Archive for the ‘race’ Category
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 22, 2016
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 4, 2008
Sean had tried “acid” himself once, under different conditions, with different results. He had moved into a house with several other guys including Jeff, the young, long-haired landlord. The landlord was from New York City, and played a keyboard for parties and such around town. He had a friend in New York who made the stuff. Sean bought two tabs from Jeff and had one tested by a lab, a free lab set up for just that purpose. The lab tested street drugs to prevent people from being poisoned. Pushers are such creepy people. They’ll use strychnine to imitate LSD, since it has hallucinogenic properties. They’ll even put animal tranquilizers in bags of oregano or cheap weed, and sell it as “Acapulco Gold”, and shit like that. Most often, people found that all they’d gotten in place of acid was powdered sugar and methamphetamine – “speed” – deadly stuff, and highly addictive.
Sean’s tab turned out to be really pure LSD-25, the real deal, so he tried it. He’d heard all the hype about visions and suicides, but Lenny’s friend David had insisted that the pure stuff wouldn’t hurt anyone. Sean had researched the journals in the Hopkins Medical library, and that appeared to be true. The pure, unadulterated drug got pissed out of one’s system in short order. He wanted to see if this drug could really unlock his subconscious mind. At first, he had been disappointed. He could make images in a black-light poster on his wall appear to move, but there were no colored lights, no hallucinations of things that weren’t there. I think I see it now; most of this is hype. People see what they expect to see, he thought. This says so much about expectations, and self-delusion, he had pondered, thinking he understood a lot more about the world. Suddenly he had noticed that he was thinking a lot, non-stop. All at once, he seemed to be aware of different levels of thought. He was thinking about the Clinic, about friends, family, and school, all at the same time. He felt detached, felt as if he was observing his thoughts from a distance. This is interesting, he had thought. I wonder why people jump out of windows? Oh, yeah. The effects of LSD are like temporary insanity. So this is what it feels like to be insane. He felt like he was on the edge, that he could go either way – back to normalcy, or over the edge, trapped in his own thoughts. Insanity was actually attractive, in a sense. One could give up responsibility for one’s self, and the rest of the world could go hang. He got a phone call. “Sean, it’s for you,” Jeff yelled up the stairs. It was Sean’s brother Pat, a military cop home from Germany. Sean couldn’t figure out why Pat would call, especially now. He was having a hard time following the conversation. Pat said he just wanted to say hi. That was unusual, in fact, it had never occurred to either of them to call each other before. Sean told Pat he was tripping. Pat had been involved with drugs himself, and Sean had always suspected that the drugs Pat picked up readily in Baltimore to sell in rural Pennsylvania had been the trouble that had pushed him into military service. He expected Pat to congratulate him for trying it, that they’d have something in common now. However, Pat said, “Well you know, I don’t do that stuff anymore. I gave all that up in the army. In fact, I once busted my whole platoon for drugs.” Weird. Who is this guy? Sean wondered. “Well, you take it easy. I was just calling to say hi.” Sean was really puzzled now. If was as if he had called on cue. He couldn’t have known; I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do this. The drug lab? Nah. The deal with the lab ran like this: you wrote down the serial number on a dollar bill, and gave it to them with whatever drug you wanted tested. That was the only way to get people to trust the service. Then you called the lab later on and gave them the serial number. Sean had called from the Free Clinic. They couldn’t have traced the call to me, he thought. But that guy he spoke with, he had told Sean that the LSD was pure, more pure in fact, than anything he’d seen there. “Can you get some more?” the lab guy wanted to know. “Sean said, No. I don’t think that would be a good idea, and had hung up. It had made him nervous then, and his mind spun wildly now. Could they have a tap on the Clinic’s phone, traced the call to me, called my parents, and they’d called Pat?” Conspiracy theories and paranoia are common to drug users.
