The Concert Tour: Day Three
Oct. 18th, 1991
8:30am: Straggling out of the bunk, thinking how disorienting this can be. The bus drifts through the narrow tree-lined street of Natchatoches, Louisiana on a warm Friday morning. The entire band is up; a good hot breakfast is the unanimous mandate. A little scouting around downtown and the obvious place jumps out: a small, grey, nondescript but friendly-looking spot called "Me Maws Restaurant."
We're starved and itching to disembark after driving all night, so we quickly park and make a B-line for the joint, right? Wrong. Here is where things get a little weird. Eddie casually recommends us to sit tight while he "sweeps" the place. "Sweeps?" I think, "wha?" This of course comes into focus right away: Eddie is "sweeping" for black people. As in, if they're there, we ain't. On the bus, there is a tacit compliance, or at least lack of resistance with this procedure (more on that later).
Now Eddie had already made a questionable comment or two concerning his feelings toward African Americans (I don't believe the term even existed then). The kind of one-dimensional stereotypes taught in KKK 101. In retrospect, he was probably feeling us out, probing to see if these sentiments were going to be met with resentment, neutrality or acceptance. Until this moment however, we'd not witnessed the depths of his predjudice; the deeply twisted perspective that moves one to "sweep" a restaurant.
The big question is of course, had I (being Jewish) or anyone indicated this type of racism wouldn't be tolerated? Sadly, the answer is no. In retrospect, I plead a grand "cop-out with extenuating circumstances." I had to live with this guy for another ten days in a 24 hour/day work situation. One of my principal objectives was to do my job but not get in the way. To stand-up to Eddie's racism would subject the close environment to a great deal of strife, certainly would not have changed Eddie one iota, and worst case could have jeopardized the tour.
A cop out nevertheless; I'd been letting the comments pass, hoping they'd go away, knowing they wouldn't. The worst part is, I knew the anti-Semitic jokes were next. And I knew, cop-out or no, I'd have to respond in some way. This is in fact another cop-out: Confronting racism toward my own ethnic heritage but not another is hypocrisy.
The attitude of the others (who by the way, knew full well I am Jewish)? The same ignoring; hoping he'd just shut up and drive, not wanting to create a big scene. Most people would react the same way, I believe, a pretty sad statement regarding the consistency of human cowardice.
So anyway, Eddie returns with the 'OK' sign. We enter. As it happens, Me Maw's serves a GREAT breakfast, including some bona fide red beans and rice, ordered on the sheer principal of being in Louisiana. We talk up the gig with our waitress Susie. Things are fat and happy, at least until Eddie tells his first anti-Semitic joke.
I suppose this nails down the fallacy of merely hoping Eddie's repugnant attitudes were going to go away on their own. Face it: anyone who "sweeps" restaurants likely has the full working catalog of stereotypes. Considering the vulgarity of Eddie's joke, his are working overtime.
Eddie tells his joke, no one laughs. They look en mass at me, nervously. ("NOW what's he gonna do?") My reaction was pure gut instinct, and reflects the fact that do or die, I was living with this schmoe for the next ten days. I make a joke out of it. It's letting him more or less off the hook, but making it clear I'm Jewish and none of his racial commentary was passing unnoticed. My response was a kind of jaded rap:
"Eddie, Eddie, Eddie I knew it was only a matter of time. Sooner or later we were gonna have to hear a Jewish joke
A light comes on in Eddie's head (I guess); he is suddenly embarrassed. A VERY pregnant pause, and the entire table breaks up laughing. They sense a crisis has been averted; the release translates into laughter. The point is made, yet any fool knows this changes nothing about Eddie.
The rest of the band will later talk about and try to dismiss this incident (probably looking for signals that I've dismissed it), but the whole thing leaves an uncomforable taste in everyone's mouth.
Whatever. At least we'll hear no more racist drivel from him for the rest of the tour.
Next: Day 3, cont'd: We get to play a gig!
Day One || Day Two || Day Three, pt. 1 || Day Three, pt. 2
Day Four || Day Five || Day Six || Day Seven
Day Eight || Day Nine || Days 10-11
Epilogue || Feedback
© 1991, 1996 by Brian S. Alpert. All rights reserved.