"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America." -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020
“Come on,” said Darius as he exited the car. “You’ll love this place.”
I got out and trailed behind him. I was extremely nervous. I had never been to a Black restaurant before. In fact, I had rarely seen a Black person in a Somerset restaurant. Darius turned and grabbed my arm, pulling me inside.
The restaurant was filled with people. Loud music was blaring from speakers overhead. As we made our way to the back, Darius stopped at several tables and high-fived the people sitting there. Each time, they would look at me with a puzzled expression.
We sat and a young girl approached the time. “Hey, Sweetie,” she cooed and smiled at Darius. She gave me a curious glance. “What will it be today, Darius?
“Give us a minute, Sheila,” he replied as he grabbed the menu and started reading it. He looked over and smiled. “I like their honey barbeque wings,” he stated as he handed me the menu. “What about you?”
I read through it. Most of the items seemed similar to KFC or Popeye’s menu. I looked over and asked, “How are the chicken fingers?” He started laughing, and I asked him what was so funny.
“Chicken fingers?” he laughed. “That is exactly what I would expect a white boy to order.”
“What’s wrong with chicken fingers?” I didn’t see anything wrong with eating chicken fingers. It is what I normally ate when I ate at a fast-food chicken place.
“Sorry, Parker,” he apologized, “but why don’t you try something different for a change.” He pointed to the chicken wings. “When you eat at Charley’s, you gotta try the wings.”
Just then Sheila approached the table. “Decide yet?”
“Yeah,” smiled Darius. “Give us each a six-piece honey barbeque wing special.” He looked at me. “Fries and a coke okay?” I nodded.
“Sure thing,” replied Sheila as she gave me a puzzled look.
Darius sat back and asked, “So, what do you think of Charley’s?”
“It’s kind of loud,” I replied. I was having trouble hearing with the hip hop music blasting overhead.
“You’ll get used to it,” he laughed.
Just then, another young man approached the table and sat down beside Darius. “What’s going on, Bro?” he asked as he glanced at me.
“Not much,” replied Darius. He looked over at me and said, “This is Dwayne. He’s one of my best friends. Dwayne, this is Parker.” Dwayne held out his fist, and I bumped it. He was darker than Darius, and his hair was braided. I also noticed a couple of tattoos on his arm.
He looked over and laughed, “What’s a white boy like you doing in here?”
I glanced quickly at Darius. I wasn’t sure if Dwayne was making a joke. Darius explained to him, “Parker’s the dude who took the video of that cop who beat me.”
“No shit?” Dwayne looked over with a surprised look. “Damn, Dude,” he remarked. “You caught that mother fucker on tape beating my boy here.” He lifted his fist, and we fist bumped again. “Damn, Darius didn’t do nothing to get the beat down he got from that racist mother fucker.”
He leaned forward and asked, “You gonna be at the rally tomorrow night?”
I gave Darius a puzzled look and asked, “What rally?”
Dwayne interrupted. “We’re holding a rally outside the police station tomorrow to demand that they fire that racist mother fucking cop,” he said angrily. He patted Darius on his back. “We gotta make sure that justice is done.” He looked at me and asked again, “You gonna be there?”
“Leave him alone, Dwayne,” insisted Darius. “He doesn’t even know about it.”
“Alright,” said Dwayne as he rose. “I’ll still be looking for you.” I nodded as he walked away.
“Sorry about that,” said Darius apologetically. “I hope he didn’t put you on the spot.”
“No,” I replied. “I just didn’t know there was a rally.”
“Dad’s organizing it,” he explained. “He wants that cop fired.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” I replied. Before I realized what I was saying, I remarked, “Most of Somerset supports him.”
“That’s what I figured,” he said. “Somerset is one racist town.”
“We’re not that bad,” I replied. I wasn’t getting angry, but I felt I should at least try to defend the community where I lived.
“Not that bad?” he exclaimed excitedly. “Look how your players acted Saturday night. And then, look what happened to me.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t get any more racist than that.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I’m used to it.”
