Friday, March 6, 2009

want a race?

Let me preface that this blog is about race. If you’re white or black or clear, it’s about race. Do I know everything? No, but I’m damn sure I know more than you.

Okay. So it’s Friday night. Go ahead say it, ‘what the hell, Bob? Why aren’t you at xyz club/bar/vfw/ymca raging? Ok. Fridays are laundry night if you must know. And that’s where it kind of started. Well, the end of laundry night.

People in this country bring up race so many times in conversation and what not. My brain exploded in a spectrum of thought when the black, heavy-set said to me as I boarded the bus home from the Laundromat. “What’s going on brother?”

Anyone that needs a lesson in diversity and race relations look no further than their closest metropolitan city. I got on the bus and once he said that to me, my mind kind spiraled on the word brother. I have come to use this word in so many situations with so many different people. My friend J. A great person and someone that shines in every aspect I’ve seen him. Basically working his ass off so everyone else can have a great time. A Filipino guy that I met a few years back and we just hit it off. He always refers to me as “bro”. I never really thought about it, but it just goes further then a word these days. My other friend M does the same thing. Also ironically Filipino. Always gracious and appreciative of the friends around him. It almost amazes me how much they both appreciate the good people around them. My friend R and J in Chicago. Two black guys who radiate the word cool and impressed me so much in the short time I got to spend with them. R radiates light from the inside. J, the Pretty Boy Floyd of the weekend just can impress with words and attitude. I clicked with both of these guys in a very short time while I was out in ChiTown visiting E.

I mean, this is what I’m talking about. You have to be the weakest and most unintelligent person on the planet to hate someone because of the color of their skin. Shit, I might hate what you have to say, but I can’t hate the color of your skin. I always was amused when I would talk with other white people about the area I was from. And they would say, that’s a pretty shitty area. I’m sitting here thinking, well, you’re hanging with me. So how shitty can it be? I never shied away from telling people exactly where I was from. I loved when people would refer to my high school in a derogatory way for the number of black kids that went there. Yes, I don’t call myself Irish-American, so I tend to not say African-American. Not one of my black friends will be offended because I probably know them just as well as their families do and some are closer to me than some of my family. Well, my next sentence would be so typical of the “white” kid at State University; “a lot of my best friends are black people”. I mean, it is that simple.

I guess this is where regret comes in. I regret not going over to their houses for holidays and having fun around their loved ones. People I grew up with from Kindergarten to senior year in high school played such a part in who I am that I am saddened that I didn’t get to be more involved in their lives. That’s the way it was though. My town and the town over were both 100% white and 100% black. You didn’t cross the line. It was that type of situation. I remember my friend R and a few others came to my neighborhood and they brought sticks with their bikes. When they rode down my street all my neighbors started looking out the windows. I mean, I was just that kind of guy. R is still one of my best friends to this day even though we seldom see each other.

I saw a really close friend and teammate from high school at a reunion. He had a real rough time after high school. Going through addiction and ending up in places that we cant hardly imagine much less speak of. I had heard stories. Writing this gives me chills. But when I saw my backfield buddy D, I saw his eyes nearly well up and produce a tear. A brief embrace so none of the ladies would see the football guys getting all soft and a whisper in my ear and words that were a surprise to me.

“B, I missed ya man. I got real lost and when I was at my worst I used to think about how much fun we used to have at practice and remembered how fcuking cool you were man. I missed you…”

D now lives up near the Bronx. That night he said that made me feel like the moments were worth it. Those horrible days we had at practice didn’t make us all-stars, but taught us what we needed to be resilient against life’s worst demons. What he doesn’t know is that I needed that just as bad he did. Do you know what it means when a man can be totally honest with another man about how he feels? It’s called growing up and becoming the man you want to become.

See, my parents will say we had it good growing up. I mean, it was okay. They did the best we could. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I saw kids with nothing in my classrooms. I had nice clothes, new sneakers, but when I think now, I was in their class because we lived close by each other. We were in the same county, town, zip code. We weren’t that different. I knew kids that were on welfare and got the free lunches. I mean, I always got a few bucks for lunch, but the mysterious orange cheese in my fridge didn’t click until years down the road. You can strive your whole adult life trying to keep up with the Joneses, but when you’re 8, 9, 10, 11, and realize that you and you friends are in the same situation, you almost feel like you’re a part of something…..even if it is a little bit of poverty.

I’m not saying I was starving. We ate Real Good Bread. No lie, it was called that. Occasionally a loaf of stroheman would pop in there.

