I have always been concerned about civil rights and justice. Once released from the military, I went for a PhD and got involved in the anti war movement. While a professor at UT, Austin, I was a cofounder of the Texas chapter of the Vietnam Vets Against the War. Recent discussions about Black Lives Matter and the anger reflected in Trump’s events brought back memories of earlier times. That birthed this sketch. For 40 years I was a professor of ‘behavioral economics,’ a mathematical and experimental sort of social science and philosophy, mainly at the University of Maryland. I retired to invent worlds and put them on paper. I mainly write stories and poems. I have submitted very few and published some. Much is on my website:http://gvptsites.umd.edu/oppenheimer/id43.htm
Bus Rides and Destinations
You’d probably be wondering how you got into my mind. I mean, sure, we had our days. Some nights too. Once you’da laughed if I added that. But that’s a long time ago. Lotta water under those bridges. That river flowing has me with kids. Four. Even grand kids. A nice house. Even retired. Gotta wife. Good marriage. Second one, actually. Two cars. Big house. Did I say that already? I know your response. You’d say, “No problems, if that’s what you want.”
But there’s lots kicking around to occupy the cerebellum as the shrink might say. Not that you’d give a damn. You must have a big portfolio on your hands too. Just different. Mine’s straight suburban. It’s what I want. You’d have turned your back. If you hadn’t done so earlier.
I’m at a bar. It’s not full or anything. I mean, some people at a few tables here and there. I don’t usually go drinking in the afternoon . . . by myself. But, you know, sometimes. Joan is out with some friends for lunch, so I walked downtown.
Downtown has pretty much shriveled up just like the rest of this hell-hole since the market fell apart. That doesn’t seem to have hurt the bar any. Anyhow, it’s hot out. And the sun is much too bright. Especially for May. I forgot my shades. Didn’t used to need ’em. Did I? But age does a trip on your eyes. Your joints too (no pun intended).
So I was looking for a cool and dark place. And I was passing Mort’s. So I came in. Started with a couple of beers. Then asked for a scotch as a chaser. The barkeep said he only had Teacher’s – cheap stuff.
Hadn’t had one of those since we downed them together. And so you popped right up. Fifty five years ago by my watch. That got my head going back to those days. Sort of accidental. Not nostalgia or anything. I don’t stay reflective. Never did, did I?
But still, I wonder about our end. Was it all about how I chickened out while you, being you, had the guts to sign on? I guess you thought I sort of failed the moral test. Well, sometimes I can see that side. You look at these years, and think I chose wrong . . . ought to have known better.
But that’s crap. I do my share. What would you demand, atonement? There is no atonement. Even if there were, to whom? To the rest of society? Hell, I’m not Black. I never had relatives in the South. My family had just come over. They were running from Hitler. You know that. I had no skin in the game.
Of course, you could have said the same.
I remember seeing those posters on campus, talking with you about it. We were in the cafeteria, weren’t we? We were interested. I suggested going to the recruitment talk together. We weren’t committed, just interested. Sympathetic. At least that’s what I felt. So we went to the student union instead of that Bergman flick.
There we were, listening. Some guys from Columbia telling us, “We had an obligation.” They talked about the importance of doing something. They were saying “It’s your job. You can make it happen. You can change this world.” They said the buses would be going to New Orleans. We could sign up as a group and stay together. I even remember having my arms around you. You whispered, “We’ll take the bus together.”
They said we’d be going through all these small towns, like Crackerville, Rebelton. Those kind of places.
So then I asked, “Hey man, is this gonna be safe?” Everyone laughed. I mean, I didn’t. I was serious. You laughed. Then you turned. I figured you were going to give me a kiss. You had this bemused look on your face. I remember it well. You took in that I was serious. Then you pulled away.
You just walked to a window sill on the other side of the room. You sat there. What were you thinking, “I thought I knew him?”
The recruiters finished their talk and the questions were done. People signing up or not. You’re in the sign up line. I walked over to talk to you. But you just started talking with this woman in back of you. Started as soon as I opened my mouth. Pretended to not even know who I was or even that I was talking to you. You never so much as acknowledged my existence after that moment.
I watched those buses get burned and people get beaten up. It was all on TV. Couple of times I saw you. Once you had bandages all over your head. I wrote you. Even called your parents. But to you, I was dead. Dead.
I mean, I got over it. Thought about it a lot those days. Changed majors. Accounting. You’d have laughed me out of your life over that. Probably. I wasn’t cut out to be in your revolution. Especially later. All that feminism bullshit. Then that gay stuff. I mean, you screamers just wanted to roll over people like me. Many times. You thought guys were losers. Well, guess what? Not me. I’m still a fighter. I’m still punching.
I’d bet my Mercedes you went to Ferguson. Why? Some imagined injustice? Me? I’m a proud supporter of the Police Benevolent Foundation. Nationally too. They protect my ass.
We got a black president. That’s something. Don’t tell me we don’t change.
Anyhow, I don’t drink Teacher’s. It’s just expensive dish water. Instead, I’m leaving and walking home.