Friday, February 4, 2011

Black Ice

I am staying home from work today. It is an Arctic Tundra out there.

You live in Houston.

We have Black Ice which means that if you drive your car it automatically plows into another car. And the temperature...why it's 28-degrees! It was 22-degrees a couple of days ago so there must have been a warm front. And snow. Snow is coming and I didn't buy a snow shovel. We are expecting 3-inch snow drifts! I'm having second thoughts about vacationing to Antarctica this year.

Three inch snowdrifts? 28 Degrees? Have you watched TV? Have you seen what is happening up north?

But we live in Houston. They are used to that stuff. Besides, we have Black Ice and I didn't hear anyone say anything about Black Ice up north. By the way, when I say Black Ice I don't mean that in a prejudicial way.

Prejudicial way? How can...I'm having a hard time with your brain. this one of those transitions?

You know, I grew up in the segregated South.

Yep. I would call that a transition.

I even went into the back door of a cafe with black friends to eat with them in the back room because they weren't allowed in the main room with white folks.

We...aren't you just...

That's because I asked my father for a summer job as a teenager. Since my father was the City Manager I was assured of getting something cushy but I ended up working on a garbage truck. I never asked my father for another job.

Another transition already?

It must have put Hawk and his crew in an uncomfortable spot -- me being the big man's son -- although I didn't consider that possibility at the time.

Hawk was a really big black guy and he was the boss of the garbage crew. I liked him and always asked him if he was Coleman Hawkins in disguise. You know, Coleman was a famous jazz musician and called himself Hawk too. Hawk...the garbage man Hawk...thought it was interesting that I would even know a black musician and I think he liked me. Anyway for lunch we would drive up an alley next to Main Street and stop at the back of a cafe and they would go in the back door. Hawk told me to go around to the front but I told him I wanted to eat with the guys. At first everyone looked at me funny but Hawk just said, "He's in my crew."

Did they mind....

At the time I didn't think so. But they must have felt that I was invading their space or something.

And the point is?

Hawk may have saved my life. Well, not exactly....but we were unloading garbage at a trash dump and I was on top of something high. I'm not sure what. It was a tremendously hot day and I got heat stroke and fainted and Hawk dived forward and caught me in his arms. The crew loaded me into the garbage truck and they rushed me to a doctor's office. Hawk stayed with me there the rest of the day, even after he called my father and he came down there. He wouldn't leave. "Jerry is in my crew," he said.

I have fond memories of Hawk. I think I remember my father did something for him, but I don't remember what. I'm pretty sure I quit the job after that.

That is interesting. Where is this leading exactly?

To Melissa. I think that is what her name is but I'm not sure if I am remembering correctly.

Hawk to Melissa?

Yeah. I guess I was in my late twenties working in a downtown office and I was an analyst and Melissa was an Administrative Assistant. She was black lass and really pretty, but more importantly was her vivacious personality. She was one of those girls who had laughing eyes which made it a treat just to be around her.

Melissa and I would flirt with each other, and it was pretty obvious. She understood that I really liked her and I was pretty sure she liked me. We had fun with each other and always found a reason to be in each other's presence.

Weren't you married?

Let's stick with the subject. Back in those days we usually brought our lunches with us from home and ate in our offices. One day, for the first time, Melissa came into my office at noon and asked if she could join me for lunch. We each ate our lunch and bantered back and forth which I truly loved. Then the conversation became more serious. It was 'The Conversation'.

'The Conversation?'

It was a conversation that made me take a long hard look at myself. A conversation about race.

I can't remember it word for word, but it went something like this. It was an exchange that I replayed in my mind over and over.

Melissa looked at me across the desk. "Jerry, we like each other and have fun with each other, and if you are like me, look forward to coming in every day to see each other."

"Absolutely", I responded. "If you take a day off, it is really a bummer for me here."

"Can I ask you something serious?" she asked.

"Of course."

