BLACK AND BROWN ON THE BLUE LINE AND OTHER STORIES
BY ODIE HAWKINS
It would have been impossible to predict a Blue Line coming to live in the Los Angeles, Watts, 107th and Avalon Avenue, California that I (we, then) came to live in, back there in 1966.
In Los Angeles County, many of us, pressed by circumstances, have suffered distances that would make a camel thirsty or cause a new car to need an oil change.
There were people talking about putting trains on city tracks, no doubt. But I never heard their talks, I was too busy trying to force my raggedy ol’ car to run a few more miles. Or trying to figure out how I could walk from Belgium to Holland without peeing on myself.
(Once upon a time, stranded beside a road to Eternity, down there in Orange County, someone told me that the property I was standing in front of was as large as Luxembourg. And I had walked across most of Austria to get there).
Gotta admit it, I didn't have the vision to assume that there would ever be a railed transportation system, like our hard heeled CTA in Chicago. Certainly, nothing that would ever come close to that monstrosity that connects various tentacles of New York with itself.
The Blue Line (and it’s crossing arms, the Green and Red Lines) is unique. It doesn't go very far; surely there's more railway at Disneyland, but it does take you to different places, if your mind is open.
From the Metro station, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles, to 1st Street, Downtown Long Beach. From the end of one world to the end of another world.
Rich people do not ride the Blue Line, meaning that the Blue Line is there for people of color who are not wealthy. A hard core of White, working types ride the train in the morning, going to their jobs in downtown Los Angeles and again in the evenings.
There is a heavy police presence (the train has it's own special police force), heavy. Lots of money invested in the Blue Line and none of the investors want to lose anything because of people being afraid to ride the train, or gang warfare.
Strangely, the honor system is in effect. Signs in English, Spanish and Korean explain that each passenger should have proof of payment, if not, the penalty is a stiff fine.
No eating, drinking, smoking or outrageous behavior is permitted, and the rules are seriously enforced.
Sometimes, for days on end, riding north and south, south and north, no one will check to see who has a ticket, a transfer or a bus pass (for train travel too), but the seed of obedience to the rules has been so deeply sowed that most sensible people know that it isn't worth the gamble to try to cheat the system.
African-Americans and Spanish speaking Brown skinned people ride the Blue Line. BLACK AND BROWN ON THE BLUE LINE comes from our experiences with each other.
Babies/Infantile Thoughts (From 7th to Pico)...
Babies, so many babies. Black and Brown babies, babies with attitudes, stoic babies, squawking babies, smiling babies, drooling babies, silly babies, laughing babies, funny babies, sad babies, frightened babies, fearless babies, sick babies, healthy babies, sleeping babies, clean babies, dirty babies, spoiled babies, unspoiled babies, little babies, big babies, all beautiful.
The babies are usually carried, but often pushed into the train in a stroller by women. But, from time to time, a man enters the vehicle with a baby in his arms.
It would be emotionally dishonest to suggest that I was never attracted to babies, I think all curious people are attracted to these unusual creatures.
The Blue Line offered me my first moving study of babies; their relationship to the person (persons) they are with, their relationship to themselves and the world at large.
Sadly, I must confess that I had to be cautious about how I looked at these innocent people. In today’s evil world there are people who would do harm to babies, and I never want to be mistaken for one of them.
For that reason alone I was never able to make friends with any of the Blue Line babies. I feared the consequences of being too warm, too loving, too charmed by the babies.
Yes, that's what the world has come to. The men and women, however, who held the babies in their arms seemed to have an ambiguous attitude about friendly attention. They seem to like someone’s admiring glance or a friendly, "0, how cute she/he is,” but we were all too conscious of the mean spirits swirling around to feel totally at ease.
I sat in place, stared whenever I dared and made mental notes.
The almond eyes of an eight month old clinched eyes with me. She has an absolutely round face and head and the look of a clairvoyant. She does not blink and seems to know something.
Eight months old. What can she possible know? I'm fascinated by the intelligence of her expression. She looks more intelligent than her mother and father even.
I'm tempted to speak to her, to ask her serious questions about the world she just come from, but there is no need to disturb our telepathic communication, just to say some words.
Her mother, a small, beautifully sculpted lady, who has the profile of a face from an ancient Mayan wall notices our exchange and smiles.
Her smile seems to say, “Ahhhh yes, she is a deep child.”
I have to break the lock she has on my attention by staring out of the window for a few beats. I've had a couple of cats pull me into their psychic modes for spans of the time, the same way that the baby is doing. It's the opaqueness of their eyes, that seems to whisper everything you've ever wanted to hear.
I turn back to discover that the mother, the father and the baby have disappeared. I make a quick, surreptitious search around the train. They're not there. We haven't come to the next station, they couldn't've gotten off the train.
I’m forced to settle back and relax. Don't panic, simply the subject matter buzzing through my head that’s responsible for me imagining that I saw this baby. Just of my imagination. Yeah, right ...
"The sleepers," I dubbed them, these extraordinary beings who have developed the ability to sleep through this world's chaos. How did they learn how to do it, at such an early age? Years later, rich people spend thousands of dollars, yeh, pesos, naira, cedis, pesetas, shekels, to find gurus to teach them how to do what they do.
I stared at the baby, carefully noting the classic I-am-happy smile. Ten paces beyond it's stroller, within easy grasp of its mother's protective shielding arms, within the danger zone of a piece of social dynamite, the baby slept.
Ten of us, at least, were mentally/psychologically preparing ourselves to take the social dynamite down, if not out, if he got a micron too close to the smiling sleeper.
Fortunately, for him, he popped off at the next stop, cussin’ 'n screaming!
The ten of us (it might1ve been twenty, counting the men) breathed a sigh of pure relief. Now, we won1t have to lynch a person with problems who was threatening Baby Space. Babydom was secure.
