Talking to Kids about Race

This is my story about talking to kids about race over the generations.  It’s the story about a lot of small conversations.  It’s about the journey to unlearn racism that  never ends. I’m white and I grew up on the northwest side of Milwaukee.  I moved to Bay View as a young adult.  I have two sons and three grandsons, two of whom live nearby.

When I was very young I was at a shoe store at Capitol Court with my mom.  An African American man waited on us.  I had never seen anyone like him before and couldn’t stop staring.  I asked my mother out loud, “What is the matter with his face?”  My embarrassed mother whispered, “He’s just like us.  God just left some people in the oven a little longer.”  Hmm, I thought.  So he’s kind of like a burnt cookie.  Like me but somehow imperfect.

I wanted my conversations with my sons to be different.  I took them to Juneteenth day, Mitchell Street Sun Fair, Indian Summer and got them involved in the Boys & Girls Club where I worked.

When my oldest son Sam was in the 2nd grade, he had a homework assignment to do a presentation about his nationality.  We’re a bunch of things—Croation, Bohemian, and German—I was annoyed by having to pick just one and I didn’t like the idea of having the kids separate themselves by nationality and race.  So, I told Sam that we’re American.  Simple, I thought.  We discussed what we thought of as being American culture—hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games and the 4th of July.  When he got home from school that day, Sam was really annoyed with me and said his teacher wanted to know if we’re native American and what tribe we belong to.  Not so simple.

When my younger son Ben was in the 2nd grade, his best buddies were two Mexican cousins.  We spent a lot of time with their families—school, soccer, church festivals.  One day, after spending time with their families, Ben asked me if he could “please, please, please be Mexican.”  Of course I had to say “no.”  It was hard to explain that we can’t choose what we are.  “We can’t be Mexican.  We can’t change our identity.”

When teenage Ben was riding in a car with an African American friend Jason, they got pulled over in Shorewood and were brought to the police station.  Ben swore they had done nothing and the police offered no explanation.  I talked to Ben about what happened.  He could drive a car through Shorewood  and no one would give him a second glance.  But it was different for Jason.  And I thought about what people mean in Milwaukee when they say “those neighborhoods,” the neighborhoods where “you’re not supposed to go.”  It depends on who you are.

Now I have conversations with my grandkids.

When Ezra was in 2nd grade, he told me that he didn’t like brown people  When I asked him why he said, “Kenny is mean.”

“Oh, so you don’t like Kenny,” I said.  “Are there any brown people in your school that you do like?”

“Oh, yes,” he said.  “I like to play with Trevor.”  “So that means you like some brown people.  What about Nathan?  He’s not brown and you don’t like him.”

“Yeah, I guess I like some brown people and I don’t like some white people.”  What I hoped he was learning was not to judge people by the color of their skin.

Just a few weeks ago I had a conversation with my grandson Noah who is a 6th grader.  He asked me why anyone would discriminate against people of color.  I explain that some people think that they’re different or not as good as white people.  “That’s crazy,” he said.

I still talk to my grown up sons about race.

After an incident at a soccer game that accelerated nearly to physical violence between adult spectators, Ben shared that he was sure that it was motivated by racism.  A Latina girl had accidentally knocked off a white girls glasses during the game.  We talked about how Latinos get stereotyped as aggressive.

At another kids soccer game, while the kids battled it out on the field, the adults of a Latino family were being targeted by the adults of an all white team with taunts like —“speak English.” The Latina mom understandably blew a fuse and unleashed a firestorm of cuss words which made everything worse.  Everyone stood around and gawked at the melt down spectacle, including me.  Finally, it was Ben who came up with a solution to the stalemate.  He simply invited the Latino family to move their lawn chairs and come and sit with us.

I was proud of him.  He may not have changed anyone’s mind that day, but he did something to intervene.  To demonstrate that not all white people feel the same.

People say that talk is cheap.  But so many of the big barriers in our society are built on conversations—the things people tell kids, or fail to tell kids.  People learn about race through conversations.  We learn who we are and who we aren’t.  We learn where to go and where not to go.

But conversation can help to tear down those barriers too.  I’m going to keep on talking with my kids and grandkids and I want them to keep talking to me.  We all need to keep talking.

Renae

My idiot ex husband leaves a voice mail that says my old friend Renae died.  He thought I’d like to know.  It has been over 20 years since I’d last seen her.

