About a month ago, I stopped into our local watering hole for a beer. It was about 6 p.m. on a Saturday.
It’s 5 o’clock somewhere. You know what I mean?
When I walked in, there was a bartender we’ll call George. A black guy we’ll call Joe. A brown guy we’ll call Bob. And a white girl, we’ll call Sally.
They all call me, Jeremy. It’s short for asshole. 🙂
I’m somewhat close to Joe, but Bob and Sally, a couple, I don’t know well. I mean, I see Bob and Sally at the bar a lot. I see them in front smoking when I’m driving or running by. And while I have a two drink limit, those two have a two drink every ten minute minimum.
For every one drink of mine, Bob has about three shots and one or two beers.
I’m not kidding.
But this day, I went into the bar, I bellied up, and ordered a Makers on the rocks. I sat down next to Joe. Bob and Sally were on the opposite side of Joe. We formed a line just like they do in the movies.
“What’s up, everybody?” I said.
“What’s up, asshole?” They all responded.
For a moment, I pretend I’m Norm from Cheers.
I used to be much more regular, and I still have enough cache that I’m a familiar face that can talk to most of the regulars or know of whom you are talking about if a name is dropped.
I joined the on-going conversation about this and that. Joe had a date that night. I was asking about the plans. Joe met this particular woman on a dating site for black people. She’s a professor of history at a local prestigious university and Joe is a history teacher at a local school.
Every once and again, Bob would pipe up, and throw in little drunk slurry sentences that I was personally ignoring.
At one point, I asked Bob what he does for a living. “I work as an accountant … for old people … they all suuuuuuuuuuuccccccck.”
“What does that mean?”
“They all suuuuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkk,” he repeated.
Okay, that much is clear.
Let me remind you, it’s about 6:30 in the afternoon. Bob is toast.
I’m not sure how the topic of black people and “not swimming” came up, but it did. It was probably because Joe recently went out on a boat, and the boat’s driver was a bit wreckless. Joe worried about his safety if he had to swim to shore. “I’m not a good swimmer,” he admitted.
Bob laughed at the idea that Joe couldn’t swim. George said something about “Have you ever seen a black guy swim?” George can be a bit racist. But it’s in one of those, so-called, endearing ways. He says things in front of the two black people that come into the bar, and they let him.
These people exist. And as long as there are still photos on walls reminding us that blacks and whites used to have different water fountains, bathrooms, and places to sit on the bus, we’ll have racism.
I get that.
Then Joe pipes up and says, “You know why I don’t swim? I’ll tell you.”
When Joe was nine, he was with his family in — let’s say — Missouri. I can’t remember the exact state at the moment, but it was midwest, southern.
Joe’s mom took him to his grandmother’s swimming pool for swim lessons that was associated with a retirement home. The first day of swim lessons went, well, swimmingly. Joe learned some basics of different strokes. How to tread water.
Day one came and went. And Joe said, “I really liked swimming.”
Day two, which would be the following day, the kids would move to the deep end and learn more.
Day two came, and Joe got his trunks on and paced waiting for his mom to take him to his grandma’s pool. “Mom!” He said. “When are we going to the pool.”
“I’m sorry, son. We aren’t going today.”
“But why, mom?” He asked. He said he really wanted to go.
His mom sat him down. And with as much compassion she could muster, she explained that the older people living in grandma’s community think that the black kids in the swim classes are contaminating the pool.
Within two seconds of that last sentence exiting Joe’s mouth, Bob leans over into Joe’s face and slurs, “LIAR.”
“What did you say?” Joe asked.
With large beady eyes, Bob raised a finger, pointed at Joe and repeated, “You’re a liar. That never happened.”
In the background, Sally was screaming, “Bob, that’s so not cool. Apologize! Apologize right now.”
“Not cool, Bob,” I repeated a few times.
George shook his head in disagreement, too.
Joe said, “You know what? Bob doesn’t have to apologize. Be who you are and say what you mean. I don’t want an apology.”
Joe picked up his drink and sat down in the seat on the other side of me, away from Bob and Sally.
In a room of racism, I can handle so much. But I’ll never invite Bob to my home or buy him a beer.
But hey, it’s Bob’s right to say what he wants. He’s free to do so. And he can hide behind anything from his belief system to his relaxed inhibitions for doing so. Having beliefs, ideologies and opinions is certainly something everyone has and expresses. However, I have to remember and remind myself that those opinions have repercussions. You can say and do what you want, but that means whom you say those things to may have equally oppositional antagonism.
There are limits to what we can handle. And there are behaviors that deserve to be marginalized and snuffed out.
When Bob paid his tab, he started to leave and passed by Joe offering a hand to shake. In the most public display of politeness in the face of dastardly opposition, Joe said, “With all due respect, I’m not shaking your hand. Another time, Bob. You don’t owe me an apology. You said what you meant and you meant what you said.”