Finding Good Trouble

Chapter 2

"Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America."    -The Honorable John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 1, 2020


“Are you coming, Parker?” hollered out Pete when the bell rang at the end of fourth period. I hadn’t heard a word that Mr. Snyder, my geology teacher, had said. When we entered, he had handed us a sheet with a diagram of the earth’s crust, so I’m assuming he lectured about it. I just hope we don’t have a pop quiz on it tomorrow to see if we were paying attention. If he does, I’ll fail it.

Lunch follows fourth period. I’m glad we eat later. Last year during my junior year, we ate after third period. That was too early. I had eaten breakfast just a couple hours earlier. We went through the lunch line, and it took me a minute to decide what I want. I usually eat a salad, but today I felt like eating something with meat in it. However, the hamburger looked dry, and I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to try to eat a slice of pizza. It looked like cardboard with a nasty looking red sauce on it. I’m not sure I would have feed it to Murphy, my Irish setter. I ended up with a salad with ranch dressing.

As soon as I sat down, Pete started on me. “Man, Parker,” he laughed. “What are you, a rabbit?” He scanned my body. “You need to eat something that will put some weight on you. You’re a skinny white boy.” Several of the guys at the table started laughing.

It’s true. I do need to gain some weight, but I’ve been skinny my whole life. My mother said I was a preemie when I was born. I only weighed four pounds, and they kept me in the hospital for a couple of weeks before I could go home. I weigh 130 pounds. That wouldn’t be bad except I’m 6’2”. My grandmother calls me a bean pole. Since I’ve never seen a bean pole, I guess it is a skinny looking pole.

I’m not bad looking, but I would probably look better if I gained about twenty pounds. My hair is long, brown and curly. My mother is always trying to get me to go to a hair stylist, but I like the way it looks. When I get up in the morning, all I have to do is run my hands threw it, fluff it up a bit, and I’m ready to go. If I had it styled, I would have to spend an hour getting my hair just right like my dad does. He could save a lot of time if he would quit doing everything she tells him to do.

I’ve got a few zits, but what eighteen-year-old doesn’t? I spend half of my allowance on Proactiv products. Girls think I’m cute, and I could probably have a lot of dates, but I’m not interested. They are always trying to get me to go out with them. They know I’m gay, but I think that is what makes me interesting. For some reason, high school girls think that they can charm a gay boy into bed with them. I guess they have been successful with bisexual guys, but I’m 100% gay. Girls have never interested me, and I definitely don’t want to have sex with one. Last year, a friend, Brian Swartz, asked me if I would like to participate in a threesome with him and his girlfriend. He says she’s open-minded, and she likes to watch him get it on with another guy. I had just taken a large drink of soda, and I started to violently choke. After catching my breath, I told him I wasn’t interested. Now, when I see him and his girlfriend walking down the hall talking to another boy, I wonder if they are going somewhere to have sex. I mean, I may be young, but I still have old-fashioned values. I believe that you should have sex with only one other person in the bed.

As we ate, I was becoming increasingly upset with my friends. It started when they began to talk about the demonstration that was going on outside. Jeremy Talbott made the comment, “I don’t understand what this Black Lives Matter shit is all about. Fuck it. All Lives Matter.”

“Yeah,” added Stephen Adkinson. “The next time one of those motherfuckers walks up to me and sticks that fucking sign in my face, I’m going to shove it up their black ass.”

“White lives matter, too,” commented Dan Reynolds. “What makes them niggers think that only black lives matter?” They began to bump fists. When Stephen tried to bump my fist, I rose from my chair.

“I gotta go,” I said quickly. “I got shit to do.”

“Aw,” laughed Jeremy. “Did we hurt your wittle feelings?” I flipped him off I as walked away.

I was angry. And as I went outside to clear my head, I was becoming angrier. For the first time, I was seeing my friends as racists. I had known them since the first grade, but this was the first time race had ever been brought up. I didn’t know if they were just angry because of all the negative publicity our school was getting, or if they had felt this way all our lives.

