Just Try Your Best to Stay Alive, Please! (Edited Title)


In the day
Police traffic stop, be ready. Photo courtesy of http://www.jamesdavisdefense.com

First, let me preface this tutorial by informing you that I am, by no means, an expert in survival, legal matters or in law enforcement. I’ve simply been around longer than most people and can impart things that you can do that may help get you to stick around longer too.

Recent events have made it blatantly clear that something has gone wrong in America. Maybe things haven’t gone wrong, perhaps they’ve always been wrong and the things we thought had been addressed and corrected were never really and not even nearly resolved.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that he’d been to the mountain top, looked over and had seen the promised land. Many thought that when a black man became president of the United States, this was a good indication that we’d also reached that same plateau, but no. Every time it seems we reach the top of the mountain and look over, all we ever find is another hill to climb.
Let us hope that this primer can make the trek up the latest hill we see before us, just a little less difficult to scale.

Here are a few things we can do if we look in our rear view mirror and see flashing lights approaching……

1). Pull over immediately. If you can’t pull over immediately because of safety concerns or road obstructions, reduce your speed to a crawl anyway. Use hand signals to let the officer know that you are going to pull over further ahead, then slowly proceed to a safe place to park or curb your vehicle.

2). Stay in your vehicle, don’t run (do not run!) or make any sudden moves as the officer approaches.

3). Keep both hands on the steering wheel.

4). Be especially polite in addressing the officer, smile a lot. Try to find an opening to lighten the mood

5). Don’t ask why you are being pulled over. Let the officer tell you why you are being stopped or let him ask you why you THINK you are being stopped.

This part is important

6). If you know why you were pulled over, say so. Admit that you are aware of whatever the infraction is, honesty might just get you off with a warning. Use phrases like, “Yes officer, I noticed my tail light was out this morning and was just on my way to Wal-Mart to have it replaced”
(But only say that if you aren’t driving in the opposite direction of the nearest Wal-Mart).

7). If you don’t know why you are being pulled over, let the officer know that you are unaware of what the problem is. Do not admit guilt to anything that could get you arrested and especially if you are being arrested, I’m not a lawyer and am not trying to provide you with legal advice, but you’ve watched enough cop shows on TV to know this.

8). Be especially polite in addressing the officer, smile (See #4). Studies show that you are somewhat less likely to be killed at a traffic stop if you don’t give anyone any reason, whatsoever, to kill you.

9).Try to form a bond with the officer as quickly as possible. Studies show that you are more likely to survive a traffic stop if you have had a chance to form a bond with the official standing next to your vehicle. Say little things like, “Nice day isn’t it officer”, “I’m trying to get home to my kids/ grandkids/ family and may have lost track of how fast I was going”. Here’s a few I’ve used over the years that emits harmlessness and creates a bond between you and the officer at hand, “Man, I really like the new cruisers you state troopers /county deputies/ town police are driving this year”, “This state has the best looking uniforms, man I’m glad I don’t live in New Jersey” (Sorry New Jersey, your state trooper uniforms and cruisers are terrible).

10). Don’t argue with the police (this is a tough one and one I’ve not always been able to adhere to). Again, do not argue with the police, be polite, if you can’t smile, always be polite, practice saying things like “sir”, “ma’am”, “officer”, “I’m terribly sorry I wasn’t…(fill in the blank)”, be polite.

11). Don’t run, stay in your car until told to exit. Don’t move yourself or your hands toward the officer or his weapons.

12). I admit that I might have a problem with this one, but if he says “Sir, I’m going to have to cuff you for my own protection” (and even though I see no reason why it would need to be done in a routine traffic stop), comply with the officer. Follow all instructions and commands, be submissive (I can’t believe I’m writing this). Do everything you are instructed to do. It’s not always evident, but the way it’s supposed to work is the good guys are the ones with the badges.

If you follow these simple guidelines, you just may live to see another day. Stay safe out there.

This blog post is designed for general information only. The information presented should not be construed to be formal legal advice of any kind, good luck!

A Good Place to Land

Do you know what the really sad part is? The really sad part is that the story you are about to read is true and the names haven’t even been changed. Remember that old saying before every Dragnet episode? “The names have been changed to protect the innocent”, remember that? Apparently, no one is innocent anymore. See, last weekend I decided to take my truck to the repair shop, the one I’ve been taking it to for the past twenty some years. The shop is only a mile and a half away from my house, so I thought it would be a good idea to drop off the truck, then I’d take a leisurely walk back home. I did that with little or no incident. But while I was walking back home, a motorcycle cop passed by me going in the opposite direction. I nodded politely as he passed, he nodded back and all was good with the world. I’d been home about 3 hours when the shop called to let me know that my truck was ready for pick-up, so I started back on foot to get it. Wouldn’t you know it, that same motorcycle cop came by going in the “other opposite direction”, so I nodded at him again, only this time he didn’t nod back. He just stared intently as he crept by on his Harley. That’s when it hit me! If anything ‘went down’ anywhere near where I was right then, in his mind, I’d be the most likely suspect. There I was, well over 300 pounds, walking down the street in a jogging suit and obviously having no intention of working up a sweat… (Heck, now I’m starting to think I look suspicious.)


