This is a Story for You Hermano (for Luis Francia)
I have wanted to write this for so long but I get tired of my regrets and my shame of one kind or another. These days I try my best to find some shiny nuggets among the dross but mostly come up empty. I succeed most in looking at the clouds or at the sun through the leaves of green tropical trees.
But back to the other. When I was a freshman at Brown in a sociology class, I wrote a paper about new movements in American politics. I attended the Communist Party Presidential Convention in Manhattan. The year must have been 1963. It was a small convention, about twenty-five people gathered in an upstairs room somewhere in midtown. I remember the presidential candidate was an albino negro which was different.
I reported about it as best I could in my notes but my main interest at that time was in a guy known as Malcolm X. I got information about him from magazines such as Jet and Ebony. If I hadn’t been a spoiled preppy of eighteen, I might have sought him out and gotten the skinny from the source, but, as it was, the paper I wrote got a high grade and went into the Sociology Department files. My teacher knew it was important somehow.
Fast forward to 1987 and I am at “the lonely café” in the Catskills where I ate sourdough pancakes almost every morning before going back to my barn to make cabinets and furniture for rich people like: Larry Rockefeller, Auchincloss (Louis, and his wife, Adele, a Vanderbilt, Babe Paley’s kids, Amanda Burden, and others). Don’t ask! I rejected them all including a Countess in Spain.
There was a big fat black lady whom I saw several times at the café. She had escaped from the New Age Health Spa ( and fat farm) a mile or so down the road to stuff down some worthy vittles. I liked her without knowing her and finally we had a few words. Something about racism came up.
“Are the people around here (boondocks) racist?” she asked.
“No more than anywhere else,” I replied. “I don’t have to tell you.”
“No,” she said.
I think she liked that and asked me if I would possibly make a Playground Spinning Wheel for the kids in her neighborhood.
“Oh God,” I thought, “pro bono for the hood.”
And I did think about it, not for any humanitarian reason probably, but because of the challenge of building something like that, building it the right way out of steel and serious ball bearings, something that would last forever. And, in my thinking, it would cost a lot of money and effort.
So, I replied, “I am too busy now working for Rockefeller (true).”
I don’t remember when I realized she was Betty Shabazz, Malcolm’s wife. Maybe I saw a picture of her somewhere but then I had a full dose of regret.
I don’t know how different it might have been. At least I could have mentioned my history with the civil rights movement and my research on Malcolm (he was my favorite). And probably, knowing she had some money, I would have gotten involved with the playground project.
I have been watching the series, ”Who Killed Malcolm X,” at least the first episode. Not sure I can continue as it hurts.
Saludos y un Abrazo,