Friday Filler – Really?

Thank Grog It’s Firday,

I don’t know about you guys, but I have to admit that I didn’t even realize it was June. Really.  May felt like one big 90-Day March…and then, all of the sudden, it was “something completely different.”

So, the Pride Mini-Event is over. The reason I knew it was June, is that I remembered that the event ended on June 3rd. And the event ended Wednesday, so I was able to deduce that it had to be June.  And probably the 3rd.

But there’s a reason for my confusion…and I think it’s legitimate.

I honestly don’t know if it’s 2020, or if it’s 1968.

And then I remembered, “oh…right…they had a Pride Event…so it can’t be 1968.”   And then I remembered that most of what I am seeing on TV is being broadcast over cell phone cameras, so it REALLY can’t be 1968.  Except it still kinda feels like 1968. They launched some guys into space. There were some riots. So it must be 1968!

But wait! I know it’s not 1968…because we are playing a mobile device game about the Simpsons. And the Simpsons didn’t show up for…wait…when did they show up?  How long have we been playing this game?  Is this just a bad LSD trip?  Is it REALLY 1968?

Here’s the thing folks. When I went to write this post, I realized that the “well had gone dry.” Current events, and the fact that I couldn’t shake the feeling it was 1968…or maybe 1970…yeah…that’s right…Kent State was 1970…that I…well…just sat staring at the game…and then the computer screen…and then the game. You know…the kind of thing you might do if you were having a “bummer trip.”

And then, I went searching for screen shots that I might have grabbed for inspiration, and only found one.

Now…this is the moment when Homer, after a life of ridicule, decides that he is OK with dressing up as a woman, and walking around the neighborhood with his daughter.  In other words, it is about figuring out that he may be more like someone else, than he thought he was.

And then it hit me. I need to tell the TSTO folks about the time I was black, and almost got killed.  I know. It sounds nuts. But, it is a true story.

In the summer of 1973, I got a job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps as a “crew boss.”  What they didn’t tell me was what we were going to do, or who my “crew” was. As it turns out, the other “crew boss” was a former college football player, who was African American, and a great guy. He had just returned from a stint in the Peace Corp.  Our “crew” was 30 African American kids, aged 13-17, from one of the inner city high schools in Portland, Oregon.

Our job?  To clear all of the brush, and then paint the fence (with toxic aluminum-based paint) around the entire Portland International Airport.  We were given two short buses that held 16 kids plus the driver, a daily ration of paint, and machetes.  What could possibly go wrong?

I won’t tell you about all of the times we had to run from hornet nests, or how we invariably ended up covered with this horrendous paint every day. But to say it was difficult, hot work, in what turned out to be relentless summer sun, would be a gross and terrible understatement.

I was clearly the minority…but luckily loved all of the music they played, knew some of their older brothers from football, and for the most part, never felt alienated or different. Except when I would drop them off at their houses each day. It was sobering. It was a look at a side of the city that I didn’t know existed, and made my parent’s very modest middle class, ranch style house, look like a castle.

But the day I became black, was a blazing hot day, and we were driving along Marine Drive, the long straight highway that cuts between the airport and the Columbia river.

I was driving with the van full of kids, headed to a lunch break, when a beat up, flat bed truck, roared halfway past us, and then started coming over into our lane, forcing us off of the road.  This went on, until we hit a spot in the road where we could pull over.

With the truck blocking us, the door flew open, and a guy got out, in dirty overalls, and crappy boots, and ran up to the driver’s side window. He looked at me…then looked in the van, and drawled out, “What’s a good white boy like you, doin’ with all these ___?” (I’m not going to type the word…because it is still abhorrent to me).  “Maybe you want to step out and talk about why I stopped you?” he continued with a deep accent. The van was completely silent.

Now…you have to understand, at this point in my life, I played college football.  I was cut, beefy strong, and pretty much not afraid of anything. More brawn than common sense.

I got out of the van, made note of the Alabama license plates, and calmly said, “You boys are sure a long way from home. Here in Oregon, we don’t use that kind of language, and don’t believe in some of the same things you do down there.”

And then, the guy spit a big glob of “chew” onto my bare chest. I had my shirt off, while driving, because there was no A/C.  “That’s what I think of your ideas, boy…” he sneered.

Realizing this could escalate quickly, I simply stepped back, and said,”I think it would be a good idea if you got back in your truck, and left us alone.”

Before the words got out of my mouth, he took a roundhouse swing at me. I ducked…he missed, and I pivoted and laid him out.  He stood up, and came at me again, I did it again. But as I stood over him, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a dark figure bounding my way, tire iron in his hand.

