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Houston Becausedown around Corpus Christi during the war yearsone found them everywhere, the correct inference was instantly drawn and I began braking almost as soon as I glimpsed that white apparition by the road-side with its outstretched and supplicatory sleeve, apparently handless, and white blob of a hat floating in the darkness above it, headhigh at the usual jaunty angle. Summer whites are easily soiled, and I remember feeling mild surprise, so late at night and fifty miles or more from the Base, by an impression of crisp freshness in the youthful figure that stooped through the open car door with an acknowledgment of sure being much obliged to me. In the dim pool of light from the dash, one hand rested its ebony musculature on a snowy knee; the other plucked a nearly full packet of cigarettes from the jumper pocket and with deft tact shook one out for me without touching it. We lit up, and he explained with wry humor the picaresque circumstances of his being marooned in such an improbable village as that wherein I’d found him. Then we rode and smoked for a while in easy silence. THERE WAS A QUESTION much on my mind at that time. “Tell me,” I said, “do you think this war is having any effect on relations between the races?” He didn’t answer, and I began to think I’d got hold of one of those who can’t talk about it, the stress being too taut for casual dialogue with a stranger. His voice, finally, came from a strained and remote level: “I tell you, Mister, I belongs to’ a hell of a race.” Astonished, I could think of nothing more helpful than to advance an equal claim, but he brushed it aside. “No sir, I means it,” he said, almost impatiently, Peyton Bryan has been an engineer with Humble Pipe Line Company for 30 years. Of his earlier life, including eight years in the Navy, he writes: “Mucked a while in Arizona gold camps; bucked logs in an Oregon horse-logging camp; ‘made a dash for Miller’s hash On the banks of the San Joaquin’all the conventional things that a kid of my generation, brought up on The Sestina of the Tramp Royal, Harry Franck, Pierre Loti, Lafcadio Hearne, and that `Who’s known the lure of untrod ways And walked them up and down . . .’ stuff, feels obligatory. \(I forgot the chief instigloriously for a year in New Orleans before neons took the Vieux Carre. Staff-writer, no less, on the New Orleanian, one of those wan imitations of the New Yorker that lushly bloomed in the late ’20’s and quickly withered. A native, but not professional, Texan.” Peyton Bryan as though I’d interrupted the release into words of something sorely in need of expression. “I’m a baker out at Main Base; they’s six of us in my section, me and five white boys. We works together, bunks together, takes turn about getting up early to cook breakfast for each other, and nobody ever thinks about Color. And like coming back from town on the bus at night, singin’ and skylarkin’ around, all together, nobody thinks about Color.” It occurred to me that he was slurring over the Jim Crow separations in town, where there was no tavern, restaurant, or movie theatre that didn’t think about Color. But I see, now, that he was considering only the people who matter. Reunited on the bus, you could gab with your seatmate about the movie you’d both seen that evening, forgetfulor almost forgetful that you could not have sat together, there. It didn’t matteralmost didn’t matter; the only judgments that mattered were made by people in summer whites or traveling blues. “And , I plays baseball on the barracks team, me and three other colored boys. This white boy plays second base, me and him is real good friends.” He paused to shake us out two cigarettes. “Was real good friends. Once, me and him went to Laredo together on a week-end pass. Some scissor-bill soldier over there made a nasty crack, you know, about Race, and Al really taken him apart. So like I say, nobody thinks about Color. Then, last week they was a Draft went out, you know, when they ships out a bunch of people for sea duty or transfers somewheres else.” I knew. They always went out on the midnight train, and it would be something of an occasion, especially on a fair summer night. The long station platform would be crowded with white uniformed youngsters and clamorous with bantering farewells flung back and forth with the blue-clad Draft, leaning two or three together from each coach window. It would have its selfconsciously suppressed sentiment, its tensions of endings and beginnings, and everyone would be gay. “So lots of colored boys had white buddies come down to see ’em off, and lots of white boys had colored friends the same way. Al, he got orders for the Lex, so me and a couple white boys from the team went down. We was standing under Al’s window, joshing back and forth with him, hoping we’d be shipmates again some time, and stuff like that. And they was a big hooraw started up at the other end of the deck. We couldn’t see what it was, where we was, but the guys in the windows all down the trainthe whites, that isall started laughing, and it got closer, and they was whistlin’ and cat-callin’. What it was was a big, black, drunk bitch wallerin’ through the crowd and whorehouse cussin’ the whites loud as she could holler. She roont it. You could see ever’thing changin’.” YES, I could see it. In the slattern’s wake, dozens of bridges were silently collapsing. For there are always the scissorbills. They had never ceased to think about Color. No Executive Order, no group or section or squadron or Service consensus, no experience, nothing can eradicate from the hard-core scissor-bills their addiction of Color. It’s an inextricable strand in whatever sustains their lives. Hence, the bridges had been an intolerable affront, too firmly anchored in “white” consensus for assault by intimidation. The slattern had been a god-send. Their taunting of the befuddled whore asserted a hidden bestiality beneath all the dark skins whose presence in their barracks, their showers, at their mess tables, had all the more envenomed their lives by disproving their stereotyped racial calumnies. She was less their target than a “ricochet surface” from which to deflect an attack upon their real adversaries. “Yah, yah, yah, you jigaboos! There’s what you really are,” their elated faces said, and “Yah, yah, yah, you niggerlovers! There’s what you been buddying up with!” The scissor-bills couldn’t have swung it by themselves, of course. They never can; they are too few. Many of us feel naked, though, lacking prejudices of our own, and so must borrow social assurance from neighbors more richly endowed. We hastened to wrap ourselves in appreciative laughter. Still, much of the merriment would have been mere cruelty toward the individual, not really tainted with racial malice but youth’s spontaneous guffaws at someone grotesque and ridiculous. If\\ she had been a dwarf I think we would have laughed more wildly, for you must re member that most of us were stressed in varying degrees with the tension bf Final Things. The drunken wench had also been a lightning-rod. Understandably, the young Negroes didn’t thus calmly analyze the situation. “I seen Al look over our heads towards where the ruckus was and bust out laughin’. Then he looked back down right in my face and he was laughin’. Poking fun at my Race. My throat swole up and I hated his guts. All around, those white bastards on the platform was dancin’ around the black bitch and pokin’ fun at my Color. Me and five or six other guys grabbed her to git her away from there. Time we got her outa the lights and around back of that freight depot I was cryin’ like a baby. I December 31, 1965 25 1111004111=1.110111111001MWIMIPIPMO0.11111.10114111111..41.1414410M1.0.0110111111,0411..NINWOINII.4111M.AMMIMAMN00111111.4.111M.1MOIIM11101.11.141111NSIMNI14410411111401M1JOINErt111110.01MW INNIIIIMIH1INE.111 SUMMER WHITES