After a couple of years, I was back in Washington, this time to work for the World Bank. My home was in the suburb, and I decided to buy a new house downtown to reduce my commute. Buying takes exploring and checking. I rented an apartment meanwhile, a short walk from the office, near the Dupont Circle.
I loved the location. It was always buzzing. Lots of people, old and young, men and women. Some worked in the offices nearby, some were there to buy medicines, stationery and clothes, and others were there simply to enjoy the area. There was a great variety of restaurants, Greek, Chinese and American, a bunch of bistros and coffee houses, even a steak house. There was a small store that sold magazines and newspapers from many countries in different languages and a large book store, with a charming café at the back.
I had ordered a car, but I did not feel deprived waiting for it to arrive. There was a metro station, good enough to take me to most of the places I cared for, the Library of Congress or the many Smithsonian museums. But most of the time I walked and enjoyed the sights and sounds of a new old city. Washington was fun and walking around seemed the best way to get the most of it.
The weekends were the best, for I had few responsibilities. Housekeeping was zero and I rarely cooked as I ate out most of the time. Sunday morning, I woke unexpectedly early, picked up a croissant and magnum-sized coffee at the corner store, picked up the sixty-page New York Times and forty-page Washington Post and walked over to the Dupont Circle.
The Circle is a hub of ten streets and at the center is a small park with benches. I loved its smallness. It seemed familiar in less than an hour. Sometimes a small band played there, sometimes a lone guitar player sang out his heart. I loved those little shows too. It seemed they cared for the place and the park. Today there was no performer, not yet. I liked the Sabbath silence.
I put down the heavy papers, slowly ate the croissant with relish and took a first sip of the fragrant coffee. I was just considering starting with the papers, when a man came and sat down at the other end of my bench.
“May I?” he said and cast a glance at my pile of newspapers.
I let him have the Washington Post to read and picked up the front section of the New York Times. A bird came and perched itself on another bench and gave out what seemed like the first bar of the shortest song. What better accompaniment could there be for all the news of murderous wars and economic collapse?
Then he said, “Look at you! You must have come from another country. Yet you are so clearly well off. You wear good clothes, even good shoes. I can smell your cologne. The American government looks after you and pays you a lot of money, I am sure.
“And here I am, sitting on a park bench next to you, in dirty clothes. With little to call my own. Yet I am the native son. I was born here. The government pays me nothing. What a shame.”
I was taken aback. Yes, I was probably well off compared to him, but, in his view, all because of some discrimination by the US Government!
I pointed to my coffee and said, “I paid the man who made that coffee because he gave me something for my money. Usually people pay for some goods or services they have received. Are you doing something for the government? Then they are likely to pay you for it.”
“But I am an American. The government should pay me.”
“There are 350 million Americans like you. If they did nothing and wanted the government to pay them, the government would go bankrupt quickly. The government has money only because people who work pay taxes and people who do business pay taxes too.”
“But the government pays you money!”
“No, I pay them money, out of what I earn. And I earn because I work every day. There are hundreds of people like me, who don’t look like you, but they work hard, earn money and pay the government. They help keep the government running and the country running.”
As he talked, there was the clear whiff of alcohol from his mouth.
“You think so?” he asked.
“I know so. This is an immigrant country. It does not matter how people look. It matters what they do. Whether they work and contribute, or they don’t do a thing. It will be a very foolish country that treats badly the people who give it the most and hold to its heart people who don’t contribute. Don’t you think so?”
The man seemed surprised to hear what I had said. He was thinking. I thought that was good.
“You can keep the newspaper,” I said quietly, bid him goodbye and left the park for home.