Everything went into slow motion.  I knew I couldn’t turn away soon enough, and was likely going to have my head split with the iron…when I heard, a stern, growl, “I wouldn’t do that…

The guy, now off the bed of the truck, was stopped dead in his tracks, and one of the smallest kids on the crew, was holding a machete to his chest. “Back up,” he said…eyes never leaving his target.

I stepped back, and as I did, turned to see 12 kids…girls and boys…all holding machetes…standing, without saying a word.

The two guys left…only to come back with a State Policeman, claiming that we had threatened them.  The police took the story of all of the kids, individually, along with my story, and then escorted our “foreign friends” away.

I was shaken. Really shaken. I remember just saying out loud, “What the hell was that?”

Gary, the little kid who saved my life, all 4 foot nothing of him, remained calm, and just said, “No worries, blood…happens all the damn time.”

I was never the same after that.  Ever.

So, when there is a “Black History Month,” or a “Pride Week” in the game, I have a different perspective.  One that we all need to have when we watch the recent headlines.  Because, as much as we want to think that we are all the same…that we are all of made of the same stardust, in God’s image…the world is not the same for everyone.  Birthright, educational opportunities, and yes…choices that are offered…can change the outcome and results of even the most simple sunny day.

Homer, admitting that he has been ridiculed his entire life, triggers all sorts of questions. I find myself looking for answers, and wondering where Gary ended up.

He’d be turning 60 this year.  Does he have a family? Did he finish high school? Did he make it to college? Did he beat the odds of his birthright and living conditions, and stay off drugs, out of trouble, out of jail?  Did he ever have the chance to be humbled by the actions of kid half his size?  It could have all ended that day.  The day I turned black…for a three minutes.

I don’t expect many of you to read this. It’s not very “Simpsony.”  I don’t expect many, if any comments. This kind of week is too confusing for erudite old men.  Just ignore me. Because…I think it’s 1968…what do I know?

82 responses to “Friday Filler – Really?

  1. Wow! Just wow!

  2. Patric, your story is very powerful. I was watching this video of a man stopped for going 5 miles under the speed limit.

  3. Thank you Pat for sharing this “life changing” event. As terrifying as that was, it’s too bad we can’t all live through something as epic as that to really understand white privlage.

  4. Wow. Incredible. This account reminds me of a scene from the movie ‘In the Heat of the Night.’ Sidney Poitier found himself, if I remember correctly, in the opposite situation to yourself. He was surrounded by several white folk, jumping out of the rear of their truck each clutching something that can easily be weaponised, for example metal chains or rope. They encircled Sidney like a pack of wolves upon their prey. A must watch movie. I watched that movie at ~12 yrs of age and thought that was a long time ago, in a country far away. How little things change. Racism exists in multiple forms and unfortunately now it has become latent, but sometimes rearing it’s head like a warthog rolling in filth to suddenly get up and chase you, usually when one least expects it. This is true in the U.K. and are constantly told by politicians and the elite that racism is dead and to stop whining. Yet these people do not understand the subtle intonations, the built in bias and the incredibly thorough “random” airport security checks and examination of papers at border crossings. Racism exists in guises that are not easily detectable, like a shapeshifter and unfortunately I suspect it remains hitherto.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s important that people take the time to talk about what has happened, what is happening, and what we want to have happen next. Different voices, different experiences, the same goal.

  6. Maria Malmqvist

    Thank you!
    I have been reading and enjoying your posts ever since you came back to tsaddicts, but until now I have never dared to leave a comment. This time I just had to! I loved that you shared this story.
    Best wishes from Sweden!

    • Thanks…but please never hesitate to comment again. It’s the feedback we get from our international readers that I enjoy the most.

  7. Thank you! I can’t say any more, as I have been sitting here for ten minutes trying to process all of my feeling to the experience you shared.

    • I admit that it shook me up to think about it again…knowing how little has changed.

      Can “this is different” really be different this time? I hope so.

  8. Wow, this story confirms why I think you are a wonderful person.

  9. Yes, this is definitely the best post you’ve made since I joined here around sept 2018, very apt and compelling. Sometimes I struggle to not hate the haters, but seeing all these comments is reassuring that love is still the best weapon against hate.

  10. Even though that could have gone terrifyingly worse, I am so glad and proud you stood up (and had the brawn to stand up). This was a amazing moving post, thank you Patric! I don’t understand racist people, hopefully their minds can be changed for everyone’s sake.

    Black Lives *Do* Matter!

  11. God bless you and your crew!

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