“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

Flickr: Mr. T in DC

Christmas tree in Columbia Heights.

I stood at the customer service counter, wondering if anyone would notice me amid the shopping carts and baskets which surrounded me, each heaped with spurned gifts, returned merchandise that needed to be put-back. The lights were already dim in this part of the store, a testament to how slow my normally chaotic neighborhood had become due to the threat of snow. After several minutes, a tall, striking young employee approached me to ask if I needed help. I said that I needed to make a return.

Wordlessly, he rounded the carts and positioned himself behind the counter. I handed him my receipt and he scanned it, then reached for the tchotchke I was returning. He tossed it in to a giant bin behind him without looking. “$21 will go back on your card. Thank you.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”, he mindlessly asked.

And because I have no boundaries, I replied, “I don’t really celebrate it anymore. Some years ago, my dad went in to a coma on the 23rd of December and passed away on the 29th. We buried him on the 31st. So the holidays just haven’t been the same after that.” My cheeks were hot by the time my explanation trailed off awkwardly. I should’ve just said, “Yes, thanks for asking!” and walked out.

My answer had snapped him out of his exhaustion, haze, reverie. “That’s deep.”

“Do you think you’ll ever celebrate it again?”, he asked. I stared at him, and for the first time, I really saw him. He was too pretty for retail. He looked like he should be the supporting actor on a sitcom, the one-liner-spouting son with an easy smile, filling out a fake nuclear family on some set in L.A. I had noticed him before, but only in the most cursory way– he stood out from the other employees. While they shuffled, slouched and grumbled, his posture was flawless. While they layered tee-shirts and sagged their pants, he always wore a designer crewneck sweater and a trim, shiny belt with a giant French logo for a belt buckle. The latter could’ve been a fake, but if it was, it was a great one. No fraying threads or tarnished metal in sight. He took his appearance and his comportment seriously.

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For Whom the Gallery Place Mosquito Buzzes…

I just learned that the “Mosquito”, an anti-loitering device which emits a high-pitched beeping that only young people can hear (supposedly) has been turned off at Gallery Place. I write “supposedly” because I’m a wizened old 35 and I could hear it, easily. It was meant to annoy (and thus discourage) the hordes of teens who congregate nearby– some residents think the youth are a nuisance, some business owners worry that they scare off customers. Now, after a month of meeping and beeping, the Mosquito is quiet because “a youth rights activist complained of age discrimination”. More:

The decision to install it at Gallery Place came after a meeting in July, at the office of D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), between District officials and business owners who were concerned about the impact of loitering and lawlessness.

In a letter to The Washington Post and the city human rights office, Transwestern, the company that manages the Gallery Place retail, office and residential complex, said the District’s lack of an anti-loitering ordinance limits the ability of police to control crowds. According to the letter, Transwestern told the July meeting that drugs and stolen merchandise were being sold at the Metro entrance at Seventh and H streets; the company recommended the Mosquito as a deterrent to loitering.

Hey Transwestern– you may want to pay closer attention to what’s actually happening in the area. An employee who would only speak to me anonymously told me that the drug vending had nothing to do with teens. He said that while the young people could be disrespectful, loud or annoying, it was adults who were selling drugs. It’s easier to just blame pesky kids though, I get it.