“That’s the problem,” he stated angrily. “You get used to it and let it happen.”
I looked over and said, “I’m not one of them.”
“I know,” he smiled. “If you were, we wouldn’t be sitting here now.”
Just then, Sheila approached the table carrying two plates of wings and fries. The wings looked delicious. “Here you go, Honey,” she cooed at Darius. It was obvious that she liked him very much. She looked at me, rolled her eyes and walked away.
“She likes you,” I remarked as I watched her walk down the aisle.
He laughed. “She’s had a crush on me since the fifth grade.”
“Did you ever date her?”
“No,” he laughed. “Wrong equipment.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that statement. He smiled, pointed to the wings and told me to start eating. I bit into one of the best wings I had ever eaten. The sauce was sweet and tangy. Darius laughed when I put down the eaten wing and started licking my fingers.
“I told you they have the best wings here.” We continued to eat and laugh. Both of us had sauce on our faces and fingers. For a brief second, I was tempted to lean over and lick the sauce off Darius’s face.
“What?” he asked as he saw me looking at his lips.
“What, what?” I asked as my face reddened.
“Nothing,” he smiled as he licked his lips free of the sauce.
I jumped when I heard someone step up beside me and sit down. “Hey, Charley,” said Darius to the older man who was sitting beside me.
“How are the wings, Boys,” he asked. He looked at me. “Did you like them?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied politely. Since Darius had called him Charley, I assumed he was the owner of the restaurant.
He smiled and asked, “Are they better than that greasy chicken they serve at KFC?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied with a smile.
He looked over at Darius. “Well, introduce me to your friend.”
“This is Parker…” he gave me a puzzled look. “I forgot your last name.”
“Frazier,” I replied.
“Well, Mr. Parker Frazier,” he smiled, “You are welcomed here anytime you want.” He studied me for a minute. “Frazier?” he asked. “You related to the heart doctor, Dr. Frazier.”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied. “He’s my father.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said cheerfully as he patted me on my back. “Your father saved my wife Emily’s life four years ago. He’s a damn good surgeon.”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied as my face reddened. I looked over at Darius, and he was smiling broadly.
Charley rose and shook my hand. “I’ll let you finish your lunch.” He reached out and shook my hand before walking off.
“He likes you,” said Darius with a grin. “He usually gives young people a hard time when they come in here. He’s old school, and he doesn’t understand us.”
I laughed and said, “He’s playing your music.”
“That’s because he takes out his hearing aids and can’t hear it,” laughed Darius.
I was having a good time. I looked around the restaurant and everyone was enjoying themselves. It wasn’t like the quiet atmosphere when my family ate at the steakhouse. It was loud, but in an enjoyable way.
Sensing my mood, Darius asked, “So, what do you think?”
I smiled and replied, “I like it.” I looked around and it appeared that no one seemed concerned that I was eating with them. I wondered if I had taken Darius into a restaurant in Somerset if he would be treated the same way.
We tried to make small talk, but I found it difficult. Darius seemed to be as nervous as me. I don’t know why. I guess coming from entirely different backgrounds, it was difficult for us to relate. When I’m with my friends in Somerset, we never have a quiet moment. If it did, Dan would usually liven things up with his antics.
We were getting ready to leave, when another of Darius’s friends approached and sat down beside him. He was tall, thin and effeminate. It appeared he might have been wearing eye liner like the girls I know wear. He was wearing torn jeans and a silky, colored shirt.
“Darius, Honey,” he cooed as he sat down. “Where have you been hiding.” He touched the bruise on his face and remarked, “It’s not as dark as it was yesterday. Does it hurt much?”
“No,” assured Darius. “I’m fine.”
The guy looked over at me and raised an eyebrow. “Where did you find this fine-looking white boy? Is he a trick?”
“That’s enough, Myles,” warned Darius.
