Monthly Archives: August 2016

Glenn’s Plan to Shake Things Up…

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I came into the coffee shop to write, walking past a homeless black man holding a sign asking for change. I didn’t make eye contact; I read the sign surreptitiously. A few minutes after I walked by, Glenn came in. A large middle aged black man, he was loud and happy. He greeted the baristas by name. He mentioned his friend Reggie sitting outside with the sign.

“I’m sorry for being so boisterous this morning,” he smiled broadly to me.

“Not at all, I love it!” I said.

We began a conversation. He was a man who didn’t believe in negativity.

“You do look like you pumped yourself up before coming out this morning,” I said.

“You know it,” he chuckled.

“Do you really know him? Reggie?” I asked.

“I try to talk to every black man I see on the street,” he said, “find out what their story is, what they’re doing. Because they can’t stay on the street.”

“They can’t,” I repeated back.

“No. The street’s not a place to be. ‘Cause the cops are going to come. You think they’re going to say, ‘You want some coffee and a donut?’ They’re not. They got a job to do. My uncle was a cop. They got to do their job.”

“Do you give them resources, tell them where to go?”

“The black muslim temple’ll take him in anytime any day. But you can’t be on the street.”

He talked about race. I listened. I opened my mouth to confirm one of his viewpoints once. His head tipped and the polite look he gave me was chastening. It wasn’t mine to affirm. It was my turn to listen.

He talked about Colin Kaepernick and his comments about the flag.

“I’m gonna have Colin come out and talk to Reggie,” he said, “right here on Post and VanNess. ‘Cause this is who he’s talking about. And maybe he doesn’t know. There’s BlackLivesMatter, the new black panthers, and this guy you may have heard about, Barack Hussein Obama. I mean Barack Hussein Obama! You know where he is, right? He’s not a senator. He’s in the white house.”

He shook his head, “You gotta love this country. How is the black man supposed to accomplish anything in America if they hate America? We need to love America like Barack and Michelle. We gotta have their mindset.”

We talked about generational messages of negativity and oppression.

“How do you break chains of generational messaging like that?” he asked, quizzing me.

“Little by little, one generation at a time?” I asked.

He chuckled, “I’m afraid it’s gonna take something a little more drastic than that. Let me tell you. You want to hear my plan to shake things up?”

“Yes.”

He leaned in and locked eyes. I had no idea what I would hear.

After a long pause he said, “We abolish the NBA.”

“The NBA?”

“The NBA.”

He continued, “We take all these fine African American men and put them in college and see what they can do.”

“By taking away options?” I said.

“Options?! There’s Google right here. The world doesn’t need another LeBron! We need a black Mark Zuckerberg!”

He called himself a social engineer. I found out he was a writer, self-published author, and Christian. I told him about my kids. He told me I needed to self-publish my book.

It wasn’t a long conversation. In the time I could’ve read an article and share it on Facebook, Glenn and I did the work of two strangers reading each other. In the time it would’ve taken me to click through a link and read Colin K’s comments, we shared a conversation.

Land’s End Landscape…

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I have been coming to Land’s End Trail of mornings. I sit on a bench in the chill and mist and watch the grey ocean spread beneath me like the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil crumpled and pressed smooth. It rolls out to the wide Pacific on my left, and on my right under the bridge and between the fingertips of reclining landmasses. My nose threatens to run and my shoe grinds a bit of sandy dirt as I settle.

The fog is thick and heavy just above the water, a single stanchion of the Golden Gate Bridge visible as if I am under Lady San Francisco’s skirts catching a glimpse of a sacred ankle. The shoulders of Marin are a curve more sensual today, the tops and less modest tips hugged by the lacy undergarment of fog.

Two lights, one standing on the last rock before the ocean, the other midway between that and the bridge blink on and off slowly, conserving energy for their eternal task. A fog horn sounds from somewhere, its own little joke, since visibility is perfect on the water. Small dots of light scratch white lines into the grey past the point. If the law would have these craft leave their lights on until an hour or two past sunrise it would be hard to know by the filtered light exactly when that was. A single fishing boat is in front of me, a red light at the top of its mast, deciding to rest inside the arms of the bay, comfortable to sit here with me.