Watching
“Just out walking officer, no problem here”.

That’s when I subconsciously began scanning my surroundings. I was looking from the sidewalk to the field for a soft, wet spot that I could get to in a hurry. I was looking for a place to land just in case I was slammed, face first, to the ground, like is happening to so many these days. I wish I were kidding, I began to make plans as to what I should do if that cop pulled up along-side me and started to question me for one reason or another. As I politely answered his questions, with a “Yes sir” and a “No sir”, I’d slowly edge my way off the sidewalk, my plan was starting to come together. Moving so inconspicuously that he would not even notice I was moving away from him inch by inch. The next thing he’d know, I’d be standing in the middle of a grassy field shouting my answers back to him, but by then I’d be in a nice soft place for the inevitable “take down”. It sounds a bit funny, almost laughable, but its a downright dirty shame. It’s easy for those unaffected by this new trend to say things like, “he shouldn’t have resisted”, “all he had to do was do what he was told”. That’s so easy to say if it isn’t you being gripped in a choke-hold, or it isn’t you with a knee on his neck and his arms being forced to go in directions they weren’t intended to go.

But this is an argument that can go either way. I’m pretty open-minded, I’m sure that if I were a cop, I’d have a complete 180 degree take on the whole matter. They do a tough job and make tough decisions, no one can deny that. They have to make tough, split-second decisions, the kind that, once made, can’t be taken back. There are no do-overs for our men in blue, so they have to be right the first time. The take-down is one of those decisions that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of being a tough decision to make. Not if the person being taken down is already in cuffs and under control. At any rate, I shouldn’t expect there to be a possibility of my being slammed to the ground by police during a leisurely stroll down the street. A person driving a red sports car should expect to be pulled over more than most when he or she is just out driving. A black man shouldn’t expect to be thrown to the ground when he’s just out walking, not even if they’re in the wrong. This is still America, isn’t it? If it is and I know it is, something is wrong with this picture.


In the day
This may be too far back, but back in the day you could argue with the police man and not be concerned that he might shoot you.

Back in the 70s I had a few run-ins with the police, for traffic violations. I even argued with the police once or twice, got right up in their face. I once tore up a speeding ticket right in front of the deputy who issued it to me and all he said was that he’d been nothing but polite and that he expected the same from me (and oh by the way, “you’re still responsible for paying the fine, torn up ticket or not”). I even argued with a state trooper once and was so vehement that I hadn’t been speeding he finally admitted that his radar gun may have been off by a mile or two and he let me go. That was back when radar guns were a new thing and their accuracy was still in question. But at no time did he or any other officer “fear for their safety” or I for mine, even if we got into a heated debate. I wouldn’t attempt to argue with the police now, “Just tell me what you need me to do, officer” and I’d then do it. If you comply to all commands you are given, the chances of being body slammed are reduced exponentially. At least that has always been my expectation of what should happen. Otherwise, if I do anything other than comply, I can expect to find my face pressing against the pavement.

But the new catch phrase now seems to be, “I feared for my safety”, and it apparently gives anyone with the most minimal authority the right to do just about anything they want. Security guard: “I slammed the child down in the hallway because I was afraid for my safety” or “I feared for my safety or the safety of others and shot him because it looked like he was reaching for my weapon”. Regular citizens on the street haven’t gotten any tougher than the folks in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, have they? They’re probably a lot softer, but I guess, so have the authorities. I can’t fathom sheriffs like Luther Cox or Sam Hall or deputies like Butler Grant or any of the piece officers from that era saying that they did ANYTHING because they were ‘afraid’. I don’t think the words would have come out of their mouths, they were men Dammit! We’ve got county sheriffs, state troupers, Army Generals, presidents, in front of television cameras crying on a regular basis, what the heck is going on? If someone is going to slam me to the ground, they should say they did it because I came at them, not because they were afraid or in fear. Don’t slam a 300 pound man (or a 90 pound girl, for that matter) to the ground, then claim you did it because you were afraid they were going to hurt you. People in fear go in the opposite direction of that which they fear.