I also felt guilty because I hadn’t stood up to them and tell them they were wrong. But then, they would have called me a hypocrite. It’s not like I have ever defended people’s civil rights before. Besides, I had never given it any thought.

Even though I’m gay and out to my friends, I’ve never gotten upset with them when they make crude comments about my sexuality. I could buy a new car if I had a dime every time one of them made a joke about me sucking cock or getting fucked in the ass. Usually, I laugh and flip them off. It seems like the safe thing to do. I am afraid if I argued with them, I could lose them as friends. So, I go along with the teasing and jokes. It is harmless, and they don’t mean anything by it.

Now, I am questioning that. If they feel that way about black people, then they probably feel that way about gays too. I wonder what they really say about me behind my back. Joking and calling me a queer to my face is different than calling me a queer when I’m not around. It’s the same way when they were talking about blacks. When Dean called them niggers, I was offended. It sounded so mean and cruel. And if I’m feeling that way, then I can only imagine how the players from Rosemont felt when some of our students called them that from the stands. I can understand why they wanted to fight.

I guess I have lived a sheltered life in Somerset. It is a safe place to live. When one of my friends calls me a fag or cocksucker, I know they are just playing around. But what if I went to Rosemont, and I’m walking down the street and someone calls me a fag. How would I feel? I’m sure I would be as offended by it as I was earlier when Dan called the demonstrators niggers. It isn’t the words that have meaning, it is the way they are said.

I heard the bell ring for fifth period, and I ran to class so I wouldn’t be late. Unfortunately, I arrived about thirty seconds after the bell rang. My civics teacher, Mrs. Wells, has a policy that if you arrive late to class, then you have to serve a half hour detention after school.

“You’re late, Parker,” she admonished me as I hurried into the classroom. I was hoping that I could make it to my desk without her seeing me. However, she was sitting on her desk facing the class. “Tonight or tomorrow night?”

My face reddened as I replied, “Tonight.” She gives you a choice to serve it at once or wait a day for those students who have to make other arrangements to get home.

As I hung my head and slid into my seat, Dan laughed and said softly, “Way to go, Dickhead.” I shook my head and flipped him off.

Dan has been one of my best friends since grade school. There are about five or six of us guys who grew up together. Besides Pete, Jeremy, Stephen and Dan, there is also a girl, Natalie. Although recently, Natalie has been pulling away, and we see her less often. Occasionally, we will pass in the hallway, and she will nod. However, she stopped joining us for lunch this year.

Dan is starting to get on my nerves. He can be an asshole, but that is his nature. Most people don’t like him when they first meet him. However, since we’ve been friends for so many years, I guess I’ve grown to tolerate him. He’s not a bully, but he can be irritating. He’s the guy who sits in the back of the room and mutters stupid comments when the teacher is lecturing. Usually, they draw laughter, and he acts innocent when a teacher calls him out. When I was younger, I used to find him funny. But now that I’m older, his behavior is childish. I think he stopped growing mentally in the seventh grade. I would tell him off, but I’m afraid that the others would stop talking to me. If they had to choose between me and Dan, I’m sure they would choose him.

After class, I tried to get Mrs. Wells to excuse my detention, but she wouldn’t. “Why should I excuse you, Parker, when I won’t other students?”

I smiled, made what I thought was a cute face and replied, “Because I’m your favorite student.”

She walked away and muttered, “Dream on.” I am screwed.

During our last period, Mr. Nettleman, the principal of Somerset, made an announcement over the PA. He said that all students were to attend a mandatory assembly in the auditorium at once. There was a lot of grumbling as students grabbed their bookbags and stood. “I bet it’s about those damn Black Lives Matter people across the street,” remarked Jeremy. “Why don’t they just go back to the ghetto.” I shook my head and walked out.

Students are assigned seating based on their grade level. Seniors sit in the front rows, and freshmen sit in the last rows. When I arrived, I saw Natalie sitting by herself in the fourth row. I crawled across several students and plopped down in the sit beside her. “Hey,” I smiled. “What do you think this is about?”

