Tuesday, October 5, 2010

African Bee

Sports isn't my subject, so it wasn't too hard to take it when the Steelers lost the football game. I can't remember who they lost to. My buds thrilled to the game while it was going well, and I was able to get with the program. The defeat didn't seem to register with the goup, either, or at least not for more than a few minutes, and it was directly back to beer and some dinner soon as the bad news dropped.

It had been a decent afternoon with the gang, then it was necessary to walk to the bus stop nearest their shanty just below the Hill District. There's some steep hiking down hills and bedraggled city steps, and then, as occaision conforms, there are football related reconoiterings that go with people in the inner city.

Football was the main switch to realization that afternoon, but there was also the martial arts leaching out of the universal tea leaves in the air and into cognitive steaming water. I start remembering my martial arts moves when I'm in fear of being jumped.

The Dragon Ice Company always comes to mind when I walk past the ice factory on Herron Avenue. All it is is a warehouse with no windows and a lot of loading docks, some trucks with the company signs on it, and a billbaord advertising ice sculpture in front. It's flank is right along the road way, with just a few feet broadsided in steel fence between the pavement the bricks, so there isn't enough room to have Asians shooing ice blocks, like in the Bruce Lee flick. But it has a sober, work-a-day look, off set down the hill from the projects, so it corresponds pretty nicely to an old Korean action film,in my opinion.

Passing the ice factory, on it's corridor leading to Polish Hill, the next joy is the underpass bored out under Bigelow Boulevard. Nice as it was to get out of the rain, the underpass is a perfect place to get mugged, lending crooks a hand with the blind angles and remoteness. The stairs down and up are cleverly bent off from the tunnel, for modern mimimalist municipal styling. There were no junkies, no shining white pot heads sharing an experience in the tunnel, just me in my thin rayon rain coat and brim. Just the same, it was edgy.

It was chilly, and it was raining on my brand new hat. It's a woodsy outdoorsman's hat with thin canvas band stitched in loops to hold lures and amunition. A lot of the brothers are wearing the exact same replica. They cost ten bucks each at the Broadway Army Navy Store, which is where people in my part of town shop. The rest of their outfits come from a patchwork of store fronts that sell hoodies and jeans and bling. I get the rest of my gear from Walmart or K-mart or Haband dot com. But I think the hat is enough to convince people that I'm not all the way distant. Pooled up water was still dripping off the wide brim minutes after I got to the bus stop.

Uncomfortably close by discomfiture's cultivated standards, it was really a normal distance from me to the two young African American men. The two came along the curving blacktop above and trotted down the concete steps folded between the Herron Avenue Bridge and the busway underneath, cold rain keeping their heads down, hoods over their ball caps. Both young men appeared to have legs too short for their torsos, but this is largely an optical illusion performed by having their jeans belted below their buns. Praise Jesus, they all wear tennis shorts to cover the jewels, and most wear hoodies to flump over their shorts, so they're not immodest. I wish a few of them would spit less often.

Hardly a weather vane, I couldn't tell if they were sizing me up for a robbery, but since both got on the bus when it finally came, they probably weren't planning it, or were thinking better of trying anything with this bird. I'm the nervous type that you gotta watch.

First the more muscular of the two sat down on the bench about seven feet from me, which is, in polite circles, more than enough personal space. But not when you are worried about the veracity of your kung fu training. The tall thin one in the wide checked hoodie stood for a moment,then sat down, then got up again. Both men kept looking at me, and I kept my eyes down below the dripping brim.

I couldn't tell if the stocky one was trying to be freindly or if he was testing for my level of fear, but he looked right at me and struck up a conversation. He had been working on his Blackberry, and he turned to me and said, "They oughta' install plugs right here," indicating on the brick wall behind the steel benches. I didn't know what he was talking about, and at first, agreed that would be a good idea, while visualizing a fire hydrant installed in one of the few places where nothing was flamable.