I desperately call him back while scouring obituaries online and digging the last months-worth of newspapers out of the recycling bin.  I call a dozen times.  He doesn’t answer.  I remember that she was the one who brought me and my new born second son home from the hospital.  I was alone and afraid in the middle of a divorce.

Renae and I met because our husbands were friends.  We both married when we were 18 years old and pregnant.  Our babies were due on the same day.  We were in touch every day.  Counseling each other through our pregnancies—“I can’t believe what’s happening to my boobs!”—and motherhood—“How long do they have to wear diapers anyway?”—and coping with husbands who were more interested in hanging out in bars than being fathers—“Want to have a sleep over and play Scrabble?” It was like walking a tightrope but finding comfort in the fact that you could look out and see someone else out there along with you, far from the edge.

I take a chance and call the last phone number I had for her.  A number that I kept even when I updated my address book and discarded others.  Disconnected.  I search for her on FaceBook and LinkedIn.  I remember the time that we  took our little boys to State Fair.  She bent over to feed the baby animals and a little goat chewed the buttons off of her blouse.

Finally, the idiot calls back and says that he was mistaken.  She isn’t dead yet but has cancer and will be dead any day now.  “Do you have a phone number?  Does she still live in the same house?”  He doesn’t know.  I remember the night Renae and I called the police because we couldn’t find her son anywhere.  He’d been hiding in the clothes hamper the whole time.

I do the only thing I can do.  I write a letter to the old address.  I tell her that I miss sitting at her kitchen table with a blue mug of black coffee, with her two-year-old daughter perched on top of the table like a little eaves dropper.  I send it out into the universe and hope that it will find her before it’s too late.  I think about Renae’s potato salad recipe, the one with the chicken bouillon cube.  I’m sure I still have it crammed in that dusty old yellow recipe card box.

A week later I get a text.  “It’s good to hear from you.  I have stage four lung cancer.  Probably have less than a year to live.  I would love a visit.”  I remember how proud she was that I went to college after my divorce and that she insisted on giving me a manicure on graduation day.

I don’t know what I expected.  Maybe her lying in bed, gasping for air, weeping in anticipation of our grand reunion.  But the scene I arrive at teleports me back over two decades.  It’s exactly the same.  Her husband and her son pacing around the yard engaged in some vague chore.  Renae meets me at the back door with a cup of coffee.  Everything is the same except now she’s bald.  I remember that when Sam was a toddler with a penchant for wadding up paper and jamming it up his nose, she advised me to shake pepper into my hand and give him a whiff so that he’d sneeze it out.

We fall right back into step.  She shows me pictures of her seven grandchildren and complains about her husband.  We have several more visits.  I take her to lunch at a restaurant on her bucket list.  At a beer garden with our handsome sons who are both now fathers themselves, I have an IPA and she has a coffee.  She never liked beer.  I volunteer for a few trips to the hospital for chemo pushing her wheel chair through the vast hallways, always making a stop at the gift shop.

On the surface, I aim to be helpful but clearly being with her is feeding my own soul in a way that feels selfish.  She doesn’t really need me.  She has plenty of support from legions of friends and family members.  Yet, I get to be the long lost friend that resurfaces just in time to provide comfort.  And I’m paying my penance, assuaging my guilt for leaving her behind, for not taking her with me on the journey of life.

We talk about death.  She tells me that she believes in an after life.  She says that she has to.  She would like me to help her write letters to her children.  But she’s not ready.  I promise to do my best to stay in touch with them.

I wonder why we ever lost touch in the first place.  Would we ever have reconnected if she wasn’t dying?  Will I be able to stay in touch with her daughter Katie any better?  I decide that it doesn’t matter.  What counts for both of us is being together in this moment.  I guess my ex isn’t such an idiot after all.  He called because he knew Renae was important to me and I’m grateful.

Right before Christmas, when Renae can no longer get out of bed, I’m summoned.  She wants to see me.  It will be our last visit.  She has a gift for me.  It’s a bracelet with a “friends forever” charm.  I rub her legs to help ease her pain.  My last gift to her.

 

Spies

The big bay window of the kitchen gave my grandparents the perfect perch from which to spy on the neighborhood.  As the sun went down and they finished the last of their pork shanks and sauerkraut, they would sit with the lights out and watch.  “Mr. Durr’s home from work late again.”  “Those Gitter kids don’t do a very good job at mowing the lawn.”  “The Westphal’s need new shingles on their garage roof.”