She rolled her eyes. Natalie has a way of making someone feel intimidated by her expressions. She always seems to have a ‘fuck you, leave me alone’ look on her face. I am used to it, so it doesn’t bother me.

“Why do you think, Parker?” she replied with an annoyed tone in her voice. “Maybe Nettleman is going to hand out merit badges to the suck-ups.”

I laughed and replied, “I guess we won’t be getting one.”

“Got that right,” she said with a smile. For a second, I looked at her face and waited for it to crack.

After everyone was seated, Mr. Nettleman walked on stage with two other men. One was Chief Morgan, the Police Chief of Somerset. I know him because he has given me two speeding tickets in the past year. I wasn’t really speeding. He hides and sets up radar. He then pulls drivers over if they are going five miles over the speed limit. Both tickets I was doing only 40 in a 35 mile per hour zone. It wasn’t like I was going 60. I tried to talk him out of the tickets, but once he pulls you over, he’s going to issue you a ticket.

Last year, I even pulled the ‘you know who my dad is?’ line with him. After he finished laughing, he told me to tell my father he would see him the next week. My dad is Dr. Jonathan Parker, a cardiologist at Somerset Community Hospital. He performed heart surgery on Chief Morgan a few years ago. I thought by mentioning his name, he would let me go. However, I think Chief Morgan would even give Dad a ticket if he caught him on radar.

I didn’t know the other man. He was tall and black and dressed in a brown suit. When he walked onstage with Nettleman and Morgan, he walked to the front, crossed his arms and stared around the auditorium at us. I think he was daring someone to say something derogatory to him. However, after what had happened over the weekend, I think everyone was afraid their picture might end up on the evening news. I looked at Dan who was two rows in front of us, and he seemed to be asleep.

For the next ten minutes, we had to endure a stern lecture by Mr. Nettleman. He chastised us for our behavior at Saturday night’s game. I thought it was a bit unfair because only a few students had actually been involved. However, he said that our silence showed approval for what they had done. What the hell did he expect us to do? Administrators, school staff and security guards seemed to be handling the situation. If we had gotten involved, it may have made matters worse.

He also spent a lot of time trying to convince us that Somerset is not a racist society, and that we are a diverse community. I wanted to raise my hand and remind him that we only had one black student in our school. However, I knew if I did, he would probably suspend me. I looked over at Natalie when she muttered under her breath, “Bullshit.”

Chief Morgan then warned us to conduct ourselves ‘properly.’ I’m still not sure what he meant by that. He said that we were to ignore the demonstration going on across the street. He said that if we engaged with them in any negative manner, we could be arrested. He said they had a first amendment right to assemble and protest in a peaceful manner. One student raised her hand and asked what if they became violent. Others around the auditorium mumbled in agreement. Morgan said they would also be arrested if their conduct became anything other than peaceful.

Nettleman then introduced the black man. He was Pastor Darren Moore, a minister at a church in Rosemont. He said he had been a civil rights activist for over 25 years. I thought that it was strange that he seemed to be an important person in Rosemont, but I had never seen him on television.

He talked for about ten minutes, trying to explain to us what the Black Lives Matter movement was about. I think he made Chief Morgan upset when he talked about police brutality and something he called profiling. I’m still not sure what that is. He told us about all the young black men who had been arrested for minor offenses, and they were now spending time behind bars mainly because of the color of their skin. Looking around the auditorium, I think other students were as confused as I was. When we deal with the police, they are usually very friendly. In fact, they often roam the halls of the school, and students treat them like other students. As far as I know, they never profile us.

When the bell rang, we were dismissed. However, Mr. Nettleman warned us to avoid what was going on across the street, and we were told to avoid the media reporters stationed outside. He didn’t want us to say anything that might reflect negatively on the school. He said he would be the official spokesman.

“That was a waste of time,” remarked Natalie as we stood and stretched. She looked around the auditorium. “These brainless idiots didn’t hear a word they said.”

It didn’t surprise me that Natalie would say something like this. However, the tone of her voice was anger. I asked, “What do you think about Black Lives Matter?”

“I think they have every right to protest,” she replied. “Look at all the shit happening to them.”

