The Kansas City Royals won the World Series for the first time since 1985. There have been longer droughts between titles but that neither alleviated the frustration of the die-hards nor dampened the enthusiasm that funneled twice Kansas City’s population into the bowels of the city like locomotives used to funnel cattle to the stockyards in the Bottoms. Across the metro area—an area flowing into two states, 15 counties, and a couple dozen separate municipalities—some schools and businesses closed, freeing tens of thousands of students and thousands of employees to attend the parade.
After creeping into town and navigating the labyrinth of roads not closed by police, I wound up in the Crossroads District. 20th and Grand, to be precise, standing in the middle of 20th Street between The Cashew’s parking lot and what probably serves as general Crossroads parking any other day but in which Tuesday someone had parked a converted school bus beside a two-tiered steel-framed observation deck. Seats atop the bus and the top tier of the observation deck provide choice viewing for a parade which only the early-risers saw more than glimpsed flashes. Even the lower tier and the bus window seats showed more than most of the crowd saw.
All up and down Grand Avenue people in royal blue tee shirts and sweatshirts and jackets emblazoned with Kansas City Royals logos and slogans encouraging or enthusiastic lined the road, some oozing like plaque through blue arteries—a serpentine line on the right mamboing south as the line on the left moved north.
It was the American mélange that is the greatness of our country, the unity in diversity, the multicultural stew that nourishes what is best in us. How fitting to be on the Grand Avenue of the Americas when so many of our team represent different American nations: Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the United States. And the crowd, too, beamed faces Latin and African and European and Asian.
I’ve been taking to heart some wisdom my “rabbi” laid on me recently to draw upon my footlight chops to frame social interaction in terms of improvisational theatre. Not in so many words, but that’s what I got out of it.
Tuesday’s hook of the Royals and the victory parade and everyone sporting our Royal-blue colors and skipping school or work or scheduled appointments with the state employment bureau that was going to be short-staffed anyway because Royals, guys, c’mon, was an opening for any conversation.
To my right stood a tall, blonde mother clicking with her Canon SLR beside two beautiful daughters sporting designer sunglasses as long and lithe as their mother, as if she were raising a pride of models.
Behind them a trio of effervescent young women, friends from high school or community college bubbled their excitement being in the crowd among so many people at the so-far-once-in-their-lifetime experience. They were teenagers; maybe, early twenties. It’s so hard to tell. Every generation says, “The girls didn’t look like that when I was in school,” emphasizing different words depending on their point. These sprites, whatever their ages, were each at least a head shorter than the Model Family.
Their Titania was bronzed and blonde with all the soft features of Waterhouse’s women, the ones for whom knights braved the wintry wiles of wizards. One of her friends was an even shorter white girl, almost intolerably cute but not in any classical sense, with her shocking blue eyes and eye-liner, her pierced pixie nose, her hair like a shock of wheat, and galaxies of freckles splotching over her face. The other was a taller brunette who was larger only by comparison with her elfin friends, whom either one would blow away in a strong wind.
The pretty one—the one who, even had I been thirty years younger would have been out of my league—had two tattoos on her upper right arm—simple black lines, no color, but ornate—the one catching my eye a Hindu-flavored mandala, Ganesha emerging from the center. The other was more a tribal, rosette pattern. With a thin finger she raised the curtain of sleeve that draped the upper half of the tat, revealing a winged skull.
“Nice ink,” I said. “Did you get those locally?” because I’ve always got my ear open for a local artist who works within my budget since, I told her, “I haven’t had any new ink in over a decade and I have a hankering.”
“Oh, man,” her voice dripped empathy like ambrosia that someone could go so long between sittings. “At Mercy Seat—right across the street,” she told me. I have tattoos older than you, I thought.
We chatted tats for a few. I wasn’t even flirting. She was just a kid. I say I’m old enough to be their grandfather and, actually, my stepdaughter gave me a step-grandson when I was in my mid-30s … and he would now be older than this triad of dryads so … yeah.
Nearby a weary-looking black woman with thinning grey hair, lips set in resolution, corralled a couple of over-excited youngsters whose energy seemed to drain all hers. She looked at me like she probably looks at her old fool of a husband. Talking to young girls like you carrying around a midlife crisis or something.