“Oh, sorry,” he laughed. He looked over, smiled and extended his hand. “I’m Myles Jordan.”
I shook his limp hand and responded, “I’m Parker.”
“Parker?” he laughed. “You don’t have a last name?”
“Frazier,” I informed him.
Myles looked over at Darius. “Parker Frazier? Is this the boy you were talking about last night?”
Darius seemed embarrassed. “Myles,” he said angrily. “That is enough.”
“Well,” huffed Myles. “I know when I’m not wanted.” He stood, looked down and smiled. “It was nice meeting you Parker. Maybe someday when Ms. Thing here is in a better mood, we can talk.”
“Goodbye, Myles,” said Darius angrily.
Myles leaned down and whispered softly in my ear. “Be careful, Dear. Once you go black, you never go back.” He laughed and sauntered down the aisle.
“Who was that?” I asked incredulously. I had never met a person so brazen. However, in a weird way, I found Myles amusing. I had never met anyone so openly gay.
“That’s Myles,” replied Darius. He appeared really embarrassed by Myles’ antics. “We’ve been friends for years.”
“Is he gay?” I asked before catching myself. I had no right to ask that.
Darius laughed, “What do you think?”
“He must be a lot of fun to have as a friend,” I said.
“He is,” replied Darius. “He keeps me grounded when there’s a lot of pressure in my life. I just wish I could be as open as he is.”
I gave him a puzzle look. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” he said as he motioned Sheila to the table. “Can we have our check now?”
“Honey,” she answered. “Charley said your meal is on the house.” She touched my arm and said, “You must be someone very special. Charley rarely gives away a free meal.”
“Thanks, Sheila,” said Darius as he rose. “Tell Charley we said thanks. You have a nice day.”
“You, too, Sweetie,” she replied as she leaned over and gave Darius a kiss on the cheek. For a minute, I thought she might kiss me. I reached into my wallet and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. If Charley could pay for my meal, the least I could do was leave Sheila a nice tip. Darius watched me put the money on the table, but he didn’t say anything.
I was confused about what had happened in the restaurant. I was beginning to wonder if Darius is gay. Myles had certainly given several indications that he was. I know that having a gay friend doesn’t mean you are gay, but there seemed to be something else going on with them. What did Darius mean when he said he wished he could be more open like Myles? And Myles statement about once you go black, you never go back. I had heard that before, and it is involved with sex. Did Myles seem to imply that I might be sexually interested in Darius? Then, there was Darius’s comment about Sheila not having the right equipment. The more I thought about it, I was becoming convinced that Darius is gay.
“Where do you live?” I asked as we pulled away from the restaurant.
He responded, “Sorry about what happened back there. I was hoping we could just have a nice lunch and talk.”
“I had fun,” I assured him. “Everyone was so nice to me.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Some were a little too nice.”
“If you mean, Myles,” I said. “I liked him. He looks like he would be a lot of fun.”
Darius gave me a strange look. “It didn’t bother you how flaming he is?”
“Gay,” he replied. “He really is out there sometimes.”
“No,” I assured him. “He’s not.” I took a deep breath. Here goes, I thought. I might as well be honest with Darius if we are going to be friends. “I just wish I could be more like him.”
Darius looked over and winked, “Me, too.”
He gave me the direction to his home. We were only ten minutes away. We made small talk, mainly about the schools we attended. I found out that he was also a senior, and he was looking forward to graduating in May.
I asked, “Are you going to college?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’ve been accepted at Harvard.”
“Harvard!” I asked excitedly. “How did you get accepted at Harvard?”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted it. I was assuming that since Darius was black that there was no way he could attend a school like Harvard. I hadn’t even considered it because my GPA wasn’t high enough.
He grimaced. “So, a black guy can’t go to Harvard?”
“No,” I apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to sound like that. It’s just that the top students get accepted to a school like Harvard. I’m 5th in my class, and I wouldn’t consider trying to apply to Harvard.”