Sean was really getting tired of this already. He wanted to go to sleep, but couldn’t. He wandered around the house, looking at everything. He tried to study, but couldn’t concentrate. He’d think about the texture of his skin, and marvel at its complexity. He’d watch the patterns of light shift in the house. He’d feel lonely, then afraid. He’d feel nothing. In the light of dawn he went outside to watch the rain falling, feeling it thud against his eyeballs. Later on he marveled at the drops of water hanging onto each blade of grass. So much life in each drop of water! But, he’d had enough. When Jeff finally woke up, he asked him to help. Jeff gave him a mega-dose of vitamin B6, which didn’t help. It felt as if every cell in Sean’s body was on fire, and even a cold shower felt warm on his skin, but eventually he managed to fall asleep after the drug ran its course.
Well, anyway, that was why he knew that the woman in the Clinic that night was going to be alright. Most nights at the Clinic, things were pretty routine. It felt good to work there. Sean had spent two years buried in the physics lab, literally, for it was underground with no windows, few visitors, and no other regular employees. Contact with new people and new ideas was exciting.
One night, he was talking with a patient, Mary, who had brought a stack of the Black Panther Party’s newspapers with her. The Panthers, after the initial organization of the Clinic, had dropped out. They had decided to work alone, in the poorest, not coincidentally, blackest section of the city. He argued with Mary about the politics of violence that the Panthers represented.
“How can we become a peaceful society using violence? Would anything change if everyone had a gun? How could we defeat the government if it came to a real contest anyway?”
“You don’t understand. The police shoot and kill people in the Black community every day. They must be able to defend themselves.”
“But that still won’t change racism.”
“Sean, what I think you should do is come to a study group.”
And what a strange bunch that study group turned out to be! A research technician, a taxi-driver on the fringes of the Mafia, the wife of the Panther’s lawyer, an ex-prostitute who still stripped on Baltimore’s infamous “Block” to help support her family, a former cheerleader and debutante, and Ron, a neighborhood guy, and the only Panther in the group. They studied the ideology of the Panthers, a strategy of struggle based on the writings of China’s Mao Zedong. Sean learned of the Panther’s free breakfast and school for ghetto kids. The Panthers were also involved in trying to coax irresponsible absentee landlords into maintaining and repairing their rat infested buildings. Additionally, flaking lead paint was being eaten by children – they had a campaign going to eliminate lead paint and have the houses repainted. The group learned of Mao’s “Long March” across China and his efforts to modernize a backward country. Mao had wanted to organize the peasants, the poorest people, to improve their own lives, and such also was the philosophy of the Panthers. One day the study group was interrupted by a loud banging on the door. “Police. Open up.” They swarmed in like (dare I say it?) loose hogs. They dumped drawers, turned beds over, searched everyone, and refused to answer questions. They took Ron. “It’s not unusual,” Mary told Sean, “Happens all the time.”
Ron got out later, although they never found out what the cops had been looking for or why they took him in.
“We were lucky,” Mary said, “Sometimes they don’t bother to knock, they break the door down and come in shooting. A house down the street got raided once and the pigs shot two people. Later they said that they had made a mistake.”
“But didn’t the cops do anything for them?”
“They didn’t even offer to pay for the damages.”
“I don’t believe the police would do that. How could they get away with it?”
“Sean, you’re too smart to be so naïve. This is racism. This is how it affects people here. Many of the police are out-and-out racists. A black man’s life is nothing to them.”
Well, the study group would not be just idle armchair philosophers. They picketed jails in support of striking prisoners. Only their visible presence prevented retaliations against the strikers. “The guards must go. The guards must go. Stop racist attacks. Stop racist beatings,” and so on.
They attended trials and Sean saw, first hand, how poor people were railroaded into jail. Police crimes went unpunished, white-collar criminals stole thousands and were given petty fines, but a poor man who stole $28.75 with a gun was jailed for twenty years.
