07 August 2005

Poltergeisting Columbia Heights

Some 15 years ago, I was renting a share of a (semi-legal) sublet in the basement of a Victorian rowhouse on Monroe Street. It was about a block from the long-abandoned Tivoli Theater, which slept in a cocoon of barbed wire and plywood, dreaming of the inevitable wrecking-ball.

It was a schizophrenic place, stranded between the relative safety of 16th street and the rancid horror of 14th street. My roommates and I furnished the place almost entirely from nearby eviction leftovers (the stinky burlap couch was a personal favorite). Cops chased young hoodlums past my window and I watched their sprinting feet through the bars. Sometimes I heard their gunfire as I tried to sleep. Despite this, there was a homey, real-neighborhood vibe to the area. Between the outbursts of gang warfare and mornings spent waiting for "that guy" to wake up and get offa my front steps, Columbia Heights imprinted a strangely complex and appealing flavor on my memory.

Fast-forward to 2005: I've spent a few years in New York, nearly a decade in Arizona, and a year in Maine. Now I'm back home and "poltergeisting" on weekends (poltergeisting = the obsessive re-visiting of old neighborhoods). After 15 years, I feel like a ghost wandering these streets.

For example: the Tivoli Theater has shed its barbed wire and is fully renovated. The Scary Giant has moved next to the Tivoli and has become a clean, shiny, and huge grocery store (it seems VERY ODD to find curries and imported wine in a Columbia Heights Giant). High-priced condos are sprouting everywhere like fragrant, garish blossoms seeking wealthy suburban hummingbirds. Weird.

My ghost-wandering took me south on 16th Street to Malcolm X Park (officially known as Meridian Hill) -- Back in the old days, this was the one-stop-shopping district for various narcotics, and it was absolutely unsafe. Now, the park is filled with sunbathers, families playing croquet, frisbee-tossing jocks, soccer games, student-types with books, and innocent camera-wielding wanderers like myself.

My goal in Malcolm X Park was to see if SERENITY was still there, and she was. Serenity is the white marble statue of a seated woman whose facial contours had long since been eroded by acid rain, time, and abuse. I remember black, Alice Cooper-esque streaks running from her eyes and down her cheeks, making her name, "Serenity," a dark and cynical joke... Her goth streaks were gone, and someone had thoughtfully colored her eyes a charming shade of blue.

From there, the August heat drove me back to the Metro, and home: Poltergeists, it seems, aren't any more immune to the weather than their human neighbors...

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