I was walking down Bergen Avenue with my daughter when a voice behind me shouted: "Oi! Glasgow Celtic!". I looked down at my belly and sure enough I was wearing the shirt with the green and white hoops.
"Fuck" was the first thing that went through my head, "I hope he's not a Rangers supporter". It would be ironic to move 3000 miles away from Glasgow (where I never ever wore the shirt) and end up getting into a fight in Jersey City.
"Oi! Celtic" the man said again and started walking towards me. I knew the game was up immediately and being blind and shackled to a four year old that I couldn't very well leave on her own, I had nowhere to run. The ghost of sectarianism past was closing in.
The apparition materialized in front of me in a dark green track suit that was obviously recently purchased at the Rab C. Nesbitt
boutique clothing store. It contained a pink humanoid of variable age, possibly a little older than myself. The pink humanoid was in turn shackled to a dog that could only be described as four legs and some teeth (it was a pitbull).
That's what I thought, but in reality I just opened my mouth and said: "Hello! Where are you from?".
"Ah'm frae Glasgow of course! I saw yer shirt! Celtic! The Bhoys!"
"Yeah to be honest I forgot I was wearing it", knowing now that since he'd called them the Bhoys and not the FENIAN CUNTS that I was at least on friendly ground. There was no immediate danger of being chibbed with a wooden chip fork
"Whit ye doing here?" the apparition asked.
"Been here 12 years, what about yourself?".
"Ah'm just up the road, visitin a bhoy! Brang wan o' them Celtic shirts for his wee yin too. This is his dug! Is that yer daughter?" he asks having just spotted the little girl hiding behind my leg.
I wanted to say "No, it's just some kid that keeps clinging to my leg and I'm getting it surgically removed next week" but that seemed disrespectful to her so I just said "yeah".
He takes a $5 bill out of his pocket and tries to hand it to her, "How ye daein hen? Ye want some sweeties?".
Now she's on my leg like a sucker fish. And this is where I have to interrupt this story for a second and go back in time....
It was probably 1977 or thereabouts and I was on the bus on the way home from shopping in Glasgow with my Mum. It was one of those old Bluebird single-decker
buses and it was a cold Saturday night. The bus was packed and filled with people and cigarette smoke (this is the good old days after all).
The bus was passing through the town of Steps, about half-way home, where the old Black and White whisky
distillery was and a drunk guy got on. Since the bus was packed, my Mum made me sit on her knee so the drunk guy could sit down.
He'd just got off work from the distillery and proceeded, in a happy way, to regale my Mum with his tales of sampling the merchandise, a lot of which he had clearly sampled that very afternoon. I can still remember his face quite clearly and I can definitely still remember the smell of his breath that cut through the cigarette smoke like an exploding citrus.
When he found out that my favorite teddy bear was actually a Scottie Dog, he gave me his badge from work which was a little mini Black & White logo. Or at least he tried to give me the badge, I didn't want to take it and hid my face. My Mum took it for me and when I got home it became my new favorite toy.
And now back to present day....
That memory flashes across my mind as I feel my daughter clinging to the back of my leg. "How long are you in town for?" I ask, hoping he is going to say "Ah'm away hame tomora" but instead he says: "Forever!".
"And you're living in my neighborhood?" I think to myself, I'm about to say "This town isn't big enough for the two of us" then it occurs to me that he might be on the run from the police and I decide not to pursue this line of inquiry.
"Really?" I say, trying not to sound too crest-fallen. "Well have you tried any of the pubs yet?"
"Aye, ah was in that one last night! Jerry bought me ma dinner! Dae ye know Jerry?
The mayor?". He points to the Astor Bar, the mayor of Jersey City's favorite watering hole.
"Yeah I've met Jerry. Never bought me dinner though".
"Ah he was nice, he was nice. By the way, can you help me out? Ah'm trying to find a place to get ma troosers pressed. Ah was just up at thon dry cleaners over there and the boy behind they counter didnae know whit I was saying".
"Aye, it's them chinkies like. They just dinnae know how tae do it. Dae ye know whur I can find a white-owned dry cleaners?"
10 seconds later... when I was done picking my jaw up off the floor, I muttered "Ehmm I don't know but I very much doubt you'll find a white-owned dry cleaners around here, or anywhere else in Jersey City for that matter. They just don't exist".
My half-Asian daughter is still clinging to the back of my leg.
"Oh right?", he seemed mystified by this concept and I could see his brain trying to formulate some kind of emotional response. Any moment I expect the steam will start coming out of his ears.
Instead he again just tries to give the $5 to my daughter. I remember my Mum and the Scotty Dog badge and take the money for her.
"There is a dry cleaners down by my house, I doubt it is owned by white people though" I tell him and then instantly regret it as it means he'll be walking the same way as us. I try to throw a save by following it up with "But we're not going that way right now, we're off to the candy store over there to get some candy, right Sweetie?". My daughter looks unconvinced but the mention of candy has gotten her bravura up. She nods meekly and I thank the God I don't believe in.
We walk off in one direction and he walks off in the other with his wrinkly trousers and his hound of hell.
Across the street is Lee Sim's candy store
, an old school joint that we love to stop in on the way home from school. We step inside and the smell of chocolate hits us immediately and opens the door to a million memories, not least the one we are in the middle of creating.
The only downside to Lee Sims is that it is quite expensive, however since we now have $5 this is not a problem and I tell my daughter to get whatever she wants.
She makes a beeline for the candy that I've always said "no" to before and comes back with a bag of chocolate coins that cost $3.99. Priced it perfectly. Unfortunately as I take out his $5 bill the anger sets in.
How dare he talk like that in front of my kid. How dare he use that racist epithet in particular in front of her. She's only 4, she doesn't need to hear that shit yet, she'll experience plenty of it later in life.
I now look at the $5 bill and it feels like blood money. It feels like by accepting it that I've also accepted his bullshit language and his disrespect. I am getting very annoyed but I have to pay for the chocolate coins.
I reach into my wallet and find another $5 bill. It is absolutely identical to the one I am holding in my hand but without the invisible blood. I use this clean bill to pay for the candy. The other bill goes into my wallet and I use it later to buy myself a beer. An Asian beer.