The point is that it’s a terrible reason to use to maim or injure someone, someone who was confronted for “looking suspicious” or may have had a fake ID. Can we please stop the madness, I don’t want to have to look for soft place to land as I walk through my own neighborhood. I know that this is all going to fall on deaf ears. If you aren’t in the demographic of the individuals most likely to experience something like this, then there’s no way I could expect you to get it. You won’t get it, not until you or someone you love is affected by it. Unfortunately, this type of trend tends to spread rather than dissipate, so… I suggest we all start looking for a good place to land.

A Lesson Well Learned


Christmas
Every school boy’s dream, every neighbor’s nightmare

“MICHAEL DID IT! MICHAEL DID IT!” June-bug came running out of the woods as fast as his feet could carry him. He knew somebody was going to be in trouble and it wasn’t going to be him. A few seconds later and quite a bit slower Michael came out holding a Daisy lever action BB gun with the genuine solid wood stock. Michael had a look of shock on his face as if he’d just seen a ghost. He and his cousin June-bug were playing out in the woods that Saturday morning looking for something to shoot with the new BB rifle Michael had gotten just that Christmas before. For some reason there were no squirrels or birds in the trees (they knew better), so Mike and June-bug had to find something else to use for target practice.

Just when they were ready to give up on the whole thing and find something else to do, they saw a truck coming up the dirt road. It was the McClacken brothers. The two brothers were renters on the Bowen property and they drove their truck up and down Piney Ridge Road several times a day. This would turn out to be a bad day to be doing that. Michael perked up, he had an idea. “Watch me shoot the tire when the truck goes by”. He laid on the ground and took up a shooting position, that of a sniper, but before ‘sniper’ was a household word. The truck slowly came up the hill headed for the gate and cattle guard that kept the Bowenses cows in. June-bug watched the truck, turned to watch Michael, then looked back to the truck, “Shoot! Shoot before its too late!” The muffled puff of the BB gun going off could be heard throughout that section of woods. The driver of the truck hit the brakes and the tires skidded to an abrupt stop. A yelp could be heard emanating from the cab. “I been hit!’, the driver put the truck in reverse and the brothers backed up to the Brown driveway, jumped out and approached Michael’s father, who was busy changing spark plugs. His head was under the hood of his car. He could be found in that position most any Saturday, Sundays too. “They shot me”, the bigger of the two brothers came toward Ellsworth, one hand clasping the other for support, tears were flowing down his face. That’s when June-bug came barreling out of the woods proclaiming his innocence.

The other, smaller brother rolled out of the passenger’s side of the truck laughing as loud and as hard as he could, “You got shot in the finger! It was a BB gun, I heard it go off. What are you yelping about?” The younger McClacken stood, bent over laughing while his older sibling winced in pain, showing Ellsworth the spot under his fingernail where he’d been hit. He’d been driving with his elbow on the window sill and his hand resting on the outside top of the window.

Ellsworth looked at the red mark made by the pellet and told Mr. McClacken that if he wanted to go to the emergency room, he could bring the bill back to him for what it cost. Mr. McClacken and his little brother went back to the truck, got in and headed back down the road, you could hear snickering coming from younger brother as they drove out of sight. Ellsworth turned to Michael with his hand out, “Give me that before you shoot somebody’s eye out! What in the world were you thinking about? Don’t ever expect to get this back!” Michael began to explain that he was only trying to hit the tire but his aim was off, he realized he wasn’t helping the situation by making excuses and his words kind of trickled off to nothing. Ellsworth sent Michael into the house and June-bug back to the ridge, play time was over for the day.


Bandaid
Dolphus McClacken came back from the hospital with a bandaid on his finger.

About an hour and a half later, the two brothers pulled back into our driveway and they got out. Young being a relative term, both being at least 35 years old, young McClacken didn’t even let his brother start talking, “They put a band-aid on it! It wasn’t even bleeding!?”. He was getting a real kick out of this whole ordeal. He teased his big brother relentlessly, “They didn’t even charge for the band-aid”. Ellsworth apologized again and assured them that it wouldn’t happen again.

Even though Ellsworth promised Michael that he’d never see his gun again, about a year later he gave it back to him with a stern warning and just as promised, it never happened again. Michael didn’t so much as point that gun at another living creature from that day on. A lesson well learned.

Post Script

This incident happened over 40 years ago when things were much different, for instance:
1) A 13 year old could traipse around the neighborhood pointing a BB gun at anything that moved and no one considered calling the police.
2) The victim went to the boy’s parents to resolve the situation and it was successfully resolved without government intervention.
3) Someone went to the emergency room and was treated without being charged an outrageous fee. Actually, there was no fee charged at all!
4) Race was never an issue in a situation that would have been first viewed from a racially charged perspective, if faced today.