Then came the end for the Panthers in Baltimore. As a group, they were accused of the murder of a police informer. Sean joined a legal study group to help with the defense, and watched those trials. Those trials were the worst mockery of justice he’d seen. The paid witnesses would contradict not only each other, but themselves. Everyone was finally acquitted of the murder, but one man was convicted of conspiracy, for driving the car that was supposed to have taken the victim to the park where his body was found. That man eventually became the first inmate in the Baltimore City jail ever to graduate from college while in prison.
The study group kept going. Sean had a vision: the Vietnamese, Chinese, South Africans, Palestinians, Blacks and other working people of the world and the U.S. would unite in common struggle; they were in fact already beginning to do so. Freed of their daily struggle to survive, The Wretched of the Earth, as Franz Fanon of Africa put it, could rapidly take control of their own lives, just as Sean had been learning that people could take control of their own health.
In reality, in the U.S., few people were willing to talk, much less walk, the same direction. People still talked about racism, injustice, poverty, and war as if they were campaign slogans. Not much seemed to really be “a changing”, after all.
Panthers all over the country were attacked in their headquarters by police who always claimed that they were “responding to an unprovoked attack.”
The War ground on. “Dick Nixon before he dicks you,” was a popular slogan. Nevertheless, Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon used the promise of ending the War to win election for a second term. His “secret plan” had meant escalation: the mining of Haiphong Harbor, the carpet bombing of Vietnamese cities and farmlands, and illegal “incursions” into Cambodia and Laos.
There was only one thing to do, Sean believed, Destroy the U.S. government, the war machine, and all entrenched institutions that perpetuated war, human indignity, and destruction of our Earth. But that was not only improbable, but stupid. Even if such a thing could be brought to pass, what would emerge? How could petty dictators be prevented from setting up local kingdoms? How would we insure the quality of life that we hoped would be everyone’s birthright? No, that was not a solution. As much as he hated to admit it, Sean knew governments were necessary just to maintain civilization and protect everyone’s rights. Obviously the world’s present institutions are inadequate to prevent war, injustice and poverty, but what would replace them? And how? I can’t see a solution. No one is ready to agree on how a better society would function. Sure, no racism, sexism, or nationalism. No war or poverty or injustice. That was the goal only. How could it be brought about and maintained?
In the meantime, until solutions could be found, Sean decided, I will disagree, I will protest, and I would keep on keeping on at the People’s Free Medical Clinic. That place is my only real hope for the future. I will defend it against all attack.
Sean really enjoyed decision making at the Clinic. Once a month they all ate together, doctors, nurses, staff volunteers, and neighbors. Everyone had a say in policy making, but first they shared their potato salads, rice, squash, homemade bread, casseroles, beans, meatloaf, Quiche, or funny little Swedish meatballs.
When you share your food, and your stomach’s full, most disagreements seem petty. Arguments among friends have resolutions. They found funding, doctors and supplies. Patients found them. They made their presence and their ideals known. Word got around the city. The Women’s Center, separate but connected to the Clinic – physically and politically – had founded a city-wide network of consciousness raising groups, and published a widely read magazine: Women: A Journal of Liberation, dealing with alternative life styles, social change, and sexual politics.
They had contacts in all the hospitals. Sean found that he could make referrals with every assurance that people could get the treatment and support that they needed. Some patients joined the Clinic staff, and others joined them on buses to demonstrations.
On a practical level, the clinic staff went door-to-door, asking for monthly pledges of fifty cents or a dollar to maintain the Clinic and pay the rent. It worked. But the greater part of society seemed unchangeable to Sean. What could really be done to revolutionize the way our country, and the world, operated? That question would follow him everywhere he went, from Baltimore to North Dakota to Oklahoma to Arizona to Florida and about thirty-five other states in the nation. He was anxious to see and learn more about how people were living and coping in the rest of the country. But where to go and how? My part-time job and student loans barely keep me alive. I didn’t want to quit school, now that I’m finally a full-time student, and I would certainly need money to travel. I’d tried hitchhiking to Chicago once. What a disaster. You could kill a whole day just waiting for a ride.
