1992, bus stop, Larkin and Hayes, waiting for the 21 Hayes outbound. Black jeans, black shirt, charcoal gray sport jacket, black shades on top of your head of jet-black hair. Khaki canvas book bag; black Converse hightops; tiny gold hoop in one ear or the other, you forget which. Shoulder against the wall of the Civic Auditorium, book in your left hand, purple felt pen in your right: Nicos Poulantzas on Fascism and the state.
A local junky is working the captive audience. Short: five foot two, close-cropped hair, tight leather pants, black tanktop. Skin blacker than black, like burnt paper. Trickle of shiny snot runs glistening from each nostril, reflects the afternoonlight, golden and pink. Her hands are shaking: she'll be in pain soon.
You give her a dollar. This is her only success with this crowd, and, far from being pleased with any good fortune, she turns on you bitterly.
"There you are, Mr. Cool Man, lookin' like a million bucks" — and here she stabs you weakly with a pointed index finger. Perhaps this was intended to become a streetcorner tirade, but she's already lost her train of thought.
To her shock you take hold of her outstretched hand, capturing it firmly yet gently in one of yours. Her eyes widen. She's expecting you to hurt her: pull her fingers back, or twist her wrist. But of course you do nothing like that. You just want her attention. You look intently into each other's eyes.
"Sweet pea," you tell her. "If I had a million bucks, I promise I would not be standing here waiting for the 21 Hayes." Snickers from the captive audience, who haven't yet figured out this scene, but are pleased to see the little junky dealt some grief.
You press a second dollar into her palm and tell her, intently, "Your life sucks. Clean up. I did." You give her hand a squeeze for emphasis.
The bus arrives. She pulls herself together. "I am not your sweet pea, motherfuck."
You nod. "Give yourself time," you say. You're struggling to resist the need to burst out laughing at the shock on her face. As you climb into the bus she looks at you as though you're the craziest and most dangerous street person in the city.
Race, class, power, and especially gender. This could never have happened if she weren't female. A man would have tried to kill me if I touched him. And anyway I wouldn't have wanted to.
Good and evil. The commuter types were pleased when they thought I was going to physically harm this poor lost soul.
The pointlessness of charity. There are no individual solutions to social evils.