It's not just the fact that the District of Columbia is a little evil empire onto itself– a little oasis of rabidly outspoken with such a dramatic and shocking disparity between rich and poor that it boggles the mind whenever one crosses the river.
It's not even the fact that the city's zeitgeist, like the city streets, is filled with enough tangents to make even the more sane among us get lost in the zaniness.
And it's not that it's March and things are insane. No wait– I guess it is partly that it is March and things do go insane a little. But I honestly wonder why I've had several encounters with the surreal lately. It's a little weird (ha!).
The first surreal moment came a few weeks ago, back when it was bitterly cold and we thought spring would never ever get here. As I started on a walk, bundled up from here to eternity and wearing long underwear –just so you get an uncomfortable visual– underneath my thickest pair of jeans, I saw a woman down the street.
She was in a bathrobe and shower slippers, with a towel over her head. She had a confused, shy smile on her face, and was clutching a comb with one hand and desperately trying to keep the towel over her head like a modesty veil with the other one.
As I got closer and closer to her, I realize I panicked. I had Don Meow strapped to my back and I somehow became alarmed that this seemingly defenseless and confused woman could somehow hurt us. Other people walking up and down the street at that time –a prime time of day for work people, might I add– were openly ignoring her.
She didn't seem to mind, or to want to be helped in any way. Weird: normally when people are standing in the middle of the street, they tend to work the corner and either have some strange story about how they lost their change and, "could you spare $0.25 for a phonecall? Or maybe $5?" (Strange Guy at the CVS on 12th does this) or, "Would you please break this $20 because I need only small bills, now."
But this woman, except for her face of confusion and her odd smile, was mute.
I walked on by.
And then sheer panic assailed me, because what if she is someone's grandmother or aunt? Or what if she doesn't speak English or is mentally ill or accidentally wandered away from an asylum or a special care facility?
So I did what anyone with a ridiculous amount of time to spare would have done: I stared at her for ten minutes from a prudent distance and then called the police.
Here is the surreal part: the 911 dispatch didn't question my call; was incredibly nice and polite; and sent police in my direction within five more minutes.
And as I was walking away, a beat cop was turning the corner and walking toward me and (presumably) toward the lady. As I approached him to ask if he was going that way, I heard him say the following,
"Okay mommy. I love you too. *kiss*"
Then he put his phone away and politely informed me that there was a car on the way but that he was headed in that direction, too.