“No no, it was two little nigger boys from Folsom…” My apologies. I’ve taken some time away from writing, I’m a little rusty. I know that normally when you start stories out with the ending it doesn’t end well. However, at the risk of being anticlimactic, I can’t think of another way to start this off. That line, not the conversation that preceded it, or the events that surrounded it, but that line. It’s been on repeat in my head. Two years later, and I can’t shake it. So if I’m going to have that in my head the entire time I write this, you’re going to have it in yours the entire time you’re reading it.
We all experience racism a little differently, right? I mean, between your past experiences and biases, your perception of what you hear/see and the intent of the person(s) involved, each event is unique. Taking a quick glance down memory lane, I’d guess that the majority of the racism that I’ve dealt with has moreso been the result of ignorance. The amount of malicious acts that I have personally been on the receiving end of have been few-ish and far between. Luckily. I’ll make a blog discussing the whole ‘we experience different types of racism’ thing later. For now, I want to get this one ignorant act out of my head.
So (I’ve REALLY gotta stop starting stories off with “so”)… Two-ish years ago (you know, before Covid), I randomly decided to venture down to my bar for some drinks. Around this time I was averaging somewhere around a beer a month and considering doing the whole ‘no beer for a year’ thing. Not important, anyhoo… My bar is a dive. If there’s not an event going on, you’d be lucky to catch 5 people in there at midnight. This was one such night. Five, exactly five people were there, including myself. We took turns putting songs on the jukebox, playing pool, buying a round for the others, and having deep conversations about absolutely nothing.
At some point the group split. There was a conversation about newer music at the end of the bar, one about older music in the middle, and the bartender going back and forth occasionally connecting the two. Myself and (we’ll call him…) John were discussing older music when In The Air Tonight came on. A song that neither of us picked, but both knew by heart.
Actually, let me take a step back. John and I have known each other for a while. A couple years. We acknowledge each other whenever one of us enters the bar when the other happens to be there. Usually at some point we’ll end up sharing a drink and a shorter version of the aforementioned (words, I like words) deep conversations about nothing. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we were friends, but acquaintances doesn’t quite fit either. Anyhoo (someone previously commented on my incorrect use of ‘anyhoo’ instead of ‘anywho’. First off, I admittedly had no idea that I was spelling this wrong, so thank you. Secondly, a quick Google search found that I was in fact not spelling it wrong, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it)…
The conversation started off with the rumors about the song. There’s different versions of it, I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole in this post. Basically, Phil Collins wrote it as a way of confronting someone about a wrong they had previously committed, then invited that person to the concert where it was first played. As far as I know, the story is completely fabricated. Phil denies it, and there’s no record of the event in question. However, apparently ALL versions of that rumor are false. The real event didn’t even involve Phil at all, and happened in my back yard.
Folsom. I grew up less than three blocks away from Folsom, frequented the area, had friends who lived and grew up in the area, and had NEVER heard this or anything like it before. According to John, back in the day, when he was around my age, there was a bank robbery. The robbers ended up in a police chase that went from one end of Delco (that’s Delaware County for those of you who are not local. Put some respeck on its name) to the other, and back. Ending with the getaway car crashing into the wall beside the infamous ‘honk before entering’ one lane underpass.
The conversation took a turn. I mean, another turn. That underpass was a death trap. There wasn’t a “honk before entering” sign, it was thinly spray painted on the brick, in a way that you wouldn’t be able to see it clearly until you were about a car length or two away. Or at least that’s what they had when I was younger, John said that they had put a sign up a couple of years ago, after (oh, I forgot to mention, John claimed to be a volunteer firefighter at one point) a bad accident that he was a part of cleaning up.
This conversation was a lot. I had to stop John and make sure that I was getting all of this new information correct. I asked if they really finally put that sign up, he confirmed. I asked if he was really a firefighter and it somehow just never came up in our previous talks, he confirmed. I asked if that song was really about a bank robbery in Delco, he confirmed. I asked if Phil Collins was really from the area and witnessed or was somehow involved in that car crashing into the wall, he corrected with “No no, it was two little nigger boys from Folsom…”
As I asked the question, I turned to take the last sip of my beer. And as he answered I had to concentrate on keeping it down. I have no idea how that sentence ended. Before the next one came out I put my glass down, faced him, and interrupted with a “wait, who was it?” He rephrased, “it was two black kids, from Folsom.” It was just that, a rephrase. He didn’t retract or display any remorse for his original wording. Didn’t even acknowledge it. He either assumed that I didn’t hear him, or assumed that he cleaned it up well enough to not warrant an explanation.
There was a moment after that line, where he was uncharacteristically silent. I guess waiting for me to either address the situation or carry the conversation forward. I slapped my hand onto his shoulder, squeezed, pulled him towards me, and used him for leverage to stand myself up. I simply said “it’s time for me to go”, then walked out.
Now, some of you will read my exit as a show of restraint. It wasn’t. In all honesty, I was in shock. It took me the rest of that night and a good bit of the next day to fully process what happened. Well, I guess if I’m being honest, I’m still processing.
I told you, anticlimactic.
Until next time, use caution when approaching…