Thursday, June 12, 2008

'hood 10

Guys in the ‘hood got their first suit when you graduated from grammar school. Most suits didn’t fit; on purpose. The pants were long (we had to pull‘em up) and the shoulders always drooped. You had time to grow into it because you were a ‘growing boy’ and for those of us who didn’t grow fast enough we would roll up the cuffs over the wrist. Rolling up the pant cuffs really did look bad, so you didn’t do it. Probably wouldn’t wear it again till next spring at weddings or on Easter. Certainly you weren’t going to wear it to high school.
There were three schools to go to. The serious boy Catholics went to St. Rita and the serious girl Catholics went to Maria. The rest of us poor heathen went to Tech along with people from other neighborhoods with different nationalities and races and religions. My experiences at Tech were to prepare me for my adult life, said my mom. The old man told me it would teach me how to get a job. I knew kids who went to college and I asked my dad about it and he wondered out loud if any of the hoodlums in this ‘hood ever made it through high school. How could he know? He wasn’t around all that much and mom relied on us kids a lot for a lot of different things. The old man worked a good job at the factory but never came home till late –could be he's hungry. It’s not like he had hobbies; he didn’t go to the bowling ally and he didn’t go to the clubs where the men would sit out and tell stories – and he didn’t drink, either. Where was he? After a while, I didn’t care.

I actually did get a job the first summer after grammar school – cleaning the butcher's basement at the end of every day; six days a week. While there was blood to be easily wiped up, the other……..forget about it! It only took about an hour and a half. You know, when ya got a job, your ma is always on ya to learn how to save some money and your old man is lookin for you to start buyin your own shoes. This second hand bike came up for sale and I wanted it - thinking I would save street car money to and from the beach. Dad said I went to the beach too much. Who was gonna pay for all the school supplies for Tech? Bobby Siers wasn’t workin and I’ll bet he’d have pencils when time came!

Sure enough, it was the first day of high school, registration day, and I had not yet worn that suit and I had to buy my own pencils and I never rode that bicycle. Joey and Bobby Siers and Dom and me all walked together straight down 24th street through other neighborhoods; across Western, across Washtenaw, across California until Tech loomed up in front of us. This building held three thousand students and the population was very diverse. There were a lot of people here. A lot of different people here.
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Kids in Little Rock, Arkansas were registering right at the same time. There were only nine colored kids wanting to sign up at Central High – nine brave kids – but the white people of Little Rock wouldn’t let them register at Central High; they had to go to their own school. They’ve been trying to get into Central for a couple years now. In 1954 there was a Brown vs. Education Board case in the Supreme Court that said “separate but equal” was not good enough anymore and the Board people of Little Rock had to follow the law and said these “Little Rock nine” could go to Central High with “all deliberate speed”. But, on this first day, the Governor, Mr. Orval Faubus sends the National Guard to surround the school because some angry white people from around the state were coming to Little Rock and he needed to keep them and the kids away! That NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall gets a federal judge to tell the governor to let the students in to classes in accordance with Supreme Court law and the governor spits.

Her name is Elizabeth Eckford and this was her first day of high school. Just like me; first day.
She took a bus; I walked with the guys. When she got off the bus, she saw something was wrong. She was a lone Negro student – all others there were white. Mobs of people screamed and tussling Guardsmen surrounded her as she looked to the faraway entrance of the magnificent castle-like school. Why are you here, people yelled? Did they call you? She knows she’s to go to this school on this day and begins to walk up the long stairs. Blocked by the mob, she turns to get back on the bus and someone spits on her. She keeps goin’ to the bus – all this happening ‘cause her family's too poor to have a telephone. I’ll remember this story every time someone tells me about the different ways of being rich. Elizabeth is wealthy!

President Eisenhower federalizes the National Guard. Now, how smart is that? Not too much I guess because after days of rioting they go home and he has to call in the 101st Airborne Division and Gov. Faubus calls them “an Army of occupation”. They sure looked like one: airborne troops in helicopters with M-1 rifles and bayonets. The mob of people were yelling “two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” and threw bricks and stones and bottles at the soldiers. So the next Monday, the start of regular classes, the ‘Little Rock nine’ come together and the 101st Airborne gets them through the front entrance. The mob went crazy and beat some colored reporters while mothers screamed to their children “Come out! Don’t stay in there with them colored people” and before noontime the ‘nine’ were going out the rear entrance.

