- Where Mudede likes to drink in public...
An interesting thing happened to me on a sunny afternoon. It went like this: I was enjoying a drink on my favorite public bench in Columbia City and watching my Southeast Asian neighbor play tennis (he is such a pro), when a handsome black man around my age approached me and said he knew me. I did not recognize him at all. Upon noticing my failure to recall the image of his face (humans are the face animal), he explained that we had known each other back in the '90s, back when we were wild and young and regulars at some seedy bar in the Central District. I stared directly at the sun of his eyes for a moment, sank deep into my memories, but again resurfaced with pure nothing. He had the wrong guy. We needed to end this conversation. I wanted to return to the pleasures of the tennis match.
He thought for a moment and asked if I knew the cats from the black rock group Action Buddy (he used to roll with them). This I did. I actually knew the members of that band. They played lots of parties in the '90s. So maybe there was something to this story of his, but I had completely forgotten him. Who was he? He then told me he was the guy who always had money in those carefree days. We were all broke and unemployed, but he worked for the navy in Bremerton and made a decent living. In the middle of describing the fancy clothes his income afforded him, it dawned on his mind that there was a good reason why I might have forgotten him: He spent five years in prison. As a result, he wasn't around for a minute. He then pointed out I had gained weight—he was in great shape; he showed me his six-pack. He then gave me his number and recommended that we soon kick it like we did in the day. I still could not remember his face.
But what really startled me in this bench encounter is how my man displayed no change in tone or emotion when telling me that he had spent some pretty serious time in the slammer. He said it with the kind of mood and manner you would expect to hear from a white person who had been living in India or studying abroad for some years. It was a normal thing to do: "The band didn't work out. I then went to prison for five years. Later, I got married. Now I'm a cook at a small restaurant. You should come by one day. I'll hook you up." What all of this indicates is that it's really not a big deal or abnormal for a black man to do hard time. It's so standard that the crime itself (the reason for the punishment) has no moral value, no social shame, no debt in it. If you are black and American, you go to prison because that's just the way it is.