August 15, 2010

Bob and Herb Have a Talk

[This scene is offered in connection with the issues raised here. In the early 1960s, conversations like this happened in many homes across America. As we know all too well, such conversations have never stopped. The races and ethnicities may alter; the basic dynamics do not. In far too many cases, even the races and ethnicities are the same.

So let's pick a date, say, April 1962. I don't pick that date for any particular reason, although I have first-hand experience with the general atmosphere of the time period, as indicated by my description of the "nice" suburban town where I grew up. Bob and Herb are sitting in Bob's living room after dinner, while their wives clean up and chat in the kitchen. Bob and Herb live in a suburb of a major metropolitan area.]

BOB (as he pulls a bottle out of the liquor cabinet): Say, Herb, my boss gave me this bottle of single malt after the work I did on the Capitol Carpet account. Want to try some?

HERB: Single malt? You bet!

BOB (pours out drinks for them, gives one to Herb, and sits down in his easy chair; they taste the wares): Man, that's good stuff.

HERB: Boy, oh, boy. Great! That was a great dinner that Beth cooked, too.

BOB: Yeah, the little lady does a swell job in the kitchen. She's a keeper! (They both laugh. They sample the single malt again.) Say, did you hear about that family that put in a bid on the house over on Magnolia?

HERB: The Smith house? (His tone grows heavier.) Yeah, I heard about that.

BOB: What do you think? Anything we can do about it?

HERB: I heard a couple of guys talking about it at the club yesterday. One of them talked to his lawyer. The lawyer said it's all perfectly legal. Not a damned thing we can do to stop it.

BOB: He sure about that? Maybe there's something funny about the construction of the house, something we could say violates some ordinance. There must be something we can use.

HERB: He didn't think so. Anyway, we might not want to make a big deal out of it, publicly at least. It might get a lot of attention and just make everything worse. I don't see how it could be any worse, but still...

BOB: Yeah, maybe you're right. (He takes another drink, thinks it over some more.) Maybe someone should talk to the broker or even to the family that wants the house, but, you know, quietly, off the record. Explain what's what to them. I mean, they'd be the first family like that to live here. It's just asking for trouble. Not from you or me, of course, but everyone else isn't as broadminded as we are.

HERB: Yeah, you can say that again. I heard Jim Warren talking about it. I hadn't heard some of those expressions since I left the Army. Man, was he mad! (He laughs, and Bob joins in the laughter.) That's why it's such a bad idea. It's like I always say: just because you have the right to do something, that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

BOB: Or the smart thing. Why would that family go looking for so much grief? Better to go where they're wanted. Look at the Weinbergers. Took them about four years to finally start to fit in. But I wonder if they think it was worth it now. Things were pretty rough for them for a long time there.

HERB: Yeah, but that shows how accepting we can be. We got used to it. Of course, they aren't in some of the clubs or organizations in town, but in most other ways, they're like everyone else.

BOB: Yeah, but this situation here is different, completely different.

HERB: You can say that again.

BOB: It's just obvious we aren't the same in most ways. It's as plain as the nose on your face. (Bob pauses and looks at Herb. As the meaning sinks in, Herb leans over and slaps Bob on the back, and they both laugh again.) But, you know, I mean the way we speak, the way we live, what we think, the kinds of problems we have, none of it's the same.

HERB: I know. Why wouldn't they want to stay with their own kind? Oh, they have kids, too. Can you imagine what it'll be like at school, our kids mixing with theirs?

BOB: Christ, I hadn't even thought about that. I don't want my kids in the same classes with them. And gym and sports? Even taking showers together? Oh, no, don't want any part of that. Damn, I wonder if Beth knows about that. She'll have a fit.

HERB: So what are we going to do?

BOB: I'll give the broker a call tomorrow. And let's get some of the guys together, see if we know some other family that can buy that house. A good, solid family, people we can trust. Let's ask the wives, too. They may have heard of someone who's looking to move into a nice town.

HERB: Well, we'd better do something to make sure it stays a nice town. Look, I know those people have had it pretty rough. But I did, too, you know. Nobody gave me a damned thing. Had to work for everything I've got.

BOB: Me, too. Nothing was handed to me. Earned it all the hard way. I don't see why everyone can't do the same thing. That's what makes America great! And none of us gets everything we want. All of us end up on the short end of the stick sometimes. Life's full of disappointments.

HERB: You got that right. And sometimes you have to draw a line. Some things just aren't meant to be.

BOB: We're very happy here. It's a really friendly town, full of nice people. Be a damned shame if all that got shot to hell. And for what? So that one family can get what they want? And if they understood all the trouble they're in for, they probably wouldn't even want it.

HERB: Okay, so we have a plan then. We'll work it out. We'll stop it. Somehow.

BOB: Oh, yeah, we'll stop it all right. Yes, we will.

(Bob pours them both another drink. They sit reflecting on it further. They look very grim.)