This is the third installment of "David and Me" by Doug Barber. Please scroll down to read parts 1 and 2.
I had said in my previous post that I wondered what held me and Dave together as we got older and forces in the universe chaffed on our bonds. We started as fellow reptile connoisseurs and that was fine glue in elementary school, but no longer remotely relevant by Middle. There were racial undercurrents that we were both aware of now, but they weren’t strong enough to undermine what I now can see as our common History. When you come up together those shared times never completely disappear. Even as the gap widens, whether racial or otherwise, there still remains some semblance of a bridge. A few anecdotes:
I played basketball with Willie in elementary school and the first year of Middle. By played I mean mostly I grabbed rebounds, passed it off to him, and stayed out of the way. By 7th grade the market for 5’ 10” power forwards with little outside game had dried up. So instead of watching Willie from the floor, I did my spectating from the stands. This continued into high school where he was the star. His game was complete. He handled the ball, passed, rebounded - he’d taken over my job - and scored. At barely 6 feet, Willie dunked. I don’t mean breakaway-all-by-yourself dunks. I mean coming down the lane in traffic dunks, Alan Iverson stuff. Needless to say, Willie was at the top of the high school food chain. He was royalty and I was a serf.
Willie also worked at the local McDonald’s. His leadership abilities were just as apparent behind the grill as they were on the court. Set at a certain angle on top of this afro, he made those little box uniform hats look like designer material. Willie had presence, dribbling or otherwise and he also had memory. When I’d occasionally come in he’d always say hello, whether directly at the counter or holler from out back. Sometimes he’d do me the extreme kindness of stretching truth to the limit and telling a coworker that we used to play together. When he could, he commented that he hoped I was hungry and I’d find an extra burger or fries in my bag.
I went to school all the way up, from kindergarten to senior year, with Crystal. We were classmates, never more - acquaintances. When I picture her now I still see her performance at a middle school talent show. She and a couple of other girls did a dance routine to, I think, a Billy Preston song and THEY BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. We were out of our seats cheering. Most of us, especially the white kids had NEVER, I mean NEVER, seen anything like it. The teachers even left us unleashed for a while because 1. they were just as impressed and 2. they realized they probably couldn’t have quieted us down after what we’d just experienced. Beyond that Crystal was a leader, formally in student council and, informally, in the halls. When Crystal talked, people listened.
She and I ended up going to the same large university, 10,000 students plus. A few times a year our paths would cross walking across campus. It would have been easy to keep moving with the crowd - as I said, we were never close - however she didn’t. At least I never saw it. We’d stop, exchange hellos, talk about our town and former classmates. It was never more than a minute or two, but I always felt good afterwards and I think she did too.
It was my second try at college and I was in my mid-twenties. My girlfriend at the time considered herself the “artiste” and the “auteur”. We were an interesting couple. Me, the redneck, and, her, a personification of the counterculture. She was opening an exhibit at some off campus gallery and she strongly suggested that I accompany her. Way out of my comfort zone, it was my inclination to run screaming in the opposite direction, but, as I said, it was strongly suggested that I attend. So I walked in the door of the place hating life until I saw Linda. Linda was the Angela Davis of my high, and I guess middle, school. She was beautiful, stylish, whip-smart and radical. Linda, I knew well. Any class we had in common, and there were many, turned into a verbal steel cage death match between the two of us. Debate as blood sport. I was not sure how this meeting would go, but it didn’t take long to find out, “Dougie, what are you doing here?,” she squealed and then wheeled around and hugged me. Those of you who know me know I’m not a hugger. This one felt right though. After I explained my unlikely appearance at this venue and she explained her completely predictable appearance, it was Old Home Days. We revisited our memorable battles and laughed and laughed and laughed. This went on for probably an hour. I know it was long enough and loud enough that we were both getting the stink-eye from our respective escorts.
During the long, cold drive back I had plenty of time to explain to my artsy friend that what she had seen was not romance, but, rather, history.
- Doug Barber