more strange days

tonight i had an unusual experience.

i was at a birthday dinner for my friend, at her friend's house near the grand lake theater in oaktown. i knew many of the people there, but some i hadn't met before, mainly friends of the host (the friend of my friend). anyway i happened to mention in conversation that i just started grad school and a man who was there started asking me questions about it, and we ended up talking for about 1/2 hour.

he seemed to be around 60 years old, lighter-complected black. a compelling, beautiful older man. hawklike nose and high cheekbones but with a strange restraint about him. a little unsettling. a lot of things in the conversation didn't add up...he told me he'd given talks at berkeley and stanford (and the content he told me about was mainly related to current events, but he said in a somewhat cagey way that he gave talks about criminal justice). he spoke a phrase to me in a language i didn't even understand enough to know what it was, and he said it was his language. i asked him where he was born and he said "in another country. mississippi."

he hadn't been introduced to me but near the end of our talk he told me his full name in a rhetorical way that flowed with the conversation: johnny spain.

it was a weird interaction and my spidey sense was tingling a little. so he gave these talks at berkeley and stanford, and yet nothing about this guy said academic. he was articulate and intelligent, but definitely did not have the ph.d vibe about him. i was curious, so after i got home i looked him up online.

mixed race child born illegitimately to a white woman (who was married to a white man) in mississippi in the forties. eventually sent away by the parents to a foster family in california. troubled childhood, fell in with gangs. ended up killing someone in a robbery. sent to san quentin. there he was in a cell next to george jackson, and ended up becoming a member of the black panther party. was involved in the san quentin six uprising, and sentenced to life. after a 14-year appeal, got the conviction overturned, was released on parole in the late eighties, and now lives in the bay area.

i guess you never know who you'll meet at a dinner party.