Shades Of China

December 2, 2017

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth,” that fellow called Ishmael explained at the beginning of Moby Dick, “whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

Me, I got a simpler problem with a simpler solution.

Every time Donald Trump says something that makes me so mad that I want to smash in my television set or take a brick to somebody’s head—anybody’s head—my head—then I just make my way down to the corner to visit with the Professor. Nobody can riff on Donald Trump like the Professor, and usually after he’s finished, my blood pressure’s gone down and I can function in the world again. But this time, he disappointed me.

“You see what Trump did this time, don’t you?” I told the Professor.

“He do so much, I can’t keep up with it all,” the Professor said. “Plus, I ain’t had the chance to check out the news this morning. My phone’s charging at the laundromat. What the man done done this time?”

“Gone too far, that’s what he done,” I said. “Flat-out disrespected a Black man. A proud Black man. LaVar Ball.”

I then told him the whole story about those UCLA basketball players in China, the ones who got caught stealing shades from a store and were going to to jail before the president of China dropped the charges and let them go. And then, finally, how Donald Trump was now claiming he was the one what got them out, and had criticized the players for not thanking him fast enough for doing it.

The Professor listened carefully, and then he asked me, “I hear you, youngblood. But how all that was disrespecting LaVar Ball?”

“Saying Daddy Ball had nothing to do with getting his son out of that China jail, that’s how,” I said. “Black People always do all the work, and never get credit for it. You know Daddy Ball and all those other boys families was over there, working their asses off to get them boys home. How Donald Trump going to say he did it all the work and Daddy Ball ain’t did nothing. Just like back in slaverytime. Who you think picked all that cotton that made them white folks rich? It weren’t the white folks.”

“You think Daddy Ball the one got them boys out of that China jail?” the professor asked me. “How you think he got juice enough to make the president of the whole China do what he want him to do, just ‘cause he want him to do it? Hell, a Black man got trouble getting the waiter’s attention in a Chinese restaurant. And anyhow, what you know about picking cotton? Only cotton you ever picked was the lint off your shirt.”

I tried to get the Professor off that cotton talk quick. You don’t want to talk cotton with an old school Black man from the South. You’ll never win, and they’ll never stop talking.

 “Anyway, Trump called LaVar Ball a fool,” I said. “You can’t say that ain’t disrespectful.”

“Daddy Ball is a fool,” the Professor said. “Ain’t disrespectful to tell the truth.”

“I know the Daddy can act a fool sometime,” I admitted. “But all he was doing with this China thing was standing up for his child. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“No, ain’t nothing wrong with standing up for your children,” the Professor said. “You supposed to stand up for your children. But letting your child get by with stealing out the store ain’t standing up for them. That damn boy lucky Daddy Ball is his daddy. If my daddy had ever caught me stealing, he’d’a brought me straight back to the store and beat me with a switch right there in the street in front, with all the peoples watching, and then he’d’a give the switch to the store-man to beat on me awhile himself. That’s what Daddy Ball shoulda done.”

I knew I had lost the argument, but I looked for some little something to say it wasn’t a complete defeat.

“Well, what about that thanking, thing?” I said. “Before they could get out of jail good, old Trump was saying he bet they wasn’t even going to thank him for getting them out. What about that?” It was a weak point, I knew, but like I said, I was scuffling for something to take back with me.

“What wrong with that?” the Professor said. “Ain’t they supposed to thank him?”

“But Trump didn’t even give them the chance to thank him!” I said. “They was probably going to do it on they own. And anyway, he probably ain’t lift a finger to get them out. Just wanted to get the credit for it.”

“Been me, he woudn’t’a got the chance to ask me to thank him,” the Professor said. “You ever been to jail, youngblood? It ain’t no fun, I tell you, and ‘special over there in them foreign places. It been me, I’d’a been so happy to get out from inside them bars, I’d’a thank Jesus, the jailer, my lawyer, the President, the janitor...anybody what might have had a hand to get you back on the corner. Wouldn’t’a matter if they had anything to do with getting me out. I’d’a thank them all, just in case.”

“Anyway, even if Trump did help get those boys out of jail,” I said, “Only reason he would’a done it was because they play basketball for UCLA. You know that.”

“All the more reason to thank him, then,” the Professor said. “ ‘Cause you know what Trump would’ve done if them same three Black boys had got themselves caught stealing shades from a Walmart down in Inglewood.”

“What’s that?” I asked him.

“Would have told the Walmart man to lock’em up,” the Professor said.

It was hard for me to argue with that.


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