"If we weren't married, would you ask me out?" She had crossed her legs and was leaning forward looking at me.

"In a heartbeat," was my automatic response.

"I understand because I feel the same way. But where would we go? Would you come to my place to see me? Or would you invite me over to your place? Some place that we could spend private time together?"

"Sure," I responded hesitantly wondering where the conversation was going.

She began to look earnest. "But Jerry, would you take me to the movie and sit and hold hands with me? Would you invite me out to eat -- maybe to a nice restaurant with candles? Would you walk down the street with your arm wrapped around me?"

"I....". I tried to find a response.

"No. Don't answer. You are a white boy and I am a colored girl. We like each other and it would be fun to be with each other. But, in public? Could you stand the taunts and ridicule? Could I stand it? What about your family? Or mine? What if we got married and had a kid?"

I didn't say anything.

Melissa continued, "I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I am just trying to explain a reality. A woman looks toward the future -- even hugely improbable ones -- and a man sometimes doesn't. My reality is different from yours, and for colored people it is a reality we are always aware of. I wonder if you understand that."

"Melissa. I am..." I tried to find some words.

"It's all okay." She stood and walked around my desk and leaned down and kissed me on the cheek and hugged me and said, "I adore you. You are one of the good people."

With that, she walked out.

From this conversation, you learned...

I learned so much. I learned that I wasn't one of the trailblazers that could blithely defy convention. I learned that I didn't understand the rules and didn't understand why there were rules. I felt ashamed and felt like it wasn't my fault but also felt like it was my fault. I guess the most important thing was that I learned to observe and think and try to understand and that it somehow tied into Hawk telling the people in the back room of the cafe that 'I was in his crew' which meant that everyone was to leave me alone and him catching me and sitting with me in the doctor's office all afternoon.

Was your heart broken?

No. Melissa and I flirted and that's all we would have ever done, race aside. In fact we continued to do so...but there seemed to be an undertone of understanding...or of sadness maybe.

And now, it is years later.

Melissa was brave to bring up what should have been obvious to me. Maybe she was purposely planting a seed....maybe not.

Yes, but would you now walk down the street with your arm around a black lady? 

Let me put this in to perspective. If Marilyn divorced me, I would ask Halle Berry to marry me.

And now you understand why I am not prejudiced against Black Ice.


  1. Hey, this isn't Saturday!

    I do so like your 'stream of consciousness' soliloquies. Entertaining, informative, and yes, thought provoking...

    Stay warm, Jerry!

  2. Being from Iowa and then moving to Houston I giggle when I hear them call it an Arctic Blast, but being from Iowa I may know how to handle this mess but with not near the equipment available in Houston it makes it very dangerous. I stayed my butt inside today and let all the crazies brace themselves. I may understand ice but that doesn't mean it understands me.

    Stay warm!

  3. Fantastic story, Jerry. You're a good man.

  4. I was born in the north, learned to drive in the north but now, live in the south. And you're right. I've never heard the term "black ice" when I lived north.

    Loved your ramblings today. Entertaining, as always!

  5. Yup, that Black Ice will get you every time - I hate ice far more than I hate those three inch snow drifts.

    You, Jerry, were (are) a good man - Melissa saw it, Hawk saw it and we see it.

  6. I knew this trisexual from Zanderblan 4 back in the '60's. Your story reminded me of that. Oh, wait. The 1960's. Maybe that didn't really happen. Still, I think I understand.

    Why do so many aliens number their planets? I could never figure that out.

  7. This is a great post. It's interesting to hear stories from that time period and to see how far we've come in such a short amount of time.

    My marriage is interracial, though I rarely ever think of it in that way. The hubby is Asian, and I am white--it barely ever even comes up. We've only experienced prejudice against our relationship a few times, tops, in the nearly 14 years we've been together.

    I'm very thankful that we live in a day and age where two people--no matter what their race--can fall in love and be together.