Suzuki (the Zen guy, not the motor guy), Ferlinghetti, and the hip Alan Ginsberg, knew a lot about Zen and being cool, but what did they know about sleeping babies on the Blue Line?
Day after day, I looked up from my reading of "Them is me" and "whatever that may be, is" and stared into the sleeping awake eyes of hundreds of "sleepers.”
Don't they know what's happening in Zaire, Bosnia, Ireland, New Zealand, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Texas, Australia, Antarctica, Spain, New Jersey? Don't they realize the consequences of their sleeping?
Maybe they do, maybe they don't. We (been here much longer now) could easily rationalize what we understand about cool behavior by understanding how not behavior equates to nasty behavior. Usually.
"The Sleepers" have obviously worked themselves past all of this stuff.
They go to sleep when they're sleepy, and it's quite obvious to anyone who studies geopolitics, science, industry, economics, race relations, or any of the other Earthbound disciplines. That sleep is the ultimate solution to most of our shit.
Sad babies, funny babies, addicted babies. My daughter, Gabrielle, a mother, is responsible for revealing the natural addiction that babies are prone to suffer.
"What do you think that 2:00 A.M. feeding thing is all about?"
It makes all the sense in the world to me, this junkie pattern of behavior. They are not always hungry when they demand to be fed every four five hours, maybe it's something in the baby food.
Once again, Gabrielle points out, "Ever notice the difference between breast fed babies and bottle fed babies?"
I had to confess that I hadn't paid that much attention.
"Well, check it out. Generally speaking, the breast fed doesn't seem to need as many feedings. They sleep sounder, give their parents more rest.
"The bottle fed baby has to have it NOW! And if they don't get it? . . . Well, you’ve seen the tantrums and all of that other negative behavior.”
What's in that formula anyway? Won't it be heart rending, twenty years from now, when some independent scientist reveals the secret ingredients that hooked our babies and created a junkie mentality for the rest of our lives?
The stoic ones most often held my attention longest. What's on their minds? What are they thinking about as they stare at this world they've just recently tumbled into headfirst?
Such a sophisticated expression for a year old face. How could they have learned how to be so cool in such a short time?
The babies with attitudes (see the Mussolini jut of the jaw and the pushed out bottom lip?), the squawking babies, the drooler, the silly ones, the delighted with life laughing ones (what is in that formula?), the frightened babies, the fearless babies who will stick their hands into a Rotweiler's mouth, or whip a rattlesnake around by the tail, the sick babies, the healthy babies, the clean and dirty ones, the spoiled, unspoiled ones and the big ones, all beautiful, all delightful mysteries. What are they going to become?
They were obviously upper middle class Anglos who were being forced to ride the train, probably for the first time. It was obvious in every move they made, every glazed, blue eyed look they gave the Black and Brown people on the train.
A tall, blonde, blue eyed man, the father, a shorter, blue eyed brunette, the mother, and a boy and girl who were almost Xerox copies of their parents.
They formed a private kraal with the two seats they occupied. The parents held the children in their laps as though they were going to escape1 or be captured.
The children, full of Sugar Pops and White bread Anglo upraising, squirmed uncontrollably, unaccustomed to being restricted by their parents. And while they squirmed, they released a stream of revealing commentary.
"Ooohh Mom! Look It's a river!”
"That's not really a river, Judy, that's kind of a large drainage ditch ... water...”
"You were right, Dad, there's a lot of niggers ‘n spics on the train."
The father pretended that he hadn't heard his son say what he had said, and at the same time slipped a garden calloused hand over the boy’s mouth.
"The niggers ‘n spics on the train," their racial remotes already tuned to the scene, exchanged sarcastic expression.
"Which ones are the niggers ‘n which ones are the spics?" Judy asked her manually silenced brother.
Her brother squirmed and tried to pull his father's hand from his mouth. He succeeded.
"Stop! stop it, Dad, I can't breathe!"
The parents had developed a fiery glow on both sides of their faces and at the back of their necks. They gave the impression of having been stricken by hot flashes.
“Uhhh, what time is it, Sally?" the father asked his wife, ignoring his own watch.
"Um, approximately, 4:12 .. .uhh...4:13.”
The children exchanged puzzled expressions. They were not sure of what to make of their parents behavior.
"Look, Judy, Bud! Look down there! You can see cars on the freeway.”
Their voices had a nervous, metallic edge, a bit too loud. The other people on the train, those who were within hearing range, paid close attention.
A young White woman who had been pretending to read a book was now pretending to take a nap.
"Mommy, which ones are the gangbangers?"
The sheer velocity of the children's questions ruled out the possibility of stifling them.
The reddish glow on the parents cheeks spread to their suddenly moist foreheads. How long is it going to take for us to get to the Metro transfer point, f' Godsakes!?"
"Yeh, Dad, where are the gangbangers?”
And now we're at the Imperial station where all of the baggiest pants, the most bizarre har styles and the creme de la creme of gansta rap, Hip Hop fashion piles on, complete with a style of talking that was once considered low, even in the low places.
The two teenaged brothers, one cue balled, the other braided, carried on a conversation that they had started on the station platform.
"So, hey, I tol' the bitch she could suck my motherfuckin' dick, you know what I mean?!”
"You shoulda kicked that bitch's ass!"
A middle aged African American woman, with a look of intense sadness, leaned her grey head against the window. My sons...
The White couple and their children stared at the mouths of the two young men talking, shocked speechless.
"I did kick her fuckin' ass! but that was last week – this was about suckin' my dick, you know what I mean?"
An older African American man, with hard lines in his face, and tobacco stains on his teeth, leaned across the aisle and spoke to the White couple in a firm baritone.
"These are not niggers, spics or gangbangers. These are our children."
The gray haired sister turned in the direction of his voice and nodded in agreement.
"Fuck you think she did?"
We Ain't All Mexican, Brothers...
The chocolate brown face was as flexible as a dramatist's pen, but it only reflected distress. The distress was caused by the sounds that rippled all around him.