The man had a difficult smile to read, looked like he was either part Mexican or Native American, and this can add some rough angles to comprehension among strangers. He also had what could be assessed as an angry disposition, chumming in gracious cultural nuances that may wish to dissent that nervous perception. It was either just the way the guy looked, or else he was doing the anger test to see if I could be scared into chumming over cash and valuables. I affected the most pleasant look I could work up for the occaission. The man began clarifying his position.

"If they put plugs in this bus stop right here, people could charge their phones," he said, indicating his Blackberry. Looked like there were a lot of aps on it, and I was tempted to take the relationship a step further by asking about them. I almost asked if he could do WordPad on the phone, but reconsidered it as probably too patronizing and goodie two shoes.

I started to realize what the man meant, he thought they should install electric outlets, and it's a perfectly good idea. Upon realizing that I had mispercieved his idea, I began explaining that it took a moment to realize what he was saying, and that an electic plug right there would be a good thing. Then I tried to realign attention to the sidewalk, water drops still falling off the brim.

The bus was taking forever because this was happening on a Sunday. Self conscious and worried, I tried to look pleasant and prepared for combat at the same time, tactfully checking for signs of a forthcoming attack. After a few minutes of this, the heavier man with the Blackberry jumped up off the steel bench, darted straight at the skinny man standing on the other side of him, and he started swiping open hand at his friend's black and white check hoodie. "There's a bee on you. You gotta get that thing off of you."

The bee bounced on the wet sidewalk over to the curb, landed on it's back, and worked its legs in the air, stunned, and with two soggy wings. It struggled there, all three of us looking down at it. It occured to me to go forward and step on it, but I remembered that bees are becoming an endangered species, possibly because of a billion irradiating cell phones. I also remembered that I grew up in the white middle class, where people lay guilt trips on you about social responsibility and kindness. While I was gathering wool about the differences in upbringings and socializations that were attendant at the bus stop, the man with the Blackberry stepped forward and tamped the yellowjacket to death with the tip of his Nike. "What's a bee doing coming in here?" he asked me, like white people are probably more up on entymology than he and his pal.

I dare say I probably am, but then the young man with the phone was obviously better adapted to technology. I don't have a Blackberry, just a boxy desk top at home. The black man has mobile internet. "It was probably just getting out of the rain," I said.

This was probably too much cross-over from the street to the college campus for this type of encounter. I could picture some old pedant from the university explaining that the bee probably wouldn't have stung the thin man, it may have just been seeking warmth on a cold, raining afternoon. The bus finally showed up before we all started emoting, praise God.

The bus ride from Polish Hill to downtown was uneventful, and the number eight was on it's way there when I got to Penn Ave. It was mostly packed, with a couple open seats up front. I sat alone on one of specialized seats for old folks, in between a triad of black men, all talking about the Pitt football game. These men were working class. You could tell.

"There ain't no quarterback." one of the men said, smiling, practically hooting. The guy was tall, well dressed, well proportioned, muscles neatly defined.

"That's Wanstadt's fault, He didn't put in the right quarterback."

the man on the right corner said, sitting directly opposite from me.

"They don't got no quarterback, It stunk up the game." said the tall man who had spoken first, the three men laughing and nodding at each other.

A heavy set man on a seat down added, "It don't matter that Pitt won, cause they was playing a nobody team, so it don't make 'em look major league. They was amteur."

"That's cause they ain't got no quarterback." the second in the triangle agreed.

"You can't stay a winning team with all field goals." one of them said.

"Okay, they got a place kicker. So what. A real team would crush that rookie."

Talking, laughing, smiling, taking their voices all sorts of places when they talked, I wasn't even close to saying anything about football. I can barely keep up with the talk at my friend's place where they watch Sunday football. Just the same, the spirit was there for anyone to plug into, even without having to know exactly what was said. It was feeling good to be somewhere in the middle of the black working class.

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