To my right I can see where the ocean is making the shore, the never-ending group project of seven seas. Black rocks and blurs of darker textures spill across the sand here and there as it curves to meet the red bridge. The bridge swallows it all into its width or expectorates it, possibly the initial seed of fruit from which the earth springs forth. The road to the top is a perfect Bob Ross zig of paint scraped between the darker green of Presidio trees and descending speckle of beach shrubs. The road looks from this angle to curve straight down to the bridge, but I know it disappears over the hill, taking a turn and under a damp stone underpass before drawing its line of red light to join the others who for some reason are leaving the city at this hour.

Behind me to my left the grit trail runs straight disappearing abruptly into the cypress forests, standing on long stems, all looking like they have been treacherously betrayed by their hair product and a sudden gust of wind. Small dark birds bounce or zip, its hard to tell, across the path. And I can hear the incessant hiccough of a sprinkler on the golf course. I cannot tell if the smell of humidity is coming from there or from above. Occasional strings of birds indistinguishable from each other at this height fly low across the water until they complete a picture of a zipper with their reflection, unzipping and zipping as they ever alter altitude. The much larger pelicans fly closer so that I can make out colors and single indignant feathers.

I dab at my nose and shift my weight on the wooden bench to the other buttock. I wonder how long I’ve been sitting here. It’s grown warmer maybe; but I’ve gotten colder as my blood has cooled down from walking.

The lights are going out on the cars driving over the hill. My fishing boat has turned off its red light and is pulling out into open water. Lady San francisco has hiked up her skirts past her knees, and the view is a bowl in front of me, so much, with rivulets spilling out to the west and east and into my lap.

Celestia…

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I took the kids to Seward Street slides. They grabbed cardboard pieces and began flinging themselves down cement slides so long and so fast that they have been ruined for the plebeian plastic imposters at every park thereafter. Soon after, a hispanic family showed up. The mother was large and so was her brood. Five smaller children began tearing up the side of the hill and one teenager remained standing undecided by her mother.

I had her pegged at about sixteen, her body the attractive, younger, full-figured version of her mother’s. She was cute, her makeup done even for a summer day at home, and was wearing her best white sneakers. They were having a back-and-forth. Her mother was begging her, please, please, go down the slides. The girl looked torn, a piece of cardboard in one hand, her phone in the other. She equivocated in posture and gaze, her back against the brick wall of the neighboring building. The mother gave up and sat on the bench. The girl, so insistent to her mother, took a few more moments to decide for herself before abandoning the cardboard and sitting on the opposite end of the bench.

She turned her phone over in her hand but didn’t open it, or she’d open it and close it, swipe it open and click it off. Look at it for a moment and then valiantly look around. It was itchy in her hand. And there was nothing for her here. To my chagrin, though without judgement because, hey, I mean, you know me, the mother sat looking at her phone, back to the girl.

I was pretty sure I had these guys figured out after two minutes. Barbara’s gigantic brain classifying people by phenotype and boxing them up with other known specimens.

I had the thought that I should talk to this girl, if it was an adult, another parent, I would talk to her. I only felt hesitation because I didn’t want to be the weirdo creeping on a kid. I mean, what on earth am I going to ask her that isn’t creepy? How old are you? What grade are you in? Where do you go to school? Creep-o.

I went over and sat on the next bench. “Hi,” I said, “My name’s Barbara. What’s your name?” (I have found there is no better way to dive into conversation then ape the simple strategy of my three-year-old.)

“Celestia.” The girl turned her body toward me and smiled over braces. This was not a girl so paralyzed by technology that she couldn’t process in-person interactions, classification shattered.

“You look like you’re bored out of your gourd.”

She laughed, (because “bored out of your gourd” is funny in an ageless sort of way.) “No, I just…” trailing off.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Thirteen,” she said.

“13?!” I said.

She smiled, pleased. I had definitely pegged her as older. She was proud, but, ouch, I thought. She had a woman’s body and five years to go.

“How do you like being 13?” I asked.

“Good.” with a one-shoulder shrug.

“It’s kinda hard, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I remember. It was like sometimes I felt like an adult and the other half of the time I felt like a kid still.”

“Yeah.”

“So, Celestia,” I said, “What do you like to do?”

