My Brush With Racism


It was the early 70’s and race relations were better than they had been in the 60’s yet still a bit strained. I was a hippie, which back then was code for stoner, and having grown up on Long Island I was a Jets fan. The area in which I lived was semi integrated at best with certain area’s known as “black” hangouts and others “white” hangouts. Emerson Boozer was a fullback for the New York Jets and had opened a bar in the next town over and Named it Em Boozers 32, which was his number. Having past it many time I was always curious if the man himself hung out at the pub like I don‘t know, maybe tosing the football around or something cool like that. One evening I decided to find out with the faint of possibly even seeing Broadway Joe Namath chilling there too.
The drinking age was 18 and so was I so I could legally go into a bar and get a cold beer which were my exact intentions on that moonless dark night. I pulled into the parking lot and could hear a boisterous crowd partying inside from all the way were I was. Friggen awesome man, my kind of place, lots of partying and music, slightly rowdy crowd, what could possibly go wrong? Of course it was what could bet be described as a little “seedy” and while I didn’t like stems and seeds, seedy was not a stranger to this hippie so off I ventured into Em Boozers 32 for an ice cold Budweiser.
As I opened the front door the decibel of revelry increased dramatically being driven by loud laughter, but as soon as I entered the bar became silent. Not a peaceful and serene happy calm silence, but a menacing pin dropping what the fuck kind of silence. Even the jukebox stared quietly in disbelief. I looked around and noticed that I was the only Caucasian in the entire pub. Instant paranoia shot up my spine and began dancing on my slightly weed numbed brain. What to do? Every single open eye was focused directly on me. That’s me in the mirror, that’s me in the spot -light, losing my composure.
I was shaking like tall skinny snowflake with vertigo but it was too late my legs had already made the decision to head to the bar and all I could do was follow. As I passed there were people sitting at tables, some dudes playing pool, and at the bar was an extremely large intimidating barkeep. With my optic nerves shivering wildly it was hard to focus clearly but it could’ve been Emerson himself, he was certainly big enough.
The silence morphed into whispering and not to sound narcissistic or anything but I was relatively certain the hushed conversations were all about me. But it was too late, my instincts had taken control which in retrospect was a good thing because if I just turned and ran I have no idea what may have occurred. So I walked up and with all the strength and determination I could muster up I walked directly to the imposing barkeep and in my most weak and pathetic voice stuttered , “B-B-Bud please” The barkeep glared at me, reached own under the bar and to my delight it was not a baseball bat or a shotgun but an ice cold bottle of Budweiser in his hand which he promptly placed in front of me asking, “You ant a glass with that….sir?” Noting a touch of sarcasm in his voice I defiantly mumbled in the same weak voice as before, “Um ,no thank you.”
I was beginning to regain my composure a bit and boldly I showed no fear or sign of uncomfortableness, looked directly at the imposing figure behind the bar and said “Cheers”. I lifted the bottle to my relatively steady lips and guzzled that beer like I was at a frat party with my fellow pledges urging me to swallow in a single gulp. I placed the now empty bottle on the bar, wiped my mouth with my sleeve and noticed the noise level had picked up from a whisper to a low murmur and now only about half of the open eyes were on me with many getting back to their own conversations. I turned toward the door and bravely and evenly walked slowly and methodically determined to make it look as though it had been my plan all along and I knew where I was. The second the door opened up I began to get a feeling of massive relief heading at warp speed to my car. As I turned the key I heard the noise level of the bar go back to what it was before except with an added amount of laughter which, perhaps egotistically, I’m guessing again was about yours truly.
I’m relatively certain they had much more of a laugh of it than I did and I imagined guys going home saying to their wives, “You shoulda seen the face on that white boy, he looked about ready to hit his pants. I never seen anyone drink a beer so damn fast. The boy sure could drink but what in the Hell was he thinking?” What the hell indeed, it just hadn’t occurred to me that I would feel unwelcome, and in the long run it wasn’t so much that I was unwelcome as it was unexpected. In the years since I have maintained my deep rooted belief in equality and stand by those convictions for everyone regaurle of looks or beliefs. In addition I spent more toime in those “black hangouts” and forged many great relationships based not on our differences but our commonalities (not the least of which was a love for good quality weed) But I have yet to meet anyone who claims to be at that bar on that dark moonless night I had my brush with racism and I’m sure anyone who was enjoying their evening at Em Boozers 32 that evening will never forget the time they were entertained for 45 seconds from shivering snowflake….PEACE

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