"So foul and fair a day I have not seen." (Image courtesy The Weinstein Company)
You came here looking for a bus story, and instead, what? We all love stories, and the ones in these films are far better than any I could ever relay. This blog is a probing celebration of the human spirit in its many forms. So too are these films, which is why I respond to them, and why I think you might take interest in them as well.
And anyways, don't tell me you don't love movies, the premier art form of our time, speaking to the masses in the way classical music did in 1700s western Europe, or literature during the 19th and early 20th century. Every art form has its time in the sun where it may not the best form of the day, but is by far the most resonant and wide-reaching. Anyone who tells you we're not in a golden age of filmmaking isn't looking hard enough.
Below is a list of what I found to be the best releases of the year in film, along with ruminations on each. I should note that the trailers I've attached for each film are not always the main US domestic final trailer, but the trailers I feel are most accurate to the films. That's why you get the UK trailer for Carol or the Mandarin teaser for The Assassin, for instance.
We start with the bottom of the list. These ones aren't necessarily great, but enthralled me for various reasons I'm compelled to share.
"Do you ever feel invincible in one moment and then worthless the next?"
Based on the life of Stanley Milgram, who famously conducted experiments revealing that most people will voluntarily torture strangers if asked politely to do so by an authority figure. Directed by Michael Almereyda, with Peter Sarsgaard. Trailer.
The ramifications of Milgram's work are crucial to our understanding of how widespread atrocities continue to be tolerated and enacted. Milgram was Jewish, and his quest to make sense of things following World War II underpinned much of his work. As he said, his results were less about human evil as human malleability, and the value we place on obeying authority figures. Mr. Almereyda appropriately takes an experimental approach, avoiding familiar biopic tropes and resorting to numerous 4th-wall breaks, rear projection, creative desaturation, and abandoning narrative almost entirely to get at what really interests us– not Milgram's life but what these experiments mean. He also pioneered the six-degrees of separation concept and several other interesting studies. Entertaining and erudite.
16. Diary of a Teenage Girl
"I'm distracted sometimes. By my overwhelming all-consuming thoughts about sex and men!"
Minnie, a teen girl in 1970s San Francisco, finds herself drawn to her mother's boyfriend. Directed by Marielle Heller. Trailer 1.
Again, I'm not trying to say the films on the bottom of this list are masterpieces. But in the way I feel Experimenter relays something vital, so too does Diary. Perspectives on sexual awakening from the view of teen girls, let alone females, are basically nonexistent in cinema, despite being an experience roughly fifty percent of the population goes through. Diary offers tremendous wisdom through Minnie's reflective and frank vernacular, as she navigates uncharted waters and ultimately arrives at conclusions far beyond what most of us adults typically ruminate over.
We don't so much as wait around for her to come of age as learn about ourselves by extrapolating her thoughts (I'm thinking of the film's final lines here, which are gold) onto our own questions and struggles with love and selfhood. Also worth noting is the terrific lead performance, capable directorial handling of highly awkward material, brazenly creative incorporation of animation, and razor-sharp wit.
15. Hard to be a God (Trudno byt bogom)
"This is not Earth. It's another planet, identical, about 800 years behind."
Scientists sent to another planet exactly like Earth's Middle Ages struggle with not interfering when confronted with what they see. Directed by Aleksey German. Trailer.
Hard to be a God is not an easy watch, but it manages to be strangely captivating for the entirety of its gargantuan runtime. Mr. German has created a world that indeed feels like another planet, establishing normative behavior our 21st-century selves find alien (notice the different and pervasive amount of touching and focus on scents). This conflation of the distant future and ancient past is a portrait of the Middle Ages as you've never seen. Rumata, the lead scientist, wanders through a largely plotless Bosch-like theatre of disgusting squalor and ugliness, where man's inhumanity to man is front and center. Hard to be a God, indeed, and no job for a mere mortal. This gorgeously photographed three-hour think piece is a test, and brilliant in its theological and philosophical ramifications. There are conversations where the viewer is quite literally left reeling at the meta-connotations of what's being said. It whirls you around and soaks you in the grotesque and repulsively macabre, but I guarantee you'll come out of it with thoughts you've never had before.