From The Cashew’s packed balconies someone blasted packed wads of confetti into the sky where little slivers of paper puffed apart and floated to the ground like dandelion seeds. Across the street people leaned far over the retaining walls on the Firestone Building’s roof. Along the entire route fans squeezed against barricades and climbed like Zacchaeus up fences, trees, and walls. Most of us contented ourselves with just being there, feeding off the energy.
Together we lingered, waiting for the parade to pass, new people squeezed through the pulsating sea of flesh and blue tee-shirts, faces I recognized from our Stockholm bonding in that throbbing crowd orbited around me not with the music of the spheres but with random quantum disappearances behind my right shoulder to appear without notice in front and to my left.
Two young men emerged from the throng behind us, seeking better vantage. They stopped near where I listened to the Miss Tattoo’s sales pitch for Mercy Seat.
One was a hulking, dark-skinned kid with beaded braids flowing over his shoulders, wearing an unzipped hunting vest over his black Royals tee shirt. His friend was a shorter, slight, light-skinned youth sporting a faint wisp of mustache across his upper lip. Some would call him mixed-race. He was black enough to use the word I’m not supposed to in conversation with his friend.
They discussed options for moving closer, checking out the sluggish currents of people moving left and right along Grand in a perpetual stream of blue cloth, clogging and backing up where the recalcitrant dug in heels against further movement.
“You’re not going to be able to get any closer,” I observed. “Just more densely packed.”
Without more discussion they decided to chill. Slim started flirting with the dryads. Bigs stood by, longsuffering wingman, implacable look of toleration on his face. His eyes scanned the sea of people between us and the barricades that prevented it pouring into the Avenue of the Americas.
“You’re not gonna get any closer,” I observed.
“That’s what I see.”
“You could march yourself all the way up to the front,” I said, “but you’re gonna have to be an asshole to do it.”
He looked at me like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He shrugged. “I don’t want to be That Guy,” he said.
“I didn’t think you were.”
Eventually he stooped down, allowing his buddy to climb on his back to see over the crowd. Slim offered to take video for people around us. Intolerably Cute accepted the offer, handing him her iPhone, watching anxiously while the phone was out of her own hands.
“You know where he is,” I reassured her. “And he’s not going anywhere in this—” with a gesture indicating the crowd.
From out of nowhere a voice bellowed in anger.
Bubba was in a mood. He had come to town to cheer his Kansas City Royals’ World Series victory. He had waited a long time for this. He had probably cussed the Athletics just like my dad did and hated Oakland ever after for stealing “our” ball club. And he may have been off this same Grand Avenue back in 1985, the only other time we captured the crown, but it was nowhere near as crowded as Tuesday and he had then been able to elbow close enough to see the hometown heroes, but not today.
So he was pissed he had driven into town—a 2- or 3-beer-drive at least and probably double that considering the traffic nightmare. He hated coming into town. He has hated it all his life. And grown-ass men don’t climb up on other grown-ass men at State Fair in Sedalia so they damn sure shouldn’t here.
As he swaggered—or was it staggered?— behind a man who could have been his son, a man scouting a better view, ol’ Bubba decided he needed to arbitrate who sat on whose shoulders.
“What are you? Five?” I heard him bellowing at Bigs & Slim.
The cat reflex kicked in—that instinct that always lands me on my feet—the primal choice to fight or … tactically reposition. I don’t like conflict. Don Juan Matus tells us a Man of Knowledge can choose his path to avoid conflict. Sometimes that’s true. I never saw this coming. I panned the crowd to pinpoint the bellowing.
I thought Bubba looked older than me. He was probably my age. Maybe a little younger. Mid-50s. His face was weathered leather with the deep lines around his eyes and mouth of labor outside in the sun and the rain and the wind and the snow. His gray hair was close cropped. Levi’s. Plain tee-shirt. Working class.
We used to say “Behind every blue collar is a red neck” and we thought it was a clever quip but for us redneck meant Country, rather than Rock, guys who’d rather drink beer than smoke pot, and while there was a hint of describing someone who grew up during Jim Crow and was holding on to his good ol’ days a little too tightly that hold had yet to become a death grip. It meant more ignorant hick than racist bastard but either way it was an elitist slur by bourgeois teenagers against working class people. Once I became someone sweating for my bread I knew legions who proudly bore the title. Because their red neck meant they were paying their keep.
