09th Mar2006

A Tuscaloosa Anecdote

by Will

“We have come to terms.”

So, I’m trying to find my “voice” again, so this isn’t really an official post. Anyway, I was getting sick of y’all leaving me “Why don’t you post yet?!” messages, so I figurd I’d throw you a bone.

While packing up to move recently, I found a few things that reminded me of a funny situation a few years ago. You see, we were on vacation in Alabama, and one day we happened into an old-time “five & dime”. This was the kind of place that sold you Coke in glass bottles, and actually refilled them if you brought them back. I mean, this place was straight out of the Andy Griffith Show. All that was missing was the lunch counter with the “no coloreds allowed” sign.

Anyway, I am always in the mood to spend some money, and I was about to have a field day in this place. I have this funny tendency to buy shit I neither want nor need; the point is to simply spend the money like it’s a shopping spree or something. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to ‘Bama, but there ain’t much there worth spending money on. I was about 10, so I had every action figure that was popular at the time. There shouldn’t have been anything to impress me in this time capsule of a store. But that didn’t stop me.

I proceeded to buy a pack of those green army men. You know, the kind that were only played with by kids in the ’60s and the poor kids of today. But that was nothing compared to what else was in the bundle.

I had a wrist-mounted dart launcher, a bow & arrow set, and to top it off, four lone ranger masks in different colors. I was just a stupid kid who liked junk, so imagine my surprise when I got to the counter and the owner looked at me funny. “Oh, no,” I thought. “I’m about to be the next Emmitt Till.” He cocked his head, looked at me, and asked, “You ain’t about to get into no mischief, are you now?” I looked at the items on the counter, and it was like everything was suddenly crystal clear. What the Hell had I been thinking?! I was buying weapons and masks!

And to top it off, not only did I look like some kind of junior criminal, but I was a low-rent one at that. At an age when most kids would have bb guns and spray paint, my militia was shaping up to be something out of “Howdy Doody”.

I looked him in the eye, smiled, and gave him my most sincere, “Oh, no sir. Not at all.” He kind of gave me another once over, and proceeded to ring up the items.

My mother had watched the entire exchange, and when I was done, I noticed that she looked upset. I thought she was on my side, and I was thinking, “That guy just asked me that ’cause I was Black.” But no, she came off with the patented Black mom response: “Boy, why you gonna buy some fool stuff like that? You got enough junk!”

By that point, as you can figure, I didn’t even want the stuff anymore. I had succeeded in wasting the money, and in one person’s eyes I was a thug, while in another’s I was a fool. Not the best end to that standoff. Oh well…

I thought of that story ’cause I found that dart launcher the other day. It makes me laugh at how stupid the entire exchange was, but I also thought about how I probably couldn’t even get away with that today. I mean, back then, it was a simple shop owner, making sure I wasn’t gonna be spreading terror to the quiet burg of Tuscaloosa. But today, if I tried to buy such stuff, I might end up on some kind of list.

The thing I always think about, though, is why he thought I was going to do something bad. I mean, sure, I was a little fat kid, in Alabama, buying weapons and masks, but WHY did that have to be a bad thing? I could take the racial approach, but I feel there are so many levels to it that sadden me. I mean, maybe I was going to do something GOOD with those items. Or maybe I just wanted to play. I guess I’m kinda blown that we’re always quick to assume something bad, but we never even entertain the idea that something POSITIVE might be afoot. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, after all these years, I’m really sorry that I went back and robbed him…