CHAPTER 12 “RING AROUND THE ROSEY” FROM UMBERTO TOSI’S NOVEL, “OUR OWN KIND”

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April 1, 2015 · Posted in Our Own Kind - Umberto Tosi 

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(Umberto Tosi, author of Ophelia Rising, was an editor and staff writer for the Los Angeles Times from 1959-1971.)

 

 Benny’s been flat as a warm soda since he lost the custody case. Better if he’d kick in a wall, or go on a toot, howl at the moon. At least talk about it. He’s no good to anybody this way – especially himself.

I feel bad for him, but I’m not taking it on. I got enough on my back. I told him he’s got to get hold of himself. He looked hurt. “Get hold of yourself, Benny, then maybe I’ll hold your hand, and you mine again.”

He looked up, pained. “What did I do wrong?” That’s his tune now.

“You want me to tell you everything is okay, when it isn’t? You know most everything is fucked – that’s life as usual – and you already know you’re okay – most of the time, anyway, Ben. So, what else is there?”

It felt mean, talking that way, but he’s pushing me out, and probably doesn’t even know it.

“Not the end of the world,” I tried to tell him. “You just go back to being a weekend daddy.”

“It’s a sop. It won’t work. I’m sick about those kids living in crazy town with their mother and her whole boozing, back-biting clan, and not being able to do a damn thing about it” he rambled. I’ve heard it all before.

“You’re still around for them, Benny, and you do more than most.” I made one more try at consolation.

“What’s the good in it?” he says.

“Now you’re crying in your beer. It’s not becoming, Benny.” I’m exasperated. This is tearing me up, and I’ve got Keesha to consider. I told him it was best we put some distance between us for a while. I never moved in completely, anyway, and thank the Lord and my good sense for that.

“I’ll just go back to my own place, Benny.”

“Ah, jeez,” he says, and I can see he’s breaking up.

“Our thing here was always temporary,” I said. “We agreed to that.”

Then started negotiating. He offered to get a bigger place that we could share. “I’ll pay for it,” he offered.

Wrong. “I don’t want you to pay my way, Benny.”

How did we get here? We were such good friends. We screwed it up soon as we climbed in the sack. That’s what. I knew it would happen.

He calmed down after I finished packing the stuff I’d been leaving in the bedroom we had shared. Keesha played in the front room with all his kids’ toys and kept asking when his girls were coming back. That about broke me up. Him too. I sat on the bed next to him. We held each other a while. But it was time time for me to go.

All of a sudden it felt like we had been two children ourselves, playing house together. “Hey. This isn’t goodbye. I’ll still be around,” I told him. “We can make play dates with Keesha when you have your girls on the weekend.”

“Yeah. Cool,” he said, and brightened up all of a sudden, looking copesetic about it, when I knew he was hurting. That made me start to like him more again – the old Benny.

I’m off to a new assignment, my first for the magazine.

After pitching stories like a bitch, I got Turner to assign me a profile of Rosey — Roosevelt Grier, the ex-L.A. Ram lineman who’s been doing things in Watts lately and involved big time politics – particularly the Kennedy campaign. I don’t know jack shit about football, but this isn’t a sports story. I know I’ve caught myself a hot story here, and I can’t afford distractions.

 

Rosey has taken up being one of Bobby Kennedy’s “bodyguards” – along with Olympic runner Rafer Johnson – while Bobby campaigns all over L.A. I’m going to shadow Rosey, “up close” as they say.

Rosey’s one big tough ex-ball player. But underline that “ex.” Everybody in the campaign knows that Rosey and Rafer there to show their beautiful black faces and make Bobby look good in South Central.

The community is still in mourning over Dr. King. Not a time for politics as usual anywhere, especially down in Watts, though I can’t say anyone there is surprised about anything. But everybody loves Rosey – and Bobby is earning respect too – not just for show, but what he’s been saying. It’s working. I saw them draw a huge crowd in Watts the other day. Took my breath away. “First time I’ve felt any hope in a long time, I told Benny. I realize that Benny’s still the man I tell that sort of thing, and it makes me wonder.

I went over my notes with Benny, partly to help him get his mind off his ex-wife and the girls, and partly to think out loud for myself, and get the story lines down in my own head.

Day before yesterday, Rosey introduced me to Bobby personally, along with Ethel. Face-to-face, Bobby charmed me with that irresistible boyish grin. But I could see the circles under his eyes. He and Ethel looked exhausted, with all that campaigning, like deer in the headlights after each speech. It’s non-stop with them and everyone in the campaign. And I feel the exhaustion myself now, along with frayed, edgy, sometimes joyous excitement, being part of something that really could make a difference. I mustn’t let myself be swept into it all. But I never saw and like of this, and perhaps will never again.

