As I sped toward Capitol Hill in a taxi yesterday, I thought, “Do I really live here? Is this my life?” Such thoughts have come to me before, even when I have been in the same place for a long time, but changes have happened so quickly lately and the reversals have been so swift, I had whiplash in a smooth cab ride.
Speaking of upheaval, today I saw something I had never seen before: a fresh eviction. I was on U Street, headed for groceries, and I suspect if I had been just ten minutes earlier, I might’ve seen actual furniture being thrown out the actual window or pushed through an actual door.
Furniture was all over the sidewalk as I walked up. There was commotion. Couches, tables, a TV set, splintered wood, a few sagging boxes of cords and things, all pushed up to the curb and only saved from falling into the street by the parked cars there. Two young men of about twenty-five in hoodies and baggy pants were nervously laughing too loud, punching each other and whooping, clearly trying to make what was a big, fat, hairy mess, look like a hilarious moment in an otherwise unremarkable day. Their strategy was not working. This was a big, fat, hairy mess for these guys and the whole neighborhood/world could see it, right there on U and 14th.
As they passed, people either stepped around the situation or stopped to more closely examine it. I was one of the former, choosing to cross the street when I heard another woman near me exclaim, in a chastising, it-takes-a-village kind of tone, “I guess y’all been evicted.” Until she said that, I was unsure of what I was looking at. The woman gave the boys a wide berth, too. But other people were more brave than the two of us. A man and a woman who walked out of the Chinese restaurant nearby examined a table, inspecting it for possible rescue, I guess. Several indigent-looking folks had descended and were picking this and that, giving looks of “What are you gonna do about it?” as the boys cavorted nearby, presumably in shock.
My ex-husband’s family owned rental properties in Chicago and I learned a thing or two (really, like one thing or two things) about the landlord-tenant relationship. Though my sources were biased, it did appear that the tenant has a slight edge over the landlord in the relationship’s balance of power. Once a lease is signed — at least in Chicago — a tenant is entitled to some rights that favor his or her situation (needing a place to live) over the landlord’s situation (owning an apartment.) Over the six or so years I was with my ex-husband, I heard of a few instances where an eviction needed to take place but couldn’t because of this or that red tape; I understood that the cost of evicting someone was often higher than just giving them a free month’s rent and threatening them with police force if they didn’t get out by a certain date. This usually did the trick and involved far less paperwork for everyone.
So the boys today, they must’ve screwed up pretty bad. There’s a big homelessness problem in DC. I see bums everywhere, especially around Union Station, the nearest train stop for me. I stepped around a plastic garbage can on the curb and thought that this might be just how it starts, an eviction at the end of December; for many, it’s just a domino somewhere in the middle of the chain.