He remembered why he’d gone to Chicago. He’d met a woman at the Clinic once, Marilyn Gans. She was pretty and friendly. She volunteered at the clinic, and wrote for Women. After a dinner and meeting at her apartment for the patient advocates, Sean had stayed to help her clean up, and they fell to talking until the storm hit. Baltimore had suddenly been hit with another one of the tail ends of a hurricane, and flood waters had risen quickly around the city. The streets were all overflowing with water, and the emergency warnings took over all broadcasts on radio and TV. Everyone was ordered to stay off the streets and indoors. Sean and Marilyn just stared at her TV in disbelief. Sean had seen bad storms before, but never heard warnings like this. Marilyn had told him to stay the night, so he did. She had made a bed for him on the living room floor with sheets and blankets. “You’ll have to stay in here, OK,” she asked. “Can I trust you?” she wanted to know. Sean promised. He had no intention of getting into trouble with the clinic or the Women’s center. She said “goodnight” to him from her bedroom. Sean was in love again. He liked her a lot, even though he hadn’t known her before that night. He enjoyed talking with her, liked the way she looked. He said, “Goodnight Marilyn”. But then, he said, “I wish we could sleep together.” There was no reply, and Sean wasn’t expecting one. He turned on his side, ready to sleep. They had stayed up for hours, watching the storm sweep down the streets, and talked, and talked. Sean was dead tired. Suddenly, Marilyn was there, under the blanket next to him on the floor. Sean was excited. She said, “Let’s just hold each other, OK?” So that was what they did. Sean noticed she had a short top on and cotton panties. His erection felt painfully unused.
Marilyn contacted Sean a few days later, asked him to help her take a group of kids on a field trip. She was a teacher, and Sean had told her how much he liked being around kids, how much he missed his brothers and sisters. But Marilyn was polite and reserved with Sean. He didn’t know how to pursue this relationship. The constant talk around the clinic about Women’s liberation, and sex roles, and male domination had confused him. He held back, waited to hear from her again, but she went back to Chicago when the school year ended. She told him to come visit. That was why he had gone to Chicago, even though he had little money.
He had finally started walking, hitchhiking at first, through Maryland and a bit of Pennsylvania. When he arrived in Ohio, he found himself stuck. All around, on the concrete and guard rails of this huge intersection of highways were written things like, “This place sucks! No rides! Been here three days!” etc. He was there an entire day. He struck up a conversation with a younger guy who showed up. Bill was an ex-marine from Iowa City; he said he had lied about his age to get in early when he was 17. They read the graffiti, decided it was hopeless, and then walked across the entire state of Ohio. Bill had all his belongings in a paper bag. He said he’d had a fight with his wife and had just thrown stuff in a bag and walked out one day. He was on his way home now. He was packing a huge bottle of black pills. Sean asked him about those. “Oh, they’re not speed,” Bill said, “These are something called Texedrine, with a T, and they’re not harmful.” Sean passed on those at first. He and Bill walked into a diner one night and drank all the free coffee they could get. When the waitress stopped being friendly they left the diner and tried to sleep around back, but they were too wired from the coffee. They decided to just keep walking, but Sean was losing steam after a while, so he took some of Bill’s pills. After finally passing the Ohio state line into Indiana, they were picked up by a trucker who told them a grisly story about dead long-haired hitchhikers being found along the highway. He said they had been castrated. The trucker let them off in front of a barber shop. Bill had a buzz cut, but Sean had long since grown his hair long, and wore a big, green, floppy hat. He’d realized that his long hair was a factor in not getting rides, so he had tucked it up inside the hat. Inside the truck cab he had taken off his hat and exposed the long hair.