Grandma and Grandpa’s house was on the corner at the top of a hill.  We lived next door.  There were always eyes on us.  One Sunday morning, grandma invited us over for breakfast.  My sister shrieked with joy when she spotted her missing doll sitting in a blue and green flowered vinyl kitchen chair.  Mary Jo made a bee line for the doll but Grandma stopped her in her tracks.  “Oh no.  That’s my doll.  Some irresponsible little girl left her out in the cold and rain and now she’s my doll.”  And Grandma meant it.

My brother Joe, who always played that he was working, would move piles of bricks in a wagon from a spot in our back yard to a spot in my grandparents front yard and back again.  Grandpa supervised from the kitchen window.

As a hormone fueled teenager, I snuck my boyfriend into the garage for a french kissing lesson.  We’d just settled into a cozy spot in the corner on top of a paint tarp when the door flew open and the light clicked on.  “Boy you better go home now,” was all she said.  She was also clearly the “anonymous source” who reported me for rolling my skirt up way above my knees on my way to school and for smoking cigarets in the alley.

Eventually, I learned to watch for signs.  The glow of the ash from Grandpa’s cigar.  The rhythmic thumping of finger nails on the formica kitchen table.  The squeak of the swivel chairs.  I learned to be a spy too.

And when my own grandsons walked home from school by themselves for the very first time, my husband and I were there.  With our car camouflaged by a thicket of bushes a half block away, our eyes were on them.

This Started Out as a Love Story

Hard nutty cheese.  Musky red wine.  Candles drip on the lapis blue cloth on a table by the sea.  A black cat sits on my lap and I let it.

It is just you and me and the cat.  It’s dark.  The candles flicker in the warm breeze.  Our music is the roar of the waves as they wall-by-the-seacrash against the wall by the sea.  I am perhaps most in love with you in this moment.  Our hearts suspended together.  Breathing in peace, an ocean away from home.

Home.  Where bills need to be paid and alarms are set.  Where the light over the kitchen table dims our dreams.  Where expectations and household maintenance avert our gaze away from each other and the content of our hearts.

What I didn’t know then was how hard it would be to be with you again like that—with hard cheese and a bottle of wine.  We tried.  Romantic restaurants in other towns.  But a black cat never sat on my lap again.  And you never want any wine.  And the cheese just stinks.

Another Racist Day at the Soccer Field or Two Bad Uncles

My son, Ben, played soccer for a racially diverse club team more than 20 years ago.  The Croation Eagles had Latino kids, African American kids, and kids of just about every white European heritage possible.  Ben was one of the few members of the team who was actually of at least partial Croation heritage.  The BS the kids of color had to put up with was deplorable.  On numerous occasions I heard parents from opposing teams drop the N bomb and call the Latino kids spics.

The Croation Eagles team parents did our best to shield our kids but the slurs from the opposing teams continued.  And our parents weren’t always well behaved either.  One of the moms on our team actually screamed “You must be on the rag,” to a female ref at one game.

I really did think it was going to be better by the time my two grandkids played soccer. Last winter, Ben was coaching his boys Noah and Ezra’s 10 and 8 year old teams in indoor soccer through the local rec department.  During Noah’s game, one of the Latinas on Ben’s team, Breeza, accidentally collided with Vickie, a white girl from the other team, accidentally knocking off her glasses.  Vickie picked them up.  Breeza asked her if she was okay.  Vickie nodded yes and the game continued.  No big deal.  Noah’s team won.  The onlookers and players started heading for the door

Vickie’s uncle, a young guy of about 20 wearing a neck brace that we later learned was because of a drunk driving accident, started talking smack to Ben.  “So I guess it’s easy to win when you teach your team to play dirty,” with lots of cussing for emphasis.  It became clear that it was the “aggressive” Latinas like Breeza that he had a problem with.  Ben told him to watch his language in front of the kids and suggested they go outside the school to talk.  They did.

Vickie’s uncle immediately throws off his neck brace and pulls out a switch blade posturing for battle.  Shocked, Ben said that if he wanted to fight him he needed to lose the knife.  A crowd gathers around.  Vickie cries.  Her mother yells to the uncle, her brother, to quit and come home with them.  There’s lots of commotion but finally, the uncle stalks off.

Everyone was upset.  But if there was anything good about the situation, it was that I got to watch my son in action.  He stayed calm and coached Ezra’s soccer game immediately after the incident.  He talked to his sons about how men behave.  “Tough guys don’t use weapons and don’t start fights.”