"This dude could've saved Mexican rock."
Young Tomas and his older friends get sidetracked on a meandering road trip searching for an obscure rock musician. Directed by Alonso Ruiz Palacios. US Trailer.
It's a little gem, is what it is. One hundred six minutes of beautiful full-frame black-and-white images, each indelible, laid over a rambling but strangely economical up-all-night-in-Mexico City road trip narrative. It pokes fun at seriousness while also possessing its own gravitas; it's whirligig absurdist humor feels oddly perfect in an aesthetically gorgeous environment. It effortlessly holds our attention as it unhurriedly switches from humor (admirable here in its ability to cross cultural boundaries) to banality to suspense and politics. I can hardly believe it's a debut feature, and yet I can: it's the sort of picture which says loudly and uniquely, here I am! I have things on offer you won't find elsewhere, and it doesn't matter if all the parts add up. Though I rather think they do.
13. The Assassin (Nie yin niang)
"Birds sing only to their own kind."
In seventh-century China, a female assassin is tasked with killing a political leader with whom she has a history. Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. China Trailer.
More than one critic has said this film does things you won't have seen in films elsewhere, and I agree. It doesn't feel like a film, for one, but nor does it seem quite like anything else, especially not other wuxia genre works in either film or book form. Hou Hsiao Hsien's entry into the field (wuxia is a Chinese genre of martial-chivalric fiction) is almost entirely comprised of meditative stillnesses, which in their own way are as enrapturing as the brief accents of martial arts which punctuate them. We wonder at what goes on in Qi Shu's head as we puzzle together the narrative, looking for clues while falling prey to the film's ruminant, prayerful spell. Aside from one scene in 1.85:1 widescreen, Hou shoots in a more squarish 1.4:1 ratio, offering a different kind of picturesque and employing stillness for things we expect to be addressed by sound and fury. The spaces between the notes are what interests him.
12. 45 Years
"I'd like to be able to tell you everything I'm thinking. But I can't."
News of a former lover's death starts a process of unraveling in an otherwise stable marriage. Directed by Andrew Haigh, with Charlotte Rampling. Trailer.
Andrew Haigh is not in his eighties, nor even his seventies. He's only forty-three. How does he understand so acutely the troubles these two characters generations older than he are having? How does he grasp so perfectly the specific pace of life at that age, the currents beneath the surface, and how what is unspoken carries just as much weight as what is? Ah, we must remember experience is only one way of accumulating knowledge....
This piece magnetizes. We all spend a lot of time thinking about relationships, and whether we realize it consciously or not, I think we know we are often underserved by the cinema, in that films about relationships are generally only about the beginnings of relationships. This one goes further, and builds to a climax of such unspoken raw power as to have my jaw on the floor.
"Why are we hesitating?"
Based on the Boston Globe's landmark journalism which ultimately uncovered global abuse of children within the Catholic Church. Directed by Tom McCarthy, with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and others. Trailer.
Spotlight wasn't the best picture of the year, but it's probably a good thing it won the award. Like Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave or Spielberg's Schindler's List, this is a film that should be required viewing for every World Citizen. The direction is nothing flashy, and the cinematography is simple and journeymanlike; but oh, the content. There are truths we simply need to know about. Singer and McCarthy's script (an inarguably well-deserved Oscar win) is a piece of perfection, and it's edited with propulsive skill and performed with across-the-board excellence. Liev Schreiber's scruffy, taciturn introvert is a treat, and Mark Ruffalo's monologue on the porch with Rachel McAdams is a thing of heartrending beauty.
Also compelling is the journeyman aesthetic of the filmmaking as a corollary to the attitudes of the players: the journalists in this film aren't portrayed as heroes, but just people doing their jobs, and well. Some of the films above are tough to recommend (don't subject yourself to Assassin or Hard...God unless you're in the right mood!), but this picture will play meaningfully for anyone. This is an unassuming masterpiece.
