Photo credit: Jase Curtis

He looked out at the parking lot of the mini mart where he’d been working since he came back to be with his sister and her children. He never liked Florida in the summer, but the rest of the year it wasn’t bad. Until he clocked out, he expected a steady stream of people buying gas, cigarettes, snacks, and lottery tickets. It was overcast and cool outside, so inside the store was like a refrigerator. The air conditioning never got it right. Later in the year, it would be worse. On those days, his glasses would fog up when he stepped out for a smoke.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a baggy-pant teen in a hoodie talking on his cell phone. The young man had enough kid in him to be cute: nice smile and soft eyes. But like all kids that age, he knew when others were judging him and he had a hard time trusting adults. Above all, the kids that come into the store wanted to be treated with respect. The teen that came in that day for his drink and candy was no different.

“Will this be all for you?”

“Yeah, just some Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea.”

“You want a bag?”

“Nah, that’s all right. I’ll just take it.”

“Are you from around here? I didn’t see you drive up.”

“No. I’m visiting some friends in this neighborhood over here.”

“You know, the sign in here says no loitering, but it is probably going to rain again. You can stay until it lets up if you want.”

“That’s all right. I’ll just pull up my hoodie so I don’t get wet.”

“Be careful now, you hear?”

“It’s cool.”

“No, it is not cool. Young man, the deck is stacked against you. Forget all that ‘Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave’ stuff. That is just some bullshit they sing at the baseball games.”

“I am not doing anything wrong. Nobody’s going to mess with me.”

“You don’t have to do anything wrong. If you are walking, they will watch you. If you are driving, they will stop you and give you a DWB.”

“DWB?”

“Driving While Black. You heard about profiling? They don’t even have to talk to you and they say they think they know you.”

“But, that’s wrong.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t keep it from happening. You heard of that man that took the police to court for profiling? The cops stopped him over one hundred and fifty times in two years; some little town where I used to live. He couldn’t drive to the gas station without getting pulled over; finally upped and moved. The day he came back and won the case against the city for profiling, what happens? The cops pulled him over: on the same day he won the case. Can you believe that?”

“That’s messed up.”

“You think that’s messed up? Think about this. If you like to smoke a little weed–hell, it is no big deal, it’s almost legal nowadays–they will arrest you four of five times more than they arrest a white man your age. This means that they will arrest you first and then look for a reason why.”

“That’s not right.”

“It is not right, but saying it is not right doesn’t change it.”

“Don’t worry. I am always respectful with the police.”

“It isn’t just the police. When I was growing up, we always had one guy in our neighborhood that didn’t want kids to cut through his yard. Now, that guy has a police scanner, a gun and is out on patrol. He sees kids hanging out on the street, laughing and kicking it. He thinks that they’re a bunch of criminals that will break into his house.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You are probably right. You probably have had to stand your ground. But you know that if someone does follow you, be careful. He will want you to fight; they want you to run. They’ll say, ‘Why is he running if he hasn’t done anything wrong?’

“What am I supposed to do? Just stand there when some guy comes up and threatens me?”

“That is what I am talking about. The deck is stacked. If you feel your life is threatened, you are supposed to have the right to defend yourself. But who defines self-defense? You might even get the best of the man in a fair fight, put the man down, and someone will say you were threatening his life. They’ll just turn the tables on you. All over the country, a bunch of fat white ladies in their aerobics classes will say, ‘What was he even doing in that neighborhood? He had no right to be there?’ Know why? They’re afraid of you even though they haven’t met you. They’ll say, ‘Doesn’t he look dangerous? I bet he has been in a fight in high school and I bet he smokes weed.’”

“Man, why are you telling me all this?”

“Maybe because I am tired of yelling and maybe because I don’t want to live with the guilt of not saying anything. The world isn’t fair. Never has been. Some of us have to work twice as hard just to get by. Just don’t play their game and don’t let them beat you.”

“I’m going to head out.”

“I hope I see you tomorrow.”

“Later, Old Man.”

“Goodbye, young man.”

Gabacho– according to the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy– is derived from an old Provençal word “gavach,” meaning a person from the foothills of the Pyrenees who spoke incorrectly. These days, it means “outsider,” somebody who just doesn’t fit in.

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