I was a little boy in the Giant Supermarket in Virginia Beach, Virginia. It was right around Brown v. Board. Yea, I’m that old.
I was taggin’ along with my Grandmother. She stopped to price compare or some such shit, and I found myself looking around and fixed on two water coolers. One, “Whites,” One, “Coloreds,” said the signs above. Virginia, being too civil and certain to include “only.” One fountain was 50’s-like, office modern, all boxed, and plugged-in. The other was white gone stained-gray porcelain, no plug. You can guess which was for whom.
Then, a little boy, damn near identical to me, but for skin pigment, stepped on the box below to better reach the water. As he turned to drink, our eyes met. I mean locked and locked. There was not a bit of animosity. There was shared incredulity about the world visited upon us and a mutual understanding it wasn’t all about puppy dogs and baseball. It, this mental exchange, was over faster than a Sosa home-run leaving Wrigley Field. But it has never left me. Never.
I could list time and time again, how this water fountain social baptism has saved my otherwise sorry ass, but I’ll just bore you with one.
It was the eighties, and I was doing a bit in a low-level fed joint up and around the statue of liberty.
My cellmate, Big Dread, this huge Jamaican, popped for selling religious supplies, if you’re hip, had just proceeded to kick the shit out of two NYC wanna-be Mafia gumps and ended up in segregation.
Now this freed up a bunk in the general population of an, even then, overcrowded prison system…. So one of the pencil-pushin’ hacks sides up to me and says, “Hey, you want your own kind in here, don’t ya.” I ain’t brave, but I have been shot at; and besides, what was the bigot bastard gonna do, put my ass in jail. “I don’t play that,” I said, as articulately as I could. Stunned his ass.
Anyway, in punishment, they sandbagged me with this crazy and rabid Vermont vermin… ain’t no big thing….
I’ll always remember that little boy. I wonder what he’s doing. That guy has to be 70 now… I wonder if he recalls it at all….I wonder if he’s even alive.