- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The ponytailed fellow announced that he is a community leader in connection with the new proposal by the D.C. Depart-ment of Parks and Recreation to build a 22,000-square-foot building at Stoddert Park on Calvert and 39th streets NW.

A compromise of sorts has been forged between the city and a community that has been divided on the necessity of having a massive recreation center in its midst.

Many of the old-growth trees and much of the green space have been spared in the new construction plan, and the community has begun wrangling over the details.

The wrangling commenced anew at the Guy Mason Recreation Center this week — with the ponytailed community leader, the three advisory neighborhood commissioners and proponents of the new vision reaching out to those who fear the worst.

It never hurts to have a ponytailed fellow lending the sensitivity of his ponytail to the proceedings.

So they divided the attendees into four subgroups and requested that suggestions or concerns be written on yellow Post-It Notes.

It was an intriguing display of political activism at the grass-roots level, with each yellow Post-It Note representing the hope of a better future.

It is a hope that inevitably comes with footnotes, asterisks, explanations and qualifying comments in the heavily taxed enclave of endemic incompetence. It is a hope that looks best on a crisp, clear night in the city, in the company of yellow Post-It Notes and a ponytailed fellow who appeared to have just stepped off the set of a Cheech and Chong flick.

Al Bradford, a retired Metropolitan Police Department officer who works as the neighborhood curmudgeon these days, suggested that the new center hold a shoes-for-guns program in response to the proliferating graffiti in the community. Gang members have material needs, too, as he pointed out, particularly if a gun is no longer in working order.

A shoes-for-guns program certainly would complement the feel-good tenets of a midnight basketball league. If just one teen can be saved from the increasingly mean streets of 39th and Calvert with a 3 a.m. basketball league, then all the additional litter, vehicular traffic and carbon monoxide will have been worth it.

Mr. Bradford is one of the rare souls in the community who is able to see the forest instead of the old-growth trees. As someone who attended Stoddert Elementary a long time ago, he has a deep affinity for the park. His unease with the new plan is layered with wisdom and a hard-earned familiarity with the workings of the city.

His is a city that often works in mysterious ways, if work is the proper word, and employs a riddle.

It is the riddle of the camera-toting Cleveland Ray, the city inspector who roams the public spaces and alleys of the neighborhood in search of an unkempt blade of grass or a misplaced Super Can. It is the riddle of a fine-happy harassment project that is implemented around a burgeoning population of rats and raccoons.

A tall blade of grass is a curious priority around the rats and raccoons looking to take up residence in the homes of the oppressed. At least one family of raccoons is living rent-free on the porch overhang of one of the row houses in the neighborhood.

The rats, raccoons and increasing homeless population along the stretch of Wisconsin Avenue by the Guy Mason Recreation Center failed to resonate with those scribbling on the yellow Post-It Notes. There is a good feeling in the neighborhood, a oneness with the city, and a conviction to burn more tax dollars.

Parks and recreation officials plan to return to the neighborhood next month with further details, presumably after pondering the worthiness of all the ideas emanating from the yellow Post-It Notes.

One of the compelling features of the proposed building is a rooftop garden, a place for somewhat-quiet reflection amid the squeaking of sneakers, the bouncing of basketballs and the occasional obscenity after an errant shot.

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