Just Me

Yesterday, I took advantage of the brilliant fall day and walked around the neighborhood. As I made my first pass around the closed-loop of one block, two young kids were shooting hoops in the middle of the street. I waved and watched them creatively and competitively trash talk one another. If their shooting skills were half as good as their verbal sparring, they’d be NBA stars. A few minutes later, as I made the corner again, I saw they were still there. I took off my headphones and told them I could make a shot from anywhere as I backed away to the opposite side of the street. Both kids looked at each other, wondering if they could trash talk me. “I used to play basketball professionally. My free throw average was almost perfect.” The kid with the ball bounced the ball toward me. Luckily, I caught it without falling over. I bounced the ball two or three times and then took the stance of someone about to do a small jump shot. “I can do this with my eyes closed, guys.” The smaller boy seemed intrigued. “Show us what you got then!” At the last second, I moved from a jump shot position to holding the ball granny style, with the ball between my legs and underhandedly threw the basketball up into the air. I missed the net – and the backboard by at least two feet. “Don’t believe everything you hear, okay?” I said and laughed. Both the boys laughed. “You suck big time!” I nodded. “Yes, I do.” The taller boy asked me what my name was. “Danny DeVito.” As I walked away, both of them took a few moments to trash talk me instead of each other.

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The morning after I found out my brother died, I pulled over to the sidewalk near Turnbow Park and Shiloh Square on Emma. It was still very early. I sat sipping the horrible cup of coffee I’d bought and cursing my misfortune with the coffee lottery. Even at four in the morning, I noticed a young Latino man in the common area. He had a phone and seemed to be meandering aimlessly. As I made a call, he approached in a zigzag pattern. It didn’t concern me, as I’m generally oblivious to the possibility of danger. That area of Emma is brightly-lit and easily observable. As I put down my phone, the young man unexpectedly came up to the car and attempted to open the passenger door. I rolled down the passenger window. His English was choppy and hard to understand, so I asked him in Spanish what was wrong. As it turned out, he was waiting on a ride. When I offered to take him wherever he wanted to go, he hesitated and almost took me up on the offer. I can’t explain exactly how something was off about him; he might have been fatigued, or maybe he was distressed. As he walked away, I realized I should have pushed harder to make sure he was okay. It didn’t occur to me until later that things could have gone wrong for me.

Through the years, I’ve given many rides to people that most wouldn’t. A couple of times, I think the person was capable of doing harm. But I always ask myself what it would be like for me to be in their shoes. It’s likely that on a long enough timeline, I’m going to make the wrong choice.
But I will still do it.

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Whoever you are and wherever you are, I hope you have a moment to consider that if you are in the majority, you have less to be concerned about than those who aren’t. If you’re white, straight, and Christian, you are shielded to a degree that many others aren’t. Politics isn’t just what we argue about on social media and do in the voting booth. Politics affects our ability to live freely. It’s easy to tell others to be more carefree about politics. For many, each election is a referendum on whether they’ll be enjoying the same rights as others. In this country, women, blacks, and others were literally and legally assigned a lesser role and value. No matter how perfectly we design our system of government, a faction will always be misusing it to target people who are vulnerable. All of you who are tired of politics should remember to shout for the person next to you at the table, just as if he or she is your brother and sister.

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