This happened. Two weeks ago. And it sits with me still. Artists: y’all know how they do–waiting to be told. So I tell for now. I’ll revisit it later.
“There are 8 million stories in the naked city
Some ice cold and told without pity.”
Kurtis Blow, 1984
I was standing in front of a bar with a young White woman, my colleague. It was still fairly early for the club-goers but traffic was picking up. It was a Friday evening after all and we were smack dab in the middle of the city’s club district. We’d had an after work dinner with some other friends and were finishing our conversation by her car.
An older well dressed African American man walked up to us. “Is this Whites Only,” he asked looking to each of us in time. His smirk was a gentle one, like my grandfather used to wear.
I tried to convince myself there must have been a punch line.
In unison, my friend and I: “Excuse me?” now sincerely convinced we hadn’t heard what we heard.
He repeated himself, adding, “Can I go in there?” he pointed to the bar behind us which, indeed, as we turned to follow his pointing finger, was void of a single person of color. They were all laughing and making merry.
We told him that anyone was welcome. He thanked us and with an almost patronizing sort of amusement tipped his hat before walking away to approach another young man with the same question.
The young man came to us after the gentleman disappeared into a dark parking lot. The three of us shared our befuddlement; we couldn’t imagine where he might’ve gone until we saw him drive to the edge of the same lot in a shiny mid-sized car. An older woman–easily his wife–was on the passenger side. He looked both ways–the two were talking–and drove into the city night.
I lived on the same street years before–across from a former auction block; a few more steps puts me at the site of an African burial ground. Blocks of restless ghosts, my friend told me back then.