They walked through cornfields all day and into the night. They were shot at outside of Gary, Indiana, as they walked along a dark road past a never-ending cornfield. Sean had been walking behind Bill. Bill stuck his thumb out to try for a ride when they noticed lights coming up behind them. The response was a loud explosion that lit up the inside of a VW beetle, which had slowed down, and Sean saw a streak of light bisect the space between him and Bill. The VW sped off as fast as one of those could go. They kept walking until they were exhausted and slept right on the shoulder. A sheriff woke them before dawn; wanted to know what they were doing, said they couldn’t sleep there. They had to keep walking. Eventually, Bill took the road for Iowa City, and Sean made it to Chicago.
Marilyn invited him to stay with her at her parent’s home. They fed him three different kinds of meat at the first meal he had with them. Marilyn said that her parents had been in a concentration camp, and that afterwards they had developed this need to have tons of food available all the time. Both were now overweight, but Marilyn was thin. Sean went to a theater group she was involved with, and learned to play basic percussion, as part of an effort to involve people in music and theater. She asked Sean to stay in Chicago, but she wouldn’t kiss him, wouldn’t sleep with him. She told him he could get a job there. Sean didn’t want to live in Chicago. He still liked Baltimore, “What would I do here?” he asked her. She told him he could probably get a job in a record store she knew about. Sean didn’t want to do that. After that, Marilyn told Sean she had things to do, so she couldn’t show him around the city anymore, but she had a friend, Amy, who could. Amy kept asking him what his intentions were with Marilyn, and did he want to come back to her place. Sean realized that Marilyn was dumping him, and had set him up with this girlfriend of hers. When he saw her again, Marilyn had wanted to know, “So, how’d you get along with Amy?” It was clear to Sean what was what. Sean counted out his remaining money, and found out he could afford to take the train home to Baltimore. Marilyn drove him to the train station, and asked him one more time if he’d stay and get a job there, but Sean said no. They promised to write.
Sean wasn’t about to try hitchhiking again, especially without a specific destination in mind.
Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 10, 2008
Armored troop carriers rolled down the streets over deep tread marks in the soft blacktop. Tanks had preceded them. There were troops already bivouaced in Druid Hill Park. It wasn’t a town in Czechoslovakia, or Poland, or Afghanistan. It was Crabtown, grave-site of Edgar Allen Poe, birthplace of the United States’ national anthem, and headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. It was Bal’more, Mar’lan’. It was the time we call 1968. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and city officials had persuaded Governor Spiro Theodore Agnew to send in the National Guard. Houses and businesses had burned before, and fireman had been shot at before in the inner city, but troops occupying the city – this was new.
I thought Agnew was a good man, Mike was thinking while he rode the bus past his old high school, I never expected him to put Baltimore under martial law. The bus went east on North Avenue past Gay Street, where his parents had once lived, past boarded-up storefronts and burned-out buildings, where it connected to Belair Road, and a transfer took him to the hamburger place where he worked after school, near his parent’s home in the whiter northeast section.
I would’ve voted for him if I could’ve, he thought, seeing a billboard with the Governor’s bulldog face. Agnew had run against a man who wanted to keep black people out of white neighborhoods. Mike knew that wasn’t right. He was almost eighteen, but the voting age was twenty-one, and he didn’t like that. At least that racist Mahoney creep didn’t get elected. George P. was an Irish Catholic, the Democratic Party nominee for Governor in 1966. His campaign slogan was, “Your Home Is Your Castle; Protect It”. Mike went to school with blacks. Daniel had told Mike how hard it was for his parents to move into a white neighborhood. Mike had asked Daniel why so many blacks lived in slum neighborhoods if they could afford Cadillacs and Continentals.
“You don’t understand, Mike,” Daniel told him, “We’ve got no place to move to.”
“Can’t you just move? I mean, isn’t discrimination illegal?”
“Mike, Mike, Mike. What do you think happens when a colored family looks at a house? The real estate man smiles, and the owner smiles, but nobody can be forced to sell their house. Don’t you see how it works?
