The jury is still out on one piece he gave me: "...stay out of bars, the only thing they're good for is finding a fight."
Never having enjoyed fighting (and not being all that good at it) , I've managed to frequent bars since before (don't tell the cops) I was 21 without ever having gotten into a bar brawl. I enjoy the camaraderie and the conviviality of a neighborhood tap. But yesterday afternoon I found myself in some discussions at a bar which had the earmarks of a fight about to happen.
NASCAR clips were on one of the TVs. The guy seated next to me--I'd never seen him before--asked me, "are you a racing fan?"
"Yeah," I said, "but I'm more into open wheel, dirt track and GT than NASCAR."
He looked at me like I was from Mars. "In other words," he said, with what appeared (to me) to be a smirk on his face, "no?"
"Oh, I like NASCAR too. I like all motor-sports. I just prefer watching..."
Before I could finish my sentence, he inserted the ending: "...a bunch of sissies."
"Hardly sissies," I countered indignantly. "I just prefer watching racing finesse to watching adult bumper-cars."
The conversation, we both realized, was going nowhere fast. He moved two seats to the left to talk with someone else. I did the same to my right. Ended up sitting next to a friend about my size and age. Black guy. We'd known each other for years. Former neighbor. Five months back, I'd given him a printed manuscript of the book. I told him, at the time, that being African American, I would appreciate his perspective on it.
I hadn't seen him since nor talked with him. Figured this would be a good time to ask his opinion, even though it was too late to change anything. "So what did you think of the manuscript?" I asked.
"I couldn't finish it," he said.
Expecting that something in the book had struck a nerve, I replied apologetically. "I'm sorry," I said, sincerely, "if I said anything in there that offended you. That wasn't my intent. I was just trying to show how the racial climate in this country changed so much from one century to the next."
"No," he said, "it wasn't anything you said or the way you depicted the characters or anything like that. I just couldn't finish the book."
I was pretty deflated. Herschel and I had worked extremely hard to make the book about his dad as interesting as possible. "Was it that boring?" I asked.
"Not at all," my friend replied. "I started reading it on a Saturday and couldn't put it down. When I woke up Sunday morning, I started on it again aiming to finish it that day."
None of his answers, so far, were what I expected. "So why couldn't you finish it?"
"I was too depressed," he said. "When I got to the part about the one guy getting kicked out of the Speedway because of his color, it really upset me. Then when I got to the part about the other black guy having to pretend to be a janitor just to get in to work on his own car...well, it brought back too many things I don't want to think about."
"I'm sorry," I said, "that it went down that way." Then, turning to the bartender, I added, "a couple of beers here and put them on my tab." I turned to my friend again. "Hold down the fort. I'll be right back." I went out to my car and opened the trunk. I wanted to give him a token of gratitude for discussing the book with me.
When I returned, a guy I did not know had set down two stools to the right from my friend. I resumed my position to my friends left. "I'd like you to have this," I said, "for taking the time to read as much as you did and for sharing your comments today." I handed him a hard-cover copy of our book.
"Thanks," was all he said.
We both finished our beers without comment. "Care for another?" I asked.
"No," he replied. "I gotta' go. Catch you around."
He slid his bar stool back and disappeared out into the bright sunlight. I watched him go without further comment and turned back to the bar. The book was still there. I pulled it back in front of me.
The guy seated to my friend's right got up, came over and sat down next to me. "I couldn't help but overhear," he said. "You write this?"
"Me and my cousin-in-law," I replied. "It's about his father. The book is based on his real life story."
"What's it about?"
So I told him. A quick, three-minute synopsis. During it, he never smiled.
"You ******* liberals got it all figured out, don't you?"
I thought I would deflect the direction he seemed to be headed. "Actually, I don't claim to be liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Most people who know me would probably consider me to be a conservative. I have generally voted for Republicans for president but the only time I was actively involved in politics it was as a Democratic Precinct Committeeman."
My beer was gone. I signalled for the bartender to bring my bill which she did. I counted out the money for the tab and her tip and stood to leave. To my right, the guys mouth went into action again. "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck..." he said. "You're a ******* liberal."
I walked out without acknowledging him or replying.
Maybe Dad was right