  8. Gentle and lovely as always, Jerry.
    Loved your comment in The Burrow today. I, too, browse and fall into those I love in a random fashion and sometimes weeks pass without my dropping in to see what's going on. Glad to know that you like me as much as I like you... and glad to be able to tell you that I am healing and feeling marginally better every day. Blogospherical love is wonderful!

  9. I'm pretty sure Minnesota is like the king of black ice - Jan and Feb SUCK because of the 2-5 weeks worth of below zero weather. That's when even should-be-experienced Minnesotans drive like absolute idiots and slip and slide right into the ditch, doubling and tripling my drive in to work. I keep telling my hubby that we need to move to someplace warm, but he still thinks that ice fishing is fun, so... ;) Anyway, I wish I could have had more exposure to people of different races as a child. I don't ever remember me or my family being prejudiced, but because of our location we met very few people who weren't white. Living in Missouri on the military base after Mitch and I got married was awesome because I got to meet so many new people of all races, religions, etc. I'm so glad we have come as far as we have in this aspect. Freedom truly is a beautiful thing when we are not hindered by prejudice! And I agree with the other commenters - You are a good man sir :)

  10. I grew up in an all white community and went to an all white high school. But growing up in the San Francisco bay area, the race divide was promoted by the Black Panthers and Black Nationalists, SNCC and they were scary. There were riots at San Francisco State, Berkley and in my community college which was shut down as a result.

    I transferred to college in Southern Oregon and I might have well had transferred to the Moon, it was so different. In Oregon I learned about "black ice", being totally puzzled by the term. I had borrowed my roommate's Plymouth Rury - I learned about Black Ice there in Oregon the hard way.

  11. This black-ice exposition is definitely a demonstration of the slippery slope.

  12. Times have changed in your country. Up here we did not have that racial colour thing to the degree you did and that's good. In 1962 the MD that came to our home when my dad was dead was an Afroamerican. So was one of our postmen and some of our family friends. Black ice has killed some of my kids high school friends and a teacher. I once hit black ice and my car took flight missing an on coming car by a hair and a drop to a pond too! Slippery it is and very well hidden. How you take the words and take a twist is cool. Love your idea. My hubby and I are interracial and never cared about the stares. We get lots because of Buddy too. We just smile at those who don't get it.

  13. A marvellous trail of a tale, Jerry. Although clearly I am heart-broken that I would not be your first call should a divorce occur. Is it my red hair?

  14. no smart or quirky comment from me today,,,, I wonder if we, from the deep south, read this in the same light as others. You got guts,,, in a very good way.

  15. Hey Jerry! Long time...I'm back, though.
    I love this story. I live in Georgia and was snowed in for a week a couple weeks ago with my friend. Her name...yep, Melissa!
    I am not from the south, though. I am a generation behind you. So the whole racism confuses me some. But I am, as you know, quite unconventional in my thinking, dress, and actions sometimes, so I tend get some weird looks when I'm in public.
    I loved your story. Thank you for putting it out there. We all have our walls. Sometimes, we just don't know they exist till someone points them out. :)

  16. A marvelous read for the end of a day, several parallel stories resurfaced from my memory as I read. I'll be back.

  17. Yikes, not the dreaded BLACK ICE. Otherwise known as greeeeezy, deadly and just plain invisible. And if that's really what ya got down there I'm crossing off Austin as an escape hatch.I've given up on cabin fever, I think I'm just plain nuts now.

  18. Your mind is a wonder. One spring on the ranch in Oregon, I learned about scary black ice. We have it here in N Calif, as well. Not to be messed with.
    Never got the race thing, there's good and bad in all races. I was raised in a college town, so we had many many races to interact with.

  19. You're definitely in my crew. Happy Black History month, Jerry. I fear your icy days are not yet done this winter, so take care.

  20. Black ice, white ice--it's all tough on the roads. Stay safe.

  21. hmmmm...seems awfully quiet over here for a Saturday, Jerry...not that I was expecting a new post or anything...

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