Slim tried bantering with old boy for a bit. “I’m not bothering anybody,” he insisted. “I’m taking video for people!”
Bubba was having none of it. “You’re blocking people’s view!” he countered.
“I’m not blocking anyone.”
“You’re blocking her!” He gestured toward some random woman in the crowd who had never appealed for his help in clearing her view. Bubba was looking for a fight.
The Carnival atmosphere was not his bailiwick. He had probably never been to a music festival where crowd surfing and young people riding the shoulders of their boyfriends or comrades was de rigueur. And a mosh pit, forget about it.
Writing this I can give him benefit of the doubt that he was just a sullen jerk rather than assume a racial motive. For all I know he would have confronted a white kid riding his white friend’s shoulders. I am confident this man had been drinking.
At the time I assumed it was a race thing.
I assumed it was a race thing because Jackson County Missouri is Frontier Outpost of what used to be called Little Dixie since the banks of the Missouri River flooded with slave-owning Virginians and Carolinians once Congress opened the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase to settlement.
Yes, they stayed in the Union during the Civil War. Only because Lincoln sent generals to seize the state government. Little Dixie provided plenty of troops, both regular and guerrilla, to the Confederate cause. And took Reconstruction every bit as sorely.
Missouri is still overwhelmingly a southern, rural state. We have two metropolitan areas that are small by coastal standards but other than that, we’re rural. Oh, sure, there are scores of settlements calling themselves cities by virtue of the number of people living there. But those are really just Big Towns. It’s not living out on the farm or up in the hills, but the atmosphere is still small town. Southern.
My African-American friends remind me Missouri was the last state in the Union to abolish slavery. Then they laugh at me for using African-American in conversation.
My history book reminds me that both sets of Harry S Truman’s grandparents were slave-owners. President Truman desegregated the military.
You really can’t blame any humans for the acts of their ancestors. You can recognize ripples. That’s about it.
Bubba’s ripples were a disturbance in the Force.
They say It takes a village to raise a child, and if that’s true it takes that same village to police itself when members get out of hand for whatever reason: whether they’re drunk or they’re having a psychotic beak or they’re just plain sons-of-bitches bullies. Libertarians and Anarcho-Syndicalists tell me humans are basically good and don’t need government oversight to do the right thing. I remain unpersuaded.
I mentioned I don’t like conflict. I’m a little guy and hardly stand a chance against the sort of person who believes Might makes Right. Would this Fellowship of Royal Blue step up and calm the storm? Would Bubba’s boy make Daddy behave?
By now Slim had climbed to the ground. Being a kid he couldn’t resist parting snark. Bubba pushed back. Slim retorted. Bubba was getting snarlier and snarlier in his responses.
Wouldn’t anyone do anything?
Lately I have been convicted that Silence is Complicity. Convicted. That’s a protestant word. Growing up with earnest prayer circles and youth revivals dangling from the Bible Belt I heard it most often preceding the announcement some sin or other a fellow disciple sought to amend. Usually lustful thoughts, which I’m pretty sure is always code for masturbation.
Convicted in that sense is about recognizing some behavior one finds undesirable, for whatever reason. It’s an archaic form of the word convinced.
I am convinced that remaining silent makes me complicit in Bubba’s bullying of Slim. So I said something. I said “Calm down.” I said it repeatedly, and in a measured tone. Usually measured at a decibel level loud enough to drown out whatever Slim was saying to save face/goad Bubba on.
Bubba was like a pit bull, jaws sunk in his foe, shaking whenever the other responded.
After what seemed an interminable volley of swagger/counter-swagger I said, “You just need to shut the fuck up.”
He whirled on me. “You shut the fuck up! You want some of me.”
We locked eyes. My legs felt like jelly. My guts agitated like a washer. I did not blink.
Neither did he. But at just this point his son put a hand on his shoulder to lead him away.
And I, still being human, could not resist the parting shot: “Maybe you shouldn’t start drinking ‘til 5.”
I regret that.
But it’s the best I could do on the fly.