Harlem. It's 85 degrees. Hot. a bunch of white folks are on a history tour of the neighbor-HOOD. An old timer comes down from his stoop - and when he brushes by me on the sidewalk says:
"Sprechen Deutsch Mothafucka?"
My response is a lo-talked "Hell yeah!".
I am blondish and tallish and square jawish and was wearing a black-tee and slated black sunglasses. And white - did I mention that? (That ain't no peroxide blonde).
On reflection, and after assurances from the Noo Yawkers told this to, it wasn't directed at me - personally - but at all the skinny white guys that now people his Harlem sidewalks. There's more and more of them - apparently. (Not much in evidence when wandering the ten blocks between the 4-5 train and the 2-3 train above 125th).
But the word is out that some gentrification is goin down. And it's a white folk doing it.
Funny thing is that a whole lotta stories was told by our guide about boxers - and in particular the heavyweight champions Jack Johnson and Joe Louis plus their fall guy Harry Wills (he retired his gloves courtesy of 50k from the Governor and the Boxing Commission who needed a white hope sooner than later).
If the old-timer's comment was on the money (I ain't German nor speak it) it was because it conjured the specter of Max Schmeling - the boxer who clinically defeated the Brown Bomber in a match in 1936. Though Joe Louis exacted his revenge in a defense of his belt (won in 1937) in a brutal first round drubbing in 1938.
That whupping remains part of the Harlem legend and a moment of black actualization realized in front of the eyes of New York - and the ears of the world.
Tragically, and this is what gnaws at Harlem's soul, Joe Louis spent the later part of his life in poverty and poor health. And it was Schmeling, who became a successful German business man (with Coca-Cola), paid his medical bills. Not an American authority or philanthropist.
The behavior and position of the Good German reveals the true nature of the Bad American - for whom black heroes be damned.
"Yeah, I speak German old-timer. But I don't speak BUSH. So kiss my skinny white ass."