On Friday I saw Spotlight, a film that recently won Best Picture at the Oscars. The film portrays an investigative journalism team at The Boston Globe that in 2002 published evidence of a major child abuse scandal amongst Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area. The team sought to expose flaws in the “entire system” of Roman Catholicism. As if to underscore the extent of the problem, the film ends with a note that Cardinal Bernard Law — a man directly responsible for covering up sexual abuse by dozens of priests — though he initially resigned from his role in Boston, was later given a higher position of power in Rome. In the years since Spotlight’s report, the Church has responded saying that they took the findings as a chance for large-scale changes in the organization, and that they’ve now “reformed”.
At an intersection near my house where a convenient store’s neon illuminates the sidewalk out front, an old man sits nearby, methodically smoking a cigarette down to its filter. I see him at all hours: sometimes in the morning as I pedal by on my route to work, but just as often at dusk as I walk to get groceries, the fiery red, lit end of his butt winking open and closed like a tiny eye from a distance. He sits in a way that does not suggest comfort, with his back to a telephone poll, knees drawn up against his chest with limbs splayed out to the side, the arm that shuttles the cigarette pivoting against his leg like a drawbridge being raised and lowered again. You can all but hear the squeaks of his ancient machinery as he drags deep and sinks lower into his pose. His eyes are fixed at an arbitrary point on the cement ten feet away, seeing something far beyond San Francisco.
I picked up a conch shell
and held it to my ear,
turning as I did
to look back at her.
We were riding the 38 home that night, trundling west on Geary Street. The bus was packed but we’d snagged two seats in the middle, in that section of the bus that conjoins the two halves and gives you a tinge of motion sickness when the bus makes a tight turn and breaks in two, giving you the fleeting sense that you’re to be shorn in half amidst a mess of steel. Across the narrow aisle, almost knee-to-knee, a man in his middle 50’s — white hair, graying stubble, weathered skin — bounced to the beats in his earbuds. He sported a straight-brimmed basketball cap, his pants were tighter than expected for one of his age, and he wore skate shoes on his feet. His eyes stuck to the floor, but we admired this unusual stranger in private, making small smiles to one another and gesturing with our eyes. His mystique deepened when he began rapping under his breath, no louder than a whisper.
At the beginning there’d been love notes, folded up into origami triangles of blue-lined notebook paper and tucked secretly into closed laptops. There were doodled-upon envelopes sealed with whimsical stickers, nestled into the hedgerow outside of the office and a cryptic text message alerting the other to the delivery’s whereabouts. There were sappy valentines delivered by bike courier and well-wishes written in chalk on their bedroom wall before leaving for work.