My neighbor, whom I call Mr. Worrisome, thinks I'm prejudiced. He stopped me at my door at 11 on Sunday night to tell me so. "I'm not speaking to you any more, and I told my family this. I think you're prejudiced."
"Because all I ever see you with is Mexicans, Mexicans, Mexicans! That's all you ever talk to."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, and starting pointing at the houses of all the African-Americans on the block with whom I do talk. "I talk to them [next door], I talk to them [across the street], I talk to you, I talk to Tony and Jesse [kings of the alley]."
"You're prejudiced. I'm not talking to you any more," he replied.
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
This, from the man who once referred to Mexicans as "Taco Bells" in my presence, then added semi-sheepishly, "I guess I shouldn't have said that, hunh?"
Yet in my heart I know he has a point. Thus far I have chosen to associate with the best-parented children on the block. Sadly, the well-parented African-American kids are all grown now, and their kids, the grandchildren of the homeowners I talk to frequently, aren't around on weeknights when they need homework help.
Back in the fall, I was talking with an African-American woman down the block who couldn't get her two year old to go in the house and put on a pair of pants. Nor was she willing to pick the kid up, take her in, and take care of it herself. Sorry, I don't have time to fix you and your kids' problems.
The sad thing is, even though there are plenty of Latino kids I don't want to make friends with on the block for the same reason, most all the kids I do want to make friends with are Latino, not African-American. There's the reality. The black kids I am friends with are grandkids who don't live on this block. That's also reality.
There is a new family with school-age black kids who moved in recently, but it takes a while to get to know people. Their kids stopped in my house once, to find out whether my ficus tree was real or fake--they thought fake until they touched the leaves for themselves. No, I haven't pushed the acquaintance further. I tell myself it's because I had a leg up on meeting people from last summer's block party and these kids may have to wait until the next one before I'm ready to make better friends.
OK, that's a defense. Mr. Worrisome's own sister is a nice girl with a baby daughter and I have made very little overture to her compared to the attention I have lavished on, say, my Latina buddy who got jumped. Frankly, part of the reason I haven't worked harder to make friends with Mr. W's sister is that I'd like to keep her big brother at bay. (I'm told there's a convicted sex offender in that house and I think it's either Mr. W or another creepy guy who is probably his brother.) In fact, it is his sister's fault that Mr. Worrisome got his name. We were talking last fall and he came up in conversation and she herself said, "He worrisome." So he is.
But Mrs. Ribs' daughters are friends with the young woman and they manage to keep Mr. W at arm's length. Well, at least Mr. W. had to stop in his tracks Monday afternoon when he saw me sitting on Mrs. Ribs' front stoop hanging with her daughters. He literally stopped in his tracks and did a double-take. I guess he's seen me with some black people now.
Earlier today, I was rewarded with a muffled "morning" from him while sitting on the stoop. He didn't know I was waiting for a Mexican.