Tag Archives: DC

Days and Nights in the City Where I First Opened My Eyes

Photograph by Jose Padua
My mother worked nights at home, daytime too,
in the house, at the sewing machine, making dresses
for women who could afford to have dresses made
for them. We bought our clothes at the store, though
sometimes she would sew something special for us–
a vest, a Barong Tagalog made out of sheer white
fabric which I never wore because I thought it would
make me look even less American than I already did
with what the kids at school sometimes called my
Chinese Checkers eyes. I liked jeans and tee shirts,
sneakers, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and
I’d never think of playing The Reycard Duet with
Tony Maiquez and his Ukelele Gang singing
“Oh! Baby” which was wild and raw and—though
I didn’t know the word for it at the time—badass.
My father took care of the ambassador’s residence,
made sure water ran through every pipe, and lights
went on in every big, fancy bedroom and in the
grand dining room where every piece of furniture
was hand-carved with ivory inlays and where the
long narrow halls were big enough for us to live in.
At nights he served drinks and appetizers to the class
of people who could drink strong drinks and
eat gourmet meals, hoping each night for good tips
and maybe good leftovers which he could bring
home to us—strawberries in custard in a miniature
pie shell, flaky black and white pastries that came in
layers that fell apart like the times as we bit into them,
staying up a little later than we were supposed to,
waiting for our treats, but mostly for him, which
was when my mom would turn the sewing machine
off for the night and come into the fluorescent light
of the kitchen, where we’d sit, the sweet taste on
our tongues interrupting every stray question and
tidy answer, our eyes getting heavier, happy, content
with long tiring days ending in long bright nights.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Walking the Bridge with My Young Daughter in the Late American Spring

Photograph by Jose Padua
If we were walking over the Brooklyn Bridge,
the voice I’d be hearing might be Lena Horne’s,
but we’re walking over the Key Bridge
from Virginia into DC so the voice is probably
Marvin Gaye’s and the song “What’s Going On,”
and with the water below us and boats floating
like slow footsteps toward the distance,
I’m thinking about motion and flight,
and though we aren’t flying we’re high,
and we’re not really walking over the bridge
as I told my daughter we’re walking on the bridge
because if we could walk through the bridge
as she mentioned we’d be able to walk
through traffic, too, and save time and be
fine and be fast and be pretty much invincible,
but we can’t and we aren’t, so we’re on the
bridge and walking to the other side and I’m
holding my daughter’s hand all the way
hearing one song or another over the sound
of traffic, the clamor of cities, and other conflicts
and we’re stepping lightly, interrupting the noise
and pledging our allegiance to nothing but the
warm air until our feet are on solid ground again.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Whether You’re Going Away or Going Home Depends More on the Direction of the Wind Than on The Time of Day or What State You’re In

Photograph by Jose Padua
Driving home with
my wife, my daughter, my son
on a Sunday
from the house in
the big city where I grew
up to the house
in the small
town where we live;
thankful to my
mother and father for
the future they
helped make for us
in both city and town;
thankful as the suburbs that
surround the highway
turn to hills and
into mountains
that follow the river;
thankful for the colors
blue, green, and the almost
red that appears in the half dark
near the afternoon’s end;
thankful, above all else
and through hours of confusion
and disconsolation,
for all the days
it took to
get to this.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Art of Moving or Alternate Interpretations of an Old Blues Song

Margarita S. Padua
I’m not sure who took this picture of my mother, though it was probably my father. He was, for a time, interested in photography, especially when he first arrived here in the states. It was taken in the early 1950s in Kalorama Park on Columbia Road in DC.

For a while, up until my older brother Tony was around one year old, they lived close to this park at a building on 18th Street and Kalorama Road. But one day, as my mother explained to Tony years later, one of their neighbors knocked on their door.

“The coloreds are moving in,” he told my Mom. “You have to move.”

My Mom didn’t know what that meant. Apparently this white neighbor of theirs thought Filipinos like us were all right, but didn’t think the same about people he thought of as “colored.”

Of course there were places where we weren’t welcome either, like this place on the Chesapeake Bay called Mayo Beach. In the late 50s or so, when I was a toddler, it was being advertised on TV and radio as being the fun new beach to go to in the DC area. When we got there, though, the guy at the gate took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “No Flips!” Then he made us turn right around.

