Showing posts with label 1970. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1970. Show all posts

Friday, May 08, 2020

Uhhhhhh . . . OK, sure. (snort, giggle)

Omaha World-Herald, May 8, 1970

I wonder what the "truth in advertising" version of this would look like.

And where's the gutter and the . . . well, you know?

Then we get to the smart-ass takes on this bit of Midwestern naivete. What was the "junior's beat" (or was it several juniors' beat) on Bourbon Street? Furthermore, did their parents know?

Film at 11. Hopefully not at the Muse Theater at 24th and Farnam.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

If you wigged out, Luzianne had you covered

Baton Rouge State-Times, Feb. 12, 1970

Maybe it's the caffeine.

Well, switching to Sanka might've been one cup over the line, so 50 years ago in coffee-loving Louisiana, Luzianne had a plan for when the ladies might get a little jacked up and tear their hair out -- buy our coffee, get wigs cheap.

Works for me. So, did they have any toupées?

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The best thing about outmoded technology

Fifty years ago, in February 1970, Polaroid Land Cameras were a big thing.

In fact, Polaroid represented instant photography -- pull the undeveloped film out of the camera (and the film was the picture) -- wait a minute (or 2 minutes for color), and you could see what you just took. Will miracles never cease.

Oh, don't forget the flashcubes or flashbulbs if you're going to be taking pictures indoors.
Omaha World-Herald -- Feb. 12, 1970
THE TECHNOLOGY of my youth was much more advanced than what we have today, what with taking film-free, electronical "pictures" on one's telephone, which hasn't even the decency to be attached to a phone outlet by a long cord.

With the Polaroid and its Colorpack film, by God, you got 10 exposures, and that film wasn't cheap -- because People Smarter Than Yourself didn't want you wasting time and resources taking pictures of stupid things.

Like yourself.

In 1970, if you tried to take a selfie with a Polaroid camera, it would not go well for you. For one, you would be seeing spots -- still -- in 2020. And that's
assuming you didn't have a bad flashbulb that . . . how shall we put it . . . blew up.

Now, it wouldn't matter at all that the selfie would be completely out of focus. That's because all you would see would be the bright white of the flash bathing your now blind-ass self.

Of course, you could try taking a selfie as people did back then -- in a mirror. In a very well-lit room so you could avoid shooting a flash into a mirror . . . which, again, probably would not go well.  

FUN FACT: Did you know that until, in historical terms . . . yesterday, all selfies showed backward people pointing backward cameras much like the one in our Calandra Camera ad, a

I had a Polaroid camera in 1970, and I am happy to report there are no blurry, washed-out selfies of my Ernie Douglas-looking self. If you know who Ernie Douglas was, you remember the blessed days when taking a selfie was a process involved enough to deter people vain and unserious enough to want to take one.

History giveth, the present taketh away.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Wigged out

July 28, 1970: This. Just this.

It would be a decade, roughly, before I figured out what a deeply, deeply weird place I came from. It would be another decade or so before it dawned on all of us what deeply strange times in which we Baby Boomers came of age.

Aug. 27, 2019: All the incentive anyone needs to open a saving account (assuming we had any money to save) would be . . . interest on our deposits.

Monday, August 26, 2019

I missed all the big events

July 24, 1970: The Antichrist takes up residence at a Baton Rouge, La., appliance store. And I freakin' missed it.

I had no idea that the malevolent ruler of the world had such a fascination with color TV. He and the 9-year-old me would have had something to talk about.

I bet he could have gotten me an RCA AccuColor set long before 1975, when the Old Man finally relented, succumbing to non-stop bitching by me and my mother and admitting that color television was not, alas, a fad. We did not get an RCA from McLeod's, however.

My father was a Magnavox man.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The unshakable burden of growing up fascist

I have come to explain my native region of the country as born fascist. Fascist from its settlement by the white man -- fascist before we knew what fascism was.

The American South is fascist, was fascist and always has been fascist. Adolf Hitler and his German Nazis carefully studied the South as a blueprint for the kind of society they wanted to build at home -- and violently impose upon the world.

The evidence of this lies in the headlines of your daily newspaper today . . . and it was ever present in the headlines of yesteryear's daily newspapers, too. The articles here both were on the front page of the Morning World-Herald right here in Omaha, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 1948.

The police commissioner using his police powers to determine what records could and couldn't be sold in stores or played on jukeboxes was in Memphis. James O. Eastland -- the U.S. senator who went out of his way to make sure reporters knew he had referred to an NAACP official with a vile racial slur -- represented Mississippi, right next door to Tennessee.

Eastland served until 1978. Because Mississippi.

