By then it was too soon to be settling down and too late to be innocence. By then we had hung up our scooters and Lucky had invested a hundred dollars in fixin’ up an old Alco tourin’ car he found mostly buried in a crik bed. It made him the leader of our troop, and I became more of a friend of his…not that I was ever less of a friend. I can remember like yesterday the good times we had in that old car when we’d all pile in and just ‘bout fit. Those was simpler, carefree days when we shared so much, and because of the car we could go almost anywhere and get almost any girl and what Lucky did I’d try to repeat, for we said we didn’t care what people thought but we did, deep down we did. Deep down we had high hopes of amountin’ to somethin’ ‘cause that was what was imprinted on our brains. Tune in, be with it, ol’ pal, and we’ll git there someday. We was buddies. Be mature! He ate all the time, imitated me, like he had a hollow leg. I was very fond of him, as you can see. On a dare we we’d do things. Really. Really. Really. We became Junior Federal Men and came from the right side of the river. I ought not to brag like I do, but we was something else, and Blackie Flint never stood a chance. I still take off my hat to Lucky, our chief. But he was no Boy Scout. And how did I know? ‘Cause he and I was like twins, and where did he stand? I know where ‘cause I stood in the same places. First like I said he stood on the right side of the river, and last he stood on the right side of the law. Take those niggers over in Sowers that would sell us licker. We was all underage, but they didn’t care. And shame and shame on ‘em again. Sure enough they was on the wrong side of the law. We was no angels, believe me but we was on the right side of the law. And yes, we may have slipped up once or twice. Gracious, give us a break. Your honor. Give us a break. He was only a nigger. Caught us a nigger. Made him pay. But, Judge, he was itchin’ for a fight. I’ve always heard that we have the right to defend ourselves. Down by the river on our side. Not his side. Nothin’ major. Somethin’ minor. Yes, I admit that I was there. Yet I can swear that nothing happened that wasn’t well deserved. He started it. We wasn’t the invaders. Never crossed the bridge. Never got close. We didn’t git a chance, sir.
But even if my life depended on it, I couldn’t have identified the nigger, who it was, though I got a close look at him, to begin with, ‘cause they all look the same to me.
“He swung at me first,” Lucky replied, with a voice that sounded convincing and with a cowlick he couldn’t control, while his temper was just about as bad. That’s right. Lucky had a temper and always carried a comb with him. Oh, darn it. It did no good. The comb. His temper always got him in trouble. How was them niggers! Lord, have mercy. They was never up to no good. Troubling, very troubling. Hobos that came through town on the train didn’t always know which side to jump off of. Our side or their side? I recommended our side. My greatest cross though, and a heavy one it was, was when, with things the way they were, an outsider came to town and criticized things that had always been the way we did things. And I was the first one to tell ‘em that they didn’t have a brain in their heads. No sooner did I do that than I found myself defending our way of life and tellin’ ‘em that people who lived in glass houses shouldn’t throw stone and quoted the Bible and Rev. Black. I think Rev. Black had preached on the subject…for the benefit of us all…for ain’t he attemptin’ to improve us and makin’ us believe that there wasn’t a better place to live than right cheer and without anybody sayin’ otherwise. I had the highest regard for Rev. Black and happened to think that he knew what he was talking about. Then somebody would come along and try to sabotage everything.
Then we tried to explain what we was doing goin’ out with a Mexican lady.
“Now wait a minute before you jump conclusions. Now wait a minute,” Lucky repeated as he moistened his lips.
It was not what I wanted to do. That is I didn’t want to criticize somebody else and from within myself I was lookin’ for the power to restrain myself, but in my mind there wasn’t much difference between niggers and spicks, even though they was ladies, and so as it was becoming uncomfortable, I thought more than once about excusin’ myself since Lucky and me was best friends. It left more than a bad taste in my mouth. “’Tis a sin,” the reverend said. Almost might I say of myself, while keeping on the right side of the law, that I was tempted ‘cause she was an attractive Mexican lady, but I was becoming about fed up over havin’ to make excuses for Lucky when he decided to have (what he called) “some fun, ‘till it was gittin’ where I couldn’t tell the difference between a lie and the truth and was actually compromised once and gave into temptation once, and once was enough to teach me a lesson ‘cause I didn’t really want to be seen with a Mexican lady. The Holy Grail of adolescence and behind it all: nookie the imagined heaven. Flesh was flesh, but nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Not with a Mexican lady! Wouldn’t it have been better to have saved yourself for a cheerleader or the Homecomin’ Queen? Holly sheet, Lucky! A Mexican!
Then I got to thinkin’…achin’. I was thinkin’ I was ready, I was. Let me be her Rudolph Valentino! The Sheik! Al Jolson, The Jazz Singer. Bella Donna! Me, the Beloved Rogue! Cha-cha! The Tango! Olay! Let me be God’s gift to women. But with a Mexican, a gotdamn spick! Then dang! What the hell! Touchdown! Compared notes. How we scored. Struggled with eyes and hooks. A missin’ button that could’ve gotten us in a trouble, in big time trouble.