Check back soon for the rest of the list, and hopefully enough film recommendations to last a year!
The Birthday Speech
It is my belief that I receive a disproportionate amount of goodwill and love from the world. I am hugely, overwhelmingly thankful for every day of this. I also believe time is the most valuable commodity of all, and for all you (over a hundred plus!) fine folks who set aside time, who made time and took the effort to attend my "First and Last Birthday Party," as it were, I'm simply unable to express my gratitude adequately. I hardly know what I've done to be on the receiving end of such an avalanche of kindness. Thank you all! We help each other into who we are, and I'm so glad to know each of you.
Did you miss the party? No worries– you didn't miss the speech! Click here for a video of me telling a bus story on the roof of the Nolo...
Walking Home, With a Grin
"Hey, come on in," I said.
"You leavin' now?"
"Can you hang on one second? My moms is goin' to the bathroom on the side of the bus."
"Hold up. What? Where?!"
"Don't look! Don't look!"
"Dude, I gotta roll. I'm gonna roll out."
"She's almost done! What time you s'posta leave?"
"Shoulda been a minute ago already."
"Okay. Okay. Well can you hang on just one second, she almost finished–"
"Better be number one not number two!"
"Ay yo Moms! He's leavin', we gotta go! Step up!"
At this point, sitting here at the Rainer Beach layover just before 1am, I opened all the doors. She stepped on through the middle door, looking sweaty, flushed, and very relieved. "Thank you so much, mister bus driver," she breathed, and they settled in on the otherwise empty bus as I reflected. He, a working-class fellow of indeterminate race just approaching middle age, and myself had both appealed to the good we each assumed the other had in order to get what we wanted. He didn't try to strong-arm me into a decision, but with his tone cajoled my better angels, asking me to consider them as fellow humans like myself. We all have to go to the bathroom. My 'number two' comment was said in a laughing voice, letting him know I felt the same, reminding him of my own priorities without disregarding his. Tone means everything. There are many ways to recite the above exchange, and we did it genially, with no sharpness or raised voices.
"Thank you," he said now, and she echoed the sentiment. To her he added, "he did more than I would expect."
"Yeah. He's one of the nice ones. 'Member that time they was fighting, all a them over there? He let me ride to get away from them. He a good dude."
"He do more than ah would expect."
"I do what I can," I exclaimed. "I try!"
"Naw, you're good," she replied. "You know– hol' up, I'm a come sit up here fo' a second."
"Oh yeah," I said.
"You let people ride when they down and out, in between checks."
"'Cause sometimes you gotta know, people be about to get they check, or they're gettin' they bills paid, and it's all they can do to go up and refill the Orca card!"
"They're makin' the effort,"
"Yeah, they're makin' the effort all over they lives, payin' rent, waitin' for the next check to fill up they card. I'm tryna take the bus uptown to go fill up my Orca card, and some bus driver she say, NO! You can't do that! Like that. They won't even let you go do that! How I'm s'possed to make my way!"
"Well, I try to make up for those guys,"
"It ain't right. They jus' don't know what it's like."
"Oh I do know though, 'cause I ride the bus all the time, and I see that! I know that feeling!"
"You're a good dude," called out the man, as they both stood to leave. "Thank you so–"
"You guys are great!" They were on the sidewalk now, but we continued talking. No one was around. God bless you, she was saying.
"Dude." I leaned toward them. "It's people like you bein' nice, is how I love this job. I love this job 'cause of people like yourselves, all of us treating each other–"
She said, "we love you, man! You make people's lives better every day, don't even know!"
He said, "Check this out. She's a mom, a dad, and she works at the cleaner's,"
"That's three jobs right there!" I quipped. She grinned in rueful knowingness.
"So what if she's short one dollar? She doin' alla that, and she short two dollars?"
"Exactly. That's it. You said it."
