San Francisco, California
Fourteen Years Ago
If you catch the last train running to Colma and exit Civic Center, you may find yourself directly in front of a 24-hour Carl’s Jr. You may call it Hardees. I called it home.
There is a waist- high, gray concrete, u-shaped border that surrounds the staircase leading to and from the underground station. You could almost feel the unsettled energy as you stepped onto the red brick pavement between the train station and the restaurant, some fifteen feet to your left. By day, hundreds of tourists pass through. By night, the residents made it a battleground. It was my first.
This night, as always, the restaurant is not so busy. The truly homeless seek reprieve from the streets by hustling up enough to buy a meager burger, hoping they can sleep all night. The security guard, a robust, soulful man named Daune (pronounced Dau-Nay, but you can call him D) Paul Colvin III, usually doesn’t care about the homeless sleeping as long as they don’t stink.
As always, Daune’s post, to the immediate left of the store’s entrance, is surrounded by the usual crowd.
There’s Terry, who would be in his forties now. He was struck by a bus in his youth and lost partial use of his left side. He also had the common sense knocked out of him, you’d think, because it wasn’t uncommon to see him suck the toes of random women–before he took them home. Tall, lanky, black, eternally hilarious and relentlessly loyal, he was the mainstay of the group. His mother insisted he get out of the house each night, and he’d end up here to shoot the breeze. There were worse places to go.
Terry was also the best scrapper I’d ever seen. He could throw that left like it meant nothing. Once, during a sparring session, he knocked me straight to the ground. It was the last time I ever underestimated someone because of a physical disability. Other than myself, Terry was the butt of everyone’s jokes, but he could give it right back.
There was Chad, who, for some reason, I always likened to Guile in the Street Fighter series. Save for the hair, they could’ve been brothers, and Chad could take some monster shots. Come to think of it, when he fought, he very rarely took a step back. He never had a use for kicks, but had supreme use of his fists and no end to the amount of punishment he could take. He was my first real boxing influence.
There was Lee…and Lee, well, Lee was a trip. He was a high school teacher. He was bisexual and thought we all didn’t know (Funny story there). He was black-white, in excellent shape, very easy with the ladies and could shoot his legs to Heaven. He took me as kind of a little brother and sharpened the tae kwon do I already had. He was always smiling.
Christian was a wannabe goth, but he was one of the most decent people I’d ever met. He could only fight, but when he was angry. Then again, when he was angry, I saw him get this eerie, toothy grin that would’ve made the Joker shudder. Half-asian, six feet tall and always dressed in black. Christian didn’t fight as much as he inflicted pain on people.
Emalio, a young hustler who had endured a horrible childhood. He was quiet, shy, and the smallest of us. If you brought harm to him, you had to answer to D. You didn’t want to answer to D.
I had known the group about four months. I was the rookie, the untested one. I could fight, but these guys were on a whole other level, who happily kicked my ass repeatedly. D would randomly reach out and slap me. Didn’t matter where I was in proximity to him. He always a polite little smack upside the head. When I learned to block, it didn’t make a difference. D was an aikido expert. He taught me well.
So this night, things are a different. It’s Thanksgiving.
This night, we’ve all compiled our money and created one big pot to order a bunch of food. D went out of his way to inform me that my homelessness did not make me exempt. If I wanted to eat, I had to contribute. Luckily, the bang-on-the-change-machine scam had worked well that day, and I had fifteen bucks to my name.
We ordered KFC, Pizza,chinese food from right across the street, BBQ from across town, and enough stuff to where we had to unite two tables. Something for everyone.
Naturally, I was the first to reach for all of the food (slap). D ordered us all to take hands, lower our heads, and pray.
This shocked me; D was muslim, I was Christian, Chad was agnostic, and I wasn’t even sure what some of the others were. I asked D who we were supposed to pray to.
He looks me in my face and says; “Does it matter?”
I remember how good I felt when I heard that. I didn’t understand until I had seen more of the world.
We prayed. We prayed to who we believed in.
And then we ate.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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