Many people don’t really know much about what makes me the person I am now. I think that from some of those childhood experiences, I can adapt to a lot of different situations. One time, at school, I was really faced with a situation I wasn’t sure I could even handle. Maybe you can picture it. Basically all white party at a house. A lot of kids from Philly and State U-D County. Lots of friends. Lots of guys. Lots of girls. So a friend from my childhood showed up. My friend B was black. Friend that came back into my life after I had met him down the Southwest part of the city. A great kid and guy all around. Just the kind of guy you want to be friends with. I think where he might be right now. So B is at the party. Some of these kids. Somewhere from the Northeast part of the city. I didn’t know them. I didn’t know many Catholic school kids. No love. No hate. Reallly nothing big to me. I was a public school. We’re all college kids. Well, B is there having beer with all of us. One of the kids confronts B. Says something and then says something else. I heard the something else. The white guy with the Jeff cap said “why don’t you pick up my trash you ****** from southwest philly….” Well, B was my friend years before these clowns. What is scary about this is that we were outnumbered. I sided with B of course. My boy. So its black and white versus all white. Thinking about it now, kind of a tense movie scene. Well, we’re all standing there and somehow a knife comes up right into the mix. Like slow motion it happens. Usually I would never grab a weapon from anyone, but for some reason as it came into play, I reach my hands out and caught it on the flat sides and just pulled it down. For the life of me I cant remember if B or the other guy pulled it. B was a very friendly person. He was taught not to hate anyone regardless of their big Italian nose, Irish wit, Jewish nose, or black attitude. He fit in so well, all you ever noticed was the smile. We were all so young, but I had been through my class in race relations about 10 years earlier than the masses of WASPS at State University. I knew what to do. Tears welling up in B’s eyes. Frustration in his voice. Hurt in his face. A cracking in his attempt to get the words out. Bobby, I’m gonna…..And with that, I said to the crowd watching, we’re leaving. One tough guy still wanted to say something…..I said, “well, you want to beat up the black guy…you might as well beat my ass as well, but I’ll take my chances and bet on me.” Always good with a cocky comment because I had good people on my side, we walked out of there. I had my arm over his shoulder. I was proud that we walked out of there together.

I’m not saying I know all kinds of stuff about race and stuff. I guess if you’re not exposed to the great ways that people of different races and creeds can educate us, than I feel sorry for you. I loved for two years that I was called white boy by over 200 blacks, Puerto-ricans, and whites while I worked at UPS. To this day, it was the best job I ever had. At 8.50 an hour. I miss all those guys. I remember now walking into a Super Bowl Party. I was the only white guy invited. I walked in and smelled smoke and wing sauce and then my buddy Kwan goes, “white boy…..we didn’t lay bets on the game…we laid bets that you wouldn’t show up in G-Town at this house at night…..” I said, “dog, you know how I roll….!”

I also remember kids from college learning the area I was from. And my friend J aka Big Meat saying that he didn’t think my area was really that tough. Like, what was so tough about about 5-10 miles away from where he grew up. I mean, my nickname in college was GB aka Gangsta Bob. Someone actually referred to me as that last week. Anyhow, my friend J asked me about living where I grew up. While I never thought about this day, it did happen. My friend S picked me up one day in his Cavalier. When I got in, there was a Glock 9mm handgun in the passenger side. We drove around and he said to load the gun. The thought at that point in my life was like putting my pants on, it kind of came naturally. No questions. No rationalizations. Just did it. Loaded. In my hand. Drive past a few places and just held it. Now, nothing happened, but looking back, being that close to a potentially very bad situation is all but surreal to me. It’s one of life’s, I was there and it could have been worse days. S turned out to be a police officer. I turned out to be, well, me. I’m not one for guns or violence, but in my younger years, you would find me around every haggle and donnybrook there ever was. Hey, donnybrook is an actual word. Way to go. Mom and Dad would be totally perplexed at learning this, but again, my friends have suffered much worse and we’ve been collectively through it. If I wasn’t there when they did, I was there after and have gone through my own trials.

This is such a long blog. I guess these things are supposed to be short. I just find it funny that some people share interracial jokes in their families. I mean, I’ve heard them all. From my grandfather to the grandfathers of other races. Yeah we smell like wet dogs when it rains! Ha.

Back to my bus driver. I wish I got his name tonight. It was me, him and a woman who had to be at least 200 years old. She was sleeping on the bus and we woke her up. She had no idea where she was. She got off the bus. He said to me, “Man, I mean, I feel like our job as human beings is to stand up for people that can’t stand up for themselves. I mean, what can we say for ourselves if we can’t help people?” I had no answer. I said, “Man, you’re right.” All that from one night.

So yeah, that’s what I had to say tonight. I miss all my friends. All of them. We never get enough time to sit in that time that can teach us so much more than we think it can. For all the differences we have, we are so very similar to everyone else. I wish there was so much more time to know so much more about the people that came and went in my life/but maybe my life is too different for them to know.

If you ever get the chance you should watch a move called “They call me Mr. Tibbs” with Sidney Portier. An absolute lesson in race, the South, the right, the wrong, and how it all goes down.

My thought for tonight. I know we have our ideas. I know we have our pre-conceived notions. I know you’re not always gonna welcome whitey in your house. I know you don’t want to seem too nice. All I’m saying is please listen. Listen to what people have to say. They will really impress you. Everyone.

These words came to me tonight and I had to write. It took over the night. Of course I bought a 40 to keep it real, but I mean, I would of bought that anyhow. Ha. I guess I miss my friends. I miss the friends that I spent the most time with that were different than me, but more brothers and sisters than I was ever born with. GJ, ZR, JM, , J, DS, A, L, LJ, KB, TB, DT, N, JP, BS, JW, RB, LB, JT, RK, RM, LW, RB.

I am a big believer that the sum is greater than it parts. Man, that doesn’t speak more loudly than in a group of kids from a bunch a different backgrounds so confused about life that they only care about making it. And I think we made it….I think we made it from that playground.

You gotta love livin', baby, 'cause dyin' is a pain in the ass. - Frank Sinatra

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