They walked away together still talking, kicking pebbles on the curb, almost home. I watched them get smaller in my mirror. I don't think they thought they'd feel as loved, as embraced by their community, from that short bus ride, as much as they were now.
"We wanna go forward, not backward! Works better that way," I muttered to myself and anyone listening. I prefer when the bus rolls forward. We were doing the famed (in my head, anyway) midnight trip on the 7, headed out to Rainier Beach. The traction motor kicked in, and all was well. "Alright, time to to go home!"
"Ah heard that!" grunted the elderly gentleman to my right. Above his thick white grizzle of a mustache were two clear blue eyes, still piercing, alive, ever studying the world around him. Never too late to learn. Some faces intrigue with beauty or charisma. It was his attention to his surroundings which drew me; here was a man who stayed open. He'd been watching me from the chat seat, and I hadn't known how to strike up conversation. Now was the perfect opportunity.
"How was your day today?"
That could mean so many things. "Right on."
"I sell Real Change," he explained, somehow reading the inquisitiveness in my mind.
"Oh, where at, where's your spot?"
"Corner a Fourth and Pike up there." Imagine his gravelly bass voice, decades of wisdom, cigarettes, or both.
"Oh. That's a great spot, high profile."
"Yeah, I been there thirteen years."
"Oh excellent! That's a tough gig. Though you would know better than I,"
"It takes a lot."
"I got a lotta respect for the folks down there." I spoke on my involvement as a volunteer there, and my making the 2013 Vendor of the Year film for the organization. "Willie's great. Tricia's a doll. They're great people." He concurred. I marveled at how long he'd been selling. "Thirteen years!"
"Yeah, that used to be Rite Aid there on the corner," he said, wistfully. Yes, we were getting wistful about Rite Aid! "I'd flirt with the ladies." He added almost sheepishly: "that was a long time ago!"
"There's a way to do that diplomatically," I smiled back. He seemed like the diplomatic type.
"We had fun."
Isn't it a wonderful thing to witness, the gradual freeing of a personality, layers peeled back willingly, as a person gets more comfortable? The body and soul realizing, this is a friendly space. He wanted to share further, trusting I'd be interested. I was.
"Hey," he said, "they're having this photo exhibit of Real Change vendors goin' up at City Hall."
"And I'll be among them. Forty-five portraits or so–"
"I'm so glad they're doin' that–"
"Woman by the name of Susan came and took my picture today,"
"Oh how was that?"
"Went real well!"
"I'm talkin' to a celebrity right here!"
"Well," he enthused, leaning forward, "you know, Robin Williams came by once."
"Yeah, he bought the paper. We got to talkin' about bicycles. He was always really into bikes,"
"And he said, 'lemme see if I have some real change.' Diggin' in his pockets, you know."
"Yeah. Wow. That makes me think highly of him, that he bought the paper."
"Yeah well, he was always pro-homeless."
"Ugh, that's great. That's great. Some people just really get it."
He pointed out his home as he prepared to leave us. "I live over there. I got on four years ago, been there three and a half years."
"Congratulations. That's a big deal!"
His blue eyes twinkled in the darkness as he replied. "Oh, you know it!"
The Man Game and How to Beat It
For the sake of illustration, this is a monologue I wrote years ago. It was included as part of a piece in my 2013 solo show at Blindfold Gallery. Two men are working late hours cleaning a lab, and one of them pontificates as follows.