Any white Southerner of a certain age -- namely my age -- has to live in fear, to some degree, in the wake of the "woke" attempts at purging all racial transgressors from public life, regardless of the offense or whether it occurred decades ago. On one hand, it is inexcusable that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam dressed up in blackface as a 20-something. It ain't good that Virginia attorney general Mark Herring browned up his face as a 19-year-old college freshman to impersonate one of his favorite rappers.

Northam is 59 now; Herring is 57. I am 57 -- almost 58.

On the one hand, this stuff is bad. Oughtn't have happened. Even in the 1980s, white Southerners should have known this stuff was unacceptable.

On the other hand . . . what the hell do people expect? How, in the name of basic sentience and a basic knowledge of American history, is anyone surprised?

And when, exactly, did Americans lose any belief in the tenets of grace, forgiveness and redemption? When did we all decide that it was impossible for people to change, to grow?

Listen, those of us born during the tail end of Jim Crow -- many of us raised by thoroughly racist parents within thoroughly racist families in a pervasively racist Southern society and culture -- too often didn't know what we didn't know. We all had to deal with the burden of our upbringing.

You have to understand the ubiquity of an extremely warped culture, and the Jim Crow and post-Jim Crow South was an extremely warped culture. After World War II, Germans of a certain age were allowed to redeem themselves once the Nazi regime had been relegated to several awful chapters of a world history textbook. Apparently, Southerners such as Northam and Herring in the commonwealth will not be granted that opportunity -- by their own countrymen, no less.

OBVIOUSLY, Northam botched his opportunity to explain himself and shine a light on what was, and to a large degree still is, a sick and racist culture. There probably will not now be a fruitful national dialogue about the role of culture -- particularly racist cultures -- in forming civil society and what it means to have been formed by a deviant society.

Neither will we have a productive national discussion about how we -- each of us -- might shed the unbearable burden of our upbringing. In this case, our very Southern upbringing.

Let me say it again: The American South, basically, was Nazi before the Nazis were Nazi. And that's the air that was the burden of Southern whites' upbringing. We didn't know anything else.

In the case of this Southern white boy who came into the world in the Louisiana of 1961, my first inkling that my world might be seriously f***ed up was network television. Specifically, Julia and Room 222. I cannot tell you how revolutionary it was to see black folk who were anything but the stereotypical "n*****s" we had been carefully taught to see and believe in.

There's a word to describe the upbringing of lots of Southern kids just like me. That would be "brainwashing." It started at birth and primarily was administered by parents who themselves had been brainwashed since birth.

Not to put too fine a point on it, network television was we Southerners' very own version of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty or the Voice of America. Many of our parents, kinfolk and the other adults surrounding us did not see it that way. In their vision, ABC, NBC and CBS were more like a bunch of "agitators," a bunch of "n***** lovers" or a "bunch of goddamn commerniss."

This can't be overstated. It just can't. Oh . . . I was born and raised in Baton Rouge. I went to public schools. That means, for my grade level, that I went to de jure segregated schools until fourth grade in 1970.

And when my school was "integrated" -- and in 1970 "neighborhood schools" was a federal-court desegregation tool in Baton Rouge -- my school had two black kids . . . whose family had lived in the neighborhood before there was a neighborhood. One, Janice, was in my class.

She was my friend, and we played together at recess. A teacher told me I shouldn't do that -- it didn't look right to be playing with "a colored girl." To her credit, my racist mother (rather inexplicably, given "racist") called the NAACP to complain about that one.

Janice was treated horribly across the board. Seeing that was another brick knocked out of the wall. A major reinforcement to the counternarrative coming from Radio Free Dixie -- a.k.a., ABC, NBC and CBS.

So, on one level, I'm reluctant to condemn Ralph Northam, as bad as it all is. I was guilty of something worse than blackface when I was just 4 years old. But we Southerners just have to quit lying to ourselves and everybody else. We have to look -- hard -- at who we were . . . and are.

And we, at long last, have to be accountable.

We Southerners, in addition to a racism/fascism problem, have had a sincerity problem for a long damn time now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vintage LP du jour


On the menu tonight at La Maison de Trois Chords is The Friends of Distinction's Real Friends album, a nice 1970 vintage for our listening pleasure.

Not only does it feature one of my all-time favorite songs, "Love or Let Me Be Lonely," it also sounds better than many new albums right out of the shrink wrap, even though this particular LP left its shrink wrap around 1970.

DO YOU THINK I still could get me a "Complete RCA Catalog" if I mailed a quarter to Dept. C, Rockaway, New Jersey 07866?

On the other hand, maybe I can dig out the Complete RCA Catalog that I did get for 25 cents back then.

Once a geek, always a geek.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Simply '70s: Because I'm a geek

Because I'm a geek, here's a look inside a radio station.

