| "I see. Why did you leave home?"
"I didn't. My father put me out."
"Because he caught me smoking marijuana. He didn't want me around my younger sisters anymore."
It turned out that Andre's family lived in the South Kenwood neighborhood
|near Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. It's an integrated area for middle class people. After questioning Andre at length, I unfolded a story that had more to do with authoritarianism than drugs. Andre had managed to get himself, during his senior high school year, a scholarship to the University of Chicago's business school.
Unfortunately, Andre perceived himself as an inventor, not a businessman. He wanted to attend the Illinois Institute of Technology, also on the South Side. He avidly read magazines like Omni and Scientific American and all the widget/how to make a homemade rocket journals like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. I had never met a kid so obviously cut out to be an engineer.
What finally emerged in our conversations, which had frankly turned to mentoring and counseling rathern than tutoring, was a snapshot of the raging authoritarian father trying to obliterate any sign of independence in the son. The "drug problem" turned out to be little more than incidental marijuana experimentation.
Unfortunately, I could see Andre had no intention of picking the scholarship off the table and attending the University of Chicago. I worried about the kid, because the old man had him over the barrel. If Andre didn't cave-in to his father, his future didn't look very bright in the South Side's streets. The kid was smart, but he wasn't street smart.
I offered to talk to his father, but we both agreed a middle-aged factory worker wouldn't make much impact. I gave Andre my phone number and address, but I had a strong intuitive feeling he'd never call if things went sour. I senses that our gap in having a fully human relationship had more to due with age and social class than race.
Then one Friday night Cedric phoned and informed me that the "school" had been temporarily closed.
"Didn't get the grant money we counted on. Couldn't make the rent, man."
"Think we could raise it with private donations?"
"It's a little more complicated than that, man. As you might imagine, Pete, you weren't my first choice for a tutor. I mean, you're OK and all, but I wanted somebody black. A role model. You understand. I tried to get this black lady who teaches high school at DuSable. But she remembered me from times past, from my street and prison days. So, not only did she not want to help, she went around telling everyone that we are a 'gang front." The landlord got ahold of that and canceled our ticket."
I met Otis for the first time when he responded to my newspaper ad which advertised a 1982 Ford LTD station wagon for sale. The old buggy was rusted out, but the motor and transmission were still good, so I figured $500 would be a fair price for it.
We had agreed to meet in the alley in back of my Uptown apartment building. I took an immediate dislike to the guy. A balding, middle-aged, African American of average height, he showed up wearing black workboots, and a blue work uniform with a bank name stitched over one shirt pocket and "Otis" stitched over the other one. His frayed topcoat hung open. He was only about five foot eight, but he looked powerful. It looked like he had a acquired a knife scar over the bridge of his nose.
"Yeah, but its MacNaughton. Call me Pete."
"This the piece of shit you sellin'. " He pointed to the Ford, peacfully rusting under the Howard Street L tracks.
"This is the 1982 Ford LTD station wagon with a good motor and transmission that I'm selling, yes."
"Look like a piece of shit, man."
"It's in good mechanical condition."
I didn't hear his response because trains roared overhead simultaneously heading north and south. We were showered in sparks, and we could smell the ozone in the frigid air. Otis, meanwhile, sidled up to the chain link fence and pissed in the snow between the Ford and the brick wall of the apartment building. At the same time, the winter sun suddenly came out and painted Otis, me, and the Ford with an intricate criss cross pattern of elevated superstructure shadows.
The gloom swifty returned and the sharp shadows vanished as abruptly as Otis turned to face me. We test drove the Ford up Broadway, over to Lake Shore Drive, then back down Lawrence Avenue past the Aragon Ballroom.
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