"I call it the Man Game. The Man Game is when you and another man meet for the first time. You're a dude. You and your girl go to someone's house, a friend of your girlfriend's. This friend of hers is a woman, and that woman has a boyfriend. Great. The two of you get introduced. For a split second he's nice, on the outside, saying nice to meet you. Then the Man Game begins. He asks you what you're into. You better be into something awesome. He'll make it seem like it's not. He needs to prove he's cooler than you. He'll off-handedly mention that he works at a glass-blowing place. Or that he has his own studio loft. Or that he owns two limousines or whatever the hell thing he can think of that's cooler than what you said. He probably actually does these things, too. They always end up doing man stuff. They play football. He'll phrase it in such a way that it makes him the alpha top dawg male he-man on campus, which is exactly what he's going for. It's the man game. He's trying to out-man you. You, don't flinch. How you win the man game is by not caring what he says, but not showing it either. Fake sympathy or awe, but also make clear that you don't really give a shit. Say, that's kinda cool. It'll break him in half. He can't show it though, because if he does it comes off as petulant and he instantly loses the man game for being too emotional and insecure. Of course, that's exactly what he is, insecure, since he’s playing the motherfucking Man Game in the first place. Make him more insecure by being secure in yourself. Be confident, but don't feel like you need prove it. Don't shove your confidence in their face– that's stupid, it's what they're doing. Just be quietly confident. Like they can't touch you. Your disarming lack of a need to try to stomp all over them will do something, as will the fact that you know they're playing the Man Game, and you play it back to them in a more confident and subtle way. Ask them for details. Do they like what they do. This does the unfortunate thing of humanizing them and causing them to talk about real emotions, which they hate. Or let them think you're a boy, someone without accomplishments, for just a little bit, while you ask them about their bullshit, and then tie their shit into some great shit that you’ve done. Oh yeah, that reminds me of this, how I'm the first guy to ever land on the moon, or some shit. Watch them shut the fuck up."
"So they got you on the 7," said this hulking figure, grinning through a mild haze of diminished motor skills masquerading as coolness. Many people on the 7 have seen me before, but I was new to this man, a fellow in his thirties dressing like he was still sitting in the back row of a high school classroom: black jacket and pants large enough for me to use as sleeping bags, with a flat-billed cap and untied skaters.
"That's my route!" I replied.
His grin, turning to a smirk, looking down as he stood above me. Who's this skinny white boy, said his gaze, and how far out of his depth is he, out here at Orcas during the late night. He put in his starting bid for the Man Game.
"You got a taste of some of the 'hood brothas yet?"
"Well," I said, smiling, pausing, going for the truthful response: "I'm from South Central LA."
"What parta LA?"
"South Central, South Gate."
"Oh cool! What part?"
I withheld laughter. That's like saying, 'I'm from Rainier Beach!' 'What part?' 'Duvall!'"
"All over," he continued. "We lived in Watts,"
Which is in fact in the 'hood. "Oh yeah, by the Towers,"
"Um, uh," he said. "Yeah."
"We were little bit east in South Gate, just up and over from Compton airport."
It's possible he knew what the Pasadena comment sounded like, and he thus continued mumbling for a while, doing his best to present himself as So Ruff, So Tuff. I listened and replied. I forget the details, but they weren't terribly memorable. He asked my heritage, and I mentioned the Korean element.
"Yeah, you know, I'm black," he replied.
You almost wanted to hug the guy, he was trying so hard. No actual African or African-American would have tolerated such a line. There's a difference between a lifetime wrestling with the worst parts of this country's legacy and, um, getting a killer tan on Hermosa Beach.... Only to me could he get away with it, but it got me thinking how insecure he must have felt. Most forms of overt masculinity are so deeply tied to insecurity it's almost easier to think of them as the same thing. Somehow he and I got to talking about schooling.
"Learning is good though," he said, after I'd enthused how happy I am to be over and done with college. His comment was mildly unexpected, because enthusiasm for learning requires admittance that one is not supremely knowledgeable, which requires at least some security, or confidence, in oneself. More shades of him were coming to the fore.
"It is, I wanna stay sharp, stay open," I was saying.
"'Cause if you ain't learnin', ain't smart, I don' wanna talk to you."
"I can always learn something from the folks around me, doesn't matter who it is," I said, steering by way of agreement.
He watched me interact with the passengers, many of whom know me. There are advantages to doing the same route for years. You become a part of the neighborhood. "You cool," he said after a while. "But you gotta stop messin' with those females."
He wasn't speaking about the passengers, all of whom at this hour were male. I was having lady troubles at the time, but hadn't said word one about it.
I looked at him. "How did you KNOW that?"
