Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Two Calvins

Our eyes had met a few times, and this time I nodded a greeting to the quiet black man sitting at one of the leg extension machines at the gym. He was small and frail, the type who came to exercise on a doctor's recommendation and not from a desire to get some brawn.

His name was Calvin, a computer engineer of the foot soldier category who had been kicked around during the stormy post-bubble years. He was now settled at a small firm surviving on subcontracts and got the jitters at every cough from their main client. His worn face looked kind but tired, and his manner was self-effacing. We chatted about work, family, and what's happening in the wicked wide world.

Another day I came to the gym and saw a new face, white, doing a chest fly. He seemed likeable, I thought. A few minutes later, looking up from my own exercise I saw the new guy standing near me with an engaging smile. He was a bit taller than me and as fit as a fiddle. His name incidentally was also Calvin.

The white Calvin had a boyish, intelligent face, and his bearing was more assertive than his black namesake. He worked at a national institute just outside Washington. We talked a bit about how life was treating each of us while exchanging brief comments on the news flashing on TV.

I found both Calvins similar in many ways, including a ready sense of humor. Yet I noticed the two men never came into contact. When I mentioned one to the other, like "See that guy over there? His name is Calvin too." I got a vapid "Oh yeah" in one instance and a cold "I don't know him" in another. So I continued to talk to the white Calvin at one corner of the weight room then move to another corner to shake hands with the black one.

A few months later I left town, leaving my two friends behind at that club. They were still toting that painful historical baggage which a newcomer like me couldn't even aspire to understand.

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