I was having a boy’s night with my six and three year old sons this weekend when my three year old asked, with a hint of panic in his voice, “Where’s my black guy?” I looked up from what I was doing (drinking a beer) to see if maybe his actions would lend some context to that statement, but he just stood there in the middle of the kitchen shouting, “Daddy! Where’s my black guy? I can’t find my black guy! Where is he?” It took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. At first I wondered if maybe his day care had recently admitted a child from a particularly racist cracker family, or possibly he’d been watching The Wire.
As it turns out, he was referring to one of his LEGO guys. Being three years old, he wants to build cool things with LEGO like his brother and daddy do. His brother is six and so, of course, he builds a veritable armory of weapons: Guns, swords, cannons, blasters, laser guns, bazookas, etc. If he had uranium, you’d better believe he’d build a LEGO thermonuclear device. Daddy, on the other hand, builds government institutions designed the keep these things out of the hands of maniacs like my six year old. Seriously, have you ever seen the LEGO architecture series? It’s pretty cool. That’s why I have a scale model of the White House on the top shelf of my book case. (Well, that and because I like to peek inside and look for little, teeny sex scandals going on. And you know they’re going on.)
So my three year old sees all these weapons and buildings being created (and in the case of his brother’s inventions, subsequently hurled against a wall), and he wants to build something too. The problem is, three year olds can’t build things for shit. Seriously, you ask a three year old to build you something simple, like a pyramid, and they’ll come up with some awful pile of shit instead, like a Zune. But there is one thing he can make out of LEGO: LEGO Guys. The photo you see up above is a LEGO Guy.
I find these things all over the house, and they are cute as all hell. At least they are until I give them horrific names like Rapey Pete and begin to have conversations with them:
Me: Avast there, Rapey Pete, have you seen my beer? I seem to have misplaced it.
Rapey Pete: Yarrr, it be by the couch. Now would you be tellin’ me where I can find the nearest girl’s school? Ol’ Rapey Pete has been at sea a long, long time you know.
Me: Now, Rapey Pete, you promised! No more raping!
Rapey Pete: Yarrrr.
Anyway, my three year old had built several LEGO guys for some adventure, and the one he made of entirely black LEGO blocks had gone missing, hence the question, “Where’s my black guy?” When it dawned on me what he was talking about, it made me laugh, not just because of the wonderful innocence behind it, but because of a funny story I remember from when I was young.
When I was twelve, I spent many summer afternoons playing tennis with a friend. The court near our homes was seldom used, and we could count on playing uninterrupted for hours on end if we wanted to. I remember playing actual five set matches in the summer heat and humidity of the Midwest. This, of course, is what kids do before they turn into juvenile delinquents and start blowing up mailboxes.
One day we brought my friend’s dog along with us. The dog was an unremarkable mutt (although he knew how to climb trees, which I always found a bit weird), and he was a friendly and reliable companion. All of a sudden, during the middle of a point, he gave a loud bark and took off running down the road.
Now I lived in a rural town about 45 miles Northwest of Chicago, and although we had minorities in town, they were all Hispanic (they worked at a mink farm). There were no black people in town. This wasn’t due to virulent racism on the part of the townspeople, though. No crosses were burned, no “Whites Only” drinking fountains existed… It was just a small town that didn’t have a whole lot of people at all, really.
You can probably see where this is going. God, bored from sitting on a cloud watching a couple of kids playing tennis for hours on end, thought to himself, “I’m going to see if I can get these two white kids stomped into jelly,” and sent a black guy walking down the road next to the tennis court. We didn’t notice the guy at first, just that my friend’s dog was chasing madly after him. So we went after the dog.
“Blackie! Blackie! Get your ass back here! Dammit, Blackie, get back here before I kick your ass you little… You… OH MY GOD! WE’RE TALKING TO THE DOG! THE DOG! THE DOG’S NAME IS BLACKIE!”
The guy turned, midway through our vicious harangue, looking like he was ready to tear a couple of racist kids a few new assholes, then his eyes darted to this black dog bearing down on him, then back to us, and then he figured it out at about the same time we realized what we were saying, and to whom. He broke into a huge grin and squatted down to greet the dog as he ran up to him, trying his best to lick his new friend’s face.
“This is a fine dog, fellas,” he said as we came running up. “You must take really good care of him.” We started to try to apologize, but he wouldn’t hear it. He asked about our tennis game, how long we’d been playing, and finally said his goodbyes, instructing us to enjoy the rest of our summer.
I miss very much that time in my life when a dog could be called Blackie simply because he was black, and four LEGO blocks could be called “My black guy” without giving it a second thought. A time when everything very much was, and very much wasn’t black and white.
Update: I have occasionally heard a somewhat similar story (often involving the races being switched and the dog being called Whitey). I am not making this up, or co-opting an urban legend. It really happened.