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AFTERWORD Stranger on a Strange Street BY ELROY BODE El Paso 0 NE MORNING in mid-August, I decided to take a stroll along Rim Road. It was impressive, as usual the sweep of streets-and-sky that blended so easily into both time and space. I stood for a long while at the rim’s edge, trying to take it all in: two cities sprawled in the sun, spread from horizon to horizon, century to century. . . . My, my, I thought looking out, looking down such a place of perspectives, this El Paso; such a city of hillsides and vistas, of flatlands and heights, of neighborhoods that climb and wind and slope. . .. Yessir, a fine place, always interesting to the eye. I turned away and began walking along the streets north of Rim Road Blacker, Hague, Campbell. I passed homes of the well-to-do with their smooth hedges and manicured lawns. A quiet neighborhood on a quiet mesa, it was like a museum of tastefully maintained houses and orderly lives deserted now, at ten o’clock, except for occasional yard men and maids. Down the street a man in a straw hat and blue bandanna hanging down his neck was cutting the grass. On a back porch, a young woman in a white apron slowly dusted a rug. Locust sounds soared and then fell dramatically in the trees. A mockingbird sailed down on graceful, outstretched wings and began to sport about in the shining grass near a water sprinkler. At an intersection I stopped and stared I couldn’t help it. I wanted to absorb the sights of this summer morning into the very tissues of my body. I looked west, and the homes dipped in a smooth, rhythmic line as the Juarez mountains slowly rose in the distance making a neat and pleasing balance. Overhead, the sky was a cloudless blue saucer, swept clean by an early-fall breeze that kept bathing my face and making a tall sycamore on the corner move its leaves in a continuous sycamore dance. Tree shadows had spread themselves across deepgreen yards into the streets. Standing there, I couldn’t resist the temptation to put something down on Elroy Bode is a longtime contributor to the Observer. This essay originally appeared in the El Paso Herald-Post and is reprinted with permission. paper to record the moment and the place. I pulled a small notebook from my pocket and began to write turning here and there, trying to soak up the essence of a morning and a neighborhood so blessed with sunlit, El Paso serenity. It was then that I saw him the whitehaired man crossing the street from his yard behind me. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want?” I understand that stubborn refusal to cooperate when asked to “Identify, Justify, Explain.” At first I did not answer. I finished making a note. Finally, half turning, I said, “I’m a citizen of this town and I am standing in a public street.” I smiled a bit and looked at him more directly, hoping he would appreciate my reply would take it as an appeal to his basic good sense and back off from his aggressive stance. But he would have none of it. With his head and shoulders bent at a slight angle he stared at me and came a step closer a man in his sixties not, I thought, used to verbal sparring matches in the middle of a street. “What are you writing?” he asked next. It was not a question; it was a command. Now I have to tell you: I was in no mood to give him satisfaction. If he had bothered to introduce himself and make some kind of courteous inquiry, I would have probably indulged the man, told him right off I was a teacher, that I wrote. I would have humored the guy. But his tight-lipped and blunt interrogation was a patrician’s demand that his questions be answered by a lesser mortal: in his mind we were not equals, socially or any other way. By pausing there on the street, I had become the accused and he the accuser, judge, and jury. “Look,” I said, “it’s a nice day and I don’t want to ruin it. . . . If I had thrown a rock through the window of that house over there or sprawled out on your lawn, then you would have a right to ask me questions. But this is not your neighborhood; you don’t own it and ” “It is my neighborhood,” he shot back. “I’ve lived here for 30 years. And I want to know what you’re doing.” We were less than a foot apart. He stood peering into my face, his mouth slightly quivering, wanting to know exactly what kind of strange fish he was dealing with. It was a stalemate. I felt no obligation to satisfy the curiosity of a man who suddenly appears before me and demands: Identify yourself. Justify yourself. Explain yourself. The man turned on his heel and went over to stand on his lawn. He continued to glare at me. I walked away. I had almost reached my car when it hit me: So that’s what a Mexican American, minding his own business, feels when he is stopped by the Border Patrol: that instant rage, flush of anger, stubborn refusal to cooperate when asked to Identify, Justify, Explain, simply because he is on an El Paso street and has a brown skin. Sure, I know the role of the Border Patrol: illegal aliens pour into El Paso and it is the job of the men in green vans to find them. And sure, I understood where the white-haired man was coming from: he felt protective about “his” neighborhood and had seen a guy in old tennis shoes staring at things a guy who was writing something down. Certainly a suspicious character. Better check him out. I believe that if I had stayed there much longer undocumented the white-haired man would have gone inside his house and called the police. They would have probably answered his call and to satisfy this worthy citizen and allay his fears would have asked me to Identify myself. And I think I would have refused to do so would have bowed up indignantly as I did when accosted by the Concerned Citizen; would have stood there and asked, steadfastly: Why? I wish now that I had tested my rights found out if I would have actually been arrested in my favorite city for pausing too long to look at the sky. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23