Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Origami Hank

It's not like I'm a scholar of the Black Power movement or anything. I will force you to admit (through sophistry and karate chops), however, that it is a pretty fascinating topic. I come from a nice, liberal, 1960s-SF-State household in which the Black Panthers etc. were alluded to in tones of nostalgic awe. Huey Newton, H. Rap Brown, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver... two of these guys are dead, and I'll probably never meet the other two.

This is why I was so impressed by my Amtrak seatmate, Imam Abdul Alim Musa (née Clarence Reams, or Big Hank). The setup (curious whitish wiseass meets black revolutionary intellectual) led to an interesting conversational dance. His favorite topics were 1) the US government's conspiracy behind September 11th, 2) general lefty firebrand rhetoric, and 3) the new moon. My favorite topics were 1) his drug-dealing past, 2) the arc of his life, and 3) his sparring with Sean Hannity.

So you can kind of imagine how it went down. It's the sort of situation where you agree with the guy's general stance on everything, and yet agree with none of the particulars. I did a lot of subject-changing during our 3-hour talk. His warm heart + his hatred of authority + the instinct of an impish provocateur = the potential for some serious hot air. This equation also explains why he's a telegenic straw man for right-wing news channels.

I'm busy and it's getting late, so I'll delay the last portion of this serial until tomorrow. But this is what struck me the most: the man has led several different, full lives. He reminds me of this article on origami: the finite square of a life, folded into an inexhaustible series of complex patterns.