He glanced at the profile of the beige skinned woman sitting beside him, who was talking to her girlfriend across the aisle, and frowned.
And the frown deepened as the conversations mostly in Spanish, bobbed and weaved around his ears. Clearly, this fifty year old African American man with the salt and pepper mustache and hair was annoyed.
He glanced with relief as the woman sitting beside him stood to exit the train. His glance of relief gave way to a smile of welcome as an African American man, perhaps ten years his junior, slid into the seat that the woman had vacated.
They nodded to each other as the brothers will do, when they are acknowledging each other's presence.
The rippling conversations in Spanish seemed to escalate at the Compton station. The older man began to do a solovoice grumble, tacitly assuming that the man sitting next to him was an ally, or at least neutral. The older man released his grousy commentary from the corner of his mouth, San Quentin prison style.
"That’s all I hear, day in ‘n day out, Spanoli, Spanoli, Spanoli, Spanoli ... It’s like this ain't even America no mo'. You don't even hear English, 'less you goin' to school or somethin'."
He paused to take a hard look at the profile of the man seated next to him, as though to measure the level of interest the man was showing. The man's mental expression was an incentive for him to continue his low level complaining.
"They takin' our jobs, O.K.? You hear what I'm saying, they takin' our jobs.”
The younger man, a darker version of the man who was complaining, turned to look at his seatmate. It was the spur that the older man needed.
"That's right, they takin' our jobs. Pretty soon, the whole place will be Mexican. What about that?"
The “question" was more an affirmation of the man’s question, than the quest for an answer.
"Well, my friend, I don' know about that."
"And them that ain't takin' our jobs is on welfare, bleedin' us, the American taxpayer to death....”
"I don' theenk ..."
“Too many babies, hell, just look around you, looks like most of these Mexican women is having three babies a year....”
The older man overpowered the younger man’s attempt to speak.
"Too many babies! You hear what I'm sayin'? Too many babies. Pretty soon the whole state ain't gon’ be nothin' but Mexicans."
“Look, my friend, I don' agree with what you are sayin'."
The complainer stared at his seatmate.
"Sounds like you got a lilt bit o' an accent yourself. Where you from?"
"Ha bana? Where's that?"
"Coo-ba," the man answered with a big smile.
The complainer turned to stare out at the cityscape flickering by and muttered, "Damn! You one of 'em too.”
"We ain't all Mexican, brother", the man replied in his slightly accented English.
The Gangbanger and the Fool, a Detour...
He stomped onto the train eating (curling his right forefinger into a can of crabmeat); that's a no no, punishable by a $250 fine. He was cussing some imaginary figure in his life. He may have been high from something or other, but maybe not; he was all of the negative stuff, that's what the vibes radiating from his hard shell told us.
We tightened our emotional seat belts, we were going to be forced to go a few stations with a Nasty One.
The Nasty One seems to be an "EL A" phenomenon, it may have something to do with the distances and the vibes that the neighborhoods cast off on the vehicles rolling through. It can get downright messy on the Western Avenue bus, going south or the Wilshire bus going east or west.
The Nasty One (infrequently two) is not as often experienced on the Blue Line, the Metro cops sift out most of the rough riders, but occasionally a Nasty will slip through.
Medium tall, brown skinned man, about thirtyish needing a shave and a bath. There was nothing about him that was intimidating, other than the grating sound of his voice.
Collectively, the few Whites reddened, stared harder at their newspapers/books, and gave every sign of praying that the police would pop onto the train at the next station. The Brown people ignored him, just another Negro loco. The Black people were trying to wish him away. The wish was like a stiff breeze blowing through the train.
No one wanted to tell him to shut up and sit down. No one cared enough about him to say anything to him, and it fed him jolts of insecurity.
"So, what did I say?! I said ‘fuck 'im.’ That what I said ‘fuck 'im.’”
A clever attention seeking fool. He turned his rhetoric down to a whisper as the train paused to admit new passengers and discharged old ones, doing a quick scan to determine if there were undercover cops on the scene.
Satisfied that he wasn’t being spied on, he revved himself back up as soon as the doors closed and the train eased on down the track.
"Yeah! Fuck 'im and fuck yo' momma too. Yeahhh, that's what I said!”
"Hey man, why don't you stop usin' all that bad language 'n shit around these women 'n children 'n shit 'n sit yo' ass down somewhere?"
The voice was coming from the seat in front of me. It was a silky voice but strong and definite.
The Nasty One paused in his parade through the aisle, blinking in surprise. We were all surprised. The surprise stemmed from the source of the voice.
A young brother, his pants as low on his butt as they could possibly be without dropping to his knees, was the speaker.
“What?! What?! You talkin' to me young niggah?!”
The young man, muffled in his Mount Everest gansta rap jacket, twisted his eyes to make a peripheral glare. Seated behind him, I took note of the malevolence of his wall eyed threat.
He didn't move his head as he answered, "Yeah, I'm talkin' to you. I said ... why don't you sit yo' ass down somewhere?"
Two young Black women, red nailed and stylishly coiffed, their waistlines and belly buttons fashionably bared, stared at the young man with the silky voice.
The Nasty One immediately sat on the first seat he could find, the elderly handicapped seat beside the door blustering in a softer tone!
"Who the fuck you think you are?! How you gon' tell me what to do?”
The young man rose half way from his seat and made a waist band adjustment. It was impossible, from my angle to see what he was adjusting.
"I just said you oughta stop usin' all that foul language ‘n shit! That's want I said. You wanna make something outta that?!”
Incredibly, a clean field between the two people opened like something had cleaved it. It was “Git down time" and the Nasty One instantly reverted to being the Fool, the Clown who didn't really mean anybody harm.
"Awwww, hold on now, young brother ... looks like you wanna take this seriously. I mean, c’mon now, ain't no sense in takin' this too seriously. You know what I mean?
