From General

The grimy doors surprise me. Behind me are the bright lights of a few bars, their ostentatious fluorescent signage sparkling against the black of night. The sidewalks are spotless, the grass (unfortunately) mowed, and the lampposts pristine.

But these doors are scratched to the point I can’t see through their glass windows clearly. I hear the rumble of train on track. I’m at the public transit railway station, on my way to my host’s for the night after spending a couple hours at a university café.

I push past the doors and proceed down a narrow hallway. The obviously once-white brick is a dirty, dark gray. Litter lines the crease between wall and floor. The blue paint on the handrail of the staircase is chipped and cracked, exposing my hand to the metal underneath.

This seems odd, I think to myself. I see a Black man push past the doorway at the top of stairs, followed by another and then another.We pass one another silently.

It’s 10:12 PM on a Thursday night. The neighborhood bars I passed on my walk here seemed relatively full, if their boisterousness could be considered an accurate measure of their current capacity. But the platform, I can’t help but note, is deserted.

Oh, that’s right. The really privileged people have cars, I say to myself. I take a photo, to remind myself of the thought. My train is in a few minutes, so I wait, pondering how long I’ll stay in Cleveland.

Before long, another Black man joins me on the platform. He leans over the railing and begins to sing. I try to make out the words, but can only catch one eery stanza:

I can’t sleep,
something’s not right.
Something’s not right,
I say.
I can’t sleep.

We glance at each other a few times. I look down at the leftover Mediterranean salad I was gifted earlier in the day. I pull my hands into the sleeves of my hoodie, hiding my purple and copper nail polish. I’m looking down at the food in my hand as the man approaches me on the platform.

“How are you?” he asks, extending his hand.

I look up and respond quickly with a “How are you?”, a smile, and a handshake.

“Oh man, hangin’ in there, man. Hangin’ in there.”

“Long day?” I ask.

“Man, I work at a car detail shop,” he says, pointing to his green hoodie. The name of the shop is emblazoned in big, yellow lettering on his chest. “You know Obama’s coming here tomorrow,” he continues.

“Oh yeah!” I say, even though I didn’t actually know that.

“Oh, you know,” he says. “So we got a contract with the Ohio Police Department, my shop, so we gotta detail all them cars.”

“Oh wow,” I say.

“Yeah, man, they gotta look all right for Obama, y’know.”

“Hey, what’s your name?” I ask him.

“Kenny,” he says.

“I’m May,” I say.

A now-familiar rumble signals the arrival of our train.

“Man, I wanna get home, man,” he says as the train pulls up to the platform.

“Yeah,” I agree, rather uncreatively.

“Maybe I can catch the rest of the game, get some dinner.” We keep conversing as we board a car where I am unmistakably the only white person in sight. I don’t know what game he’s talking about. He takes a seat on one side of the car and I take a seat across from him. “Get home, get dinner, watch the game,” he repeats.

“You hungry?” I ask, lifting my leftover Mediterranean salad.

“Naw, man, I got some homemade cookin’,” he says lifting the plastic bag he’s holding.

I smile. “Oh, man, now I’m jealous. So how many cars did you work on?”

“Like, 27 of them,” he said. “Woke up at 6, did a 10 hour work day. Did some other things before work, but y’know, on my feet all day, man.”

I nod. “Did you watch the debates last night?”

“The game?”

“No, the debates.”

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” he says, leaning across the aisle and putting a finger to his ear.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “The debates, the presidential debates last night.”

He pulls back. “I don’t follow that stuff, man,” he says. “You know, they gonna do what they gonna do, can’t do nuthin’ ‘bout that. I vote, though. Promises made to be broken, man. But I vote.” I nod. He rises and moves towards the doors as the train approaches the next platform. “Hey,” he says, pointing straight at me.

“Yeah?” I ask.

“Vote for Obama,” he says.

Already planning on it,” I say with a smile.

He nods, and exits the train.

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

Activism can be as simple as remarking on the unremarkable

“May I join you here?” I asked the group of three people on the second floor of a university coffee shop, by way of starting a conversation.

“We’re all doing a Masters’ of Business,” one of the two men said. “What are you studying?” asked the other, who was wearing a red button-down shirt.

“I’m a middle school drop out,” I said. I held my smile through the predictable moment of silence that followed. The surprise I elicit when I say this would be easier to bear if it was not also accompanied with a sense that the moment of silence was a moment of mourning. Others seem to start questioning how best to find a compassionate reply, and I mourn a potential collegiality I fear pointing out our cultural rift typically causes.

“So,” they said, breaking the momentarily uncomfortable silence, “where are you going?”

“I’m on my way to Massachusetts where I’ll be giving a presentation at a conference on Internet privacy, and how having it can help stop sexual assault,” I said.

Another momentary pause, this time without the obvious surprise of the first.

“You know, you happen to be near the capitol of sex trafficking in America,” the red-shirt man said.

“Really?” I asked. I’ve had this conversation before, and I knew exactly where it was going. I sighed internally but, sensing opportunity, smiled outwardly, as he continued to share what he knew about the situation with me.

The man told me that he had once been shown a video of a “rescue” effort produced by Destiny Rescue U.S.A., he cited reports of massage parlors being raided, and told me of a recent grant the US Department of Justice gave Ohio-based agencies to fight human trafficking.

Conversationally, I was friendly. I even felt I was being smooth. But I didn’t know how to shift the conversation.

