Secret Urban Stories #1: Young D.C. Professional (Female)
She pours a thin stream of gasoline along the perimeter of the corner storefront at the intersection of E & 13th Streets, near Metro Center. The young woman tipping the red plastic gas can is having a birthday, and at 5:27 p.m. E.S.T. precisely, she will turn 30. (For the next two and a half minutes, however, she is still 29). In honor of the occasion, she is wearing shiny black ankle strap shoes and an extra short skirt, black and magnificently immodest. She wears these things so that people will notice her. Men particularly. And people do notice the youngish girl, looking only fresh out of college, wobbling uncertainly in heeled mary-janes near the entrance to the Banana Republic. No one, however, seems to take her very seriously. This is performance art, perhaps. After all, there are artists in this part of town. The heads of passersby, initially on a swivel, ultimately turn forward again and promptly forget her as soon as the corner is turned.
If one cared enough to examine this girl or draw her out in conversation, they might recognize her social provenance: like so many her age, she was raised in a subdivision. Her mind, flaccid and soft in places, is the product of the well-intentioned but useless open classrooms of the 1970s. The evenings of her early years were spent by the flickering light of the TV, and her days often stretched out into one interminable ribbon of monotony. Neither high school nor college was ever able to reach and exercise the appropriate cerebral muscles. And consequently, those that were already underdeveloped have further atrophied.
More privately now: perhaps one or more of this young lady's lovers will remember having seen the tiny opalescent stretch marks at her hips. These are proof that, in lieu of accomplishment, she once focused her attentions on salty and sugary excesses. While still a student, she was forever waiting for class to dismiss so that she could tear into the stash of Ding Dongs secreted beneath a seldom opened bag of P.E. clothes. To her dismay, she grew to be a lardy little girl, having innately understood (and always with positive wretchedness) that she was distinctly unremarkable and absolutely ordinary. She felt destined only for a life among the extras and the also-rans, living out a hopelessly middling existence. Goodies brought consolation.
Now, however, this girl is what would be considered spectacularly thin. No, not slender. Skinny--like a stray dog or a Dickensian street urchin. Skinny in a palpably desperate way. Her boyfriends often comment on the astonishing prominence of her ribs, how amazing it is to be able to count each one individually. Her middle-aged companions, like the tax lawyer, often take her out (albeit briefly, to ease a guilty conscience, since the older they are, the stronger their sense of obligation) and then bring her home to feed her protein in the privacy of their own luxury apartments. They feel bad for her, and do what they can. She washes their pity down with vodka martinis.
From the modest recesses of her black sequined clutch, this girl pulls a little box of wooden matches. They are the good kind, the sure-to-light kind, from Billy Martin's in Georgetown. They have good martinis, Billy Martin's does. She's been there recently, catering to the collectivist impulses of a liberal lobbyist and a group of his male associates.
Such evening sprees are merely a hobby, a delightfully dangerous indulgence, done for fun rather than necessity-or so she likes to think. Her own job, in public affairs, is not a bad one, and she makes enough money to buy decadent little things: tiny faux furs, sateen purses, pencil skirts. At work, she writes releases and places stories with the media, although no one ever remembers her name. She is the middle-man, the bearer of information, never the maker. And she is let's be brutally honest of average intelligence, only faintly pretty, with a muffled personality that bespeaks a soul hiding under layers of cotton balls. She is, for all her sartorial flamboyance, utterly forgettable.
We should note the time now: it is exactly 5:26 (and 30 seconds). Before she tosses the match at the base of the building, where the little rivulets of gasoline (stinking impressively now and turning more heads than she had) glisten and bead in the street lights like tiny gemstones, she gazes into the storefront window, past the headless mannequins and the artificial background. Just inside, there is a clerk at a display table folding green and pink cashmere sweaters. He does not notice her and remains oblivious to her presence even as the little glint of orange light leaves her fingers with an unusual radiance and hits the base of the building with a viperous hiss. And what a tremendous birthday candle it is--how it glows!
No, she won't be able to blow it out, but she will get her wish anyway: for once . . . oh yes, for once, she will not relay the news. She will make it.
savanna schroll ©2003