"Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes, all the same. There's a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one And they're all made out of ticky-tacky And they all look just the same."
- Malvina Reynolds
My uncle and aunt, who are awesome and whom I love, have been storing my uncle's late mother's furniture in my basement for the last three years. They arranged last week to have some pieces shipped to them. The rest was stuff that was nice but not nice enough to ship cross country. This stuff my uncle's cousin came to get.
I've only met him once before, when he helped move the furniture in. He's about mid fifties to mid sixties. I'm not sure what his name is. Let's call him . . . Darryl.
He showed up as we were finishing dinner. I went out to help him move the stuff.
"How long have you been living here?" he asked.
"About five years," I said, "We moved in about a month before you helped us move the stuff down there."
"Yeah, it's been a while. I almost forgot where you were," he told me. "I got turned around and went up Division and then through your neighborhood . .. there sure are a lot of blacks, aren't there?"
"Sorry?" I asked. This is my typical response when somebody says something like "There sure are a lot of blacks, aren't there?" with a little nose-scrunch on the word 'black', a little regretful moue of unease and general regret that the blacks, despite all our attempts and blandishments, just keep on, you know, living. He said it in much the same way as he might have said, "You sure do have a lot of termite mounds on your roof, don't you?"
So I like to ask for a little encore when I hear something like that, get the person to repeat what they are saying. Sometimes they actually hear themselves.
"In the neighborhood," he said, "There sure are a lot of black . . . people."
Ah. So, they are people, after all. I guess. Perhaps he heard himself a little the second time through.
One of my favorite moves in this situation is the re-false assumption. To make a tenuous connection for the sake of this blog's alleged subject, he's tried to steal my blinds with garbage and now I'm going to resteal. He's decided to pull me into his world of "those-blacks-who-insist-on-occupying-space-in-the-universe, oh dear, oh dear oh dear", assuming that I will nod compliantly, maybe express my desire to move someplace where it, you know, stays lighter later, or whatever the code is now. So now I'm going to make a false re-assumption. I'm going to assume he meant something very positive, "There sure are a lot of blacks in the neighborhood!" Like, "Wow! You live next door to a money tree full of supermodels!"
"Yeah, it is very diverse in this neighborhood," I said. "It's great, it was one of the reasons we chose to come live here. So many areas just seem self-segregated, you know?"
He blinked for a while.
"This neighborhood used to be a lot different. I had a friend here back in . . ." he trailed off, then changed the subject.
He didn't stay long. Maybe he was worried it was going to get dark early, and wanted to drive somewhere where it stayed white a little later.
Most people seem scared of the city. Me? I'm scared of the suburbs.