"Now I know you a gangbanger ‘n all that but you don't have to take it out on me....”
The Fool (formerly a Nasty One) pushed his voice into the begging zone by elevating his tones to a higher level. The fear that drove him to cop a plea was almost comical, it showed in his rapidly blinking eyes.
"All I'm saying to you is this, shut the fuck up!"
"Hey, you got it, my brother ... whatever you say."
The train slid into the Florence station without another word being spoken, by anyone.
It's a sociological term, "familiar strangers," and maybe a concept too.
Lots of familiar strangers ride the Blue Line every day. We see each other but we don't know each other.
The El Salvadorians see the Mexicans, the Mexicans see the Koreans, the African-Americans see the Hondurans, the Whites see the Panamanians, but no one really knows anything about anybody else, unless they've taken the time to make the extraordinary effort to find out who the familiar strangers are.
It was a gentlemanly thing to do when the books and papers slipped out of her hands and splashed at his feet, he bent down to gather up the spill.
"Oh, thank you."
He made a neat package of the papers and handed it to her. The other passengers took not of his chivalry and smiled with approval.
The young woman held the notebooks and papers in her lap, leaned her head against the window of the train and nodded off again. The young man seated next to her surreptitiously studied her profile.
This is a fine sister here.
Her full lips and long eyelashes held his attention longest, and the voluptuous, but shapely figure inside the nurse's white coat and pants.
The books and papers slid from her lap again. Again, the gentleman bent: to pick them up.
"0 thank you, I’m sorry...."
"Ain't no problem, no problem at all....”
He made an orderly job of it, pausing to make certain that he was placing things in the order she had dropped them in.
“That’s O.K.," he answered and directed his attention to the passing scenes. Yeahh, this is a really fine sister here. What is she, a Mexican?
Two stations later she stood to exit, offering her tight white smile.
“'Scuse me, this is my place.”
"This is where you get off, huh?"
"Awright, take it easy now and hold on tight to your books ‘n stuff.”
The sound of her clean belled laughter fluttered back to him as she made her exit.
He waved to her as she walked past his window, she waved back, and made a little drama of clutching her books to her breasts.
Herb slumped down into the worn interior of his mother's easy chair, indulgently remoting from one channel to another.
“Stupid ass people putting all of their business in the streets. Wonder how much they get paid for spilling their guts like this?"
“He knew I was a transsexual."
“How did he know?"
"'Cause T told him!"
"Well, how did it go today?"
Herb popped out of his slump.
"Oh, hi, moms, you caught me checkin' the freakies out again.”
"Yeah, you have to be careful of that stuff, it can become addicting. Put Oprah on. Well, how did it go?"
Herb remoted Oprah Winfrey on and clicked the volume way down.
"Not good, not bad. I went to a few places, filled out applications 'n stuff. This one place looks promising, I had a chance to talk with the manager and he didn't seem to be too upset about me havin' a record.
“You're a young man, he said, a young man will make mistakes. I was a young man once myself.
"That's what he said. It don't mean that he's gonna hire me but he sounded sympathetic anyway.”
"Well, that's better than nothin'. You eat yet?"
"Nawww, I was waitin' for you to come."
She patted him on the cheek and strolled to the kitchen.
"Turn Oprah up a bit while I'm in here. I'll fix us a couple of sandwiches."
Herb remoted the sound of Oprah Winfrey's show up and settled back, his mind miles away from the scene in front of him.
That sure was a fine young lady on the train today, a fine young lady.
He gazed around the room. Mom's really likes to keep things neat.
“Herb, you want lemonade or milk?”
“Lemonade or milk? She must still think I'm ten years old. Forty ounces would be more my style.
“Uhhh, lemonade is O.K., Moms."
He took a hard look at his mother as she re entered the room with a tray of sandwiches and two tall glasses of lemonade. She placed the tray on a cocktail table and sat on the sofa near her son.
She must've been a beautiful sister in her day, she's still a beautiful sister.
"Listen to me close. I'm not gon’ repeat myself.”
He remoted the sound down without taking his eyes from his mother's face.
"It's hard out there for a young Black man. We all know that. You just got out of jail which is gonna make things a little bit harder, but I don't want you to give up on yourself. O.K.?"
"O.K. Moms ... with you in my corner I know everything is gon' be awright.
“Good, now turn it up a little and let's hear what Oprah is talking about today."
They both reacted with pleased expressions to see each other on the Blue Line again.
"Hey, how you doing?! You still stuff all over the place?"
The bell toned laughter unsettled he was so close to it.
"Ohhh noooo, I’m O.K. now. It's just that I was sooo sleepy that day. I had been studying for my exams and you know, with this other job, I was ... how you say .. exhaustedly."
It was his turn to laugh. Exhaustedly. she means "exhausted." A cute lil' accent...
"So what's up? I mean, you know what do you do?"
Five minutes later, he felt "exhaustedly" from listening to her describe her six day grind of student nurse's aid studies part time waitress regime.
“Wowww! You be doin' a lotta stuff, huh?"
She nodded her head in agreement. This guy really understands what I'm going through.
They continued chatting, with long pause lines in between spurts of conversation.
"So, you say you from Nicaragua? That's near Brazil, right?"
"0 no, eets en Central America.”
"Now I gotcha, its between North America and South America."
"Well, almost like that, eets below Mexico.”
Herb felt at ease talking to this young woman from Nicaragua. She's about taking care of business, I like that.
She nodded with her chin to the exit as the train slowed to her stop.
"This is my place.”
"When will I see you again?,” he asked impulsively. She look stunned for a moment and then lowered her eyelashes as she answered.
"I am riding the Blue Line about this time almost every day.”
"Well, I'll see you then....”
She raised her eyelashes and gave him a curious look but she didn't say anything. Herb felt a moment of desperation as the train come to a stop.
"Uhh, what's your name?"
“Blanca, Blanca Cruz Somoza."
"I'm Herb Finley.”