Over the years we seem to have lost the ability to use common sense. We need to get back to letting common sense resolve day to day problems, not the federal and local authorities.

The House on Piney Ridge Road

***********************************
Miss Landers, turning to Beaver: “Beaver, I hope you still want to be a writer”
Beaver: “Yes Miss Landers, you get yelled at a lot for things you didn’t do, but I still wanna to be a writer.”
Miss Landers: “That’s good Beaver, I’m glad”.
*********************************** © Leave It To Beaver

I heard mom call out from the kitchen, “Supper time! Y’all come to the table”. I jumped up from Daddy’s chair and turned off the TV then headed for the dining room. That’s when I heard Baby Girl let out a strange gurgling noise from my parent’s bedroom. She had been sick all day, wheezing and coughing, she was only two years old. Mama ran past me and went into her room, “Ellsworth!” Dad rushed by faster than I’d ever seen him move. I could hear them fussing over baby girl and whispering frantically, but I heard Mama say, “She’s not breathing we’ve got to get her to the hospital!”. It was only five or six o’clock in the evening but it was the middle of winter and already dark outside.
Dad came out, got their coats then went back and brought the baby out. I and my brother and sister stood in the center of the living room, watching all this transpire in front of us. Mom came out, bent down and spoke to us, “We’re taking baby girl to the emergency room, you all have to stay here, Baby Ray is in charge, ya’ll listen to him. We’ll be back as soon as we can”.

I was petrified, our parents had never left us alone ever before, there was always at least one of them home when we were home. That’s how everyone lived in our neighborhood, mothers stayed home and took care of the kids and the house and the fathers went to work. But the kids were never home alone and just the thought of it scared me to death.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can, lock the door behind us” and they were gone out the front door. I stood there and watched them go down the road toward the church and then stayed to see their headlights go past the church on the paved road to town. “Close the door!” Baby Ray said, then he came over, closed it and locked it himself. Ba-baJean was sitting in Daddy’s big chair, I went over and sat with her, Bay Ray squeezed in on the other side of me. We sat there and didn’t move for what seemed like hours.
“I’m scared”, I said to no one, “When is Mama and Daddy coming home?” – “They’ll be back after they take care of Baby Girl”, Ray said. “Ba-bajean, when is mama coming home?”, I hadn’t gotten the answer I wanted from my big brother so I tried somebody else.
“I don’t know, I want them to come home too”.


Upstairs
We were way too scared to even think about hiding upstairs

Our dinner was still sitting on the dining room table untouched, the TV was turned off. Every light in the house was on, but all you could hear was the quiet of the night. That is, until we heard something! We all heard it at the same time. It sounded like people were walking around in the yard, we could hear their feet clumping about and a low whispered muttering, it almost sounded like there was a party outside that we hadn’t been told about. Every now and then we could feel people brushing against the house, almost like they were pushing and shoving one another, then we knew for sure that was what was happening because between people being pushed up against the house we could hear someone say “Move!, Move!” Then more foot pounding and house brushing against. “Who’s that? What are people doing in our yard?”, I asked. Somebody said “Get up and go look out the window”, I don’t know who said it, I only know that nobody moved out of Daddy’s big chair, we were stuck like glue. After so long we realized somebody had to go look to see what was going on outside, so Baby Ray said, “I’ll go look out the kitchen window”. He got up, went into the kitchen and turned off the lights. Bay-Ray climbed up on the bench beside the table and slid over to the window as slowly and quietly as he could. He reached over and pulled back on the window shade just enough to peer around the corner hoping whoever was outside wouldn’t see him. “COWS! There are a bunch of cows in our yard, must be hundreds of them!” Bajean got up to look, “Yep cows, Where’d all these cows come from?”. I was relieved but still scared, why would there be cows in our yard, we didn’t own any cows. I finally got up and looked outside, there were cows in the front yard, cows in the back yard and cows on either end of the house. There were cows mooing (“Move!”) and pushing and shoving each other AND brushing up against the house.

Just about that time Mom and Dad pulled into the yard, they came in and told us that Baby Girl was going to be OK, she’d had an asthma attack or some kind of fever that, at the time, I’d never heard of before. Dad knew exactly where the cows had come from, he got back in the car and drove up the road. The next thing I knew I saw Mr. Robert Bowen in the yard with a stick, heading his cows back up the road and through the hole in the fence that they’d gotten out through. Swinging his stick in the air, “Get back up there! Come on, get!”. Somehow they knew exactly where “THERE” was and headed back up the road, it always puzzled me how they knew that. Yep, that experience was one for the record books, that frightful night, in the house on Piney Ridge Road.