I tell Benny that he’s right about Kennedy getting any Secret Service protection, and no sight of LAPD uniforms anywhere near Bobby either as he wades into cheering, unpredictable crowds. either.

It’s all on Rosey and Rafer. Rosey is mountain, even more huge than he looks in news photos. But it’s been a long time since his Fearsome Foursome knocked heads in the Coliseum for the Rams.

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RFK campaigning to a crowd in Santa Barbara _ note Eugene McCarthy sign in foreground.

Bobby Kennedy election Victory

 Rosey Grier in the background at Ambassador Hotel podium celebrating June 6 primary win just before the assassination.

Benny’s for Eugene McCarthy. He got into all that Peace and Freedom Party shit for a while. I went with him to a meeting. No wonder they get no traction. It’s a hot-air debating society, with everybody running at the mouth and nobody doing much of anything solid. I told Benny that they looked like a bunch guilt-ridden, rich white college boys trying to make revolution by smoking weed and jerking each other off about who’s more militant.

A week after I packed up, true to my word, Benny and I took our kids on weekend outing to the Griffith Park Zoo, then over to the miniature railway. While the three girls rode the train, Benny starts up again, giving me a bunch of paranoid shit about Preacher Man and Bobby Kennedy.

He warned me that I should watch out on my assignment.

It was awkward because Benny doesn’t know everything about my past with Ezekiel before the man morphed into bat-shit Preacher man.

I kept thinking about telling Benny more. But I didn’t want to get into Ezekiel being Keesha’s father. Keesha doesn’t even know that, and I want to keep it that way. Now I’m glad I held back. I felt myself coming to a boil listening to Benny go on about Ezekiel, and plots and assassinations.

“Have you lost your mind? Do you hear yourself, Benny?” I told him. Maybe it’s the strain you’ve been under.”

He shook his head and held a hand up for me to stop. I don’t like when a man does that. I don’t abide anyone shushing me. I felt my jaw tighten and blood pound in my head.

But Benny just kept on about Preacher Man and everything.

I wanted to slap him, but I just pinched his arm. “Stop, Benny!”

He got quiet, finally.

“Hell, Benny. You think I’m born yesterday? I know they all hate the Kennedys and Bobby most of all – the cops, city hall, the rednecks out in Glendale and Anaheim, the old boys club. That’s nothing new if you’re black, just new because Bobby’s white – and his brother was too. Hot shit glamorous liberal L.A.’s not much better than Dallas when it comes to hatin’.”

Benny hung his head. He started up, softly this time. “Just want you to watch out. I’m worried. I care about you.”

I was in no mood for sweet talk by then, and I let him have it. “The way you go on, makes me think you’re trying put me off my assignment, Benny,” I turned and got up close to him. “Are you jealous or something?”

“Crissakes Makeda,” he said back, face going red, his eyes watering now, I could see. “How can you say that?”

Just butt out, Benny,” I told him. “I resent you prying into my life. You’re not my keeper just because we made out.” That was mean and later I was sorry for it, but not right then.

“No! It’s not like that,” he protested meekly this time.

“I don’t’ like you prying into my life, Benny! Not one bit. You’re being presumptuous.”

I knew I was going to regret being so harsh on him, even though he had it coming.

I had my own agenda. Things to think about. Everything now was about Keesha. Zeke owes Keesha and me a small fortune in child-support. If he’s gotten into some money now I want him to pay up – even if he is crazy. Zeke fried his brains with too many drugs a long time ago, so I haven’t pressed anything. I was just happy to have him out of our lives.

So now he’s flush. Now he’s got religion, best business there is. The ever-loving, holy roller, high rolling Orchard. They made him a deacon. I hear they get wheelbarrows of money from a nutty Orange County John Bircher out to turn ex-hippies into Jesus-jumping zombies. I’m not interested. I really don’t care how Zeke’s making his money. It’s high time he pays up.

Whatever happens, it’s none of Benny’s business. He can’t guess that for me, the whole thing has nothing to do with Bobby Kennedy, much as I’m jazzed about this assignment. Shit, I don’t need Benny to tell me about all about fear and hate. Those are the risks. Look at our history – oppression, Jim Crow, red lines, burnings, lynchings in the dead of night. My people have had to live with that shit every day for two hundred years in this country.

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 Griffith Park Miniature Train ride station

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