The third time I saw her walking her golden in the park, I got up the courage to say hello and, using her dog as a pretext, I asked, “Nice pup. Is he a golden?”
“Yes, he is, just got him a month ago. He takes a lot of my energy, but I need the exercise.”
I knelt down and petted the well-groomed dog, eliciting the affection I hoped I might someday get from his owner.
At a loss for more direct conversation, I asked, “How old is he?”
“Just a pup, about six months. He’ll put on some more weight, weight I hope to lose walking him here every day,” she answered with a warm smile.
Smitten, I stood up and introduced myself.
“I’m Geoffrey,” I said, still looking at the dog.
“Nice to meet you Geoffrey. Do you come here often?”
“Not so much, but I will now,” I risked. To my great relief, she smiled back at me.
“My name’s Ellen and I live over there in that housing block. How about you?”
“I live just north of here in Newton as well. I come here to the park to scrimmage with friends, we play soccer on weekends. Newton’s a nice town. When we moved, Ma chose it because of its school system. We like it here.
Ellen’s dog was losing patience with our chatter and began to tug on his leash.
“Well, I think, Tippet’s ready to move on. Nice to meet you. I usually walk him in the late afternoon. Hope our paths cross again soon,” Ellen said as Tippet pulled her off down the path.
“I’ll see that they do,” I answered, again surprising myself at my forthrightness.
* * *
The following day, I had to pick up Mom after school and so missed my pilgrimage to the park, but the following day I was ready when Ellen came by with Tippet.
“Hello again.” I said.
“And hello to you as well. How’ve you been?”
“Better for seeing you again,” I said, again surprising myself.
Ellen returned the warmest smile I’d ever seen.
“Would you consider meeting me for a picnic over by the duck pond next Saturday. The weather’s supposed to be terrific, and it would be nice to get to know one another better.”
“I’d be honored, but my dad’s kind of stickler about who I see, so you’d have to pick me up at home and we could walk over and have our picnic. We can each bring a little something to share. What do ya say?”
“It’s a date. I’ll pick you up Saturday at 11. I can see the building over there but what’s the apartment number, so I don’t screw up?”
“We’re in 4D, you can ring from the lobby, and we’ll ring you in to the building. Just take the elevator to the fourth floor. See you then, Geoff.”
My heart lifted hearing this beautiful young woman say my name. Her warm voice echoed in my head as I walked back to the bus stop.
* * *
“Yes, sir, I’d like to but a nice bottle of wine.”
“For what kind of occasion?”
“I’m taking a girl from Newton on a picnic, and I thought it would be nice to share a bottle of wine.”
“Your types drink Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird right, cheap shit.”
“ I don’t know what you mean Mr. Kaplan by, ‘my types’.”
“You know, Black folks.”
“I didn’t know Black folks drank a specific kind of wine different from White folks, sir.”
“I’m sorry, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I want to buy a nice, bottle of wine that’s not too expensive. I’m taking a girl I just met on a date. We’re going to have a picnic. I just want a bottle of wine. You seem to sell wine. What difference does her color make? We just became friends.”
“From Newton… girl must be White.”
“Sure you’re old enough to be liquoring up white girls? Can never tell age with you Black guys. You always look older than you are. Got any ID?”
Furious, at this point, I was about to walk out of the store. I slapped the ID I’d bought for the occasion down on the counter and asked as politely as I could, “Are you going to sell me a bottle of wine or should I try some other shop… sir?”
“I know your type,” he continued. “You just want to get in the Whitey’s pants. Why not just buy a pint of cheap bourbon for $2.50? Cheaper and just as effective.”
Living with racists all my life and hearing stories from friends in Dorchester and Roxbury, I knew there was a baseball bat, or worse, a .38 pistol just underneath that counter. I had come to this shop in Dorchester so my fake ID wouldn’t be checked.
“Well sir, it looks like you don’t do business with ‘colored folk,’ especially one’s dating a white chick. So, I’ll try another store,” I said, grabbing my newly printed ID card off the counter.
“Hold on,” my nemesis said as I prepared to run for the door. I knew he could shoot me on the spot and claim whatever he wanted and walk free.
He stepped back and reached up to a high shelf and pulled down a bottle of pinot.
“This should do the trick,” he said matter of factly, only $11 bucks!”
“Confused and angry, I pulled a ten and a one out of my wallet, left them on the counter, took the bottle he had just bagged, and walked out of the store.
Grateful that the humiliating incident was behind me I took the bus home, ran from the bus stop home, climbed the stairs to the room I shared with my brother and slid the bottle under my mattress. I lay down and stared at the ceiling for a while, weary of being a young Black man. What hurt most was the White shop owner’s assumption that my only motivation was sexual, that a young Black man just wants White pussy, ‘cause black women are nothing but fat, loud Aunt Jemimas… that a young man is incapable of simply wanting a friend.
* * *
The following Saturday, I put on a blue Oxford shirt, fresh jeans, grabbed the bottle from under my mattress and walked to the park and the rest of the way to the building Ellen had pointed at, rang the buzzer for 4D, and, hearing the dead bolt open, I entered the lobby.
Taking the elevator to the fourth floor, I found 4D and to my surprise, the door was ajar.
I said, “hello,” and a familiar voice said, “come in, Geoff, nice to see you again.”
Stunned, I recognized the voice of the Dorchester Wine and Beverage Shop owner, Mr. Kaplan. He swung the door wide open and ushered me in. Ellen was behind him smiling warmly.
“I warned you he was picky about who I see,” she said taking my arm and leading me out the door.