She barely touched his outstretched hand and fled to the exit. Passing his window on the station platform, she responded to his off eye wink with a shy sprinkling of her fingers.
About this time... uhh huh.
Herb spent the rest of the week going from one job interview to another.
"Now then, Mr. Finley, you state here on your application
that you are on parole?"
"I'm on parole, yes, but I didn't commit any crime, I was framed!”
"Oh, I see....”
About this time almost every day....
He raced from his last job interview to take the train he thought she would be on. He rode from one station to another, got off the train, rode back the other way for three station stops and repeated his actions.
About this time almost every day, huh?
“Herb, you got a call from this computer training center, man named Steiner, wants you Lo call him back."
"Heyyy, that’s the one I told you about, remember, who said young men make mistakes...."
"I got my fingers crossed and I'm goin' to say a prayer or two for you.”
"Thanks, Moms, I need all the help I can get."
Two weeks later Herb Finley was a member of Class Two Thousand, a test group of young people of several ethnic backgrounds who had been chosen to participate in a pilot work study program.
"Mom, it's the Bomb! You hear me, it's the Bomb!"
"I knew you could do it, Herby, I knew you could do it!"
He saw the reflection of her face in the train window as she sat beside him, loaded with notebooks and folders.
"Hey, Blancha ..."
"No, eets Blanca".
"That's what I mean, how you been? I thought I had missed you."
"I've seen you two, three times but you were that and I was here and the train was going, you know."
"So, how you been? I just got a gig in a program. Things is looking good for me. Real good ..."
She looked at him with real interest for the first time.
Nice guy, he's so enthusiastic about life.
"Blancha. 0 sorry, Blanca, I'm just runnin' off at the mouth. I haven't given you a chance to say nothin'.... That Mexican couple there, why are they giving us the stink eye?"
"I have nothing to say....”
They look out of the window at the familiar scenery for a few beats, before Herb could jack up the courage to speak again. He spoke in a low voice, almost as though he were doing a monologue.
"Look, I know I'm a stranger and all that, but I'm a nice guy, I got friends who'll testify to that.
“I'm not the kind of dude who chases after girls all the time and stuff like that. As a matter of fact, I don’t even have a girlfriend.
"I don't know what your situation is 'cause I didn’t want to got into your business ‘n stuff...."
Blanca nodded quietly, to indicate that she too was unattached.
"Actually, all I'm saying is that it would be nice to have a real conversation with you, you know when we’re not on the train. Maybe we could... uhh ... stop off and get a hamburger and a coke or something....”
She took careful note of the small beads of sweat that ringed Herb’s forehead, and clinically recorded the phenomenon as a result of nervous agitation. Her station was next.
"Yes, maybe we could have a conversation
This is America and I’m twenty three years old. I shouldn't have to have Mama and Papa approve of every action I make. What did they say when Roberto came home with the Jewish girl? Nada. They looked at each other, but no one said anything.
The train was sliding to a stop.
"Well, uhh, when? I mean, you got a number? I can call you."
She stood at the edge of the seat, lurching a bit as the train ground to a stop.
"I'm riding the Blue Line about this time almost every day."
The big smile she gave him destroyed his developing protests.
"I'm looking forward to seeing you, O.K.?'
"Yes, I also," she answered boldly, surprising both of them.
Herb was tempted to escort her to the exit, but held himself in check. That wouldn't be cool. No that wouldn't be cool at all.
On the platform she turned to pantomime -- see you -- and blew a very shy kiss to him from the tips of her fingers.
Herb stared at the gesture, his lower jaw open with delight and surprise. “Wowww!”
He made careful note of the time frame and the station. I'm gon’ really surprise her tomorrow. Think I better hit the geography book tonight and find out where Nicaragua is.
Donna took the last sip of her espresso, glanced at the mounted on the obelisk in front of the Long Beach City tossed her empty cup into the trash bin on the station platform and stepped into the Los Angeles bound Blue Line train.
It took her a moment to decide where to sit. She made several considerations: It's two o'clock, the sun won't be too hot if I sit on the west side of the train and it won't get crowded until we get to Compton.
She stayed out of the train window, thinking with Katie.
“0, you didn't drive? I'll take you home.”
"No problem, the Blue Line is cool, it gives me a chance to mingle with the people.”
"I guess that’s the social activist in you. I try to avoid ‘the people’ as much as I can, especially these days."
"They're dangerous, haven't you heard?"
She smiled, thinking back to her "Let's do lunch Thursday” – with her sorority sister, Kate Adams Johnson.
“I’ve thought about asking Frank to change his name a half dozen times. What could sound more common than Adams Johnson?”
Kate was always fun to share a few hours with, take in a show, have lunch at one of the upscale places on 3rd and Pine, drink a couple glasses of wine, discuss their lives.
"So how does it feel to be past the change?"
"You tell me, sister you went first.”
They could joke with each other like sisters, share memories from their college days and beyond.
"Donna, if anyone had ever tried to force me to believe that you and Fred would ever divorce...”
"I know, it seems unreal to me too, but you know how it is with a lot of men when they start feeling old. They'll do anything to fight off the inevitable. I think, for most of them, that they see a younger woman as a testimonial of their youth or something.”
"Well, I'm not having any of that out of Mr. Johnson, I've served firm notice."
She closed her eyes and tilted her face slightly to catch the sun.
Girlfriends. There used to be six of us, now there's only two of us, a little older, a little wiser, a little heavier. She and Kate took pride in being "fifty some years old" with firm waistlines and no double chins.
"I think it's stupid to be running around with your thighs rubbing together, don't you?"
Donna Hightower opened her eyes as the train lurched into motion and looked at her reflection in the window. You're right, Kate, you're right.
Riding the Blue Line was a bit like sight seeing for her.
She never felt bored by the trip from Long Beach to Slauson, always something to see, a story to watch.