Then things got worse.
An editor of the Arkansas Gazette described what was going on, “Easy to explain in one sentence. The police have been routed, the mob is in the streets and we’re close to a reign of terror”.

Ike was on TV explaining why the U.S. Army invaded Little Rock. I wished some could come to Tech tomorrow. For now, I had to go find Joey.

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I found him at the club goin face to face with Dom over whose man did the hotter music. It was classic Elvis vs. Jerry Lee stuff with the current frenzy being who had the most explosive opening – was it the King and his “Hound Dog” or was it the Killer with “Great Balls of Fire”?
Joey was selling the Kings act as two minutes of intense, malicious glee and Dom saw the Killer as a wild white singer with a pumpin’ piano.
And it went on with ones’ song outshining the others’.
From “Heartbreak Hotel” sliding up the fret board to “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On” bangin down the key board. It was “All Shook Up” and “Little Sister” standing tall to Killers masterpiece, “Breathless” which, as performed by Jerry Lee doin the stool kick-out while his elbows banged the ivory, got Dick Clark in trouble for havin Jerry Lee as the headliner for his prime-time bandstand.

“Breathless” is pure power rock filled with certainty and sexuality while exuding white country drawl in the black mans soul shout. Rock and roll was not ready for “live” Jerry Lee.
When Jerry Lee does “High School Confidential” he orders his woman to get her dancing shoes on before the juke box blows a fuse. The music stops; he sings; sweating through his thick golden mass of hair he hammers the keyboard and the song is so fast it stuns people as his voice is crying out ‘heartbreak’.
This is not sock hop music and little girls better get off the streets.
He was so hot; his voice will never die!
Jerry was blackballed on radio because he married his thirteen year old cousin and I think Buddy Holly wrote a song about it. Joey had a stacked deck though; the Elvis song list simply outlasted the Killer's collection. Dom couldn't win against Elvis. I took Joey aside to talk about tomorrow.

# # # # # #

We walked up the steps at Tech and there were some of the ‘older guys’ from the ‘hood hangin out in front of the school along with a lot of other white people we didn’t know. There was two cops. There were about 50 colored guys. We stared; Bobby grabbed me by the arm and we went inside where there was a small group of mixed guys and girls talking real loud about Little Rock. I kinda knew what was happening down there and I could see anger in kids’ faces and knew for sure this was going to be a rough day. The bell rang for kids to go to class and only about half went. One cop came around the corner and a guy told him to go fuck himself. He left. Then this black kid steps up and asks who are you gonna stop from goin to school today.

Stupid fuckin Dom shouts out to not even ask because all of us are going to the same school, like it or not.
Well my names ‘juice’ and I want to know who is gonna watch my back, then this hillbilly lookin guy from Washtenaw jumps out and runs right at him – he steps back and trips him to the ground. The white kid’s on the sidewalk and ‘juice’ goes right down on him and thumps his head on the concrete and he bleeds immediately. Screams go up, yelling starts but nobody else moves. The hillbilly kicks at ‘juice’ right in the groin and rolls him over. Just like that the bleeding hillbilly is on top and he’s punching away with both fists. Still nobody moves while they’re both now rolling down the stairs not letting the other get up until they hit bottom. ‘juice’ makes it up first, swings across but hillbilly ducks leavin ‘juice’ wide open to a shot right in his gut. He goes down and the white boy stands over him. ‘juice’ sits up and says we’re done.

Elizabeth Eckford and eight others have more to do.


Jerry said...

I look forward to each wonderful unraveling. The weaving of the music with civil rights histories belie more than just a telling. It represents what life was about back then. We were children becoming adults, and we were torn between what was the coolest song and hard hitting graphic news of the new empowerment of a race. Music has always been a reflection of the times and you have presented a rich tapestry.

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