A SIMPLE MATTER OF BLACK AND WHITE
LOCATION: Train Station, Columbia, SC
TIME 12:38 pm
STORY LINE: Main street store front diner
MISSION: Deliver four inseparable street wise Brooklyn toughs from New York’s Penn station to Columbia, SC for sixteen weeks of infantry basic training, preparatory to an additional eleven weeks of jump training with the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, NC
**Wayne, Ronnie, Jimmy and me, ***Lil’ Richey, tough guys, the lot, recently off the streets of Brooklyn with nothing to lose but our ego’s. One of us was black. As we would soon learn, we’d absolutely crossed the Mason/Dixon line. Here’s how it was.
“OK, let’s grab some chow before we head for the base,” say I, as we departed the train. I immediately noticed people looking at us as if we had three heads. “Hey, you lookin’ at us?” Wayne shouted, glaring at the onlookers, speaking to no one in particular, as he scanned the audience. I sensed his fazzer shields rising, as I had many times in similar situations involving antagonists. (Good guy, bad stuff.)
**”Wayne, back off,” I advised. “We’re in the middle of rebel country and I don’t think they’re too fond of Yankees or black guys, for that matter. Black Yankees ain’t got a chance. Stand down, my friend, we’ll deal with it another time.” Reluctantly, he agreed. I could imagine what was going on in his brain and, more over, the surprises that might await us as we progressed deeper into rebel territory. However,the gauntlet was cast. Sauntering, cock o’ the walk style, down main street, we were simply looking for a place to grab a bite before entering the land of the US Army. We soon came upon it –“DINER, come on in!” We did. Mistake one.
As we entered, all eyes riveted upon us, following our leisurely track to four open stools. Counters were typical in those days, sporting baby mechanical juke boxes (for the uninitiated, you put a nickel in, select a song by name/number and get to hear your favorite song.) We eased onto the round stools. Mistake two. Next to the baby jukes were salt and pepper, hot sauce and ketchup bottles, book ending a bunch of menus. We scanned them, briefly, and waited patiently for someone to acknowledge us and take our order. Dead silence hung over us like a pall. Finally, Ronnie shouted, “Hey,how’s about some service, here, we gotta’ get out to the base!”
A pretty young, blonde “southern bell” type started walking behind us. I jumped off the stool and got in her face, (good excuse to smell her perfume and maybe make some time with her!) and said,” What’s up, sugar, how come nobody’s paying any attention to us, huh?” Startled, she tensed up, summoning the courage to answer this loony bin tough guy in a quivering, high pitched voice. “We can’t serve “him”, pointing in the direction of Wayne, the black kid. I did a half turn, gestured with a closed fist and pointed thumb, in Wayne’s direction. “Oh, yeah, why not?” I asked in all innocence. “We don’t serve n–(in the interest of political correctness–) colored people.” she cooed, matter of factly. “Really,” I replied, “and what color is THAT, might I ask?” “You know what I’m talking about, “he” has to eat out back,” she said. “OH?”I replied. “Out back of what–the store?” “Yes, silly,” she exclaimed in an extremely nervous but matter of factly, voice.
Unbeknownst to us, the boss had already put in a call to the cops in anticipation of Armageddon, I’m sure. We later learned that they contacted the base and asked them to get the military police–MP’s–out here ASAP to handle what was obviously shaping up to big trouble. We heard the sirens wailing somewhere off in the distance. (Nothing new for us Brooklynites!) “OK, guys, let’s go, we’re outta’ here.” I commanded. The “all for one” mentality kicking in, they each, in turn, dismounted the stools, stretched their arms out like giant sweepers and swept the counter clean of whatever got caught in the back wash. Sounds of breaking glass mixed with muffled confusion from the patrons mingled in the closeness of the environment. We made it as far as the door. “Hey, Joey, what the hell are YOU doin’ here,” I said, bulging eyes confirming my surprise. “Lil’ Richey, what are YOU doin here,?” Joey snapped back. “We just got off the train from the City and stopped in for a cup ‘a coffee. That’s it, honest,” I replied.
Of all places to meet my good buddy, *Joey Giavinco, this had to be last on the list.
“Go on out to the duce and a half with my boys and I’ll try to get you guys off the hook.” he said. “Thanks, Joey, I appreciate it ” In single file, we dutifully marched out the door towards the truck. Looking back at Miss Southern Bell over my shoulder, I winked and gave her the thumbs up sign. Looking down at the ground, she gave me a shy, weak smile. “Things were already looking up.” I thought to myself.
(*Meet Joey — my right hand on the streets of Brooklyn, in the days of yore.)
(**Meet Wayne–the black kid. My best buddy and protector. )
(***Me? I’m Rick, aka Lil’ Richie–the luckiest punk in the world!)
(The story is sad but true–here in black and white for all to read and perhaps, even remember.)