“I play soccer and baseball.” Classification shattered again, my internal surprise revealing the surety with which I had made my judgements.

We went on to talk for about fifteen minutes. We discussed sports for a bit (I was the limiting reactant in that conversation) and then books. We shared our passion for Young Adult science fiction. I told her she needed to finish the Hunger Games trilogy. She told me not to bother with Allegiant. She wrote, she said, science fiction stories mostly but she also journaled every day.

“That’s so helpful,” I said, “being able to process things like that. Keep doing that.”

We ended our conversation soon after. She smiled big the whole time we talked; the Mom never looked up from her phone, even when I asked the creepy questions. (But let’s not judge, people. I mean, she had six kids for the interminable length of a summer day!) Mom gathered her kids shortly after. Celestia looked back over her shoulder and waved.

“It was nice talking to you,” she said.

Teenagers. I was one. I will have them. At some point, I will probably be the mom in the park trying to ignore them. Teenagers are people, too, folks. Talk to one today, remember, and say a sweet prayer of praise that you no longer live in that particular limbo.

 

Dominic…

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I was having an unprecedented moment alone in a cafe. I had a book open and a cappuccino by my right hand. A special needs man walked in. I’ll call him a boy for the purposes of this post because I never caught his name, but he was early to mid twenties, white, in a sweater a mother might select, with hair parted on the side like a young boy’s. His care giver, I assumed she was, was a petite middle-aged hispanic woman, almost two heads shorter, her hands folded in front of her at the wrists, a black purse hanging from a forearm. They talked over the breakfast menu like conspiring thieves. She didn’t feel the necessity of eye contact but whispered back over her shoulder. The young man was excited and loud. His voice echoed through the whole cafe, “Think there’ll be berries on mine, Denise? Think there’ll be berries?”

She moved this way to see the menu and he followed by a step to maintain distance. They ordered. Setting her purse on a chair she told him she’d be right back and headed to the restroom. He sat, his leg bouncing, glancing at the bathroom, setting and resetting the silverware. A server came over, a big hispanic man, tattooed to his neck, and looking every inch like an ex-con (because this suburban white girl has been told what ex-cons look like).

“Hey, man,” the server said followed by some subdued conversation.

“Hi, Dominic,” the kid gave him a high-five, loudly again, “Hi, Dominic. Where’s Denise? Where did Denise go, Dominic?” hand now bouncing off his leg which was bouncing off the floor.

“She’s just in the bathroom, man. No worries. Here she is.”

“Denise! It’s Dominic. It’s Dominic, Denise!”

Denise smiled and offered her hand primly. Dominic shook it, placing his other hand on her shoulder as if to stabilize her against the enthusiasm of his shake. And he returned to work.

I heard the young man telling Denise how the guys had made him his own custom smoothie. “My own smoothie, Denise!” How they had promised he would get Nutella and raspberries on his crepe. “Nutella AND berries, Denise!” They must come here all the time, I thought. I looked around at these fine people who took such care of this young man.

Everyone who worked at this cafe was apparently a relative of Dominic’s, face or knuckle tattoos not a preclusion from employment, biceps-the-size-of-my-torso a must. All of them were beaming over register and hot food line at this kid.

Their food arrived shortly after.

“Try this, Denise, You’ve got to try this!” Denise ate bites off of his fork and made faces of approbation, content to let his volume speak for both of them. Dominic came to check on their breakfast.

“It is so good, Dominic! Look, they gave me Nutella and raspberries, Dominic!”

Dominic came back at the end to take their plates. I watched Denise insist on her young man getting a picture with Dominic. Her only moment of command, “Stand there.” The boy posed proudly, Dominic smiled, chest out, chin up, with an arm around him.

They left and about ten minutes later. I was done and putting my book away in my purse.

“Are you done with this?” a voice.

I looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Dominic,” I said.

He was surprised I knew his name. I thought how wonderful it would be to be known by name for something kind. I motioned by way of explanation to the empty table where Denise and the boy had sat a moment before and smiled my gratitude for the scene.
He laughed when he got it.

“Do they come in all the time?” I asked as Dominic took my tiny espresso cup in his giant hands.

He looked surprised again. “Oh, no, that was the first time. I’ve never seen them before.”