Early on in my postal career I had this little apartment building on my route with mostly Somalis living in it. A little boy with a round mischievous face began coming out to watch me put the letters in the boxes.
“Hello, mailbox!” he would say to me.
This got to be his little joke. After a while, the boy’s presence got to be annoying. He started to throw the junk mail that littered the carpet in my direction. I laughed this off, prompting him to start whipping me with it. I tried to scare him, but it was if by befriending him I had sacrificed all authority. I tried complaining to his grandmother,
but she seemed to understand nothing. I simply tried to deliver the mail to the building as quickly as possible, weathering his assaults as I did so. Things came to a head one day when he came at my legs with a clothes hanger. I snatched the weapon from his grip, chucked it down the hallway, locked up the boxes and fled.
Things had really gotten out of hand. It was getting to the point where I was going to have to hold the building’s mail. But one day a young woman I assumed to be his mother entered with him. A look of concern crossed his face and I knew I had him.
“That boy,” I said, pointing, “is bad. You keep him away from me.”
She apologized vehemently. He stopped coming out. Once more I saw him, but he averted my gaze, a look of anger and humiliation on his face. I was sure he had taken a whooping and I didn’t feel bad about it.
You go to the same mailboxes every day and things gradually change. Someone drew a cartoon outline of a cock and balls on the glass door. It stayed up there for weeks, no one bothering to clean it off. Then someone hit the glass with egg and you can imagine what that looked like. That stayed up there a long while, frozen and smeared for all to see on the busy street. The post office downsized my station and took out a couple of routes. Mine got eliminated and I ended up having to sub again for a while, then I transferred somewhere else.
Whenever I drive by that building, I think about that boy who must be a teenager now. It is unlikely my own sons’ worldview will ever be obscured by such peculiar graffiti. My children are white. That little boy was a minority of a minority. He will never see anyone much like himself represented on television or in a movie unless they are a pirate. He is someone living on the wrong sign of the billboards, deemed unAmerican even though he, not to mention his mother, was born here. He will grow up angry, probably is angry that no one understands him. This does not make him a terrorist. It simply makes him a teenager.
When we dismiss the politically incorrect from our portrait of the American landscape we overlook its black heart. You either see the dick on the glass or you don’t.