A Lesson From Pops

by Jon Vreeland

A Lesson from Pops

When I was a child, about ten years old
my report card came back
and I had a couple of C’s
My pops threw me in his giant white dually,
drove me through Long Beach and Compton in Los Angeles County.

I didn’t know where we were going
(His truck smelled of construction but not cigarettes)

We listened to the same music every time he turned on the radio,
The Mamas and Papas
The Doors
The Stones
Jimi Hendrix
He claims to have been a hippy back in the 60’s
Music and festivals
Peace and Love
Make Love Not War was their Code
Marijuana is what they Smoked

“A lid of grass for the right winged long hair please”

When we made it to Cherry Avenue
he made a right
We zigzagged slowly through the neighborhoods
through the run down streets and alleys and a world I had never ever

“With grades like those you will live here, with the blacks”
he told me “you will have no money, and if you ever do the blacks
will take it from you”

He showed me the liquor stores
The people standing on the streets corners
People laughing and having powwows on the porches
as we cruised slowly past their homes
Pops staring
like we were on Safari.

He told me the men were standing guard.

“you see that one there, he is standing guard so they can do drugs inside
and beat their women and to let them know when the cops are coming”

The “guard” was not a man but a kid, who looked scared out of his mind,
like he didn’t ask for this life
I was only 10 but saw the good in these men.

And I could see the stereotypical dreams
and there were thousands and thousands of screaming fans.
Colors and screams and shouting and cheering and celebrating

Still I was terrified

He made me think we were driving through a war zone
and this is how every black man and woman is,
and all I wanted to do was to go home
back to the beach
Back to
suburbia del blancos
But my dad wanted me to see what happens when I get C’s
on my report card

“You will live in the neighborhoods with the blacks
and drug dealers and the rapists and the terrible racists and bigots.”

My dad wanted to make sure I knew that
they were the racists
that they have run down their own cities
and live in these neighborhoods because
they hate whites;

“even though we have done everything to help them!” He said,
as if these people, God’s children were another species
Another brand of flesh and blood

After an hour of terror and intimidation
(teaching me his perception of what he calls
“The Ghetto”
Molding my brain to the right side and damning the rest)
we hopped on Pacific Coast Hwy and drove through
Long Beach
Seal Beach
Sunset Beach
through the white neighborhoods and beaches

my dad smiled when we reached our hometown, Huntington Beach
like we had returned to paradise,
he looked at me as if he was saying:

“See I told you so, us whites have it all together,
and we are lucky”

We listened to the same music on the way home
he tousled my hair
told me he loved me but to get my grades up
(and he will get me the 1989 Upper Deck baseball set
with Ken Griffey Jr’s
rookie card
which was worth a hundred bucks itself).

When we got home he sent me to my room to do my homework
and all I could do was stare in utter confusion
at my piece of dead tree as I waited for dinner,
where my dad says the same prayer as he does every night.
With the same closing line every time:

“And may others be as fortunate as we, in Jesus Christ our Lord Amen”