When I turned a skinny black kid in a full-length black leather coat and a black beret was standing behind me.
He was leaning on Mountain’s shoulder as if he owned him. Mountain was sitting with his hands in his lap, like
a schoolboy on good behavior, hoping not to be called on by the teacher. The skinny kid was grinning and
actively picking his teeth with a toothpick. His front teeth were both gold. He was nodding knowingly, grinning
at me. There was only silence in that place.
“You a cop?” he asked me.
“You better hope you are a mother-fuckin’ cop. Or you better hope I think you might be, ‘cause much as we
don’t ‘llow cops in here, we even mo’ don’t ‘llow white boys without the full weight and authority of the law
I didn’t know what to say to that. What could anyone say to that? I was feeling pretty defenseless. In the
barroom mirror, my own image looked tiny and pale and very far away. He raised his eyebrows in mock
“You got no response to my proper interrogatory?”
“I’m not a cop,” I said, “if that’s what you mean.”
“Well, some of us have decided we don’t want you in here whatever you are,” he said, taking a step toward
me. “Some of the rest of us resent your presence in one of the only places we might be allowed to call home.”
I didn’t know what to say to that either. He was a skinny little bastard, and I imagined just walking over, picking
him up and breaking him in half over my knee. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing; I’ve never in my life even
thrown a punch. I was fairly certain that this would be the wrong place to throw my first.
“You got no response to this which I’ve said either?”
I said nothing.
“You stupid, is that it?” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t move. I just stood there looking at this kid with the
“You got nothing to say?” he demanded.
Someone said, “Rashid, whyn’t you just let him go ahead and get out of here?”
“The people want me to overlook your mis-step,” he said and laughed. “You want me to overlook his misstep,
Midget?” He leaned on Mountain’s shoulder as he addressed him.
Mountain said, “He’s just a college kid, Mr. X.”
The skinny evil bastard came over toward me and stopped about two feet away, picking his teeth and looking
me in the eye. “You just a college kid?”
“I’m a student. Yes.”
“They don’t teach you nothin’ bout not going into certain neighborhoods and struttin’ your cleverness and
educational superiority? The don’t teach you nothin’ bout how some of us lesser folk might find your
superiority ranklin’?” With each question he was moving in closer to me and jutting his chin up further. “You
think you can jus’ waltz in here with us niggers, shoot a little sloppy pool with the Midget here and stroll on out
again after tramplin’ on our pride? We s’posed to thank you for the honor of your presence? You a hero?
That it? You some kind of white-knight pool shootin’ mother-fuckin’ hero?”
There was a booming voice from nowhere, “Jerome!” and everything stopped.
“Rashid!” corrected the young punk bitterly without turning to face the source of that commanding voice. The
barkeep was standing there, on our side of the bar, with a baseball bat held threateningly in one hand. “I ain’t
havin’ it. Not in my place, Jerome.”
The hoodlum turned his head.
“Rashid! An’, whyn’t you keep to your own business, old man?”
“This is my business, Jerome. You want to cut up some of these college boys, that’s your business—business
of you and your friends-- but you do it outside the Jubi.”
Jerome turned and started for the door. “I’ll be waitin’ for you outside,” he said and pointed a finger at me like
“Better drink up,” said someone, “I understand it hurts less if you’re drunk.”
I turned to Calvin, “What am I supposed to do?”
Calvin said nothing. He looked at me, he looked around at the bar keep. He looked into the depths of the bar
room. There was no solution offered by anyone. The bar keep came up to me and offered me the baseball
bat. “I suggest you head straight for Broad Street and don’t look back.” I looked at Mountain and he just
turned around toward the bar without any hint of involvement. (Thanks for that, by the way.)
What none of these good people could know was that on the other side of Broad Street, there were people
who hated me every bit as much as Rashid did. The only difference was, they wore my same skin color. What
these good people didn’t know was that among these haters were some cops. For me, in a peculiar way, I felt
more at ease, more accepted, in that neighborhood than I did in some of the neighborhoods around school.
The two guys in a pickup truck who threatened to kill Joanie and me with a shotgun; the kids outside the fast
food joint who surrounded our car and tried to turn it over; the old woman who told me, “In my time we didn’t
even allow niggers on this street,” were all white. The people who refused to take my order, give me service,
or accept my money, were all white. I didn’t have time to explain this to them. And I was fairly certain they
wouldn’t believe me if told them, but I felt less nervous in their bar at night than I did walking down Floyd
Avenue in broad daylight, where a guy once took a pot shot at me from his front porch. No, the other side of
Broad Street was no comfort to me.
Calvin once suggested jokingly that if I ever got in trouble in his neighborhood, I announce loudly that I’m a
descendant of Warren G. Harding. I was pretty sure that advice wouldn’t help me in any way on our side of
We walked outside and Calvin headed off toward his grandmother’s house. I started heading toward Broad
Street. I’d never felt so ridiculous, nor so scared, in all my life.
After I’d gone half a block, nervous, very very very alone, a dog came bounding out of an alley and paced
himself beside me. I stopped. The dog stopped. He looked up at me wagging his tail. Then another dog
appeared—they were both wagging their tails. Suddenly I was engulfed in a flurry of bounding dogs. They
were pouring out of the alleyway behind me and running to catch up to me. Dogs were all over the place
leaping and snorting and greeting me. I knew what that meant. I walked back a few strides and looked down
the alley. There, under the streetlight, I saw Amos ambling slowly toward me with his walking stick—all gentle
dignity, all good-natured.
“Chou doin’ down in here, Charles, down in the quagmire?”
“Visitin’ a friend,” I said nervously.
“Well now, he cain’t be much of a friend to lead you all down into this here. Cost a white man his life. You
better stick with me and the hoid.” Amos called his hounds “the herd”.
“I’m truly glad to see you Amos,” I said eagerly.
“Yeah, well, you should be. Was Speckles who sniffed you out. Thanks goes to that nose of his. Smell a bitch
through three-inch cold-rolled steel…” Amos suddenly took my arm and started leading me. “Don’t look. Just
keep walkin’,” he said quietly.
I looked around and startled. We were being followed; an old low-slung Chevy was behind us, rolling so slowly
we could hear the grit being crushed under its tires.
When we arrived at the corner of Broad Street, the car took a left turn, swerving so closely in front of us that
we got a good look at the four young toughs inside. They were all looking directly at me, and not in the most
kindly manner—as they drifted slowly by.
“Don’t look at ‘em, they tryin’ to give you the stank-eye,” Amos instructed.
But I couldn’t help myself. I was riveted.
The big block-headed guy at the wheel was staring regally at the street ahead. Next to him was Jerome,
leaning his weasel face back over the top of the seat to fix me with his cold yellow eyes. In back, two skinny
looking kids, dressed in black with black rags wrapped around their heads, stared at me menacingly.
“Welcome to my neighborhood,” said Amos quietly.