One of the saddest parts of your editor’s departure from Cleveland Park was that I wouldn’t be living next to Lou and Di Stovall anymore, which had gotten to be a 28 year habit for me. Lou and Di are both artists but they also serve as the magnetic north of the neighborhood. Follow a compass and that’s where you’ll end up. Our friendship has endured even though Lou, who has done silkscreen prints for over 70 artists, no longer asks my advice on art. That ended after I wandered into his studio while he was working on a print of a seascape and he recklessly asked me what I thought of it. I pointed to an empty piece of sky and suggested that a plane towing a banner would look nice there.
I did get into one of his prints, though. Outside his house one day, he explained that he was working on some prints for the Equal Opportunities Commission and needed some quotes to use on them. “Got any quotes, Sam?” he asked. “Look Lou,” I said, “writers write things and then they get quoted; they don’t just write quotes.” But for him, I thought of one anyway and he used it: “God is an equal opportunity employer.”
Lou and Di provided the neighborhood young with counsel, refuge, their own box of art supplies in the studio, laughs, food, and a badminton court. Back when the street wasn’t as busy as it now, Lou painted home plate in the middle of it for whiffle ball, the required afternoon activity for anyone between the ages of 6 and 16. Since there weren’t enough kids to staff two full teams, every game involved innumerable “ghost men,” imaginary creatures whose precise accomplishments and locations at any given moment were a matter of endless, loud debate after every play. Among other services, Lou and Di provided advice on anger management. One year, though, four of Sidwell Friend’s starting nine were graduates of the Newark Street field of screams.
Some years later, Lou and Di’s own son went to Sidwell and, faced with having both Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore Jr as schoolmates, rebelled in one of the few ways available to a 7th grader under such circumstances: he became a Republican. This revolt, mercifully brief, included playing golf and arranging to have me sent a membership in the GOP Gold Club complete with a welcoming letter from Haley Barber, as well posting a Dole-Kemp sign in his bedroom that looked directly down into our living room.
Lou and I conspired on a number of matters, including one of the city’s first neighborhood crime watches. Lou designed the signs and hosted meetings, while I served as crime statistician. Some of the watch’s efforts didn’t work out all that well. At one meeting, the late Bishop John Walker complained that a wanted poster drawn by a neighbor seemed racist to him. I told John that he just didn’t understand the difference between racism and bad art. John, bishop of the Washington National Cathedral, had a sense of humor good enough that Lou once loudly told him one of my recently transmitted jokes, from one crowded Giant food checkout line across to another, and John had the grace to laugh. The joke was that Moses had come down from the Mount and told the people, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is I’ve talked him down from 100 to ten. The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.”
On another occasion, someone called the police around ten pm to complain about someone shining flashlights into their house. It was the neighborhood watch on patrol, albeit a bit counterproductively. Then, on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, the alarm went off at the house on the other side of ours. The police responded, with Lou and I there to assist. Noting that the kitchen window was unlocked, the officer pulled his revolver and announced, with what struck me as excessive import and hubris, “Stand back, I’m going in.” He opened the window and crawled through, waving his revolver. A few minutes later, he reappeared, announcing with even great import, “Stand back, this could be dangerous.” In his right hand he still held his revolver, but in his left was a saucepan out of which all the water had boiled, leaving only one perilously overheated egg.
On another occasion, I returned to find Lou in his front yard. “Doesn’t that car look like the one they’re looking for in that rape case?” he asked, pointing to a decrepit vehicle up the street. We went to take a look, nodded thoughtfully at the decrepit contents, and then returned to call the police. Afterwards, we stayed on the sidewalk talking for about twenty minutes, until Lou said, “Let’s go take another look.” After our inspection, we returned to Lou’s fence and our conversations. Some while later, Lou said, “Where are those cops? I think I’ll call again.” When he returned outside, he reported that the officer on duty had told him, “We have the car under surveillance, sir, but it doesn’t help much if citizens keep looking in the window. Which one are you, the big white guy or the little short bald black guy?”
“I resent that,” said Lou. Replied the officer, “We’re paid to be observant.”
It’s going to be rough not having Lou close at hand to help in such matters. But then, maybe now he’ll be able to get more art done.
ONE OF LOU STOVALL’S WORKS.