(Feature photo: Author (left) and bud Jorge Torrespico, Ft. Benning, GA circa 1980)
For my friend and little brother, Mr. Brice Menaugh
I was born George Edward Hand IV, descendant of Alan Hand who arrived from Hungary to NYC in 1905, where he was a cobbler (makes/repairs shoes). From Al Hand, came his sons George Sr, George Jr, my Dad George III, George Foreman, and finally I tricked my way into the world impostering as a smokin’ good-looking and absurdly intelligent baby.
Once I was sure the coast was clear, I became who I really was, young George IV, in all his imperfections and transgressions. My grand and great-grandfathers were laborers, odd-job followers, ran a movie projector at a movie theater, and worked as custodians repairing careworn rooms at a local motel.
The silver spoon I was born with in my mouth was actually an off-white color, as it was used on many occasions to stir up wallboard (sheet rock) compound, and spackle holes in walls. In spite of my Sultan’s opulence, I was able to grow up in the mainstream march of all-American low-to-mid-class youth.
The other half of my roots came from my great-grandfather and founder of Lafayette Parish in the French Triangle of southern Louisiana, Francois Mouton.
My father was an Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the US Air Force, where my younger brother, older sister, and mother lived in Vance AFB base housing near Enid, Oklahoma. What a treat that was: never locking doors ever, kids leaving the house in the morning, and playing all over the hood from sun up to sun down, only returning home for lunch and dinner, all because we could!
My hood was a melting pot; Polish National and his family next door, five houses down was my bro Damian and his family. His dad brought him and his family to the US and enlisted into the Air Force. Suffice it to say, I never recall walking down the street as a little kid to suddenly stop and stare at a strange-looking person. We had one of everyone in my hood.
I remember my first encounter of rub between the races. I was conferring with a couple of my next-street-over associates, brothers Sandy and Franklin, of my equally five-ish years old. Our dilemma: we eagerly wishde to orchestrate a game of kickball… yea though we were only three.
“Hey, there are two kids in that house there, a boy and his sister,” suggested finger-pointing young Geo.
“Ah, no… no can do; they don’t like us,” lamented Franklyn.
“How, why not, what happened?”
Franklyn pinched a pinch of brown skin on his forearm and stretched it up toward my face in gesture.
“What is that, what does that mean?” I riddled.
“Sandy stepped in close and grabbed his brown cheek with a thumb and forefinger and stretched it out toward me.”
“What, I still don’t get it… what’s with the cheek, hey… that’s-a spicy a-meatball—What??”
Sandy: “That family doesn’t like black people.”
I remember just standing there looking at the house across the way, not having a clue what to do, think, or say. Awkward. “Then we play dodgeball–man in the middle!” Nicely played, Geo.
I remember my second encounter with a clash of races:
It was my impression at the time that my dad had a position as a Sergeant, where he actually had a couple of charges, men who he supervised. One of his men was just about the lowest rank there is in the forces, like a ‘Private PVT-nothing’. They did not even qualify for base housing, but were able to get a trailer unit as temporary quarters on base.
Dad had his charge and family over for dinner now and then. It was just him, his young wife and their three-year-old son.
Going to the skating rink was an electrifying pass-time in the day devoid of internet, electronic anything, and constant toe-jamming on freshly un-Earthed dinosaur teeth; we kids made necklaces from them and decorated our Christmas trees with them—yes CHRISTMAS!!
So, what was it if it wasn’t charming there: adults making a few laps around the rink to try and sneak up and startle the kids, but mostly sitting in the Allahu snackbar chatting and such. We kids took turns rotating one in, as two of us held the young’un’s hands and skated him around and around while breathless shrieks of glee rolled from his mouth.
This roller rink was in town; it was not on the airbase. An eve, as we kids turned in our skates, I saw my dad for the first time ever in a confrontation with another rink patron, being yelled at, cursed at, and even shoved by the other man. That scared the shite out of me; no kid likes to see that happened to their parent.
