Today is my friend Trixie’s birthday. I’ve known here since April of 1988. We’ve have had many adventures over the years, so I was trying to think of one to share today, when a customer at the bookstore reminded me of one in particular.
I believe it was back in 1990, after Trixie had moved to Irving for a job at Sprint. She wanted to go back to college, so asked me to stop by the Tarrant County Junior College’s Registrar’s Office to pick up a copy of her transcript to include with her application to the University of North Texas. (She was living almost an hour away.)
I stopped by the Registrar’s Office and requested a copy of Trixie’s transcript, but they denied it. When I asked why, the clerk explained Trixie had never returned a book she checked out of the school library. Figuring she probably wouldn’t remember which book it was, I asked the clerk for the title. She moved her fingers across the keyboard and said, “Black like me.”
““That’s the name of the book.”
I thanked her for her help and wandered away. I wondered why Trixie would check out a book titled Black Like Me. It sounded like a self-help book. Did she secretly believe she was black? Was she really the love child of her mother and Lou Rawls? And how could this book help her, exactly?
I went to the pay phone and called her. “Hey, they wouldn’t give me your transcript.”
““How come?” she asked.
““They say you never returned a book to the library.”
““Which one?” (Did I know her, or what?)
““Black Like Me.”
There was a pause, then Trixie cackled.
““Is there something you need to tell me?” I asked. Trixie cackled again.
As it turned out, Black Like Me is a nonfiction story by a journalist named John Howard Griffin, who artificially darkened his skin and posed as a black man as he traveled through the racially segregated south in 1959. She had checked it out for a report for one of her classes, but had ended up dropping it. I had never heard of the book, which was published in 1961 and made into a film in 1964.
Believe it or not, she actually found the book and returned it to the library and got her transcript.
Since then, if we ever want to make the other laugh, we look at the other with a serious expression and deadpan, “Black Like Me.”