He said really thoughtful stuff about how they should be kind to Vickie because none of this was her fault and not to let anyone else be mean to her either.  That Monday at school, Vickie told Noah that she was really sorry for what happened, that she didn’t want anything bad to happen to his Dad.  Noah hugged Vickie and told her that she didn’t do anything wrong, just like his dad told him to.

This spring, Noah and Ezra, now 11 and 9, left rec soccer behind and joined the fabulously diverse teams of the Club Deportivo Aztecas (Aztec Sports Club) along with Breeza and her friend Nonny.  These girls are a force to be reckoned with.  All last year during community rec soccer, all the boys whined that no one could get past Nonny.  And Breeza, I saw her take a ball in the face and just keep moving.

The families are friendly, sharing food and carpooling.  There’s lots of Spanish and English flying around and we’re all learning from each other.  The kids are respectful and the coaches are smart and caring.  It’s a poor team compared to some of the big clubs.  We have one field at local elementary school compared to clubs that have more than a dozen fields, a concession stands and bathrooms.  We don’t go to a lot of tournaments.  But the Aztecas are affordable and inclusive and we like that.  I thought everything was pretty hunky dory.

But then this happened at the Aztecas versus a big club game last weekend.

Nonny’s uncle lit up a cigarette.  Within seconds, a tall man I assumed was a parent from the opposing team demanded that he put it out.

“This is a kids soccer field.  There’s no smoking.”

Nonny’s uncle, a slight man with a long scraggly brown ponytail, said something like, “I don’t see any signs,” and suggested that he mind his own business.  And he put out his cigarette.

The tall guy, the kind of good looking well dressed and groomed guy that has the arrogant glow of privilege, wasn’t satisfied.

“When you’re a guest in our house you follow our rules.”

That comment sparked a conversation between Nonny’s uncle and Nonny’s mother in Spanish.  And then the shit hit the fan.

“Speak American.  You’re in our country, at our soccer field,” said Mr. Privilege.

“Hey this is my America too,” said Nonny’s uncle.

Mr Privilege said something like “you don’t act like it.”

It was like he lit a match.  Nonny’s mother unleashed a firestorm of cuss words.  This is what happens, I thought, when weeks and months and years of the constant drip, drip, drip of racial insults and stereotyping finally ignite.

And there was plenty of fuel flowing from Mr. Privlege…”You people this and you people that…”

One woman came over to take video of Nonny’s cussing mother on her cell phone.  Another woman gently walked up to her and asked if she was drunk or high.

There were so many people standing around gawking that it was hard to tell who was there to support Nonny’s family and who was there to watch the side show of a Latino family melt down.  Mr. Privilege stormed off somewhere to “file a formal complaint.”  It was whispered in the crowd that he was on the board of the soccer club.

Ben was the only person who came up with a way to end the stalemate.  He simply invited Nonny’s family to join ours.  To the gawkers, Nonny’s mom said, “We’re going to go sit with the cool people.”

Noah and Ezra’s other grandmother, Char, welcomed Nonny’s mother to our group by saying, “Nonny is so tall.  Where does she get her height?”  I intervened with “So now we’re going to call her (Nonny’s mother) short!”  People chuckled and a tenuous calm was restored through the rest of the game.

Up until then, the families of both teams had been interspersed along the spectators sideline of the field.  Slowly lawn chairs continued to be rearranged until all of the Aztecas families were on one side and the big club on another.

After a hard fought battle on the field, the Aztecas won!  6 to 5.  Of course, Nonny’s uncle couldn’t resist giving the finger to Mr. Privilege who shook his head and looked away in disgust.

When the teams came around for the ceremonial round of high fives, both sets of parents congratulated both teams although Nonny’s uncle needed a little encouragement.  I was grateful that the kids had been too busy playing a competitive game to pay any attention to what their idiot families were doing.

I’m sure that not every adult associated with this big club was in agreement.  And it’s true that Nonny’s uncle shouldn’t have been smoking and her mother should have tried harder to contain her rage.  But as Ben says, “tough guys don’t use weapons,” and I can think of no sharper weapon than the racism Mr. Privilege and the smug group of parents wielded on this fine sunny afternoon.

Me and Bill

In the summer of 2002 I was “between jobs,” which means that brief, liberating yet nerve wracking time when I stupidly, I mean boldly, quit a job without having another.  I was thrilled at the freedom to explore opportunities and do freelance work at home in my pajamas but terrified by the idea of running out of money before I had built up enough work or secured another “real” job.