“Well,” I said, “my background is technology, so I did some research about this back a few years ago when Craigslist was being accused of supporting sex trafficking. Do you remember that all going down?” He nodded. “I was really disappointed in a lot of the media coverage because, well, it was just factually wrong.”

I tried to go into some depth but felt like I was losing them. Conversations about “issues” seem so hard to keep “friendly.” I backed down, said I didn’t want to keep them from their studying, and that it was nice to meet them.

I retreated to a corner of the café with my computer, watching the sunlight drain from the sky. Darkness. It so often seems like darkness—sunlight or not.

“Hey May,” the red-shirt man said. “You want some Mediterranean salad?”

“Uh, sure,” I said. “You don’t want it anymore?”

“He had some of the hummus,” said the other man. “But it’s cold. That’s why he doesn’t want it.”

“Yeah, I’m done,” the red-shirt man said.

“Well, thanks!” I said as he handed me a tray.

“Is there a fork anywhere?” I asked. I always carry utensils with me, a plastic spork or a set of camping silverware, but I wanted to appear more “normal.”

“Well if you want to use the fork I used,” the red-shirt man said, gesturing to it on the table.

“I mean, if I’m going to eat your food, I might as well,” I replied.

“That’s a good point, right there,” the other man said with a grin. I made a mental note of the absurdity of the situation: being offered food, but not silverware, because sharing food is socially acceptable while sharing silverware is, what, gross?

Back at my computer, I started compiling the following list, with the Internet’s help, about the issues the red-shirt man and I discussed:

While hunkering over my computer in the corner, I punched the above links into URL shorteners and wrote them all on my card above the short message, “Check out these links! =)” Then I walked over to him and, with a smile, said, “Hey, I wanted to give you this. Check ‘em out whenever you have some time.”

“Thanks,” he said.

“Sure!” I said with enthusiasm. “I’ll let you get back to your study, uh, thing? Study group. It’s a study group, right?”

“Eh, more like a bickering group now,” he said.

“Well, whatever,” I said. “There are lots of ways to learn.”

I do this sort of thing a lot these days. I believe it makes a difference.

Many people I talk to talk about feeling powerless in the face of overwhelming issues like misinformation. But it turns out spreading accurate information is pretty easy. All it takes is a conversation, a pen and paper, and maybe some courage.

Everything I am, everything I do: it’s all available to you, too.

ADDENDUM: ”Are these all links?” the red-shirt man came up to me to ask.

“Oh, yes, I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough,” I said.

We talked. He asked me about dropping out of middle school. Taking a page from non-violent communication, I told him brief versions of my story, answering questions in 40 words or less.

“You said you dropped out of middle-school?”

“Well, I always thought school was for two things: teaching me stuff I didn’t know, and showing me how to socialize with people. But I was always that kid other kids threw rocks at in 1st grade—literally—so I was like, well, this place doesn’t work for me!”

“How do you hear of these conferences?”

“I usually get invited. Oh yeah, that reminds me. I was invited to a conference about futurism in LA to speak on the intersection of technology and sexuality in a few months. I need to get back to Rachel about that….”

“What got you started in that?”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and so I started learning about neurochemistry. I eventually made a website about it, and then got a technology job as an assistant network administrator at, ironically enough, a school! So, since then, I’ve been employed in the tech industry.”

And on, and on.

“I love hearing people’s stories,” the red-shirt man said with a smile as he walked back to his table to collect his things. His genuine interest had me smiling, too.

“Well,” he said as he approached me on his way out the door, “If you ever need a place to stay ‘round here, let me know.”

“Wow, really? Thank you!” I said.

“Yeah,” and he offered me his name and Facebook profile.

And that, dear readers, is how I survive without home or hearth. :)

(This was originally published on my other blog.)

“I like your pen,” the sweet employee behind the counter at the travel shop said, gesturing to the pen tucked behind my ear.

I smiled. “Thanks. Just a pen, but I use it often.”

“I know,” they said. “I figured it wasn’t magic or nuthin’,” they said with a smile of explanation.

That got me thinking. Magic.

I placed my order—fast food chicken wrap, with bar-b-q sauce, please—and took a seat. I grabbed one of my business cards from my pocket and the pen from behind my ear. I paused for a moment to consider the message.


“My name is,” I wrote above the name on my card. “I’m on Facebook. =)”

Then I flipped the card over and on its back, wrote: “The word ‘spelling’ contains the word ‘spell.’ The Egyptians believed that there was magic in words, that to write a thing was to invoke the magic in its spelling.”

“Number 18,” the sweet employee called out from behind the counter.

I looked up and walked over to the counter. “Thank you.” I said, picking up my order. “This is for you.” I handed off the card, turned, and left.


(This was originally published on my other blog.)

My tweets on 2010-07-24

My tweets on 2010-07-22

  • What a lovely sentiment! ♺ @mungojelly_more: I try to follow all different kinds of folk. Thx for being different from each other, everyone! #
  • "only way [#immigrant #GLBT couples] can stay together is if they're married," but same-sex #marriage isn't federal law: #
  • Bit by #Apple & #Google #GMail "bandwidth limit exceeded" #bug Removing "Recovered Messages" & IMAP-[account]/.OfflineCache dirs. #
  • You DO NOT have a right to be unoffended when watching TV or listening to radio: If #obscenity offends you, tough shit. #

My tweets on 2010-07-18

My tweets on 2010-07-17

My tweets on 2010-07-16