Post Script

After reading this my mother added some details to the story that I was not aware of…

They did not take “Baby Girl” to the emergency room, they took her to Dr. Ashby’s office. They went inside and dutifully sat in the colored waiting area to wait their turn. The nurse saw that child was having convulsions and ran in and told Dr. Ashby, he came out immediately and to the shock of all there waiting, scooped the baby from my mother’s arms and rushed her into the examination room. (If you’re counting, this is the second time Dr. Ashby blatantly disregarded a Jim Crow law in one of my stories)

Providence

I was baptized in the Rappahannock River in the summer of 1961. My older siblings, I and quite a few of our friends from the ridge had turned our lives over to Christ at Providence Baptist Church in Remington, Virginia, only a few weeks earlier. I wasn’t even ten years old at the time and was quite reluctant about going up when the altar call was made during homecoming revival. I’ve told the much exaggerated story, once or twice, that I was so scared when my brother and sister tried to talk me into walking up to the altar with them, that to help me make up my mind, one of them pinched me so hard I jumped up out of my seat and when I landed I found myself at the pulpit standing directly in front of Rev. Tyler. But no matter how I arrived there, I couldn’t turn around then, not with the matriarch of the church, Miss Chaney, sitting right there in the aisle seat of the second row staring at me. I remember Deacon Earl Moore taking me aside and giving me a good talking to. Satisfied by my answers to his question if I was ready to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior, he turned to the pastor and nodded his head. And the rest, as they say, is history.


River baptism
“Shall we gather at the river, the beautiful, beautiful river…”

The Homecoming anniversary at Providence was always one of my favorite memories. Only we didn’t call it homecoming when we spoke of it among ourselves, we always called it “Third Sunday in August”. Much of our entire church year revolved around the events and activities related to the third Sunday in August. Who was going to speak? Who was going to sing? And most importantly, what foods were going to be served between the morning and the evening services and who was responsible for preparing which dishes. Back then we didn’t have a dining room, so they improvised. There were four or five large oak trees that stood on the pastor’s study side of the church. Someone came up with the bright idea to use those trees as the serving area whenever meals were served.


Homecoming
Our church yard filled like this one during homecoming in August.

Long boards were constructed and used as tables, and those tables connected all the trees into a square. The ladies of the church, or Ladies Auxiliary, worked inside of the squared circle of trees preparing and serving the meals while church members and visitors lined up on the outside of the circle, waiting to be served a delicious meal. Those meals always included the best fried chicken and potato salad, arguably on the east coast. Once served it was every man for himself when it came to finding a prime location to sit and enjoy your meal. Visitors had the luxury, or disdain of sitting in their cars, their hot cars. While members usually took time to go home and change clothes for evening service or freshen up before returning to eat.

The ladies of the church spent hours preparing chicken, ham, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, desserts and much more. While the morning service was in full swing, the women would work feverishly setting up for dinner. The dinner was a precursor to the afternoon service, when a prominent guess speaker and choir, that had been advertised as coming for weeks in advance, would offer old timey gospel songs and a heart throbbing, fire and brimstone message that was sure to be talked about for weeks to come. Every one of those ladies were great cooks in their own rite, some famous for their potato salad, others for their fried chicken, others for their dessert. Of course, I thought my mother’s fried chicken and potato salad was the best on the planet (then and now). And I wouldn’t want to slight anyone by naming names, or by not naming names. BUT, one of my favorite memories is the combination of punch and vanilla wafers provided by Mrs. Ada Hardnett. She brought them to both church and school functions. I would go so far as to brave PTA meetings if I knew that her cookies and punch were going to be served. I’ve tried, but so far I’ve been unable to duplicate that childhood delicacy.
Many of our lives revolved around Providence back then, I spent many a Wednesday nights entertaining myself on a back row pew while the church elders conducted church meetings and many a morning in Vacation Bible School during Summer break. Yes, those were the days. I haven’t been back to the church of my childhood in a while, but I know that Providence Baptist is still going strong, still gathering at the river and still celebrating third Sunday in August just as fervently as we did way back in the day.

Le Plume Est Sur La Table

When we were growing up our mother told us how, in high school she’d learned to speak French. One of us asked her to say something in French, “Le Plume Est Sur La Table, that means ‘The pen is on the table'”. We repeated, “Lay Ploom se sir la tah-blu. Say something else mama!”, we begged, “Say something else!”…
“Ouvrir la porte, that’s open the door”, my mother smiled and said.
– “Oo-vray la port”, we said in unison. As far as we were concerned, we knew how to speak French.


Liberty Park
Naval Air Station Norfolk, VA. (Photo Courtesy Virginian-Pilot).