We stood and stared, but our mother ushered us out to the car as fast as she could, us three kids, our two friends, and their young boy. We resisted but begrudgingly obeyed. My dad returned and quietly drove us all home.
“What happened, Dad?” I started
“Dad, dad what happened? What happened dad? Dad, dad…”
And I began to sing: “ohhhh daddy-daddy what happened… oooohhhh daddy-daddy tell meeeeeee… oh daddy-daddy what haaaapeeeened… oh daddy-daddy tell meeeeee!” I was, after all, only five.
“Sit down and let your father drive” my mother advised, and I did.
In fact my gallant dad had come under rebuke for bringing his black friends to skate.
That night my dad made a pass by the boys’ room to tuck us in, me in my top bunk.
“Dad, what happened at skating?” went my last Hail Mary pass.
“George, if you ever feel like you just absolutely HAVE TO hate men with different skin than you, just remember one thing…”
“Just make sure you hate them one at a time.”
I must already be asleep because that made a goose egg of sense to me.
That’s ma pop tho… toujours après bêtises!
It was during my Army Basic training at Ft Benning, GA that my racism started ever so slightly slide back out from the rock it was hiding under. It was 1980, and we were a pretty equal mix of descendants of Odeon, of Cyrus the Great, and of King Quetzalcoatl.
We pulled the infamous Kitchen Patrol (KP), each of us, to assist in managing the maddened throng of troops at meal times. I was assigned to the milk machine pre-filling glasses with milk, otherwise it became a chokepoint in the chow line. I loved my job, and really kept ‘em coming. My line never stopped; milk flowed nonstop, and nobody left the chow hall thirsty. “Oh Milk River, Don’t Run Dry” sang Willy Nelson in my head.
There was one dark green soldier in our company that had the most hateful look on his face every waking minute, and never talking with anyone, that I did notice. His turn came on KP and he was assigned to Milk River.
“Keep this river flowing, ha ha..” I piped up as I grabbed a glass of milk with each hand, giving him the savvy wink of a fellow veteran of the Milk River Campaign.
“Shut the fuck up, you white bastard; just one glass, you Goddamned white mother fucker!” he hissed at me. I took my one milk and sat down. My dad’s cryptic advice ran through my head: “Quick, somebody; my kingdom for a quarter—I really need to call my dad!”
Now I took to looking at that fellow routinely as the days and training went by. Same animated look of hate for everything and everyone. Everyone? I called my folks during an eventual break for family thoughts. I talked to my dad:
“Hello George, how’s training going? Have they turned you into a man yet?”
“Not just yet, Dad… but they have apparently turned me into a Goddamned white mother fucker” and I told him the story.
“You know, somewhere in that guy’s past he must have been treated really poorly by some white people. You don’t know where he comes from or what he has been through, so cut him some slack, and especially some space. Don’t ever put yourself in a position to find out why he hates you so much. Let him eat cake.”
But back in the barracks the camaraderie and brotherhood abounded, just as always. In a rare moment of clarity I took a short powder from the light-heartedness of the men, midst their reverie and horse play, and lay back on my bunk and thunk a spell: this was a blast, here with this pack of pin-heads; I love these guys. But now, I’m pretty sure I hate that dark-green phuq-head in the chow hall… but I’m quite certain I don’t hate the rest of these dark-green brothers. =FLASH= on came the light. I get it Dad. If I do hate that turd in the mess hall, that doesn’t mean I hate his whole race; I just hate him. “If you must hate men, hate them one at a time.” RGR that, dad!
Those experiences and my up-bringing in the military bid me the explanation that being white, and by now Republican, automatically qualified me to kindly sit ringside at the Great White Hate Show! I would be from this point on, squarely hated for what some clowns did to people a long time ago. I think the term for us is ‘legacy’ and we suffer from where we came from, in spite of who we really are.