“Like what?”

She gave me one of her signature stares and replied, “If you have to ask, Parker, then I’m not going to be the one to explain it to you.” She tossed her bookbag over her shoulder and stormed away.

I went to my locker to get my books. I was at the exit when it dawned on me that I had detention with Mrs. Wells. I turned and headed back down the hallway. When I arrived, two other students were sitting at desks. They looked like freshmen. Mrs. Wells nodded and told me to have a seat. For the next thirty minutes I sat and read a short story that had been assigned in my English Lit class.

I left and headed to my car. As I approached it, I looked across the street and noticed that the demonstration had ended. A few people were standing around talking. I looked to see if the guy speaking this morning was still there, but he appeared to have left. I wondered if he would return in the morning.

I was about three blocks from the school when I noticed a police car with flashing lights behind a black Honda. I started to laugh because I figured that Chief Morgan had caught someone on radar. As I got nearer, I noticed Patrolman Andrews had someone at the rear of his cruiser, and he was patting him down. Andrews is a regular visitor to the school. He usually patrols the halls in the mornings as we arrive.

I slowed down. I wanted to see if it was one of my friends who he was searching. If it was, I was going to kid them in the morning in the cafeteria. The guy had on a black hoodie, and when I passed, Andrews jerked it down. It was the cute guy from the Black Lives Matter group. He quickly looked at me, but Andrews yelled at him and told him to stop moving around. I drove on, but I watched what was happening in my rearview mirror. The black guy put down his hands, turned and appeared to be talking to Andrews. I wanted to turn around and go back just to make sure everything was okay. After listening to the black minister earlier, I was wondering if he was being profiled like he described to us. Andrews doesn’t seem like a racist, but since the incident on Saturday, I was beginning to think everyone in Somerset might be.

I decided to turn around and see what was happening. Just as I approached, I heard Andrews shout, “I told you to get down on the ground, Boy!”

“Why?” asked the black guy. “I haven’t done anything. Why do I have to get on the ground?”

I stopped and pulled out my cell phone. I remembered that girl who had recorded the George Floyd arrest on her phone. I had a feeling that I was witnessing a similar incident.

“Get on the ground, Mother Fucker!” shouted Andrews as he tried to wrestle the black guy to the ground. They struggled for a few seconds as Andrews kept hitting the black guy in the face. Andrews then stepped back and tasered him. He lay on the ground and convulsed violently. Andrews kicked him in his sides a few times, and then he put his knee on his back and handcuffed him.

Andrews shouted, “I told you, Nigger, to get on the ground!” He stood and brushed his clothes off. When he did, he noticed me holding my phone out the window.

“What the fuck are you doing?” he shouted at me. “Come out of your car and bring me your goddamn phone!”

I stopped recording and opened my Facebook page. I quickly downloaded the video and closed my phone. Just then, several cruisers came speeding down the street. They rushed over to Andrews and the black guy on the ground. I opened my phone and began recording again. They pulled him roughly from the ground, slammed him against the car and patted him down. When Andrews pointed toward me, I stopped recording. Another officer came across the street and asked me for my phone.

“Why?” I asked angrily. I was already upset with what I had witnessed. I was also afraid that he might snatch me out of my car and throw me to the ground.

“Give me your phone, Son,” he ordered again as he held out his hand. “It’s evidence in a criminal case.”

“A criminal case?”

“Yes,” he replied. “That kid struck Officer Andrews.”

“He didn’t touch him!” I shouted. “Andrews was kicking him!”

“Ain’t you Dr. Frazier’s boy?”

“What if I am?”

“Listen, Kid,” he replied. “Hand me the phone and go home. You can come down to the precinct tomorrow to get it. Our investigators are going to want to see what is on it. I don’t want no trouble. Just give me the phone.” He held out his hand, and I reluctantly handed it to him.

“Now pull off,” he ordered. “And don’t tell anyone what you saw.”

I slowly pulled away. I looked in the back of the cruiser and saw the black guy staring out the window at me. His right eye appeared swollen from where Andrews had kicked him.

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