Portrait of a mid-afternoon conference in a friendly, half-filled restaurant & bar. Part of the Bar-room Portraits collection.

Three focused men sit around a table engaged in a great debate over politics, fashion, relgion, and pessimism. A medium-build white man sits on the left side of their square table. A skinny black man sits on the other. A ponderous, well-carried black man is positioned betwixt them. All three wear black and have passionate gleams in their eyes. They're friendly office-mates. They're interested in talking because each wants to prove that he is correct. They have a "one true answer" ideal: they believe that there is one answer to which the argument will gravitate in time. That's how their friendship began.

There's a great power in the smiling heavy-set black man leaning on a dwarfed chair, looking at everyone in the eye or not caring. His image--perfect unkempt sparkling hair, confident prominent glasses, taut pants and lazy knees--exclaims a prideful personal power. He speaks to the others eye-to-eye. He refutes their suggestions to their faces, but gently. He laughs like a lion.

His white watcher studies him fearfully, leaning fully forward so's not to be ignored in this trio where he's the minority. He's arguing vorciferously for change, for action. He loves the power of humanity to empathize with others. As important as anything is that this white man's thoughts aren't naturally correct nor accepted--which is where the justice lies, and he's unused to it but happy.

The smaller man to the right is nervous. He swallows, balancing the subconscious racial power structure of the meeting. He presses his spine to the back of his chair, as if cornered. His thin arms fold into his lap, where his hands grasp his elbows. He's sweltering in the hot compassion of his companions' debate. His plain face suggests an intelligence that must be coaxed out. All the time his mind is mining the issue before him, working on it in chunks to filter it for an answer.

The trio go on, toiling for truth. The smaller man speaks up occasionally, when the conversation has stayed on a topic long enough for him to compose his thoughts--and his words bring silence with them. After getting tired, they conclude on haphazard, correct-for-a-moment answers which the strong man esteems and the white man believes. One of them buys another round of drinks. They move to the next thought, by order of importance, and so their debate keeps going.

When an hour has past, they've each had some beer and they're ready for work again. The drinks have relaxed them enough to allow them to stop. They throw away their answers as they leave through the door; their faces change back to more ordinary--passive--forms. You can tell it's their habit: to argue about that which they cannot change. They forget the answers they've just found. But they are content, leaving out that door. They have once again proven that life can be solved.

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