"Donna, you ought to be a writer, you know that. You see stories everywhere you go." That's what her ex husband used to tell her.
She studied the faces and postures of the people who got on and off the train. God, some of the ugliest people are making some of the most beautiful babies. Beautiful babies.
Uncouth teenagers who talk as though their mouths were sewers and prop their feet in the seats.
Well, how can you blame them for the way they act, no home training. My parents would have killed me would allow me to behave like that.
Hmmmmm ... not as many crazies as they have on the busses.
It goes to show you what can be done by adding a few policemen making some serious rules.
Her heart swelled into her throat when the man stepped into the train. He strolled up the aisle and sat in a seat on the opposite side of the aisle, diagonally from hers.
She made an oblique study of his profile, feeling a quick rush of heat dampen her temples. Am I having hot flashed, or is it him?
Jim Brown, the man who "made the earth move" for her, twenty five short years ago.
He looks good, just about the way I would expect him to look today. She took careful note of the trim waistline.
“Don't you just hate these middle aged men who look like they're pregnant?!”
“Now be nicer Kate, we have a lot of women running around here, looking like they're pregnant too."
"Yeahhh, but they have a right to look that way they have been pregnant.”
The firm chin, that gray at the temples, the serious expression I always loved. Did I love him."
The man in the seat next to her stood up to exit. Donna leaned across the aisle to tap Jim Brown on the shoulder, panicking for a moment at the idea that she might be mistaken.
There's a vacancy here, mister," she said with a seductive smile. She took the turn he made toward her, and the joy of his expression in slow motion.
"Donna!! Donna!! I don't believe this!"
The people who turned to stare at the returned to reading their books, newspapers and staring out of the window when they realized that they were not witnessing a fight.
He held her at arm's length after a long, fervent hug and an ardent kiss that landed dangerously close to her mouth.
"This is unbelievable! I was just thinking about you yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
"And what, pray tell? were you thinking?"
He squeezed her hand "same ol' Donna, right on the point. You haven't changed at all.”
"Are you serious?" Are you saying you don't think I've changed since you left me to go do your thing in Washington, D.C.?"
"I didn’t leave you, Donna. I hate to hear you put it like that.”
"How would you put it?"
The euphoric bounce of their meeting again on the Blue Line in Los Angeles after twenty five years, suddenly did a spiral. She could feel it.
"I think it was a matter of misplaced priorities, now that I look back at it. I thought the position I was going to take in Washington, D.C. was going to be more important then....”
"More important than me?"
The train slid to a stop, disgorged passengers and sucked other in before he answered!
"Yes, to be honest about it. But you have to remember that you had told me a half dozen times that you weren't ready for a full fledged commitment. Remember?"
The train was a little more crowded, a few more stroller clogged the entrance/exit. Three more stations.
"And so, you got married too."
"I needed someone."
He said the words with so much feeling she wanted to put her arms around him and tell him... yes, I understand.
"And you got married too."
She nodded yes.
"And I've been divorced for five years now. And you?"
"She died two years ago, lung Cancer. She just couldn't stop puffing.
The train seemed to be flying through space for a few moments. They were engulfed by silence, despite the fact that they were surrounded by people making all kinds of noises.
"Sorry to hear about that ... her. I really am. Well, this is my stop coming up.”
He stood to exit with her, brushing past the people boarding the train.
"You transferring here too?”
"No, I'm getting off to talk to you.”
They stood on the high platform at Slauson, staring into each other's faces as though they had experienced a miracle.
"You know I never expected to see you again. Am I making you late for something?"
"No, well, I've got an appointment downtown and I'll be late, but it doesn't matter, they can't do it 'til I get there.”
They exchanged understanding smiles. Still in control, huh>
"Can I call you? Maybe we could have dinner together? Maybe this evening?"
She broadened her smile. Same ol' Jim, always ready for action.
"Are you sure you want to see me again? Remember, I'm the same ol' Donna, I haven't changed....”
"I hope so".
He opened his arms to embrace her as the horn sounded, announcing that his train had arrived.
Siren on the Metro (Transfer)...
Even on a crowded bus in would've been very hard to ignore Darrilyn. It had something to do with the warm aura that seemed to halo her graceful movements.
She was not tall but she seemed to be. She was not classically beautiful by anybody's standard, but she was gorgeously seductive. Her appeal was inter denominational, international, wholistic.
The Asians saw her as an Asian, the African Americans saw her as Black, the Latinos saw her as one of them and the Whites took her at face value. Her basic appeal was to men, but there were also a number of women who found themselves orbiting in her atmosphere.
Darrilyn rode the Wilshire Blvd. bus, east and west, at least twice a day, a complete boomerang.
Perhaps she was going somewhere or maybe she wasn't. She was definitely leaving a string of illusioned men (and women) in her wake.
She had an artless technique that was constructed by having eye to eye contact with the one she had chosen. But she could also carry off the same business with a swanish turn of her head, or by channeling charged emotions into the languid movement of a flexible wrist or into a heaven blessed smile.
She carried business cards that identified her as a professional astrologer -- “See the stars with Darrilyn." And from time to time she placed one of her cards in the hands of a prospective "client." A number of men were pleasantly surprised by her card, a few were honestly bewildered, but no one was ever known to refuse to accept her offering.
This was taking place within the Los Angeles bus system. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a gulag that closely resembled all of tbe other large city bus-gulag-systems, reflecting the fast forward insanity of large city living on wheels.
Cliques of criminally insane people ride the bus, grinding their mad teeth, slobbering, arguing with invisible foes, threatening to blow themselves up and everything around them, dynamite heads.
Molesters of all types; child, animal, plant, environment.
Crazy people with no criminal intentions whatsoever, bring their lice spliced blankets, their unwashed bodies and their ragged, greasy slimy clothes on board.
They also talk to invisible beings. Men step on dressed as women, women as men, in between types cross dress.
People sit in configured seats, nursing grudges from past centuries. People sit next to each other, weeping from internal pains that have become exquisite.
