Saturday, September 05, 2015


David and I are sitting at Caffe Vita, next to the windows, where I watch an old man using tweezers to trim his beard. He holds a small round magnifying mirror and I keep expecting him to tilt it and catch me. He's engrossed though, only interrupted by the pigeons, which he flicks away with his bony black arm. I sit on the other side of the glass and wonder about using black as a descriptor. I wouldn't think to use white, were it so. When I describe someone who isn't of color, I notice their hair, their size, their shape. Maybe I mention freckles, or a birthmark, but usually skin is noted for race and race is noted when it's other than white. I find this surprising and disturbing. You could chalk it up to numbers, a matter of majority, but I think it's more insidious. 

The old man with the tweezers pulls my eye again. The brim of his dented fedora hides most of his face. This time his arm waves, more circular and grand, but I see no pigeons in my periphery. He is speaking with animation, turning his head so I can see his profile. I assume he's talking to the air, or someone only he can see. I assume this because he's still mid-tweeze, and because I believe him to be a little crazy, and poor, and possibly homeless (although he has a raggedy old pocket-sized notebook in his shirt pocket and there is a folded green bill sticking out). I ask myself why I assume these things. Is it because he has a stain on his jeans, or because he's now tweezing up around his ears, or because he's talking to the birds, even after the birds have disappeared? But then I see smoke waft into view and as I lean a little left, a tattooed hand holding a lit cigarette. Notice I don't say white tattooed hand? Interesting that the mention of skin is quite often about being other or marked in some way. Interesting that if I just lean a little left, an old crazy man becomes sane. 

The tattooed man gets up and walks toward the entrance. I remember immediately that someone wrote 'kill white men' in small pink letters on Caffe Vita's front door. I was startled by the marred wooden surface even before I absorbed the meaning. I wonder how it feels for white men to open that door today? How rare it must be for them to feel singled out in such an intimate way, on a Saturday morning before nine, at their local coffee shop.   

The old man with the tweezers has his pocket-sized notebook out. It's opened to the last page. I read what he has written. 


The first two lines are in black ink. The last in blue. I presume the last line was just written because he now waves a blue Bic at the birds. The tattooed man returns with a fresh cup of coffee and their conversation continues. 

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