Tony and I were crying—we just wanted to go to the beach, but they weren’t letting us in. As for my Mom and Dad, all they knew was that the white people made the rules—which was why they left that apartment on 18th and Kalorama.

As my mother explained to Tony, “And the white man said we have to move. So we moved!”

Back then, whether or not you agreed with the white man, you didn’t question him, because that meant trouble and my family didn’t want trouble with anyone. We ended up at another apartment a few blocks away. And, we found another beach to go to on the Chesapeake Bay.

More than half a century later, here in my small town, I keep moving. At a steady pace—not too fast, not too slow—my arms by my sides. And trying, as much as I can, to stay safe, while breaking as many rules as I can along the way

-Jose Padua

And the Stars Shine Like Dim Light Bulbs at the Old Motel Downtown

Photograph by Jose Padua
It was one of those evenings when
the social worker didn’t show up
and I had a waiting room full of
poor and homeless people needing
food or food stamps or money or
sometimes just cigarettes and it was
my job in high school answering the
phone and the door at the church rectory.
That’s when Mary Hayes came out of
the waiting room, walked down the hall
with the sort of grace that years on
the streets had done nothing to diminish,
then stood in front of me more annoyed
than scared and said in her precisely
annunciated Irish accent, “there’s a man
in there who keeps saying he’s going to
kill us,” and I walked in to see a man wearing
a soldier’s hat who kept looking down
to the rug and who wouldn’t lift his head
telling me, “I’m a man, you’re nothing.”
And it took a few minutes of telling him
he couldn’t threaten everyone else and
expect to get help but I got him to stand up,
his head still pointed down, and he made
his way to the door and out and down
the steps to the rest of the darkening city
and everyone in the room felt better again.
I split whatever dollar bills and change I had
on me with Mr. Thomas Jefferson Isaac
and Rose Conti and Rabbi Jerome Diamond
and all my poor homeless friends even though
what I was supposed to do when the social
worker was AWOL was just tell them to come
back the next day. And right before she left
Mary Hayes after having seen me on so many
days in the past year asked me for the first time,
“And what is your name?” and I told her my
name proudly and I annunciated precisely
just as she did whenever she spoke just to
make sure she’d understand and because
her asking my name after all this time
was like being told that yes there are stars
in the sky and even though they are dim
and don’t shine for us it is by their light
that sometimes with a little luck and a little
persistence we get where we’re going anyway.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Whatever Can’t Be Swept Away Will Always Refuse to Disappear

Photograph by Jose Padua
The dust we left behind
in our old apartment in
a building that’s now all
expensive condos in which
we could never afford to
live will never disappear.
It’s still there deep within
the heavy brick walls like
an old layer of lead paint
or a secret lost in the history
of the way things used to be
but never were for the rest
of us. And once in an odd
while a speck of us will
escape into the atmosphere,
make its way into the eye
or nose of whoever’s living
there now, making them sneeze
or cry or scratch an itchy spot
somewhere on back of the neck
as we laugh our rough but
beautiful laughs because the future
has failed to put an end to us.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Ready for the House and Other Places of Profound Interest

Photogrph by Jose Padua
During our visit to my family’s old house in town,
my four year old son walks up the stairs
to the second floor and notices
the crucifix that’s been there since I was a child,
then looks at the face of Jesus
and says “Daddy.”
And I remember the time I took him
to a preschool orientation
and one of the other kids looked at me
then looked to his mother,
and as he pointed his finger
at me he said, “Jesus,”
at which point the mother said nothing
but gave me a look that seemed to say
“You ain’t no Jesus.”
And though it’s been decades
since I embraced anything that
might be called religion,
I must say there are still moments in my life
when I feel something that
approaches holiness.
Like toward the end of a long, clear summer’s day
or a cold, cloudy winter’s day
when the dimming of the evening’s last light
seems to color everything
a profound shade of blue.
Or when the sound of an ambulance in the distance
fills me with a certainty
that when they reach their destination
they’ll find someone who’s sick
or knocked down and weary
but who has somehow found
a way to survive.
And what makes me feel holiest of all
are those times when
I feel entirely human.
When I understand that
I’m just a man
with a name,
a place I want to get to,
and this vague but exquisitely lovely
idea of how to get there.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

