GCSPrank Is Here

For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Manners, Chicken and Glee

William was a journalism student, a year ahead of me. I don't remember how I met him. We weren't close friends, but we hung out together quite a few times, discussing everything from ancient sports to political theory.

Several times, we'd meet somewhere on campus, start talking, walk several miles and end up in town eating greasy food and drinking something non-alcoholic. If I could recover times past, I'd ask for recordings of those conversations. They weren't earth-shattering or historic, but for a guy with so few friends at the time, the idea of talking for a couple of hours with anyone is more than a fond memory: it's a rare spiritual gift.

On occasion, we'd play basketball. William was a lanky 6'4"; I was topping off at a skinny 5'9". I was definitely the more competitive of the two, playing with a fiery will, but maybe the fact that William was tall, lanky and black made him play basketball with a sluggish disdain, as if the whole exercise were beneath him. He once swatted 9 of my shots in a row and when I asked him why he didn't do that more often, he replied "You don't shoot more often." Cracked me up, then I ran off eight straight baskets. He won more often than I did, a fact that still galls me, because he did it without passion, as if the outcome didn't matter to him, though it always mattered to me. (Ask me about "Bismarck" some day...)

We discussed racism a few times. At first, I was tentative, not wanting to offend him or come across as "a white brother." William got me past that quickly by pointing out that talking about racism with him was an education for both of us. I remember those conversations and I read everything he suggested to me. But what I remember best was his attitude, his disengaged intimacy with life as a black man in a southern U.S. state.

The shining moment came in a KFC, then a Kentucky Fried Chicken. In his own nonchalant way, William stood in line, just ahead of me, and blocked my view of the counter. We waited, then all of a sudden a blue-eyed blonde young lady wearing a hideous outfit peeked around William and said "Yessir, may I take your order?" I was taken aback and was fumbling for a response when William, voice pushed down to a deep rumble, said to me: "Yah, massa, ya orda' fo' me."

I collapsed laughing. For as long as I can remember, I've been a sucker for the clever quip that tweaks the nose and parlays anger into wit. For make no mistake, I was heading towards anger. Maybe not for the right reasons, but the impolite and offensive behavior of a twitty countergirl was the perfect target, one William knew I could never pass up (to which he gently remonstrated me more than once.)

I laughed so hard I cried. Every time I tried to stop, I'd look up at the gawping blonde and lose it again. Just when I was getting control, with exquisite timing William said "Hurry up, I'm hungry." I lost it again.

I can't help but smile even now. I finally pulled myself upright, choked out my order and turned to let William order. He looked at me with gently mocking eyes and said "Naw, you order cuz you're paying," words that had me rolling on the floor again.

See, he'd invited me to eat. It was his turn. But the opportunity was too good to pass up. As we ate, I asked him if the incident had bothered me. "Yeah," he said thoughfully. "I had to wait for you to stop laughing. And I wondered if you would pee yourself and embarrass me."

"Don't you mean I'd be the one embarrassed?" I asked. "Naw," he replied, drawing himself up regally. "You lack my quiet dignity."

He was right. William graduated a month later and I never saw him again. It's been many years since we shared the same space, but I'm convinced that wherever he may be, he still has that quiet dignity I lack.


Post a Comment

<< Home