My fatherís son


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Mommaís scared because she thinks black people want to burn down Paterson and that all white people are gonna die.

This is 1967 and my best friend Kenny comes prancing around with hair down to his shoulders so that momma thinks he wants to be a girl.

She hates Kenny because he talks against the war, and tells me if I ever disrespect poppa that way Ė because poppa fought in Europe Ė sheíll throw me out of the house.

Iím not that kind of person.

Iíve heard all this anti-war stuff before at school where everybody is always badmouthing America as if they had any better place to live.

Most kids at school think Iím some kind of weirdo because I stick up for my country.

It makes me feel bad inside to think I canít brag about poppa and how he was a hero without somebody calling me nuts or worse, saying Iím a Nazi, when Iím not.

I try to talk to Kenny about it, since heís been my best friend since before my family moved here from Clifton.

I try to make him forget all this hippie crap and get back to what we were before.

The Summer of Love is crock of shit, I tell him.

People will forget all about it in a year or two, the way they forget about fads like the hoola hoop.

And I really do believe American will get back to being America again, and that sooner or later, good Americans will rise up and drive all these disloyal people out of the country.

And those that wonít go, weíll put in jail.

I try to comfort momma, too, and tell her sooner or later weíll get some law and order again and put all those rioting black people in jail, too.

But instead of Kenny listening to reason, he goes off the deep end, calling me things nearly as bad as the things kids call me at school.

He starts ranting about how our leaders canít be trusted and we have to get better people, right-minded people into government, ones that wonít send our kids off to get killed in places like Vietnam and wonít treat blacks and others like second class citizens.

This talk scares me more than anything because I see Kenny as a traitor to our country, someone who might help the blacks, communists and other terrorists to destroy our way of life.

I never felt so bad or alone, or as out of touch.

I keep wondering where my fatherís world went to, and for the first time, I start wondering if we can ever get it back.

Iím so angry, I tell Kenny to get out of my house and that I never want to see him again.

I donít need to hear such traitorous talk in my own living room.

When heís gone, I climb the dark steps to the attic where I find my fatherís M-1 carbine.

I figure if the blacks come to get us, Iím gonna get a few of them first.

Iíve made up my mind never to change my way of thinking. I figure if I can hold out as a true patriot long enough, the rest of the county will eventually come back around to my way of thinking.

In the middle of the night, our block goes up in flames.

Momma and the others arenít hurt, but we all have to stand across the street and watch our house burn.

Iím burning up inside because I can see some of the black people laughing about it.

And standing with them is my best friend, Kenny.

Iíve never felt so outraged as I do now.

So I run across the street and I beat the crap out of Kenny.

All of his black friends watch me as I teach Kenny a lesson.

I keep screaming at Kenny ďIím not going to let any of you run me out of my city or my country! I donít care if Iím the last patriot on the planet either.Ē

Later, of course, I feel guilty about what Iíve done.

I keep thinking about the old days and how much fun we had.

I know how out of step I am with the times, how uncool it is to be a patriot, or a white man in a place like Paterson most of the white people left years ago.

But I really canít change.

Iím my fatherís son.

I like the idea that someday I might be a hero, too.

Thatís why Iíve gone off and joined the Marines.

Itíll get me out of the city for a while and let me be around people who appreciate me.

I guess maybe all along I knew I had to put my money where my mouth is, even if it turns out that I have to go to Vietnam.

 


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