Thing 1: I saw a great documentary last night called Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore? I recommend it to anyone who's even slightly politically-minded. Not only does it detail an inspirational, though failed, campaign, but it also points out one of the major problems inherent in our political system - legacy candidates who win on name recognition and familyreputation alone. A side note: watching the poor guy make all the painful phone calls and have the door slammed in his face definitely served as a reminder about why I do not want to run for office.
Thing 2: I have been meaning, for some time, to blog about my neighborhood Street Sense vendor, Ivory Wilson. I met Ivory last winter. It was shortly after I'd attended one of the seminars my work puts on for teenagers and I'd heard some speakers from the National Coalition for the Homeless. What resonated with me most that the homeless speakers said was all they want is some friendly human interaction - to be treated like people. I certainly didn't make a practice of being mean to homeless people I passed on the street, but I also didn't often smile at them or even say hello. Armed with my new awareness, I decided to make a concerted effort to be friendly to homeless people I pass each day. It was right around then that I noticed a new Street Sense vendor on the corner between Starbucks and the metro. I walk past his spot each morning and each morning I would smile at him and say good morning. I also began to buy the newspaper from him. He was always very friendly and appreciative and started to call me his friend.
"Good morning, my friend," he'd say.
I looked forward to walking past him. His would be at least one friendly face on my morning commute and often the only friendly face. On days when he wasn't there, I began to miss him.
Then, one day, I bought the paper from him and he told me his profile was in it. The first paragraph of the profile began with an accurate description and ended with a surprise: "He speaks with swagger. He smiles, but always a sideways grin making you doubt everything he says. But if he didn't smile you wouldn't believe him. If he didn't smile you wouldn't see the detail that remains from his former life: four diamonds set in gold in a front tooth. You see, Ivory Wilson III was a pimp."
After the initial shock of reading the intro, I noticed the pull-quote on the page in 24-point font: "I know that some day I am going to meet somebody that is going to give me that opportunity to talk to them and realize that I am very talented at something else besides turning women into hookers. That I am a writer."
As a woman and a feminist, I really wasn't sure how to proceed. Should I talk to Ivory in the morning? Could I still smile at him knowing what he'd done? At the same time, he's reformed and he's trying to become a writer - an aspiration I can certainly identify with. I discussed the dilemma with Neil, I mulled it over for a few days, meanwhile, Ivory was missing from his corner - as if to give me the space to process the new information I had obtained. Later he said that he was very busy because of the profile - the media had done an interview, he had to sell some of his books "How to be a Pimp", etc.
Ultimately, even after reading some of Ivory's disturbingly graphic book about being a pimp (I bought a photocopy for $5), I decided to continue my friendship. Now, Ivory brings printed word documents with new stories and poems he's written each week. I give him a dollar or two for each poem and I buy the paper when it comes out. Sometimes I stop and talk to him for a couple of minutes, but I always smile. I've noticed that I'm not the only young woman who stops and talks to Ivory. In fact, I've never seen a man talking to him on his corner. It's funny, because he's not particularly charming - but there must be something about him?
During a recent conversation, Ivory told me that living in DC doesn't tempt him to go back to his life as a pimp. Living in California, however, does, so he's staying here. I appreciated the courage it took for him to open up to me like that (I don't even think he knows my name) and it made me trust him just a little bit - enough to keep letting him call me his friend.
A couple issues of Street Sense ago, Ivory published a poem called "The Salesman at 7th and E" that chronicled his time selling the newspapers on his corner. He wrote of being cold and sad in the winter and the difference that was made by the people who said hello to him. I like to think I helped make that difference and seeing that poem in the paper felt rewarding.
There is some humor that comes with my "friendship" with Ivory. For instance, I can say things to Neil like, "Oh, sorry, I gave my last dollar to my pimp" after buying the paper from Ivory on the way home from work. I like the novelty of being friends with a reformed pimp. But really, I'm glad I took the chance and opened myself up to befriending someone to whom I previously wouldn't have given the time of day. It sounds a little made-for-tv-movie, but being friends with Ivory, regardless of his past crimes and current homelessness isn't just favor to Ivory, it makes me feel good about myself.