Friday, January 06, 2006

The Guy in the Blue Jumpsuit

"There is a sort of an unwritten code in Washington, among the underworld and the hustlers and these other guys, that I am their friend." Marion Barry

The man who said that has been in the news this week. And wouldn't you know, he fits into the special category of Someone I Knew Back in the Day. Or as Dan Rubin of Blinq calls it, my Brushes With Greatness.

Frankly, this particular guy's not so great. In fact, he's infamous. Of course I've got a story about him from the past.

In the 70s, my life in journalism and politics brought me into contact with many who would eventually become household names. Peter Jennings was one. Carl Bernstein another.

The guy in the news this week fits into the Carl Bernstein timeframe when I was sharing a house in Georgetown with my galpal CJ.

I came home one afternoon weary from a road trip to find the house empty of its usual cadre of pals, pols and reporters. Enjoying the temporary solitude, I wandered into the kitchen for a piece of fruit -- to be confronted by a pair of overall-clad legs sticking out from under the kitchen sink.

"Hello?" I said.

"Hey," a disembodied voice echoed from beneath the porcelain. "I'm clearing a clog out of the trap, be done in a minute."

Not so unusual, the house was old, something was always in need of repair. I went back to the living room to get my checkbook. In a few minutes a tall, balding black man in a blue jumpsuit came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a rag.

"All done," he said, eyeing me up and down in a far too familiar way. I found it not flattering, but unsettling. We were alone in the house.

In a hurry to get this weirdo out the door, I opened my checkbook and said in my best customer-to-tradesman manner, "How much do we owe you?"

His eyes continued to sweep over me as he leaned casually against the wall. "You don't owe me anything, Sweet Thing," said the Spider to the Fly. Okay, this was just getting creepier.

Then CJ walked in the door. Relieved, I said to her, "I'm trying to pay this plumber, but he has some kind of attitude problem."

She cracked up. "He's not a plumber," she managed to get out. "Say hello to Marion Barry."

Well, Duh. How'd I miss that? Barry was a red hot DC city councilman at the time, rumored to be in line for the Mayor's office. Which he won a few years later. And proceeded to foul up royally.

Barry was eventually arrested in a sting operation for smoking crack. Did he do it? He was caught on hidden camera. Was he capable of doing it? Oh yeah.

The Marion Barry I knew was a doper and a rogue, a bad boy with a roving eye and roving hands. A quote from CJ, " I had to have someone, anyone, else in the room at all times to keep him from humping my leg 'cuz he ain't nuthin but a hound dog..."

Barry did have charm, but there was something venal in it. His charisma grabbed you but ultimately left you feeling queasy. Which rhymes with sleazy. You get the picture.

As a result of the crack scandal, Marion Barry was forced to resign and served 6 months in prison. After his release, if you can believe this, he was reelected Mayor of DC.

Time passed, but plus ça change -- today he's a DC city councilman again. And this week he's back in the news. He was robbed by a couple of street kids he let into his home.

I wonder if they told him they were plumbers?

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Blogger David Goldenberg said...

Will Rogers said that elected officials were no better and no worse than those who elected them.

11:44 PM  

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