A Sunday in the park

One of the great perks of living on the Hill is our proximity to Volunteer Park, a lush urban setting where one can enjoy the quiet of a sheltering tree or the frivolity of a game of ultimate frisbee on the expansive grounds.

In late April, a classmate invited me to attend a series of free performances at the park. Penned by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, who in November 2002 decided to write a play a day for 365 days. Titled "365 Days/ 365 Plays," the cycle offers a daily reflection on an artistic life. Some works are less than a page long, others are longer. The plays are presented in a variety of settings from traditional theaters to parks, bus stops and even online media.

On a Sunday morning my friend and I hightailed it to the park for a show we thought started at the top of the water tower. Voices percolated from the bottom of the north staircase so we ambled down and arrived for the final applause line.

Much like "Waiting for Godot," the plays capture the absurdities and indiscretions of life. The mystery, love, uncertainty and discovery we all experience as part of being alive. Darkness versus light. Understanding versus confoundedness.

Next stop was the Conservatory, where a scene that smacked of science fiction climaxed in the actors spilling out across the lawn in a free-for-all chase.

Happy, we wandered down to the wading pool for the penultimate performance. In the empty pool stood a man in his 50s conducting batting practice with two young boys wearing baseball gloves. The director and leader of the troupe politely approached him, requesting use of the space to put on the next skit. She assured him the performance would last no longer than five minutes.

His body language made it clear that he didn't take kindly to the suggestion. "We were here first. You can wait until we're done, in the next five minutes," he said.

There was a heated discussion between the director, a young African-American woman, and the man about the time. She then announced the actors would instead perform on the surrounding grass.

Five minutes later, the scene complete, the group passed by the man and two boys as they wrapped up practice. Another short, testy exchange occurred between the director and the man, inaudible to me in the back of the crowd.

In passing, I wished the man a good day. But when I heard him in a loud, aggravated voice refer to her in front of his sons as a "bitch," I froze in my tracks. His attitude disturbed me, especially in front of two impressionable 8- or 9-year olds. I paused, unsure of my place, but felt the need to speak.

"You know, sir, I think that's inappropriate language to use in front of your sons," I said.

He grew angry and complained about his right to be there just as much as ours. He said the woman hadn't set a good example.

"Still," I repeated, "you're using inappropriate language in front of your sons."

As Rob and I walked down the path away from the park he yelled back: "You'll never know what it's like to be a father."

I turned around feeling it was a targeted insult, wanting to strike back. But instead I held my tongue. I pursed my lips with a smile and gave him a peace sign, realizing anything else was pointless.

As we walked away, I tried to come to terms with what transpired. At first I thought the man, who happened to be white, was racist and didn't want an black woman telling him where to go, what to do that day in Volunteer Park. Then I began to wonder if it had nothing to do with race and more to do with a woman making a claim on his territory.

Regardless of the threat he experienced, I came back to the importance of challenging his ugly reaction. If nobody confronts the behavior he modeled, those boys are going to grow into men who think they can ridicule people who are weaker, or a different skin color or gender than they are. We don't need more bullies in this world.

In February I began volunteering with Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, the organization that matches adult mentors with children who need caring role models in their lives. The program assigned me Curtis, a bright-eyed young boy who lost his mother two years ago in a car crash and attends elementary school in Seattle's Central District.

Each week I visit him during his lunch hour. During our time together I cheer on his gymnastic feats, we jump rope and play basketball. He insists on sharing his lunch with me, a reflection of his caring and politeness. Last week he celebrated his 10th birthday. After repeated hints of his love of cars, I found a small toy BMW convertible in red and wrapped it in gift paper.

The joy of watching a child grow is a transforming experience. Currently a single adult without a partner, I'm unsure whether I'll become a father. But I know I have a lot to offer children in terms of support, love and encouragement.

And while my memory of "365 Days/ 365 Plays" is fast fading, the final episode of my Sunday in the park left a lasting real-life impression. It takes a village.

For more information about Big Brothers/ Big Sisters of King and Pierce Counties, visit www.bbbs.org.

Jack Hilovsky's column appears in the second issue of each month of the Capitol Hill Times. Reach him at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com.

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