Recess! Remember when that was the best time of the day? Remember running off after lunch, immediately splitting into groups of friends in elementary school? Remember cooties? Picture the boys off playing sports and pretending to be superheroes, picture the girls doing “girl” things (I still, to this day, have no idea what those are).
Recess had value. Educators talk about digestion, attention spans and other such high minded nonsense. However, recess’ value came from something more spiritual, more cultural. Actually, it really was only that eating became a social activity: we ate with friends and we equated that with playing with friends. Lunchtime equals social time, one of the few things that stays true for the rest of life.
Or, at least, so I thought until a couple days before dead week. I had finished eating lunch in Baxter and was on my way out when I spotted my former JA eating lunch with some other students. This JA and I have an interesting relationship that bases itself in trash talking and minor scuffles.
Aside from the time I beat him with a pink slipper, he is much bigger and stronger than I, and even when I come up from behind and put him in a chokehold (which I did that day), he still eventually wins the physical confrontations. For those reasons, I’ve got the bigger mouth.
So, after the chokehold, the tides turn and he eventually is twirling me around him to the delight of his friends while I blame this bad luck on the fact that I hadn’t taken off my watch yet. The skirmish ends, and the taunts resume. At one point, he says, “you best leave, before you get shook.”
Shook? Ha. That must have been some of his Virginia slang coming out because I had never heard it, and it was much less threatening than our normal verbal sparring. I seized this opportunity and start shaking him. He threatens again and I laugh and walk out.
Here is where the story gets strange (as though it weren’t already?): as I walked out, a random bystander eating at a neighboring table said to me as I left, “yeah, you best get the [very, very bad expletive] out.” If I had known this bystander, I would have assumed that he was just commenting on the fact that I was much smaller and a worse fighter than my JA. But, I did not know him.
Not weird enough yet? Well, I conveniently left out the part in which I mention that my JA and all his tablemates were black and the random bystander was also. Yep, somehow, I had erred in the side of integration and not cared about this piffling little detail. The response? A random person cursing at me, and not in a spirit of camaraderie as a recess buddy.
Then again, it was just recess. I should not try to exaggerate the power of one idiotic and backwards comment by a stranger. It’s a sad state that there could have been something racial about it, but it’s even sadder that anyone felt the need to burst a small little bubble.
That’s all it is. Lunch. Play. Social time. Let it be. Let me get swung around by a larger, more muscular JA. Let the JA be verbally destroyed (ha, take that!) by the wit and repartee of a measly frosh. Who cares?
I had good reason to feel an initial surge of anger towards the stranger needing to slight me. Now, it’s changed to a pity: I’d thought most of society (and certainly Williams) had progressed beyond that point. I’d assumed that the Williams student body could identify comfortably with their and others’ shared heritage while also being inclusive. I am. My JA is. That stranger wasn’t.
Oh, and Eain, just wait. You’ll get yours. Next lunch, it’s on. The butt-kicking of the century. Be afraid. Be very afraid. And this time, I won’t wear my watch.