"I see you, good lookin', wit' the hair and shit. I coul' tell you get around. Hey. You know what you remind me of?"
"Who? Don't say Doogie Howser!"
"Naw, man, I wasn't gonna say that shit."
"A Jehovah's Witness."
"A Jehovah's Witness?"
"Yeah. You know any Jehovah's Witnesses?"
I had no clue where this is going. "Um, one uh my best buddies used to be one, but other than–"
"I'm a Jehovah's Witness," he said.
"Oh right on. Yeah, one of my friends, he's good people. He grew up as one."
"They're the only true people."
"No other people deserves to be in heaven, they're the only true followers of the Lord."
"Oh, right on."
"So what's your type?"
"What's your type? Uh female?"
Oh, Lord have mercy. We're not about to have this conversation. I answer with the shortest possible reply that's still true: "thin." He nevertheless managed to find this incredulous and fascinating.
"Thin? You say thin?"
"You like 'em thin?" He said it as if I must be certifiably insane, which given the societal bent on the subject was refreshing. He would've gotten along with odalisque painters of the 1800s.
"Yeah, thin, man, that's my thing." No elaboration, no specifics, we're not going down this road… but this is tricky now. Changing back to the former subject wouldn't really work either, since religion on the bus is not a good idea. Time for the old standby. "You been in Seattle a long time?"
"Yeah." Slowly, he tries to count the years. Then: "Hey. I'ma catch the 2, go to Madrona. Do you talk to your mom a lot?"
"Yeah, she's cool. She's great, they're great. Yeah, I stay in touch. I think that's important."
"Yeah, moms are cool." Again, not what I was expecting. "'Sept sometimes they be tellin' you how to do stuff, gettin' up in your bizness."
"Well sometimes it's a tough love kinda thing, their way a showin' they believe in you."
"Hey. I think I'ma go to Capitol Hill, get somethin' to eat. Go to Dick's. Iss crazy of all the routes, they put you on the 7."
"I pick it by choice!"
"Yeah, it really does it for me. Reminds a little of LA, to be honest."
"You know the bible?"
"Book of Revelation, man, Mark of the Beast. The Mark of the Beast!"
"You know the Book of Revelation, the stuff they say in there? That shit's gonna happen in our lifetimes."
All civilizations throughout all of human history have all believed they were living during the End Times. Not the right time to say that one aloud though....
I said, "oh yeah?"
"While we're alive."
"The Mark of the Beast."
"So this is the stop for Dick's."
"Well, you turn?" Do I really have to leave?
"Naw man, I'm goin' straight. Where you tryna go?" Yes, it's that time.
"Oh, I'll get out here then." If you insist.
I mentally shook my head as he slunk away. Walking contradiction didn't come close to covering it. More like the all-singing, all-dancing conflicting conflating opposing primordial ooze of the world! From his disparate moods and ideas was enough soup to make the fully formed opinions of five people who could never stand each other.
But are we so different? Am I? I look at photos of myself as a child and yearn for simplicity. In the same breath I read Nichomachean Ethics and work on James Joyce. I watch harsh, brutal films about the worst parts of the human psyche, then bounce off the walls smiling at everybody outside. I'm righteously repulsed by advertising yet brainwashed by it just the same; I talk seriously about meditation in the same breath as I have a great time at certain very head-banging concerts... and incredibly, I can reconcile all of this such that I actually think I'm reasonable! Well adjusted! Can you believe it? In what strange world would that be?
Like him, it all makes sense within my mind. He was a slinking reminder to go easy on others. We're all still figuring it out, studying the shades of who we are, exercising the different and valid sides of ourselves, some of which don't need to reconciled so neatly. We all have our sharp and beveled edges. The Earth turns, and the night is fully and utterly night, and yet half a turn later it is incontrovertibly and completely day. You wouldn't want it to forgo one of those for the mere sake of consistency, now would you?