Old people think thoughts of times and places that are as distant and foreign as the moon. Young people speak and act in ways that are so incomprehensible to the old people that they blot them out of their conscious minds.
Foreigners, all are foreigners, speak about life on the bus, on Earth in America, as though it were unlike anything they've ever known. They can't believe that so many bad spirited people could be in one place at the same time.
No doubt about it, the bus functions as a space ship on ground, filled with spaced out Earthlings, Darrilyn is just one of them.
"Uhhh, excuse me please, is this seat taken?"
The tall Mexican man with the Pedro Armendanz eyes and mustache, who gave every sign to indicate that he thought of himself as a "ladies man," stared at the voluptuous creature leaning toward him.
The bus is half empty and she wants to sit next to me,this beautiful woman. I am truly blessed today.
He managed to perform a gracious media Veronica whileseated. Darrilyn slid into the vacant seat, trailing diaphanous scarves and Chanel No. 5.
The bus, staggering from stop to stop, had become a sports car, flitting from block to block. The man felt heat rush from the follicles in his scalp down to the bottle neck in his bikini briefs. “Ahhhh, this one, what can I say to her?"
"I must introduce myself, I am Juan Carlos Fuerte."
"And I am Darrilyn."
She placed her hand in his and caressed it with a shake. Juan Carlos Fuerte burned a hole in her face with his eyes. This is the woman of my dreams.
She looks Spanish, not Mexican, Spanish. Or maybe Argentine. Does she speak Spanish?
"Do you speak Spanish?"
"Only enough to get me in trouble.”
Their faces glowed with smiles for each other. The man was certain that he had fallen in love with the woman. And vice versa. It was there for all to see.
"Then, we will have to say what has to be said in Ingles," he said in a passion driven, husky whisper.
"Yes, I suppose so", she replied, lowering her voice to match his. And folded her hands between her things as though she were in church. The graceful folding of her hands and the placement almost caused Juan Carlos Fuerte to speak Spanish.
“You know you are a very beautiful woman."
He felt her melt into the seat beside him, his words had done it. He felt the urge to use many, many words, to overwhelm this gorgeous creature with words and then jump off of the bus, transfer and go to this nice little room his friend had in East Los Angeles.
"Everything about you excites me, your perfume, your clothes, the way you are, everything....”
"Juan, you say the most beautiful things to me, I've never heard anyone talk like this before.
He stroked his mustache and gently reached between her thighs to grasp both of her hands in his hands.
"Maybe you have never heard these things before because we have never met before. Darrrilina...”
"Darrilyn, my name is Darrilyn."
"Ah, yes, Darrilyn, the woman who has come to me out of a dream...."
He slipped his arm to the cusp of her shoulders and immediately withdrew it. I mustn't let one of Maria’s nosy friends catch me. Darrilyn gave him an oblique, coy look.
"Darrilyn, listen, I have a wonderful idea."
She seemed so eager to share his feelings, so reasonable, so honest, so ... sexy.
"Why don't we go somewhere together, me, you, just the two of us?"
She answered him with the same sense of urgency in her voice.
"Where? Where would you like to go with me, Juan?”
She's a woman, she's not a girl. She doesn't act like a girl, but she doesn't really make me feel like she's a loose thing either. I'll take a chance, I'll speak my mind.
"Uhhh, I was thinking we could go to this place, it's like a friend's house, you know? It's not too far from here.”
There were no other passengers on the bus now. They had all been bubbled out, forgotten, dismissed.
The speeding sports car had jetted to a halt, waiting for the green light words to speed it off again. Darrilyn gently pulled her hands out of Juan's smoky clutches.
"Juan, as much as I would like to, I can't go with you....”
He held himself in check for a full beat, listening for “because." It never came. She simply stopped at "I can't go with you....”
"May I ask why?” he asked, and wedged himself closer to her. She turned toward him with a bright, feverish look in her eyes.
"I'm a professional astrologer.
Juan cocked his head to one side, deeply interested in whatever this fascinating woman had to say. But what did astrology have to do with what he was suggesting? "A professional astrologer, huh?"
Fifteen minutes later he felt that he had some idea what a professional astrologer was, and what they were responsible for doing.
"So you see, that's why I can't go with you. Here is my card. Please call me, I may have some important information for you."
Darrilyn stood quickly. Sprinkled a little wave goodbye and popped out of the exit doors like an exploding Jack in the Box.
Juan Carlos Fuerte, frustrated Lothario, stared at the plain white card. The name Darrilyn was printed in bold black face, her title "professional astrologer" and a telephone number.
He looked out of the window to catch a last glimpse of the enchanting creature he had just met, but she was no where to be seen.
The man could have been any one of the thousands of grey headed, grey bearded, middle aged African American men who were forced to take the bus to wherever they were going that morning.
It was more than obvious, from the subconsciously developed frown on his nutbrown face that he was pissed off: he was pissed at his prostate, the amount of sleep he was losing every night being forced to piss. He was pissed with his colon, and the need to have it examined once a year.
He was pissed at the idea of needing glasses to read the small print, at the heartburn he suffered from, at the stiffness in his joints and the consortium of pills he had to take for regular ailments. But above all, he was pissed because he couldn't flirt with young women any more.
They seemed to be amused, rather than attracted, to his eye winks, his macho posturing and his baritone inquiries. And when the young ladies that he had an eye for we-re not amused they seemed to be terrified. He had come to the conclusion that most of the women who rode the bus, under thirty had probably been molested by an older man.
He was pissed off about that, about the lousy vibe these other dirty old men had released in generations of nubile females.
He had some of these things on his mind, including concerns about his bills, when Darrilyn winked at him from across the aisle.
Maybe there's something in her eye. No, that's not it, she's winking at me. Myron Smith took a deep breath and turned to see if he could catch the reflection in the bus window of the young woman who looked at him.
