Monday, June 2, 2014

Diversity -- It's not my preference and not my problem. I don't take it or leave it. I just avoid it.

Echo Farms Golf Community

Riverfront Wilmington NC


Historic Downtown Wilmington

Echo Farms Golf CC

Diversity to me is only one more irritant. I don't want it and don't need it.

 By Verne Strickland 
June 2, 2014

The only time I see a black face these days is when I watch Amos & Andy re-runs or catch another boohoo story about the passing of Maya Angelou who knew why the caged bird sings.

Diversity to me is only one more irritant. I don't want it or need it. I have plenty of variety and change in my life without it. Even the blacks can't put up with diversity. Black students nowadays have to have people of color to teach them. 

After all the rioting, burning, killing and looted American cities, I wonder why the hell we even went through all the "unrest" to live together happily and equally. Thinking back, I hardly think we could have avoided it unless we walled off the cities and sent in National Guard troops. This was war. 

We moved from the jingle jangle jungle atmosphere of Wilmington's downtown scene, where people were routinely shot at, robbed, raped and assaulted. Clusters of  blacks walked down the middle of Castle Street, where we lived -- I presume because it demonstrated their disdain for laws written and enforced by white people. Emergencies were everywhere. Police sirens competed with the piercing whine of emergency vehicles rumbling by on the brick-paved street day and night. 

I imagined I lived in Beirut, where I couldn't understand the language. I can't understand much of it here. And I can't speak Ebonics, Ebola, gulla or cursive. But I have a degree in English and I'm a writer. So I'm better equipped than most.

We didn't rarely walk the lovely shaded neighborhood streets after dark. I should note that there was no shade at night. But that's another story. Black kids walking by outside could be heard a block away, chatting and jiving in overly-loud voices. The raucous banter could be heard through the walls. We lived with it.

Furniture was taken from our porch; shrubs planted inside our picket fence were dug up and carted away. Car windows were punched out and the interiors looted. Shots punctuated the night. The following morning the newspaper had the details. Shooting, mugging, bullets fired from cars. Yes, it was like that. The downtown was reeking with diversity.

We loved the neighborhoods and the neighbors. One family was black. My pal Joseph and I talked amiably whenever he walked by. The historic district was ideal for foot traffic, with lots of sidewalks. But after dark the blacks owned the place. Occasionally I would see a white neighbor emerging out of the gloom and into a pool of light from a street lamp. Even girls would risk it, but denied they were worried. Most made it without incident. Some didn't. They were in the papers too. 

All of these histrionics could be quickly and irritably dismissed by some. And that's okay. I write what I write. I speak what I feel. And I'm a writer, meaning there may be a tinge of mellerdrammer built in. But this is the reality of it as I see it. 

We moved from the city, where we had lived for around twelve years. We do miss our lovely old Italianate two-story shotgun dwelling, built as a rental in 1871. It   was lovingly restored by our son Martin, a talented residential contractor. Like his mom and dad, he is addicted to the old homes too, and gave great attention to detail in his work.

A number of things figured into our departure. The crime and unrest. The noise. The dirt and dust, stirred up by traffic on the quaint paved street. It laid a covering of grime on porches and windows, and even permeated the old house. 

My wide Durrene and I were feeling our years. She had suffered through spinal stenosis, and a broken leg, caused by a fall on a rain-slickened sidewalk. I had come through a bout with cancer in my hips and legs, and walked unsteadily, with a cane, realized that sooner or later I would break my neck negotiating the stair steps -- exactly eighteen in number.

Yes, it was time to go. We knew it. And Bank of America agreed with us. We had battered our retirement account unmercifully with hefty monthly mortgage payments, and were slipping toward foreclosure. They wanted to put our furniture and all our belongings out on the sidewalk, but we said the blacks would steal it all. They agreed, so we got a little extra time and they sent their movers back to the offices of Two Men and a Truck. There were four men. You know advertising.

The decompression was dizzying. At our airy, sun-drenched one-story home on Sand Trap Court in the golfing community of Echo  Farms, we relax in almost total tranquility at night. No traffic noise, few sirens or car horns, no irritating shouts or raucous voices, no gunfire. No pedestrian traffic on our wooded little cul-de-sac. And no blacks. No diversity. None.

I don't care how that sounds. It's what I want, and I can have it. It's what I want for my wife Durrene. Both of us, I remind you, have been slowed by years and illness. We've pulled our time in the demilitarized zone. We don't want to take a shotgun to answer the doorbell, we don't want to be apprehensive any hour of the day or night. We can relax on the spacious sundeck shaded by a big oak and watch the golfers out on a green rolling fairway, merrily flailing away at their golf balls when they can find them.

Sometimes they can't, as many of their errant shots veer wildly off course and crash on our roof, or on neighboring houses. It's amusing, actually.  Last week one ball looking for a hole made one when it found a window at a home next door. Of course it riled the lady who lives there.

But usually the balls bounce noisily but harmlessly off the roofs or land in the yard. The golfers can't search for them in private yards. So they are called "lost balls." At first I thought they were Easter eggs. We pick them up when we find them and put them in a big glass bowl on the deck. We have over twenty of them. 

We do hear the crackle of rifles during the week from a police firing range maybe a mile away. But we understand what it means. And we want our policemen to be excellent marksmen, and we want them to be able to hit a target -- no matter what it is.

There are downsides to living in a golfing community. Did I say silence? I meant silence. At night you can only hear the crickets, the winds sighing in the big oaks, and the occasional rumble of thunder when God starts moving some of the furniture up in heaven. 

I wouldn't call this isolation. But I do love the solitary life as a writer. I can think undistracted, write in this land of free speech, and talk on the telephone without shouting. I think my blood pressure is probably at a record low for a white guy at 77 and counting.

Neighbors? Well, they're all over. But we don't see them. Or don't see them much. This is the South, but the people who live here are many times from other states, regions or countries. They came here for the sun and the golf and a good life-style. So they don't visit like we used to where we could talk across the picket fence or porch rail. But they're friendly enough. Got no problems there.

They're also elderly -- the large majority of them. And many are ill. Durrene and I register high in both those categories. They're not as ambulatory as they used to be, and we understand that at our stage of life. Durrene and I walk with canes. I do all the grocery shopping now, and at the store I employ an electric riding cart. At first I was a little self-conscious about that, but now I enjoy it. 

One of the last days when I stubbornly relied only on my cane, my legs had become so weak I could barely reach the check-out counter. So the friendly Food Lion assistant, taking note of my gray hair and desperate-looking eyes, came to the rescue with a powered shopping cart, helped me load my groceries and unload them at my car.  

"Never again," I told her, thanking her for her courtesy. The store is great. The staff know me and are invariably agreeable and helpful. Even when my dementia betrays me, and I motor away from the cash register after paying, leaving a bag or two that I neglected to pick up. Oh, and asking cashier if I could please get some help going back in to get a bag of grapes, some canned dog foot or a bottle of milk.

I say thank God for Food Lion. Thank God for Echo Farms. Thank God for Wilmington, for North Carolina and our blessed nation of of America. And for freedom, whereby we can embrace diversity or leave to others who want it and need it or can't escape it.