The pennies were burning a hole in my pocket, I had snagged them from the penny jar in my parents room, hopped on my bike and hit the road. I peddled the two blocks down 42 street to Thomas road, standing up all the way, the candy store my destination. There is nothing like jumping out of a swimming pool on a Phoenix summer afternoon and being completely dry before you were even around the first corner. It s dry heat alright. As a kid on a bike it was heaven.
I was standing outside the door of The Little Giant, where I went when I was jonesing for a double bubble, which had to have the cartoon, always felt like little blocks of cement in the Arizona climate, but worth it as it had the best bubbles, or maybe an orange Tootsie roll pop, it was two candies in one, a sucker and a chewy chocolate Tootsie roll center, or would be the new-found candy love, a jolly rancher watermelon hard sucker, not the single little kindly wrapped candy, no, the long tightly wrapped can’t open it its too tight jolly rancher sucker stick. These suckers I had to tear open with my teeth, the cellophane strong, my patience lacking. I have to admit sometimes I just bit it and sucked the darn thing through the plastic packaging.
I put my bike against the wall and start to open the door, I feel the cool ac rush out as I push against the cold glass door, but I let it go and stop. There is a sign. Its pasted on the glass just at my eye level.
The sign read, NO shirts, NO shoes, NO service.
I read the sign like the new reader I was, reading everything.
It was maybe the summer of third grade I would have been 8, Mrs. Wortman’s class, who sent me a get well card when I came down with the chicken pox, or maybe it was fourth grade, Mrs. Shanklin’s class, where she brushed my short uneven hair and chopped bangs with such tenderness I told her my mother had plenty other children at home and I was sure I could go home with her….really! It wasn’t fifth grade, I was practically an adult in fifth grade, that was Mr. Robertson and his heel savers which tapped out morse code…here I come, as he came through the breeze way giving us all at least thirty seconds heads up that he was arriving…
I am standing there, reading the sign, reading each requirement as if it is the ten commandments.
I knew about the ten commandments. I learned them and our lords prayer before I stopped going to Sunday school. I didn’t understand why we went and my father didn’t. One Sunday I just said “If it’s so good for us how come you don’t go?” He remained silent. That’s the last time I went up to the First Presby Sunday school.
The sign reads commandment number one, shirt.
Whoops. No shirt, just wet shorts, and a bathing suit top. Maybe bathing suit tops count, maybe he won’t notice.
Shoes, commandment number two.
I look down, yes, sandles are on, check.
This is Phoenix, one might have no shirt on, but the sidewalks and streets are hot grills just waiting for some unprotected flesh.
Thats not all the sign said, it had something else on it too.
Scratched underneath the NO shirt NO shoes NO service were the words… no spics.
I think I know what it means.
I have an idea this is bad. I don’t know how I know this, but I know my father would have slapped me for saying the words. He never slapped, but I just knew these words were bad, they were really bad, and they were mean. The words were scary mean hateful words that made my heart beat out loud, more than the Pit and the Pendulum movie I just saw on TV.
They were not the normal bad words that made adults slowly smile and tell you to stop when you said them, those were adult words. I can’t wait to be an adult and be able to say those words. But these are not those words. These are scary words that are sitting on my chest and I am worried. These words are a weight that grabs and holds the scary close. It’s like glue and they are stuck on me forever. Worst of all I think it means somebody doesn’t like my friend Stephanie, that they don’t want her to go inside to buy candy.
I push open the door and head for the candy at a crawl. I look around, see the man behind the counter smile at me. I turn and look at the candy, I don’t know what I want anymore.
The ride back is not at top speed, I am sitting in the seat, and the weight sits on me and won’t go away. It is a Pandora moment, the box is open and I have seen hate and felt its weight. It was the end of my innocence, and I wondered if those people hated me too, we were not citizens, we have come from somewhere else, far away, and my parents spoke with a different voice than all the other parents. I feared for our different-ness, and rode home face wet without a pool.
I still have the weight, 40 years later. I don’t live in Arizona anymore, business took our family away.
I watch the news, see the Arizona law makers making news, wonder how many American citizens, children of less than whitest color are watching too. Bad enough I think that I read such hate scratched upon a door. I did not hear it on the news. I did not read it in the paper. I did not read it on the internet. And it was not the law of the land, it was merely ignorance and its violent twin hate. I wonder what the consequences of their Pandora’s box will be.
I am lucky I am an immigrant with green eyes, and light brown hair, they would consider me safe, I fall into the politically correct color category.
What will be the consequence be of the police lights as they are pulled over, the weight of their burden when their parents are asked for identification, lights shone on their faces in the back seat. Will it be carried forever, will it color their future the way mine did me?
How will they carry this weight I wonder, these children of a less than politically correct color.
It’s a weight no child should ever have to carry, even if it is the law.