Race Relations

Catfish

I just don’t understand the whole White vs. Black vs. White vs. Black issue.  Maybe I missed the ‘hate everyone who’s different from yourself’ memo while growing-up.  Being sick and tired of all this hatred, I thought I’d share an old story from my past, which has a strange, unfortunate twist.

Catfish was a twenty-three year old African American male.  He looked a lot like a five-foot-five Jamie Foxx, full of swagger and street talk, yet the most impressive tool behind his smack talk was a big ole’ brain full of intelligence.  He could make you laugh, murmur up to a sweet little honey at the bar, cut you down with ‘Yo Mama’ jokes, and then calmly solve an operational problem in a kitchen of seven cooks trying to kick-out 600 dinners over a five-hour period in under fifteen minutes per meal.  In our chain of 200 restaurants, he served as a regional kitchen manager, a man of many talents that traveled from store to problemed store, fixing their various kitchen issues.  I was several years older than Catfish, white as white could be, and was traveling that same circuit of restaurants, the focus of my efforts being on the overall performance of the stores.  But over the course of several years, we had crossed paths multiple times and had developed a solid working friendship.

After a short eight-hour workday in Jacksonville, Catfish invited me along for a night of gambling at the dog track over in Orange Park.  I wouldn’t know what I was doing betting-wise, but it’d been a busy, stressful weekend and we were both looking for an excuse to ‘Get outta Dodge’.

We met up later that evening in the restaurant’s parking lot and into his boat of a car I jumped.  A 1970 Lincoln Continental.  Bronze Metallic with a black landau vinyl roof.

The memories of the race track and the gambling results are faded, dark, and hazy.  Which may have had something to do with the multiple draft beers consumed before and during the races.  There were people everywhere, lots of old men smoking cigars, hopeful gamblers scanning their racing programs for the next big winner.

Along with draft beers come bathroom breaks.  Catfish and I headed off to the men’s room to recycle some $5.00 beverages.  Not like a couple of giggling sixteen-year-old girls at the prom dance, but in a cool, manly way.  (Just had to throw that in there:)

The men’s room wasn’t all that impressive or spacious.  The floors and counter were littered with paper towels and toilet paper, puddles of water and urine adding the final touches.

In and around the handicapped stall stood six gentlemen, all black, four much older, the younger two nearer our age.  Near the conclusion of our business at hand, Catfish chimed-in on the conversation of the other men.  The next thing-you-know, we’re hanging out in the men’s room with six of our newest best friends.

There was a fifth of whiskey being passed around, sipped by different lips, an unholy communion in a bathroom shared by eight different human beings.  Cigarettes were smoked and jokes were told.  During the trash talking, the committee came to a vote conceding that no one was getting rich from gambling that night.  But, back to the track we all went.

Later at the restaurant, after a long, uneventful evening, the Lincoln Continental pulled into the parking space next to my oh-so-impressive, babe-magnet, 1979 Dodge Omni, partially painted silver.

Before I could open the door on Catfish’s car, we saw people running out of the side doors of the restaurant’s bar area.  A group of four or five men were screaming profanities, throwing glass beer bottles at two men fleeing to the safety of their car.

Back inside, we heard the story that filled-in the blanks.  Some Jacksonville ‘townies’ had taken offensive to the gay couple sitting at the end of the bar.  Insults and accusations had escalated into pushing and shoving, which then had spilled out into the parking lot.

“Hey, Catfish.  I’ll catch ya tomorrow.  The dog track was a great idea.  Thanks, man”

“Yea Bro, it sucks that we didn’t win anything.  We’ll have to do it again sometime.  I’ll catch ya later”

The moral of the story?  What in the hell is wrong with some people?

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