when I spied one of the 7th Street neighbors coming down the pathway trailing a trashcan.  It’s way too narrow to allow two people to pass (frankly there’s about 2 inches on each side of the trashcan) so I moved aside in order to let her through, standing just next to the opening as it meets the 12 foot wide sidewalk.   As she approached me, she stopped, looked up at me standing politely to let her pass, and with her hand, motioned for me to move aside.   I assumed, through interpreting this hand gesture, that where she wanted to place her trashcan was to my right and, apparently, I was blocking her intended pathway to her preferred spot next to the curb.   Frankly I doubt whether I misinterpreted her silent yet “pointed” signal.  No, in fact, I think I “got” it perfectly.

I don’t know this women. She’s slim, toned and has short cropped hair and I’ve only seen her once or twice since I’ve been back from India; a 7th Street newcomer I suppose.   Her action startled me.  Here I had spied her coming down the path with her trash can in tow, stopped what I was doing and stepped aside to allow her unimpeded priority use of the narrow passageway.   What I did was this:  I had stepped into the pathway about 2 feet when I saw her midway along the way (15 feet away), so I backed up, took two steps to the West on the sidewalk and turned my body parallel to the path so that I would in no way impede her progress.  She had a straight shot between the two fences right out to the public sidewalk.  And she wants me to move even further away because I’m standing in her preferred route to the curb?  What?  WTF?  

Taking two steps around my body occupying her intended route across the sidewalk just wasn’t in the offing?  She couldn’t have just continued straight ahead for 12 or 14 inches and then turned right rather than following the diagonal path through ME to get where she wanted to place her trash can??? What is this? 

I mean this is not a big deal in life’s scheme of things for sure.  But I was startled when it happened and not a word passed between us.  She didn’t ask me to move – as if I needed to – just this hand motion that demanded my acquiescence.  It just struck me as the essence of arrogance and entitlement.  Or maybe it was just plain rudeness.  (I certainly hope she isn’t a House staffer because that would more than explain her actions.)  But whatever the reason, I can’t fathom the thought process behind it; perhaps there was none which is even worse.  She’s White; I’m White so it wasn’t a racial thing.  Now she is somewhere in her mid 30’s and I have 30 years on her so maybe it was an age thing.   Or is she such a hard driving A-personality type that she has no time to waste taking two additional steps in her life?  Who knows? It’s a mystery to me. 

In any event, it’s this attitude that I run into occasionally that makes living on Capitol Hill less than perfect.    Are people now so accustomed to non-personal communication through Facebook and Twitter and texting that they have lost the ability to interact with real human beings in a less than mechanical fashion?  Are we on the road towards exclusive non-verbal interactions?   I’m at a loss to understand it and with not so many years left in my life, I’m not going to worry about it.  But alas, so much for neighborliness.  By the way, I did not move for her.  She had to take those two extra steps.

Second incident tomorrow.  


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