Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More Stories From Berlin

Berlin, 1963.

My sister Leslie, our German babysitter Monika, and me
One day I was at a field house and had just finished a basketball game. I must have been all of nine.

That year I scored four whole points. That's how good I was. I showered, dressed, and left the locker room with my gear and as they say in the South, I was fixin' to go home.

The place was packed with over 2000 screaming people because the Army men were having a tournament. They were going up and down the court, scoring, rebounding, passing.

There was a circle of kids off to the side in the crowded gym and all I heard was them saying "You do it," "I'm not going to do it," "How 'bout you do it?" They were a bit older than me but I wanted to be cool and fit in so I said, "I'll do it."

They turned as a unit and showed me the object of their attention. A whistle. "Blow it," one said.

That was all I needed to hear.

I puffed my cheeks out and blew it as hard as I could. And the game on the court came to a dead halt. The guy dribbling the ball stopped and looked incredulously at the ref. The ref looked back at him and shrugged his shoulders, his palms up, as if to say,"I didn't do it."

All my new friends pointed at me and said, "He did it!"

Well, the ref said to the players, "I'll be right back." He walked over, took the whistle, and escorted me to the door, in front of all those people, and before I knew it I was outside and on my way home.

Earlier than I thought.

Hard way to learn a lesson.

I lived in Berlin at the height of the Cold War. How cold? We had tanks, that's right tanks, motoring down the avenue outside our apartment building.  You could see them from my living room window. The first time that happened it was kinda scary.

But it happened so much I got used to it.

One day there was a conference that the East Germans weren't invited to. No big deal, right? Wrong. All day MIG jet fighters were in the sky breaking the sound barrier and shattering windows.

Scary again.

John F. Kennedy came to Berlin.

Remember the "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech? It was then. There was a big crowd lining the streets to catch a glimpse of his motorcade and I was in that crowd. There were policemen everywhere and wooden barriers that you weren't supposed to cross.

A white guy said to me, with a smile, "You should see your president," and held me up high above the people.

I was a young black kid.

I wonder if that would happen today.

There's an addendum to that story.

This happened five months later.

Berlin is six hours ahead of New York. So right before bed time I'm in the tub taking my nightly bath. I was busy pouring Ajax into the water to give the appearance of the water being dirty.

Why I didn't just take the bath is something that only a nine year old understands.

Real life intruded, the President had been assassinated.

When you're nine, news like that doesn't usually affect you. Here's how it affected me.

The story came over the radio at my house and caused quite a commotion. My father upon hearing the news rushed past the open bathroom door on the way to his bedroom.

Sounds came out of that room.

He was sobbing.

It was the first time I heard my father cry.

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