He looked out the window and said, “Let’s talk about something else.” We drove in silence back to Rosemont.
Darius lived in a very upscale neighborhood. It was nothing like I was expecting. Usually, when I drove into Rosemont, all I saw were old and dilapidated buildings. His neighborhood was newer homes with tree lined streets. He pointed to a house and said, “Here’s where I live.”
It was a large, trilevel home with a beautifully landscaped yard. I was surprised to see that it had three garage doors. I thought those existed only in the newer suburban homes like mine. There was a black Chrysler parked in the driveway.
“Dad’s home,” announced Darius as I pulled up behind the car and stopped. He turned to me and asked, “You want to come in? Dad would love to see you again.”
I looked at my watch. “I better not. I’m already over an hour late getting back from lunch.”
“Will you get in trouble?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I hope not. If I wait until the last period, no one will probably notice.”
He laughed and said, “I’ve done that a few times myself.” He paused and asked, “Any chance we might see each other again?”
“Yeah,” I replied with a smile. “I’d like that.”
He pulled out his phone and said, “Give me your number. I’ll call you and you can add mine.” After giving him my cell phone number, he exited the car. He waved as I pulled out of the driveway. I smiled when a minute later my cell phone indicated that I had a text message.
It took me twenty minutes to get back to school. I kept praying I wouldn’t get caught for speeding because I only had five minutes to get to class when I pulled into the parking lot. I jumped out and raced into the building just as the final bell was ringing.
I was almost to my room when I heard a voice boom out, “Parker Frazier!”
I knew the voice. I had heard it many times over the past four years shouting at a student. It was Mr. Nettleman. I turned, and he was approaching me with an angry look on his face. “Why are you late to class?”
“Ummm,” I stammered. “I had to use the restroom, and it was crowded. When I finished, the bell was ringing.”
“That’s a damn lie,” he responded angrily. “I just watched you get out of your car and run into the building.”
I hung my head and said, “Sorry, Sir.”
He pointed down the hall. “Go to my office.”
“Can’t I just go to class?” I begged.
“My office now!” he said as he walked away. I considered leaving the building, but I knew it would only make matters worse. My greatest fear after my father’s visit this morning would be that Nettleman would find something that I did that he could get even with me. Unfortunately, I had given him that reason. I slowly made my way to the office, sat in the lobby and waited.
He appeared fifteen minutes later with another boy following nervously behind him. “Sit over there, Jake,” he said as he pointed to a chair beside me. I could smell the odor of cigarettes on him, so I assumed that Nettleman had caught him smoking in the restroom.
Nettleman looked at me and pointed to his office. I rose and followed him inside. He sat in his chair as I sat in a seat against the wall. “Would you like to tell me where you were?” he asked.
I figured I might as well be honest. If I lied, he would know. “I was going out to lunch, and I saw a guy walking along the sidewalk who looked like he needed a ride. So, I stopped to help him.”
He asked suspiciously, “That took two hours?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied. “He lived in Rosemont, and we stopped at a place called Charley’s on the way.”
“Charley’s?” he asked skeptically. “Isn’t that the chicken place on Route 41?”
“Hell,” he replied. “I wouldn’t think of eating in that place.”
“It’s a nice place,” I responded defensively. “I had a nice meal. Why wouldn’t you eat there?”
His expression grew angry. “I just wouldn’t, and you know why.”
“Because it’s black?”
“I’m not going to have this conversation with you,” he huffed as he looked down at a folder on his desk. “I’m suspending you for one day for violating the senior open lunch policy.”
“What!” I shouted. “Seniors come back late all the time and you don’t say anything.”
“Well,” he replied angrily. “I’m saying something now. One day suspension.” He pointed toward the door.
I rose, looked down and muttered, “Bastard.”
“Two days!” he shouted as he held up two fingers. “Say anything more, Parker, and I’ll suspend you for a week.”
“Fine,” I said as I headed for the door. On my way out, I slammed it shut.
Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org