Yes, he could see her in the mirror-window. He studied the reflection for a few beats. Fine young woman. One of those multicolored women, and she's definitely checking me out.
The large woman sharing Darrilyn's
Myron hesitated for a beat or two before he slid into the empty seat beside Darrilyn.
They exchanged warm, opaque smiles. Darrilyn turned to stare out of the window, Myron Smith stared at her profile.
So nice when you have people who don't act like they're scared to death of other people.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" he asked, allowing the words to flow like baritoned honey. He liked the sound of his voice and knew how to use it.
“Ohhh, it's just gorgeous!"
He was pleasantly stunned by Darrilyn's ebullience.
"Uhhh, yeahhh, you're right, it really is."
They both stared out of the window as though they were looking at a picture, glittering in the smog of mid day Los Angeles. Myron felt the blood rush to his head. He couldn't tell if it was from the excitement of chatting with an attractive young woman or if his high blood pressure was acting up.
Damn, did I take my pills?
He fumbled into the pocket of his cotton windbreaker for his high blood pressure pills, unscrewed the top and dry swallowed a pill.
"You O.K.?," she asked, taking note of his actions.
"Awwww, I’m O.K., just some ol' pills I have to take every now and then.”
Her smile was so warm, so concerned, so sweet.
"Isn't that wonderful that all we have to do is take a pill every now and then to stay well? 0, incidentally, I'm Darrilyn."
He was pleased with the firm grip of her handshake. He hated to shake hands with women, especially the ones who touched hands as though they were handling five day old fish.
"And I'm Myron smith. So, where you going on this gorgeous day?"
"Where? O, just anywhere. I just want to drift! To go with the flow!"
“Why don’t you have a cup of coff..., uhh, espresso with me?”
"I'd love to."
Myron felt like hugging Darrilyn, but resisted the urge.
She'll think I'm just another dirty ol' man. And the V.A. appointment? What the hell, I'll reschedule. Ain't nothing for me to do but stay Black ‘n die, may as well have a lil' fun in my life before I go out.
The Gourmet Coffee House was a place that he would never have gone to by himself.
A student hang out, south of the University, filled with students pontificating, staring at their lap tops, acting romantic, being young.
"How did you know about this place?"
"0, I come here all the time."
He swallowed hard, checking out the coffee prices. Damn! What the hell do they put in this stuff anyway? 0 well, there goes my beer money for this month.
"Myron, you know we can go Dutch on this."
"Darrilyn, I invited you for coffee. This is my treat, now. Order what you like."
He thought he detected snide looks peeking out at them from behind a couple of the bearded faces. Probably think I'm a sugar daddy, huh?
He smiled at the idea. What kind of sugar could this daddy come up with, on a fixed income?
They ordered, espresso double for him, café late for her, and began to talk as though they were old friends who happened to run into each other on the bus.
Myron Smith stared at Darrilyn as she spoke, focusing on the ideas that she spilled out to him.
"I'm a professional astrologer."
"Oh, you spend a lot of time star gazing, huh?"
“No, that's an astronomer. I'm an astrologer."
"0, I see said the blind man...” He loved the expression that brightened her face as she quickly realized what he had said.
"That's pretty witty, Mr. Smith, preeety witty."
"Please, call me Myron.”
She squeezed his forearm with real affection boosting his ego yea high. He couldn't think of anything else to say to her. What words could he use to tell her that he loved her? That he had felt love for her the moment he saw her? How to say...?
"Please, Myron, don't say anything.”
He was startled by her intuitive reading. Yes, this is that special one I've been looking for, since Mabel’s death.
Darrilyn stood, and indicated with gestures that she was off to the ladies room. He nodded pleasantly and watched her stride away from their table.
Mmmmmmm ... that's a tine woman there, a real fine woman.
He sipped his espresso and smiled to himself ... you ol' rogue, you. Here you are, three years older ‘n black pepper and got the nerve to be seducing pretty young things off the bus. What's gonna become of you?
He crossed his legs at the knee and began to try to put together "a program." I'll invite her over for dinner tomorrow evening. Bet that would ring her bell. Ain't too many young men who know how to cook these days and most of the young women can't even boil water.
I wonder if she can cook? Well, we don't have to worry about that. I can cook.
A blurred succession of image/thoughts slipped through his mind; Darrilyn and Myron at the movies, taking a long walk on a moon blanched beach, sharing laughs, making love. He glanced around him, checking people out, as though someone might have read his thoughts.
Making love. He uncrossed his knees and sprawled back in his seat. Making love. I haven't made love to a woman in two years, since Mabel died. Making love. Well, I really can’t count Ernestine. She was just doing what she thought old friends should do. Helping me to get past my grief, I guess you could say.
He did a surreptitious tummy tuck with his left hand. She doesn't seem to mind this age thing. Some women are like that, they're able to see past the superficial stuff. What's age got to do with emotional involvement anyway?
"Are you Smith?"
"Are you named Smith?"
He felt a bit awkward about being caught daydreaming by their waitress. She'll probably think I'm senile or something.
"Yeah, yeah, I’m Smith.”
The waitress handed him a small square sheet of paper, folded neatly in half, and strolled off to attend another table.
"Dear Myron, it's been truly wonderful, but I had to continue with the flow. Please call me sometime. Universely yours, Darrilyn."
He turned the piece of paper over frantically, looking for a telephone number. She hadn't written one. Myron Smith settled back in his seat and stared at the people rushing past the picture window of the Gourmet Coffee House, trying to center his shattered feelings. A few moments later, after putting it all into a perspective that he felt comfortable with, he signaled to the waitress for the check.
"The bill has already been paid, sir."
He stood and shook the kink out of his left leg, a big smile on his face, and slowly walked out of the coffee house.
Well, what the hell, you win some, you lose some. Better to have a few of these kinds of times than not have any at all. Maybe I'll run into her again.
Tune in next week for the second installment of Black and Brown on the Blue Line