Along the park's border, other homeless and jobless men battle all day and sometimes into the night on cement chessboard tables.
'Everyone has the right to demonstrate'
"This is the Super Bowl; this is where the strong play; this is where you'll find the Russian masters," boasts N. S. Kolchak, 46, a.former Louisiana resident who has played chess here, sometimes for cash, since 1978.
"It's a complex game. It's a stupid game," he laughs. "It's an excuse not to have a life."
Maj.. James McLaughlin, former commander of the special forces branch and now a National Park Service official, recalls violent, antl-war demonstrations of 10,000 people in front of the White House, and says Lafayette is a far quieter refuge today.
"I've seen it all" he says. "There's no political issue I haven't heard there. But this is America and everyone has the right to demonstrate."
On the morbid side, demonstrators have brought a dead fetus (for an anti-abort protest) and the body of a dead adult in a coffin (for an anti-AIDS protest), accompanied but a mortician, McLaughlin says.
"This used to be a nice park, where people would sun themselves. . . but it's changed a lot over the years. It's very sad. People come from all over the world to see the White Home and say, 'Oh God. I can't believe I came all this way and it looks like this."