Years later, as I walked across the parking lot leaving to go to work one morning, those french lessons came back to me. I was about to put the key in the door of my ’65 Mustang when it hit me, “Ouvrir la porte” and just as I was about to open the door, I glanced inside the car. There, in the backseat, lay Ferdanand Beadman sound asleep. How was he getting into my car? This was the third morning in a row I’d come out to go to work and found him fast asleep in the back seat, how was he getting in without breaking the lock? The bigger question was WHY was he breaking in in the first place? His sister lived not more than 5 miles from where we were. Which led to an even bigger question, how was he getting to where we were? We were in the parking lot of the Bachelor Enlisted Quarters (B.E.Q.) at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia! How was he getting on base everyday? Granted, security was nothing like it is now, but I would think it wouldn’t be that easy to either climb the eight foot fence or find a stranger that would let him ride through the gate with them. But there he was snoring away in the back seat. I didn’t call base security, I simply got in the car and drove off base. I stopped along the road, woke him up and made him get out. I told him that I was going to contact base security to keep an eye on my car and for him to catch a ride to his sister’s house. I never saw him again after that and assumed I’d have no more surprises for a while.
The theory of having no more surprises was shattered around 1630 that afternoon when I arrived back at my room in the enlisted quarters. For some reason NCIS or base security got it into their heads to bring the drug sniffing dogs to the living quarters that day. Of course, I knew I had nothing to fear, until I remembered that I had a roommate, a roommate who liked to have pot parties in the BARRACKS and who’d had one just last night. Whenever he and his buddies started lighting up I would make myself scarce. So now here I was standing in the middle of his roach clips, bongs, rolling papers and residue in front of a security officer and his dog.

“Is this your paraphernalia?”, he asked. I quickly let out, “Heck no, it’s not mine, I don’t do drugs”. The officer looked at me in disbelief, “Your roommate says its yours, he said its all yours!”. Why that dirty dog! I’ll fix him, I thought to myself. My roommate was from West Virginia, he liked to hunt and he liked guns, he liked guns a lot. And for some unknown reason he thought it was a good idea to bring all of his guns with him from home. Not only had he brought his entire arsenal with him, but that arsenal was right here in the room with us. He’d put his entire gun collection in the overhead (that’s the ceiling for you civilians). The guns were above the ceiling tiles, there was at least one gun lying on top of each tile in that room and I was about to rat him out for lying that this left behind mess belonged to me. I was just about to narc on him when I remembered, “Hey wait a minute, you couldn’t have talked to him, he left for home this morning, he hasn’t been here all day!” That old trick of turning one suspect against the other had almost worked on me. “Nope, he didn’t tell you nothing”, I said.
“Maybe not”, he said, apparently they weren’t done yet, “but the dog hit this locker. This IS your locker, isn’t it? It has your name on it”. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic baggy, “We found this in a shirt in your locker”. He felt around in the baggy and pulled out a tiny lint ball. He took the lint and began unraveling it, inside was a seed. “Know what this is? We do, and to make sure we’ll be sending it to the lab. We found it in that shirt”, he pointed to a shirt I’d just bought last week. It was a shirt my friend Filly was wearing when I went home to Remington the prior weekend. I saw it and liked it so much I offered to buy it from him right then and there. He agreed to sell it to me for $12. Up until that day, I had not yet had a chance to wash it and / or wear it. The officer handed me a piece of paper, it was a summons to appear at Captain’s Mast two weeks from that day. Captain’s Mast is like civilian criminal court, with the same consequences and worst. I’d never been in this type of trouble before and all I could think of was that I only had to weeks to clear my name before I’d be standing in front of the captain.


Walking the plank
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at Captain’s Mast.

