Jacob Lawrence, "The Life of John Brown No. 18" (1941)
Jacob Lawrence, The Life of John Brown No. 18. July 3, 1958, John Brown stocked an old barn with guns and ammunitions. He was ready to strike his first blow at slavery. (1941)
Can a Game Be Literature?

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January 28, 2003:

Young gay men in partial drag, early 20s, very small, 5'. One's African-American, one's Pinoy. Both with longish hair, tight blue jeans, mascara; one wears a woman's orange silk blouse beneath a blue denim jacket. Happy: holding hands, laughing, talking quietly with each other. They board at Eddy and Polk; maybe they're on their way home from an early date to one of the theaters there. Friendly passenger gives up a seat, allowing them to sit together. 31 Balboa, outbound, end of the workingday.

There's a sweetness to seeing happy people in public. Like most of the passengers you're charmed by their good-natured campiness.

Somebody's not so charmed. Large man, African-American, 6'3", 250 pounds, maybe a former football player in high school, maybe a former soldier, muscles now going to fat, but still strong. Beer belly, or it might be more true to say, barbecue ribs belly. Angry. Making his way through the crowd of standing passengers toward the young couple spooning near the rear door.

He's a regular. Lives in the projects between Fillmore and Divisadero. Often a little surly, today he looks mean, and, you become tense when you realize he has a purpose.

Parks himself with heavy steps between the gay couple and the exit. Snickers, mean-spirited, like the laugh a vicious predator-cat might laugh after cornering a pair of helpless baby mice.

"What's this?", he sneers, deep voice, Mississippi accent, like Bo Diddley. "A black fag." Snickers. "Never seen a black fag before."

Quiet on the bus. Gay couple no longer laughing. Passengers near them turn carefully away, stare out the windows, stare at their shoes.

You sit up straight in your seat, all the way at the back. You can't see the faces of the couple, but, it's clear the large man has their total attention. He now has yours, too.

Sneers derisively. "You are a dis-grace," he says, vehemently. "An oh-fence to the co-mu-ni-tee." Reaches out a huge hand, slaps the smaller man on both cheeks, once forehand, once backhand, like a challenge to a duel.

Time slows. He's too big. You can't take him. But, you can stand between them, and, if he attacks you, you can have him arrested. In slow motion you begin rising to your feet.

The man under attack reaches his left hand inside his jacket.

Big man snickers. "You got a gun? So what. I got a gun too." Reaches into his own jacket. "You see that?" Not a rhetorical question. Slaps the smaller man again, twice, hard.

Time stops. Halfway to your feet, frozen. Are you willing to face an enraged man with a gun?

The passengers are no longer breathing. Those nearest the scene are wishing themselves into the smallest possible postures. A frozen moment passes.

"You want to shoot with me? I'll shoot with you." Scowls. "Step outside here." Points to the rear exit door. "Next stop."

A long heartbeat passes, another, and the small man removes his hand from his jacket. Big man sneers.

"No?", he says. "Maybe I'll shoot you anyway." Slaps the smaller man again, hard.

Motionless between sitting and standing. Eyes fixed on the big man's jacket. You're unable to rise, or sit, or blink, or breathe.

Big man snickers. It's his stop. Driver pulls to the curb, waits. Like you the passengers are unwilling to move, even those who would ordinarily get off here.

Scoffs, slaps the smaller man one last time, snickers. Throws his chest out like a rooster, holds the rear door open while turning back to the couple. "I ride this bus every day," he says. Snorts in derision, and then he's gone.

Your heart beats. Driver pulls away. Diesel fumes; engine vibration through the floor.

Pinoy man takes his friend's head, lays it on his shoulder. A woman nearby turns, touches the victim on the arm. "He humiliated himself," says the Pinoy man, comforting. "He humiliated himself," he says.

No. He humiliated us all. Every human soul, all of us, everywhere on the planet.

-------- Analysis --------
Divisions among the oppressed work to the advantage of the ruling class, who carefully foster them.
Guns, guns, guns. "America! Show us your guns!" The NRA at work, preventing a military takeover by arming the citizenry. Or whatever it is they say they do.
People's unwillingness to prevent threatened violence. What would have happened if the passengers had collectively told the man to shut up, the moment he said "fag"? This is how violent minorities, for instance the Nazis, are able to intimidate whole societies.
Hollowness of the machoburger posture. Thin mask covering inner insecurity.
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