Wednesday, July 4, 2012

My Adventures with Negroes!

When I was a kid that was the term I was taught to properly address black people. Now they are African-American’s unless they are from Jamaica or Madagascar, then the proper terminology is…
Oh hell, I don’t know and am too old to care.
I grew up in the Bronx in a high rise apartment building, filled with families of all nationalities and we all hung out in the 60X40 ‘playground’ alongside the building.
My friends were Jewish, Polish, Black, Puerto Rican, Irish, Chech, French Canadian and an assortment of mixed breeds. We all got along probably because we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to. We all had nicknames which had nothing to do with our ethic background.  Lenny the black kid got christened  ‘Lemon Pie’ which got shortened to ‘PIE’ The Puerto Rican kid, Charlie Hey, named Chocolate Chips which got shortened to Chips’.  I got christened ‘Chang’ because one of the Jewish girls had some kind of sing-song thing that took a person’s name and converted it to a Jewish name. (like the song the ‘Name Game’ if you’re old enough to remember what that was)
I mentioned in earlier blogs that in my teens I spend my summers working for a Head Start Program. Well, after my adventure with the Mother Bunny at the Playboy Club, (go to the archives for the actual story) my boss thought a two person team was a better idea for the weekly excursion into Manhattan, so each week me and Janet, a black girl co-worker my age, would take the bus and the subway into the City.
Teenage boys and teenage girls really don’t see color. They either fall in with each other or they don’t. I fell in with Janet because she was a kind and fun girl and we had a great time comparing notes about how different our lives were. 
Back then the races rarely mingled socially.
We didn’t know that and enjoyed arguing over our tastes in music, movies, television and everything else that was going on in the sixties. I told her I liked the song ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan and she said she wasn’t a fan of songs where the guy sang under water.  I remember one time when we were getting on a bus together and this old woman gave me this ‘shame on you’ look.
It’s been nearly forty years and I still remember that look.
Hateful old bitch.
Anyway, I never saw Janet after that summer. I hope she had a wonderful life.
Kind, thoughtful people deserve a wonderful life.
Comedian Chris Rock once said that there isn’t anyone as racist as an old black man. He’s missing the point. It isn’t the color, it’s the age. As a person grows older, their brain shrinks causing irritation and short-temperedness. I suppose I’m not immune but I hope that when I reach that age I will remember this.
As a struggling musician I had many different jobs to pay the bills while I pursued my musical career. One was making toilet paper on an assembly line in a company whose employees were 98% black and Hispanic. I was desperate and needed the money to pay the rent on my Manhattan apartment and was so broke my lunch was coffee and cigarettes.
I was 5’10” and 130 pounds.
After a week or so, my black and Hispanic co-workers noticed that I wasn’t eating and was losing weight. When they commented on it I said as a ‘Rock and Roller” I needed to stay slim.
People who have been down on their luck recognize other people down on their luck.
At lunchtime, when we would gather and I would pour a cup of coffee and light up a cigarette, my co-workers would come up with schemes to provide me with food while letting me keep what little there was left of my pride.
“Oh man!” one of my co-workers would say as he looked inside his lunch bag. “My old women done gave me a second sandwich when she knows I’m trying to lose weight. Probably jealous cause the ladies been checking me out. Help a brother out and eat this for me”, he’d say sliding a chicken salad sandwich toward me, ‘If I bring it home, she’ll think I’m cheating on her.
If I refused, he’d act like I was insulting him.
This went on for a couple of weeks with my co-workers coming up with new and inventive way to slip me food until I scored a touring gig that paid enough to pay off my bills.
You know those groups at work that pool their money, buy Lotto tickets and then win millions of dollars?
I hope the people from that toilet paper company did that, won and lived happily ever after.
Because kind, thoughtful people deserve a wonderful life.  

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