Monday, September 21, 2015

Pee Wee Revisited

I notice that the African Americans around here tend to focus upon upon whatever objects one has on his person rather than meeting the persons eyes.


On my way back from the store last night, where I had gone after watching football with Howard, I passed a black man, who was seated on the steps in front of the Eat Well Market.

I'm sure that he scoped me out as I approached, in the manner of sizing up that is commonly practiced by urban types; but as I walked past him I saw that his eyes fell upon the bottle of wine that I was drinking from and had in my left hand, followed it for a second or two and then his gaze switched to the bag of groceries in my other hand, before he snatched a glimpse of the tell tale rectangular protrusion in my left pocket, which could only be a pack of cigarettes.

His face wore a hostile expression. Either because he knew through experience or word of mouth that he would be wasting his breath trying to skeeze me; or because he is laboring under the disillusion that everything comes easily for us white people; and the fact that I had a bag of groceries, a bottle wine and cigarettes just fueled his resentment of myself and the unfair system that we live in.

Some people are going to find something to hate you for, even if they have to look for a minute.

I have detected a tone in the voices of some of those who say: "Give me a cigarette!" which seems to imply that giving them a cigarette is the least that I could do to right some invisible injustice.

I can remember the first black people that I ever really encountered, who were not the hand full who lived in the predominately white city where I came from, whose behaviors had been tempered in an effort to fit in.

It was in Army basic training, when I was 19.

During one of my forays into San Antonio from nearby Fort Sam Houston, I found a photographers shop, the owner of which did a thriving business in creating portraits of soldiers.

Since us soldiers were only in town when not in training, and would invariably be wearing civilian clothes, the proprietor had a whole closet full of military uniforms which could be donned by whomever was sitting for a portrait.

I'm not sure if he had the olive green shirts of the lowlier enlisted soldiers available; but the demonstration photo in his front window portrayed a highly decorated officer from the Green Beret battalion, complete with medals on his chest and, I think, captains bars on his shoulders.

I suppose any rank higher than that would belie the age of the 19 year old private who was shelling out for a professionally done photo of "himself."

It was suggested by the photographer that I don the very same uniform, and so I did.

"It doesn't matter that I'm just a private?"

"No, this will make a good picture. You'll be a General some day!"

To get back to the point:

When I returned to the barracks, where I cohabited with a group which was at least half black men; the first blacks that I had really met in my life; and I was showing a few of my friends the portrait of myself in the Green Beret digs, and it was garnering some admiration, I noticed that one of the young black kids was staring at the picture with that same mixture of contempt and envy that I see echoed in the faces of a lot of the black men around here.

Another, probably more "worldly" black soldier noted this and, laying his hand on the kids shoulder, said: "You can get one of those, Pee Wee (as that was the kids nickname) You can get one too, if you want!"

It had never dawned upon me that Pee Wee could have thought that such a thing was beyond his reach; unavailable to him -Just go to the same photographer and have one made of yourself. What's the big deal? I thought.

That incident opened my eyes to the existence of another world (outside of the city where I came from) where black people may have become conditioned to think that nice things were for whites only.

But I can't help think of Pee Wee whenever I walk past a black man with contempt and envy on his countenance; whose eyes don't meet mine, but rather survey whatever I might have in my possession.
If and when they say: "Give me a cigarette," I think I will take a cue from the other soldier and reply: "You can get some. Just go to that store over there, they'll sell them to you, too. This is 2015; your money is just as good as mine!"

That ought to save them the trouble of looking for a reason to hate me.

Postscript:

The photographer said that he would keep copies of every photo on file (until the end of time) in case the customer ever wanted copies.
I have often thought that, If I'm ever in San Antonio, I'll see if the guy is still in business and maybe try to get a copy of the thing. Even though he did some kind of silk screening, soft focus hocus pocus on the thing and my eyes came out looking too blue (they are actually hazel).

You've just read: 828 words.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up, all the black people I met or knew were better off than I was, often far better off. In Basic, the black folks were better fed, had come from jobs that paid more than the one I'd come from, etc.

    Intellectually, I know a lot of black folks have got it rough, but until recently, at the workplace or neighborhood, etc., all the black people I met were doing better than me.

    I understand that in new Orleans by and large, the black people have got it rough. They're the underclass like whites are where I grew up. That's why if they could get out, they did. Louis Armstrong is but one example. I got the hell out of where I grew up, too. How I grew up, if you are white you have to work harder and will get paid less.

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