The Best Way to End the Day Is to Be Alive

Photograph by Jose Padua

The meanest bartender in town
was a Filipino dude like me
who was always ready
with a cold Fuck You
at the slightest offense
or No fucking way
in response to even
the most reasonable of requests.
He was always nice
to the women, though,
the ladies, the ones walking
and the ones working,
and when I went in
with a woman friend one evening
it was the first time
I ever saw him smile
and though he completely
ignored me with every
drop of hard liquor he poured
and every beer he laid down
on the old oak bar
I was sure I heard
a whispered Fuck You
under his breath
and directed at me
like a side-eyed smirk
as he winked at my lovely friend
without ever looking at me.
I knew right then
that if I’d been a bartender
he would have been me or
I would have been him
or something like that
and on the day that I heard
that he’d dropped dead
I didn’t raise my glass and
declare “Cheers” to his spirit
nor pronounce “rest in peace”
to the blank space
of his absence,
but merely continued
to drink until my mind felt full
and my fingers felt the sting
of an evening spent
smoking cigarette after cigarette
and engaging in dramatic gestures
to illustrate all the significant
discussions I’d soon forget.
Then later that night
in the dizzy warmth
of my bed I leaned slowly
to my right,
then half asleep
turned slowly
to my left
just in case
there was anyone
there I could
whisper to.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And This is Where We Lived When We Lived in the City

Photograph by Jose Padua
He used to panhandle on Dupont Circle in the early 80s. That was where I’d get off from the subway at the end of the day when I worked at the Library of Congress, and he was one of the people I’d always stop to talk to before I made my way back home to Mt. Pleasant. This was during a brief period in the 80s when I would take a lot of photographs, and of course one day I happened to have my camera with me when I stopped to chat with him. That’s when I took this photograph. A couple of weeks later, when I had it developed, I gave him a copy. “Oh, that’s beautiful, man,” he said and he smiled more than I’d ever seen him smile before. Though, now that I think of it, maybe I had never seen him smile at all before then. He really seemed to like his portrait. He called himself “Om.”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

Travelling Men

When we were seven or eight my neighbor would sometimes
run around behind his house with no pants, laughing his child’s

laugh. Sometimes we’d see him with a glass and we’d ask him
what he was drinking and he’d say sharply “whiskey” not with

pride or to surprise but just because that’s the way it was. He
never went to jail like his brothers and we were never scared

to have them living next to us, even when his brothers were
stealing or robbing people with guns. I was not a pervert like

him when I was young, I didn’t drink like him when I was young,
and my brothers never went to jail like his when I was young

but he was my neighbor which meant that he was one of us
and I was one of his, and the door to his house opened and closed

as ours opened and closed. He grew up and worked cleaning
the floors at bars I sometimes went to for fun, doing the hard work

I didn’t have to do and couldn’t have done. Clarity for me were
those moments of revelation, clarity for him were those moments

of stillness when there was nothing left that someone needed him
to get done, when the noise had stopped and the lights went on

and the air was like whiskey and wine and time was like a coin
that had dropped through a hole in outer space. We were different.

When I see him for the first time in ten years with my wife and
daughter he’s sitting on a bench staring into space. He’s still mopping

floors, he says, and he talks and he talks, about how he’s getting married
as soon as his girlfriend gets out of jail, and he lives in another part of town

now because he can’t afford to live where we grew up together and when
he tells my daughter that he’s like a brother to me I can’t say that it isn’t

true, because although we didn’t hang out together and you could only
measure our closeness with units of measure or measure how perfectly

we fit into our separate spaces, we somehow are destined to journey back
to these same places. I could say that it easily could have been me mopping

floors but it wouldn’t have been easy—the odds were against him even more
than they were against me and anyone with a brain can see that and anyone

with a heart would know that, but sometimes there’s no heart, no organ
pumping blood and wisdom, just machines of great efficiency pumping

noise through our veins until there’s nothing left to do but talk and listen
and do nothing, and I walk with my wife and my daughter to our car while

he waits on his bench on this beautiful spring morning for his wedding day.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua. First published in Gargoyle #58.