I used to walk down my block and get the hairy eyeball from old Italian men with walking canes who's faces looked like wrinkled up baseball mitts covered in wool caps. Sometimes I'd hear a grunt or a poorly disguised cough that declared me "yuppie." If only they could see my bank account. I still don't have health insurance and they never let me forget that I wasn't one of them.
One brisk winter day, when the leaves had left their tree branches, I noticed a broomstick handle stuck up inbetween the branches within a hop of arms reach. As I walked down another block, closer to home, I saw another broomstick handle stuck up inbetween the branches of a bare tree. I couldn't make any sense of it. One of the old Italians saw me studying the broomstick handle and pulled me to the side. This was my first encounter with a member of the tribe and he gave me the hard impression that I found something I wasn't supposed to. I asked him what the broomstick handles stuck up in the trees were about? He sized me up and said "Those are NBC sticks. Leave 'em be." I asked him "What's an NBC stick?" He looked at me like I was stupid and said "Nigger Be Cool stick." Later on, I learned that neighborhood kids would plant one broomstick handle per block within a certain radius of their turf so as to ward off black people and anybody else who didn't befit their criteria.
A few years later I got friendly with the Polish plumber who sat disheveled and swathed in grease on his stoop everyday stinking up the brownstone with his coffee and cigarettes while his double parked van awaited radio call for the next clogged toilet or burst pipe. Our casual nods graduated to an actual "hello" and finally to conversation about the weather. When the weather was too nice to complain about he would complain about the government. When 9/11 happened he got real pissed off when most everybody taped paper made American flags to their windows and windshields. I asked him why he was so angry about that? He said "Paper flags are bullshit. If there's two things everybody should own in their home it's the bible and a real American flag made from cloth." I said to him "But...I don't hate black people."