"HEY JEW!'

The arresting officer opened the back door of his police car and ordered me out. "Don't try anything," he warned. "What am I going to try?" I asked, slightly amused. "My hands are cuffed behind my back. You have a gun, a club, and training." "That's right!" he replied, "You've got the right idea."

Everyone there had a nickname. His was “Radio.”

“Why is he called ‘Radio?’” I asked another prisoner.

“Because he keeps talking, non-stop, all crazy stuff.” Radio did seem to be dispensing a steady stream of gibberish. But something about him conveyed intelligence to me.

I sat down opposite Radio at one of the tables (which are immovably attached to the floor, as are the benches). The individual cells were on one side. There was a wall of bars on the other and I guess the narrow corridor behind those bars was the “free” side.

Once a tour-group — they looked like college students — filed past on the “free” side, gaping at us dangerous animals. I quickly scrawled a note with my name and my family’s phone number, and an appeal to let them know were I was. (I had been allowed to make a call, but the line was busy, and I had not been permitted to try again.) As I approached the wall of bars, the students shrunk away, scared. A guard threatened with his stick, and ordered me to get back. Normally, I would have turned into The Hulk, but this once I meekly retreated.

Radio must have been in his sixties. Light brown skin, short graying hair, wide face, mischievous eyes. There was another fellow at the table, kibitzing Radio. To this fellow’s delight, the more he kibitzed, the crazier Radio’s conversation became: ranging from accounts of space travel to CIA mind-reading technology. 

Each time that Radio asked me a question, I gave him a straight answer. Before long we developed a rapport, and when no one else was present, Radio spoke in a serious manner, with a quiet voice. He told me about himself, shared his insights and perspective on life.

During my time in the lockup, Radio and I had lengthy conversations. He was well-read and thoughtful. But when someone else would briefly join us, immediately Radio’s spirited broadcast of gibberish would begin; and just as quickly revert to serious conversation the moment our guest walked on.

The day before my arrest, the lead story in the local paper was about a young man who had robbed a bank and been nabbed quickly as he tried to speed away on his getaway bicycle.

“There’s this young fellow in here,” Radio said, “who has twisted ideas about what it means to be a man. I’m working on it.” Radio must have known something, because a few minutes later the bank robber joined us.

I do not recall how he got started, but before long the bank robber was bragging. At some point he made the statement: “I’m all man!”

Radio challenged him: “What’s your father, a man or a woman?”

“A man,” the bank robber replied.

“And what about your mom?” 

“My mom is a woman.” 

“So one of your parents is a man, and the other is a woman?”

“Sure.”

“Then you ain’t all man. You half man and half woman!”

Before the bank robber could reply, Radio said: “Most everyone is half man and half woman because they got one parent who is a man and one who is a woman.” Then he lowered his pants a few inches, revealing two abdominal scars.

“But not everyone,” said Radio. I had a baby through here (pointing to one of the scars). And I had another baby through there (pointing to the other.) Then the doctor said I couldn’t have no mo’.”

The bank robber was at a total loss to say anything. Then Radio said to him: “I can see your house. I see two woman sitting in the kitchen. They are crying for you.” 

After quite a pause and without a trace of his previous swagger, the bank robber said: “That’s my mother and my aunt.” 

At night, locked into our cells, although we could not see each other, still it was possible to talk. But only Radio started nighttime  conversations. 

My first night began in silence… until Radio began his broadcast.

“Hey Jew!” 

I was silent.

When I was first brought in, they took my wallet, keys, and money to hold, but I was permitted to keep possession of a small, gold Star of David on a chain, with Hebrew letters that spelled, “Jerusalem.”  In the holding cell, was a young guy who was visibly shaken. He was talking about how upset he was: He had never been arrested before. I removed my Jewish Star, handed it to him. He tried to hand it back, shocked that I was offering something of obvious value. 

I insisted that he keep it, and finally he put it on. 

*.              *.              *

“Hey Jew!” came Radio’s loud voice, “I’m talkin’ to you!” 

“You mean me?”

“Yeah. You  a Jew, ain’t you?”

“Yes, I’m a Jew.” 

“Do you eat po’k?”

“Yes, I eat pork.”

“Then you ain’t no Jew. A Jew don’t eat po’k!” 

“Well I’m a Jew who eats pork.” 

That ended it… for then. 

About an hour later, Radio began a new broadcast: 

“Hey Jew… you up?” 

“Yes.” 

“Let me ask you a question.”

“Okay.”

“I’m a business man. I import watches. I got 7 ships in the harbor, each one has a thousand watches that I’m importing. After paying import duties and shipping fees, I make $7 on each watch. When I get these watches sold, I’m going to make $70,000…”

I interrupted: “No you won’t.” You’ll only make 49 thousand!”

There was silence. Then… Radio’s voice, with feigned surprise: “You is a Jew! Only a Jew could figure money that fast in his head!”

I don’t know exactly what Radio was doing, but I am sure that he was addressing someone’s stuff. After that, I too had a nickname: Jew.

After three days, my family found out where I was and bailed me out. When the guard came to release me, I hesitated to leave. Five or six prisoners gathered around me, let me know that they were happy for me getting released, and urged me to go. 

A couple of weeks later, expecting that Radio would be out by then, I sent him a letter at the address he had given me. There was no reply, and I never saw Radio again.

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2 Responses

  1. I didn’t notice any typos or misspellings, O King of typos and misspellings, but I sure did enjoy this story! Riveting and well-written. Was it fiction or memoir? And if the latter, I hope another post tells readers more about this episode.

    Best wishes,

    Phoebe W.

    1. Thank you, Phoebe. Yes it is a true story.

      It happened in the late 1970s in Buffalo, NY. I got arrested in the lobby of the Statler Hilton together with a woman whom I was courting. We had come from a Gino Vannelli concert and Diane insisted on going to the Statler where Gino was staying, hoping to catch a glimpse when he returned.

      I had no interest in going there, other than to be with Diane, who unfortunately for me was in love with the pop star. (Actually I think she expected that when he saw her, he would immediately realize that they were fated for one another.)

      We were sitting on the wide staircase for about an hour, uneventfully, and when we ran out of cigarette I left to visit the cigarette machine. When I returned, about a minute later, I saw a plain clothes house detective with two uniformed security guards standing over Diane, hassling her.

      I stepped forward and asked what was going on. The house detective nicely asked me to leave, and they would handle it. It became clear that they regarded Diane (whose skin is of a darker hue than mine) as a whore, and me as the John. So long as I would accept that premise I would be free to leave while Diane would take the heat.

      I affirmed our friendship and did not leave.

      The house detective, then nicely told us that we were blocking the stairs, and asked us to sit closer to the side. We did, and the 3 security guys left. We continued to sit there, thinking everything was fine.

      Fifteen or 20 minutes later, the house dick returned with 2 city police officers. He pointed to us and said: “That’s them!”

      We were both arrested, charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. In court, I was given a conditional discharge if I would stay out of trouble for 6 months. Diane was also give a conditional discharge, but her condition was that it depended on her staying out of trouble for 12 months. So, despite best intentions, I was unable to fully avoid white privilege.

      One really odd thing is that, coincidentall,y this house detective and Diane lived near each other. A month or so later, Diane told me that they had run into each other on the street, and exchanged friendly amenities. Go figure!

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