Sunday, April 27, 2008

Baby Powder

I'm not much of an athlete. I have fairly good hand eye coordination. I can play a game like ping-pong or pool. I can even shoot foul shots or hit a baseball. In any game requiring movement in anything but a straight line I am hopelessly slow and inept.

My Dad always quietly encouraged me to participate in sports, I was always reluctant. The one good memory is when I was what is now called a tween. I was eleven or twelve, too young for Little League, anyway I couldn't make the try outs, so I played what was called Minor League baseball. I wasn't very good.

At tryouts I ended up on a second rate team sponsored by a local hardware store. They were a second tier sponsor. The team was one of the integrated teams and about two thirds of the players were Negroes as African-Americans were called back then.

The best player on our team was Benjy, I don't think I ever knew his last name. He was a wonder. He was younger than most of the kids on the team, including me, but he could out hit and out throw and out field everyone else. He was also a nice guy from a modest family.

As it happens our assigned practice field was a dusty diamond backing up to a little stream just behind Benjy's house. His Mother would come over her back fence and bring us lemonade and ice water. I never actually met his Father, but I knew who he was. Like my Dad he was always at work when we practiced after school. He was often in the stands when we played on the weekends. My Dad knew him somehow, possibly he worked at the Plant. Anyway my day always exchanged greetings with him out of earshot of us athletes.

Benjy had a younger brother who always hung around when we practiced. He would chase the numerous foul balls and generally followed his big brother around like a puppy. Benjy tried to teach him, except his little brother had a handicap, he was left handed. I was the only other player on the team who was left handed and had an appropriate glove.

One day after practice Benjy asked me if he could borrow my glove for his little brother, he said he would return it tomorrow for practice. I said "Sure, but I have another glove at my house I'd be happy to give him" since I had outgrown it. I asked "Could you come over to my house after practice and get it?". The three of us walked the six or eight blocks from the practice field to my house and after we had determined that the glove was suitable, my Mom gave us all Kool-aid and cookies.

Our games were usually on Saturday Afternoon, there would be several six inning games in a row. Before one of our Saturday afternoon games I went to Gillispe's Barber Shop to get a hair cut. My Dad was initiating me into the rites of manhood. "Pop" Gillispie (or Ernie or the other guy we called the 'new barber') cut my hair and added some Fitch's Hair Tonic. It slicked my hair back. It also had a distinctive odor. When I got to the game Benjy promptly dubbed me "Baby Powder", because he thought that's what it smelled like.

He and his friends called me that for the rest of the season, much to my embarrassment. If I'd stayed it might have become my "street" name, I might have even grown to like it.

The next summer we moved to Louisiana. I never saw Benjy or his brother after that. I heard Benjy became a big high school football and baseball star. I also heard blew out his knee in college. I hope he made out OK after that.

I never understood how I ended up on that particular team. My Dad always seemed to be very happy with that particular part of my life. He seemed particularly proud of the glove incident. Many years later I began to wonder if he arranged it on purpose but I never got around to asking him about it. I'm sorry I didn't.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Dead Young Black Men

Last week every news outlet in town devoted significant coverage of a police shooting of a Lakeview Doctors dog. There was a lot of video of the dead dog.

The police were responding to a false burglar alarm.

I may be in the insensitive minority but I wonder about the news media devoting so much time to the killing of a black dog owned by white doctor when so many young black men are killed in our streets that no one bothers to keep track of the number any more.

According to the AP
There were 54 murders in the first quarter of this year, compared to 59 last year, Riley said. Of those, 60 percent have been solved and 30 people arrested. The national average for clearing homicide cases is 55 percent, Riley said. Of the remaining open 2008 cases, nearly 90 percent have possible suspects and are close to being solved, he said.
The chief cites the reduction from 59 to 55 as progress, doesn't seem like it to me. The Time Picayune says there were only 42 murders in the first quarter. I wonder where the difference comes from. It's not an insignificant discrepancy. Thanks to M. D Filter for pointing that out to me.

We also have the trial of the accused killer of Dinerral Shavers. David Bonds was exonerated by a jury of his peers.

That trial was, it seems to me, a perfect illustration of everything wrong with New Orleans criminal justice.

A witness recanted under apparent pressure from her family and possible intimidation from the accused.

The police apparently failed to find witnesses necessary for the prosecution.

The public defender seems to have been given latitude to suggest all sort of things without any proffer of proof.

Reports say the jury voted 11-1 to convict.

Every component of the criminal justice seems to have failed.

A seriously and deeply divide citizenry with no confidence in a police department with a history of incompetent leadership, brutality and corruption.

A prosecutors office historically more concerned with its own reputation than protecting the community it serves.

An elected judiciary that fails to impose discipline on an out of control system.

Guy McEwan a witness in the trial was murdered not much later. Many have called it revenge, I'm not so sure. McEwan had drug charges pending so his killing might have been over something else.

It seems a murdered black dog is more likely to get justice than a murdered young black man.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I Love You, Man

Ashley Morris passed away suddenly last week. It was a shock. We all lost a friend, whether we knew him or not. My mother used to say my sister never met a stranger, neither had Ashley.

New Orleans has lost it's proudest, loudest champion. He literally wore his love of his city on his sleeve, or at least where his sleeve should have been.

I've been searching for a way to say something about him and never felt anything was enough. Others friends more able were closer and knew him better. His friends have posted tributes to him all week. It is far beyond my ability to add to what they have said.

Ashley working the sound board at Rising Tide with chicken.

Like many other bloggers I met Ashley through the Rising Tide Conferences. The picture of Ashley from Rising Tide shows his two most visible contributions, working the sound and hooking us up with Dunbar's fried chicken. There were other less visible and more substantial contributions.

At the second conference for some reason every time Ashley passed near me he said "I Love You, Man".

I have no idea why he said that, but back at ya, I Love You, Man.

Remember Ashley Morris.