On the sidewalk tonight in Rainier Beach, just outside the Comfort Station and between the bus and myself, is a cluster of three men, ranging from perhaps thirty-five to fifty-five. It's dark out, they're all wearing black, their skin is dark, their eyes are dark– but I can still see the glint of light in their pupils. How is it, that it's never too dim to see that spark?
Two of them are East Africans, and the third is African-American. Although these two ethnicities tend not to intermingle, this trio seems to be getting along just fine. The third man, the American, is dressed in a black cape and tights. After I greet them all he tells me in a tipsy voice how much I remind him of a TV personality he knows. "Look it up on your Google," he says, adjusting his cape. I recognize the Africans and we all shake hands. One of them is Dealer One, and the other is Elbee. In the way that politicians need to do a little gladhanding to get votes, I need to do a little acknowledging to keep up the decorum, and be able to go to and from my bus without worry. Kindness is stronger than a bulletproof vest.
"Warriors, come out to play-ee-ay," the caped man is saying.
I don't know how to respond except, "You watch a lotta movies! Movies and TV."
"The Warriors, I remember that. 1987. Or was it 1979?"
"Naw man, I've lived it. I've lived it. Seal Team Six. We went anywhere, over water, under water, didn't matter."
"Respect. Thanks for serving." The important thing right now is stay on the good side of these fine fellows.
"But we had a Black Hawk Down, man." The husky storytelling voice. "We couldn't get there fast enough. Couldn't get there, Mogadishu, Somalia. Black Hawk Down, man, the rotor blades spun out flat."
"I remember. 1993."
"Oh! Yes!" Says Dealer One, who's Somalian himself. By his tone I can see he remembers the event.
"The rotor blades spun out flat," Superman says to Elbee, leering a bit into him. I'm thinking, that's not really a sentence that makes sense to a non-native English speaker. Does Elbee have any idea what this guy is saying?
"Yeah. October," Elbee says. October 1993.
Somehow, a feeling of solidarity swept over us. We realized we all knew of the significant event Superman was discussing. Across the street in the Saar's supermarket parking lot, the Tchaikovsky tinned out from the loudspeakers. A Korean kid and three black guys...two Americans and two Africans...how ever you wanted to shake it, there were four people standing next to a garbage can on Rainier Avenue around midnight, nodding and smiling in a forgotten corner of our great city, accomplished in the the humble feat of understanding each other.
As I walked away I thought, how lovely, that these men, ostensibly on opposing sides of the former conflict of which they speak, understand that they themselves are not countries but individuals, and have no cause to quarrel.