Napoli, Part II
I really love this place. More from that strange corner of the world which contains all that is glorious and terrible about contemporary human life. The experience was a rich, overwhelming avalanche of color and chaos, grit and verve, crumbling infrastructure and resilient positivity. Most tourists in Italy don't travel south of Rome, or if they do skip right over Naples to Pompeii and the beaches; for that reason I'm including a lot of images (all raw 35mm scans) here. You won't find these alleys photographed much elsewhere.
For a more clear understanding of the machinations of the city's underbelly, I recommend Robert Saviano's excellent and explosive non-fiction text, Gomorrah, (like the Mafia, but larger, more dangerous, and less well known) or the Matteo Garrone's sobering film adaptation of the same. The fact that the Saviano text even exists is something of a miracle.
Napoli, Part I
I know you came here expecting a story, but I want to share a bit of what I do when I'm not driving the ol' 7. Here are sixty or so images from Naples and the areas surrounding it– a bizarre cocktail of ancient tranquil beauty and by far the most dangerous slums I've gotten away with photographing. There were great people populating the entirety of this spectrum, and the light shone through trees, markets, and decaying buildings without judgment. I endeavored to do the same.
As you may know by now, my photographs feature no digital enhancement; these are all uncorrected raw negative scans of 35mm. There's a lot more where these came from– look for a similarly sized helping in the next day or two!
Hope you enjoy them!
Photo by Holli Margelli.
Another interview I wanted to share– this time with Holli Margelli, the photographer of holliwithani.com, as well as founder of the Seattle Shines project– you might recognize some of my photographs there.
Click here for the interview!
Heard Him Say
"How's it goin'," he said, the twenty-first century version of "hello." Words may change, but intentions hold steady. I was leaving the comfort station at Rainier & Henderson, and we recognized each other on the dimly lit sidewalk. He's a touch shorter than me and likely a touch younger, at the intersection between stocky and thin, normally with a fierce-looking pitbull in tow. Tonight he was alone, a twenty-something African-American man, wearing a turquoise pullover hoodie with his hair tied back in a bun.
"Hey! Oh hey, man!" I said.
"Hey, I got mah own place!"
"What? No way!"
Look at the glow in his eyes. "Yeah,"
"I's just' bout to say I hadn't seen you in a while!"
"Yeah, in Renton. Right offa Maple Valley."
"Dude! That's awesome!"
"I haven't been bringin' her out as much." Referring to his pitbull.
"I was about to ask,"
"Yeah, 'cause it's cold, people be thinkin' I'm a bad parent. But I don't have to go… I'm not at the Aloha Inn no more."
I shook my head in a big grin, arms clasped behind my head. The nights are getting warmer, and my year-round choice of uniform (long-sleeve button-up with sleeves rolled-up, no jacket; accept no substitutes!) felt comfortable in the evening breeze. I was reflecting on his tone as he pronounced "Aloha Inn," the sort of rueful familiarity one wishes to be over and done with. Those of us familiar with Aurora Avenue know the Aloha Inn is no place to retire.
"Yeah, so you don't have to go all the way up there– this is so great!"
"I'm on Benson Road," he exclaimed. "The 169."
"The 169 yeah,"
"Right by Fred Meyer–"
"Fred Meyer's right there, that's perfect. Dude. Congratulations!"
We pounded fists, and our eyes met again. I was hardly more than a stranger to him, just the friendly 7 driver, but he wanted to let me know he mattered, that he was back amongst the land of the living. His was a voice of both yearning and enthusiasm, a cry from the heart that he was better than the states I've seen him in before, and his new circumstances proved it. Homelessness and the cloaks of invisibility and judgment it brings can make a soul feel hardly human. The words may have been about his apartment and his dog, but the import was larger, richer.
In his handshake I heard him say: I too have dreams and principled goals, and like you I have expended valiant effort in the name of those goals, and I am afloat again, staying above water in our messy world. I know how to swim.
I am somebody.
I love listening, but I also love talking to people. A lot. Urban Designer Scott Bonjukian was kind enough to interview me at length for his blog on a wide range of topics. Check out CascadiaCast, Episode 6!