So when my friend Kate called and asked if I wanted to participate in a Milwaukee area Democratic fundraiser for Tammy Baldwin featuring none other than the former President Bill Clinton, I quickly declined.  The $250 minimum price tag was just too much even though I really liked Tammy and wanted to see her reelected.  Besides, Bill pissed me off.  I was still really mad about how he cheated on Hillary with that dumb Monica Lewinsky and tried to deny it.  What a chump!  How could a whole country trust a man whose own wife couldn’t?

But Kate called back whining about how much she really needed my help and offered to comp my ticket in exchange for volunteer time.  I was still reluctant.  Then she reminded me how many “important” people would be there and how it would be good for my career to be networking.  And my husband butted into the conversation with a snide comment about it not being “healthy” to hang around the house in my pajamas every day.   “Okay, fine.  I’ll do it,” I finally said.

The Performing Arts Center where the midday event was to take place was abuzz with activity when I arrived.  I was helping to organize name tags while scary looking federal security personnel lurked around with their curled chords plugged into their ears.   They looked like “Men in Black” and it gave the ambiance a kind of surreal feel to it.  And Clinton’s so called advance team was intimidating in their efficiency.  A terse young woman in very high heels and a prim suit answered her cell phone with a piercing verbal jab.  “Go!” was all she said.  Kate and the rest of us volunteers scurried around like peptic crazy people to a constant barrage of announcements—“He’s 30 minutes out; He’s 25 minutes out; He’s 22 minutes out.”

Frenzied guests began to arrive and move through the security check.  It felt like the Easter Parade with everyone in their best business formal ware, men in dark suits with their best silk ties in spite of the heat; women gussied up with colorful summer suits, sheer hose and light colored pumps.

“He’s 19 minutes out.”

The guests were a bunch of nervous nellies.  “Where’s my name tag?”    “I know I made a reservation.”  “When will President Clinton arrive?”

“He’s 14.2 minutes out.”

The Men in Black paced faster.

“9 minutes out.”

The air felt electric.   I could hear the distant sound of sirens, the police escort.  The guests were literally tittering.

“5 minutes out.”

The Men in Black and the sharp young woman and other campaign workers stood outside the entrance at straight-back attention, hands crossed behind their backs while we volunteers rolled our eyes.”

“2 minutes out”

No one was breathing.

“30 seconds out.”

And with amazing accuracy, Bill’s motorcade pulled up at exactly zero.  He got out of the car like a celebrity surrounded by his fans only in this case it was the Men in Black.  He whispered something to the sharp young woman, who scurried over to Kate to whisper something in her ear.  Kate made a gesture to point down the hall.  Bill had to use the bathroom.  Even former presidents have to go potty.

Just like everything else about this event, the photo taking proceeded with amazing efficiency. In less than 30 minutes more than 75 couples or individuals assembled themselves in poses with Tammy and Bill and shots were taken.  I could feel the righteous smirk still lingering on my face but I had to admit that Bill looked good.  He had lost weight and wore a trim black suit with a pink shirt and a pink and blue striped tie with small flowers in the pink stripes.  His thick white hair was well cut and coifed and the small pompadour poof gave him a 60s rock star swagger. I swear I could smell Aqua Velva.

Kate gave me a nudge and knocked me out of my stupor.   “Your turn.”  What?  Me?  No kidding.  Me and the other women volunteers (there were no male volunteers) got in the end of the line for our turn for a group photo.

“Go” said the terse young woman and five of us stepped into the frame.  I stumbled around like a fool uttering “where should I stand?  where should I stand?”    “Right here,” said Bill and he put his arm around my waste and pulled me in for the shot.  And just as quickly, he  moved his hand to my back and gently shoved me away so that the next group could move in.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” I practically shouted as I  joined everyone else in my group beaming from ear to ear .

Bill Clinton and MeWe transitioned on to our new role of helping to seat people in the theater.  I wound up filling a seat in the front row.  I hardly remember anything anyone said except that Bill talked about forming a more perfect union.   I remember most clearly the look on every single woman’s face in the audience.  Regardless of age, race, or economic status, we looked at Bill with an upward tilted face, adoring glistening eyes and a smiling slightly agape mouth.  He was Elvis.  The King.  We hoped he would look in our direction and give us a personal moment.  Just one.