“Yeah, Coonskin, I think I see. I never knew that was going on.”
“Damn it, I told you never to call me that.”
“I was just kidding, Daniel. It’s just your name that gets me. I watch Daniel Boone on TV, and that’s what Mingo calls him all the time.”
“It’s not funny.”
“I guess not. Sorry. It is kind of stupid. So that guy running for governor wants to keep things the way they are, huh?”
“Now you’re getting it. He says people should be able to sell their home to whoever they want. He’s talking about white people not having to sell their homes to black people.”
When Mike got home he watched the news. Governor Agnew said the troops would keep order. There was a curfew, and all citizens were “strongly urged” to stay home. Arsonists and looters would be shot on sight. By the time the ’68 Baltimore riots died down, six people had been killed, about 5,300 arrested and more than 5,500 armed troops were on patrol throughout the city.
A year later, Mike graduated, and moved into the inner city. He had a new job, one that he had seen posted on a bulletin board outside the guidance counselor’s office. He’d been so glad to get away from the hamburger stand, with their miserly wages and short hours, that he’d have done almost anything. As it was, he’d been hired by an old Physics professor at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, to run some old research equipment that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals.
Mike couldn’t get over how lucky he was, and Dr. Pshaw treated him like a grandson. Eventually, however, Mike came to believe that Pshaw was not quite the kindly old man he seemed. Pshaw was always coming up with strange ideas, like the time he said, “Mike, I think I know what to do about juvenile delinquency,” which intrigued Mike.
“What’s that, Dr. Pshaw?”
“It’s like this, I don’t think that young people should be treated like hardened criminals, and put in prison to learn, well, the sort of stuff they learn there from the other inmates.”
“Sure, I agree with you there. But what’s the alternative?”
“Well, this is my idea. It may not be a good one, but I think it would work.”
“I think that all offenders should be made to wear a jacket with the name of their crime on it. That way they would be recognized easily, and, more importantly, they wouldn’t be able to commit the same crime again.”
“But, wouldn’t they just take their jackets off?”
“No, that’s the beauty of it. If they don’t wear their jackets, they have to go to jail, so they’ll wear them.
Mike thought about it for a long time, hoping that Pshaw could be right, that there could be such simple answers. Of course, once someone took the jacket off, who would know? However, he respected Pshaw. He was the only role model in his life since he’d left home. But, Pshaw finally blew the kindly-old-man image one day, when Mike asked him, out of curiosity, about the other applicants for his job.
“Well, Mike,” he explained, in a grandfatherly voice, “there were a few others, as I believe I told you. But they were colored, you know?”
Mike just stared at him.
“It’s not that I’m prejudiced,” Pshaw elaborated,” it’s just that I grew up in the countryside, and well, there just weren’t any of them around when I was growing up.”
Mike was still staring, not sure that he was really hearing this. Dr. Pshaw seemed to be so honest, and fair, and, after all, a “scientist.” It had never occurred to Mike that a seeker of knowledge and truth could be biased. Mike was a little naive.
Pshaw continued: “I don’t know what it is, but I’m just too uncomfortable around those people.”
That was the most racist thing I ever heard, Mike thought, but he didn’t say anything. Now, he felt the guilt of the privileged. I thought I’d gotten this job on my own merits. Now it’s ruined, he complained silently.
Mike was sure that he, of course, was not racist, and he continued in that belief for several years, until now, until he found himself playing pool in a part of town where he was the only white guy around. Doesn’t bother me, he told himself, but he felt uncomfortable when he saw the bartender come out of the back room. The bartender owned the place. He was white.
Figures, Mike thought, that’s what Daniel used to tell me. He said that the reason people burned their own houses and looted the downtown stores was that the whites owned everything there. “The Whites,” he remembered him saying, “charge the people outrageous prices for things, and then they go home to their white suburbs, and take the money out of the community. The worst slums are owned by white slumlords, who don’t bother to fix anything.” Mike believed him, but he didn’t know what he could do about it.