On the morning of Captain’s Mast I arrived at base headquarters not exactly sure what to expect. I was led in to see the Executive Officer (The X.O. is the second in command after the base captain). He was standing behind a desk that was just outside of where mast was being held. He instructed me on what to say and do when I went in to see the captain. “…but before we go in, do you have any evidence, witnesses or testimony you wish to present that could clear you of these charges?”, he asked.
“Yes sir, I just want to tell you that I have never worn that shirt before and that I bought it from a friend of mine only a week before it was found in my locker”, my voice was shaky.
“Is your friend willing to attest to this? Do you know how to contact him?”, he was beginning to seem not so bad after all.
“Yes sir, here’s his phone number. Actually this is his grandmother’s phone number, he doesn’t have a phone.”
The X.O. took the number, dialed it and asked the person on the other end if he could speak to Filly Pevvish. I knew who was on the other end and I knew they would have to run down the hill, get Filly… anyway, there was about a 5 minute pause before Filly picked up the receiver and answered. This is the actual one-sided phone conversation I heard:
“Is this Filly Pevvish? It is? O.K. fine then. Hello Mr. Pevvish, this is Commander Oxnard, I’m the Executive Officer here at N.A.S. Norfolk. I am standing here with someone who says you know him. He is currently charged with possession of a controlled substance. That substance was found in the pocket of a shirt we found in his locker. He further states that he bought the shirt from you… (pause). Oh, he did? Mr. Pevvish, did you know that there was marijuana in the pocket of that shirt when you owned it? (pause) Oh? Well, thank you Mr. Pevvish, and thank you for your help in this matter”.
The X.O. hung up the phone looking a bit dejected, “Mr. Pevvish said ‘yes he knew he had marijuana in his shirt pocket, he always has marijuana in his shirt pockets, he said he keeps it there all the time. I guess that takes care of that, I have no choice but to dismiss the case. You won’t have to see the captain after all”. I was very thankful that Filly had admitted the that shirt and it’s contents belonged to him. He was a civilian and the Navy couldn’t touch him. And what made it perfect was that everything he’d said was true.

With that, the X.O. took out a document, handed me a pen and had me sign that I understood that the case was being dismissed. He took the pen and said “The irony is, this is the same pen they used when they charged you”. He chuckled to himself, laid the pen on the table and turned to put the documents back in the file cabinet. I looked at the pen, then at the X.O., then back at the pen. Hmm, “le plume est sur la table”, I thought to myself… what an unbelievable last couple of weeks this has been. Yep, I need to write this all down while it’s still fresh in my mind. I grabbed the pen from the table, rushed back to my room and used it to write this story.

The Ping Pong Man

“We gon’ kick yo ass, Mister Ping Pong Man. You done done it now, yo ass is grass!”.
– “Yeah, let’s get him”. Stagalee was about to leave the Grandy Park Recreation Center not sure exactly what he should do. It was time for him to go home for the day, but the Liberty Park boys were gathered just to his left, they were standing in the street staring him down. To his right were the Grandy Park girls, these 15 to 18 year old girls were just as notorious as their male counterparts. They, too, stood in the middle of the street. The girls were all dressed in what could best be described as the group uniform, Chuck Taylor all star sneakers, white knee-high socks, miniskirts and either a jean jacket or a mink coat. The minks were of various lengths. Each of the girls sported a switch blade knife which they menacingly flicked opened and closed, as they stared at Stagalee, waiting for him to leave the safety of the rec center.


Liberty Park
The Liberty Park neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. (Photo @1964 Courtesy of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority).

The year was 1971, VA-44 (I-264) was still under construction. The Norfolk Scope arena had not long been completed. Dr. J. was a Virginia Squire for the American Basketball Association. Norfolk’s urban renewal was in full swing and Stagalee was there fresh out of Remington, Virginia. This was only Stag’s second day on the job. He had been assigned to the Grandy Park area in order to fulfill his work/ study program obligation at Norfolk State. Through the program, Stagalee received a $500 check for school tuition and a $20 a week salary. Begging for food in the Student Union building was never again an issue after this program began in the second semester of his freshman year. Grandy Park, as it was known, wasn’t that bad of an area. There were some nice homes there, it appeared to be a very nice neighborhood. The problem with Grandy Park was its close proximity to Liberty Park. Liberty Park was, well, it was the projects. Liberty Park was one of the first federal housing projects in the country. It was constructed to be “a defense housing project for 800 Negro families… developed by the Federal Public Housing Authority of the National Housing Agency”. By most accounts, the neighborhood began to deteriorate from the moment construction was completed. Students at Norfolk State were warned to stay away from that area, they were told that gangs roamed the streets and that no one was safe. Stagalee was being confronted by two of those gangs right now, one male and one female. He decided to take his chances and turned in the direction of home and started walking down the street, in the direction of the girls. The Liberty Park boys began following, the girls encircled Stag, tossing out profanity laced threats all the while. One of the girls turned to the boys, who were about 20 paces behind and yelled, “We got this, we don’t need ya’ll to handle him!”. The boys stopped and turned back up the street.


Mr. Ping Pong Man
A likeness of Mr. Ping Pong Man demonstrating his abilities on the table. Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

Just yesterday he’d been treated like a celebrity. When he arrived at the rec center for his first day of work one of he kids asked him if he knew how to play table tennis. Of course he did. Stagalee spent almost every waking hour in the ping pong room at the student union building on campus. His prowess on the table was well known among those who frequented the basement of that building, which housed a room for ping pong, the chess room, where the chess club met, the restaurant / greasy spoon and several other rooms that were of no importance to Stag.