And just like that it was over.  Elvis had left the building.

Kate grabbed me and said, “It’s ok that we have the ‘wheels up’ party at your house, right?”  Wheels up?  What?  Apparently it is tradition for campaign workers to have a few drinks together after the president’s jet has taken off and I happened to live close to the airport.

But first, we were all to scurry to the private chartered flight part of the airport where I had never been before and help Bill shake hands with a few more donors.   It was my job to stand outside the airport and peer down Layton Avenue to watch for the motorcade.  I got excited when I saw a limo make a u turn into The Nite Owl, a well known custard and burger stand.  Bill was known for his love of fast food, but it wasn’t him.  A decoy, maybe.  But then Bill showed up in the biggest blackest SUV I’ve ever seen.

More hand shaking and photos and then everyone jumped in their cars and headed to my house.  The wheels were up!  Everyone included about 30 members of Clinton’s and Baldwin’s staffs, my friend Kate, and a few of the other volunteers.

The guests emptied the refrigerator of beer and drained every bottle of wine, including the supply Kate brought, into every glass I had in the house.  Ninety percent of the revelers were smoking in the small closed in space that connects the house to the garage when the squeaky automatic garage door announced my husband’s arrival home from work.  I reached the door of the garage just as he opened it.

“Hi,” he said as he quizzically scanned the bar scene from Star Wars going on in our house.  “What did you do today, honey?”

Disco Crash

I check my reflection in the mirror.  Stretch marks and a caesarean scar have put an end to my bikini days but with my sleek new black dress I look like any other slender 22 year old.  I load the boys into my used Chamois Gold 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale, drop them off at my parents house, and head out to the Tropicana Disco to meet my friend, Sandy.

Under the swirling, flashing lights, we do the Hustle, the Bump, the Funky Chicken, and our own brand of free style disco to Donna Summer, the Bee Gees, and KC and the Sunshine Band.  But when the DJ plays Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the perfect anthem for a newly-minted divorce`, I own that dance floor.  I belt out “Oh, no, not I” with all the conviction in the world.  But my disco zen is interrupted by a silly gaggle of weird looking guys jerking wildly with flailing elbows, clearly trying to get my attention.  I ignore them.

On my way home, a yellow Ford Pinto appears in my rear view mirror.  The guys from the disco pull up in the left lane along side of my Olds, beeping their horn, whooping and hollering, thrusting an index finger to the sky, mimicking Travolta’s signature dance move.

“What the_______” I think just as my car clips the bumper of a parked car.  The jolt ricochets my Olds into the left lane and as I close in on the car full of guys, their faces change from hilarity to open mouthed alarm.  I hit them full force in the right fender sending both of our cars spinning out of control.

When the Olds finally loses momentum, I guide it to the side of the road as do the four nerds in the Pinto.  They jump out of the car and run to ask if I am okay.  We are all shaky but okay.  I assess the damage.  The Olds took the hit pretty well and doesn’t look too bad except for a flattened fender, but the Pinto isn’t going anywhere.

“You guys were at the Tropicana tonight?” I ask for confirmation.

“Yeah, man.  We saw you,” says the curly haired one. “We were gonna buy you a drink but….” The other three pimply faced guys sort of shrink behind him like a bunch of 12-year-olds.  I yawn with impatience.  “So, how about we don’t sue you if you go out with us?” He asks.

“All four of you?”

“Yep.”

Certain they will never call anyway, I give the bold one my phone number.

But they do call.  I get Sandy to agree to go with me but she backs out at the last minute. I go anyway.  To get it over with.  They take turns dancing with me but my effort is flat.  They are all clearly nervous..having trouble with eye contact, fidgeting with their shirt collars, scratching their ears.  We have scant conversation shouting through the blaring music. I learn that they graduated from high school just a few months ago.

I stir the remnants of my screwdriver and mention that I have to get home soon to relieve the babysitter.  “Yes, I have two kids.”  The needle skips on the record, and everybody in the disco turns to stare at me with that look, that disco crash look. The “date” ends abruptly.  I drive myself home, the voice of Gloria Gaynor  and “I will survive” playing in my head with just a little less conviction.

I never hear from them again.  Didn’t expect to.  Even if I had found them charming and attractive, so much more than a few years separate us.  Their lives are college chemistry and spring break and new beginnings.  Mine is diapers and food stamps and a slightly damaged Chamois Gold Oldsmobile.

me and the boys 1978