“Anyone want to play?” he asked, glancing around the room at several people who weren’t.
“Sure. I’ll play. Rotation alright with you?” asked a middle aged man. Mike nodded, “I get so tired of playing Eight Ball, it’s too damn easy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s too easy,” Mike said, but he thought, Oh shit, so he added, “but I don’t want to play for money, I just like to play, you know?”
“Yeah, OK. We’ll just play for the table.”
The older man moved around to shoot, and two balls fell in. “Your shot,” he said.
“Why’s that?” Mike asked.
“Because they were out of order.”
Oh, we’re playing serious, huh? Mike thought. He didn’t do too bad on that first game, but he still lost, and kept losing. He put a quarter in the slot. Bang, the balls fell into the hole when Mike pulled the slot back. He was filling up the rack, one ball here, two ball here, three ball here, when, Bang, there was a sound like a truck backfiring outside the pool hall. Heads lifted up from the tables.
Mike filled the rest of the rack quickly. Bang. Someone yelled, “There’s a shooting!” and everybody ran out of the hall, dropping cue sticks as they went. Mike watched everyone scramble outside in the seconds it took him to move his own feet. He left an empty building.
He stopped when he saw the gun directly in front of him. Bang. It fired again, at the ground. Mike looked down. He saw a young black guy, well dressed, bleeding. Bang. The body jerked. Mike saw his chest moving spasmodically. “He’s still alive!” Mike shouted. He looked at the man doing the shooting. The shooter, another black man, looked about fifty years old, and his face was contorted with hate. The man looked at Mike, seeing him for the first time.
“He deserved it,” he shouted at Mike.
People die that deserve to live, Mike wanted to say. Can you bring them back? he wanted to ask this guy with a gun. But he just stood there, watching the man’s face. Maybe it was Mike’s look, maybe it was the surprise of seeing him standing there, but the man suddenly lowered his gun, lowered his eyes, and turned and walked away, slowly.
People gathered around the wounded man. Mike stood apart, separate, but unequal. In a few minutes an ambulance silently turned the corner, followed by another police vehicle. Paramedics lifted the man onto a stretcher while the police stood by. They’ll probably question me, Mike thought, and want witnesses. What do I say? He looked at the crowd, at all the black faces, conscious of his own white skin. He couldn’t read their expressions. It looked more like no expressions at all to Mike. This is their neighborhood, what right do I have to be here? he thought. Do I tell the police what I saw? or is this none of my business? But he knew that he would never have hesitated anywhere else. He felt that the people standing there in that large crowd were different. He felt that their thoughts were alien to his way of thinking. No one looked at him, or entered the large open space around him. The ambulance door closed. The cops were writing something, but no one had spoken.
Maybe they already know all about it, Mike thought. Maybe the guy is going to be alright. Mike waited for them to come over, still unsure what to say. The cops walked around the ambulance, got back in their car, and escorted it away. Mike went back into the pool hall. What should I have done? he wondered. What should I have said? Why couldn’t I talk to that guy with the gun?
The hall was silent, but then small groups of men started quiet conversations along the walls. A ball cracked! against another.
“Do you want to finish the game?” Mike asked his partner.
“Uh, yeah. Might as well.”
They started playing, Mike’s partner sinking ball after ball, until he couldn’t find a shot. The remaining balls were crowded together on one side of the table, and he had tapped the cue ball lightly, so it banked off the side, but it rolled softly into a corner pocket. Mike retrieved it, lined it up on the center of the crowded balls, and shot. The crowded balls scattered, but the ivory cue ball leaped off the dark green table like it’d been shot. The other man laughed, retrieved the ball, and finished the game.
“Might as well call it a night,” Mike said, “Thanks for the games.” On the corner, the North Avenue bus hissed to a stop in front of him. The black driver stared at him, silently, as he dropped his coins into the box. He walked down the empty bus to a rear seat.