Stag had been listed as the best player on campus for a full week, the title was a difficult one to achieve and an even harder one to hang on to.

Stagalee took ‘next’ on the ping pong table at the rec center and never relinquished his spot the entire night. That’s when the kids began calling him “Mr. Ping Pong Man” and bringing in their friends from the street to watch him play. He was a big hit at the center. But that was yesterday.
This day he was assigned by the center’s director to referee a basketball game between the rival teams of Liberty Park and Grandy Park. That news meant that any calls made against Liberty Park could be his undoing. But he had no choice. “Twe-e-e-e-e-e-t!”, Stagalee blew his whistle in the final seconds of the fourth period. “Foul! Number 43 Blue!”. The call was against the team from Liberty Park, the fifth one of the night on that particular player. The rules stated that the player had to be ejected from the game for fouling too many times. The threats had already been coming since the first foul in the game, but kicking out their best player and causing them to lose the game? Well, that brought on even more taunts and warnings of impending violence toward Stag.
Today and every day after, he was escorted out of the neighborhood by the same group of girls. The threats flowed, the switch blades flicked, the girls were always waiting outside to walk him to the end of the block and the fence that separated Grandy Park’s Kimball Terrace from Brambleton Avenue. Stagalee noted to himself that the girls, nor the boys for that matter, seemed to ever venture beyond the fence. Stag would slide through the fence opening and onto Brambleton then walk the remaining two blocks to the house where he and his room mates stayed on Willoughby. But he could not figure out why those girls seemed to respect an invisible force field that held them inside their neighborhood. Being a college freshman meant that Stagalee was no more than a year or two older than these girls. But they may as well have been decades and worlds apart. As they walked, between taunts, Stagalee tried to relate to them by discussing their aspirations. He tried to get the girls to see beyond the now, beyond the fence. After a while the girls talked about life after high school and Norfolk, even considered the possibility that they might one day attend Norfolk State College (now N.S.U.).


Mad dog
As Stagalee walked down the street he noticed a dog chasing a little girl around a street light. Photo courtesy of TheWeek.com

After about a month of working at the center, Stag was walking through the neighborhood on his way to work when he heard screams coming from down the block. He looked up and saw a large dog chasing a little girl round and round a street light. Stag immediately began running toward them, yelling at the dog, trying to get its attention. The dog didn’t notice Stagalee approaching the little girl did and ran directly toward him with the dog snapping at her heels. Stagalee picked the little girl up and put her down behind him. The dog approached at full speed and jumped on Stag’s chest. The dog began excitedly licking Stag’s face. He hadn’t been trying to bite the child, he only wanted someone to play with. But this was a huge dog, and the little girl was terrified

At the same time Stag was petting the dog and trying to get it off of him, the little girl had run into a pool hall behind them screaming about the dog. The occupants of the establishment rushed out into the street to see what was causing the commotion, pool sticks in hand. Just as Stag got the dog under control, the men came at Stag, clutching the girl in a protective fashion.
– “Is that your dog?”
– Hey you! IS THAT YOUR DOG!?!” another person asked.
“No, that’s not my dog, I’ve never seen this dog before today”, Stag replied anxiously.
– “If you want to live to see tomorrow , you better take your dog and get the hell outta here!’, they were moving in toward Stag, ready to pounce
Then Stag heard a girl yell out from down the street, “Wait! He didn’t do nothing, he pulled the dog off the girl, we saw the whole thing!”
It was the Grandy Park girls, they’d witnessed the entire episode from several blocks away and were running toward what was now a throng of people ready to attack Stag for what they presumed had happened.
“That’s the Ping Pong Man” (they never bothered to learn my name, Stagalee thought himself, they don’t even know my real name).
“He works at the recreation center, he’s OK.”, they said, “We know him, he saved that little girl from the dog, ya’ll should be thanking him”.
The group of people took a collective step back and just as they had done so many times in the past, the girls surrounded him, but this time to protect him, maybe that’s why they’d been escorting him all along, for his own protection. The girls continued to walk Stag to the rec center each day after that and were waiting for him from then on to escort him out of the neighborhood, even though it was no longer necessary. They spent that time talking about what the future might bring, the switch blade knives never came out again.
And from that time forward, Stagalee was treated with respect and admiration in the neighborhood. Not only did the kids look upon him as somewhat of a hero, but the adults treated him as a respected member of the community as well.
= “There goes the Ping Pong Man!”, they’d say.
– “Hi Ping Pong Man” or “‘Bye, Mr. Ping Pong Man. C’Ya tomorrow!”.

Mr. Ping Pong Man, the boy from the sticks of Faquier County had found a home away from home in the projects.