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One of the many places I lived when I was in DC was on a quiet residential leafy street with a beautiful, freshly paved alley in the back that made for a silent bicycle arrival to the backyard. This was a place where I cultivated dozens of tomato plants, coaxed edamame out of reluctant sprouts and even grew a decent crop of okra. We hung our laundry to dry in the backyard, much to our fashionable neighbor’s amusement. Urban paradise. The only problem was, it was a rental, and we wanted to own. So we got in touch with a realty company and started carving out the parts of DC we could afford and would be happy to live in.

After a couple of conversations with our realtor, we determined that he lived on the next street down from us and actually was our back-to-back neighbor across the aforementioned alley. Laughs! Good times! We met his primordial-pawed basset hound and his partner, an amusement park enthusiast, and kibbitzed over the fence like old biddies.

One of the things we wanted in what was to be our new house, was “a nice neighborhood.” We didn’t want the threat of turbid things happening nearby. We wanted to feel safe, secure in the new digs. The conversation that followed with our realtor was eye-opening. There aren’t many neighborhoods that are completely clean, he explained to us. For example, did you know that people deal drugs in our (shared) back alley all day long? I was flabbergasted. This was on T street, long after T street was becoming “cute.” In our back alley? In every back alley, he assured me. So onward we plunged, shortly thereafter buying a house in Columbia Heights where we would soon know all the drug dealers by our own nicknames for them. College boy, not-so-bright, the fall guy, the guy with the hair, perhaps (child’s name)’s father, the one who just got out. They sat on the front ledge of the house and we would quietly seethe inside.

I was thinking of this last night when I was playing with my camera at a friend’s house. With a thirty-second exposure trained on this corner in Barrio Yungay, I could see curious characters filing in and out of a creaky door, up from the ninth floor where my camera and I were perched. But in the photo there’s just a bit of a blur, no hard evidence. That’s the funny thing about long exposure times. It’s alot like living blithely unaware. There’s a lot of stuff you just can’t see.