Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fair Trade

The young man sitting at the table next to me keeps clearing his throat.

At first I think it might be the low rumble of some piece of coffee house machinery, but I hazard a glance to my right and see the guy working the muscles in his throat. It looks like a tick, not like he actually has anything stuck in there.

He looks young, maybe my age or a few years shy. Long, dark brown hair that falls in front of his face and doesn't seem to be recently washed. He's wearing jeans, sneakers with the laces untied, and a too-big winter coat. A stuffed, ragged bag lays at his feet. Sometimes he just sits and stares out the window for a few minutes without moving. Now his hand is raised, waving back and forth as though he's conducting some invisible symphony.

I think he must be homeless, probably, and not entirely level in the head. There are a lot of street kids that hang out in this area. A lot of transient adults, too. Most keep to themselves, I assume focused less on the mobs of students going to and from class and more on finding some place to sleep tonight. He's quiet, looking far away, not all there. I think he's too young for that. Too young to be so abandoned already.

A woman, one of the owners of this coffee shop, comes and sits at his table. Asks him if he has any family nearby, a place to stay. I hear him say something about how only one person still talks to him anymore, and they live in Rockton. Illinois? she asks. He nods and mumbles something else. I think it's nice that she's talking to him instead of just kicking him out. I guess.

I don't hear the whole conversation, but it ends in him shuffling to his feet and leaving. I don't think there was any resolution, nowhere for him to go, just another move-along-please but, to her credit, nicer said than some.

Another young man comes to sit in the now vacant seat, laptop in hand, but the woman tells him to wait, "I'm going to wash off the table first."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It Gets Better

My piece for today's Emily's Post blog at Isthmus is now live, and I wanted to cross-post this one because it's an ongoing issue that's especially near and dear to my heart. In related news, you can now subscribe to Emily's Post via an RSS feed right here.

Teen suicide is not a new problem. The way the media has been covering the recent surge might make it seem otherwise, but kids have been getting bullied and driven to drastic measures for as long as anyone living today can remember.

I remember.

There can be a silver lining to all of the recent, highly-publicized tragedy, though – if it raises awareness nationwide and leads to serious, concerted changes in the ways we all deal with homophobia and discrimination in general. If it means no kid will feel ostracized and alone because of their sexual orientation or differentness.

Dan Savage (he of Savage Love fame) started the “It Gets Better” project in response to the rash of teen suicides as a way to spread the message to young people who might be feeling hopeless that, if they just hold on through high school, their life can and will improve. They’ll be able to choose their peer groups – people who love and accept them for exactly who they are – and live full lives.

It’s a marvelous movement, and the positive response to it has been overwhelming.

But I’ve been glad to see many people taking the idea a step further and recognizing that grade school shouldn’t have to be such a mine field in the first place. That students and school administrators alike bear the responsibility of fighting against bullying, of enforcing rules that make the learning environment a safe one for every student.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Golden hour in Wisconsin

Autumn in Wisconsin is one of my favorite things in the world. Too bad it's all too often so fleeting. I took these shots during "golden hour," just before the sun set yesterday, somewhere between Madison and Waterloo after returning from a mountain bike ride in the country.

Truly, this is not a bad place to live.
The Lost Albatross