In Detroit.

In 1970.

Because I'm a geek, I miss stuff like radio in Detroit in 1970. And because I'm old, I remember radio in 1970 pretty well.

ALSO because I'm a geek, I liked it when television news featured, uh . . . news.

And because I'm a geek, I liked it when you could distinguish, back in 1970, the network news from the network soaps.

AND BECAUSE I'm a really big geek, I like to watch stuff like this on

Some people see a guy getting all worked up over an old cassette recorder, and their weirdo alarm goes off. Geek that I am, I'm thinking "Why does this guy have all the fun and not me?"

It's not an old, never-unboxed radio-cassette deck. It's a time capsule from 1970 -- and you get to play with it because it was built much better than anything you'll find in 2011.

Now, if it could pull in radio stations from 1970, you really might have something there.

Says the geek.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simply '70s: The hottest car of the decade

Meet the Ford Pinto -- new for the '71 model year.

Look at that baby! It's "a little carefree car to put a little kick in your life."

I'll say!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Simply '70s: Turning the world on with her smile

Fall 1970: I dunno . . . yeah, Mary Tyler Moore was great as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show a few years back, but is anybody really gonna buy a show about a "career woman"?

I give it half a season.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Simply '70s: The place to be

I lived in Baton Rouge in 1970. And Baton Rouge being Baton Rouge, we would not get a full-time ABC affiliate until the next October.

Therefore, I was robbed of at least one full season -- and probably more -- of classic Friday-night television goodness.
But I'm not bitter.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Simply '70s: Dig the groovy sounds, man

This early-1970s TV commercial shows some Magnavox iPods docked for your home listening enjoyment.

Very stylish, no?

And this is a 1970 Magnavox Micromatic iPod undocked and ready to take with you wherever you go.

Young people back in my day were much stronger than today's youth, now more accustomed to toting around today's wimpy little iPod models.
Any questions?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Simply '70s: Bowie, unpainted

Apparently, this is David Bowie's first television performance, during a 1970 closed-circuit telecast of Britain's Ivor Novello Awards where his 1969 composition "Space Oddity" won a special award for originality.

This rarity shows what the man looked like when he looked like . . . a man. And before advancing age forced him to ditch androgyny because, frankly, Old Guy in Drag doesn't exactly suggest dollar bills busting out of one's bustier.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Happy Dempsey Day!

Forty years ago today, Nov. 8, 1970, a guy with half a foot kicked himself into the record books . . . and into the hearts of New Orleans Saints fans forever and ever, amen.

The scene: Tulane Stadium.

The foe: the Detroit Lions.

The score: Detroit 17, New Orleans 16.

Until. . . .

Peter Finney of the New Orleans
Times-Picayune picks up the story:

"Tell Stumpy to get ready to go in and kick a long one,'' said Heinrich that sunny Sunday in Tulane Stadium.

A 22-year-old kid, born with half a right foot and four fingers missing on his right hand, had no idea "long" meant 63 yards.

With 11 seconds remaining, Errol Mann of the Detroit Lions had just booted an 18-yard field goal to put his team ahead, 17-16.

Now, with two seconds left, the Saints had the ball at their 45-yard-line, following a kickoff return by Al Dodd and Dodd's catch of a Billy Kilmer pass as he went out of bounds.

In those days, the goalposts were on the goal line, not at the rear of the end zone.

As Dempsey looked downfield into the north end zone, the uprights reminded him of "a tiny target'' for someone who had booted three field goals that day, the longest from 29 yards.

"I was more concerned about kicking it straight because I felt I could handle the distance, whatever it was,'' Dempsey said. "I knew I was going to get a perfect snap from Jackie Burkett and a perfect hold from Joe Scarpati. It was all up to me. I had to hit it sweet.''

Dempsey had complete confidence in Scarpati. "Joe told me he was going to put it down eight yards behind the snap, a yard longer than normal. He asked the linemen to hold their blocks a little longer.''

As Scarpati awaited the snap at the Saints' 37, with the crossbar sitting 63 yards away, Kilmer, standing on the sidelines, remembered some members of the Detroit special team laughing. "They thought Tom had no chance,'' he said.

Dempsey would remember something else: a photograph he was given days later.

"It's my favorite,'' he said. "It doesn't show me. It shows what Wild Bill Cody did defending the rush. Bill used his body to take care of the inside rusher and he used his foot to take care of the guy on the outside, who was the great Alex Karras. Wild Bill kicked Karras in the groin.''

And there went Tom Dempsey's historic kick, sailing north, actually sailing a shade more than 63 yards (the ball unofficially cleared the crossbar by a foot).

And there went Dempsey, carried off the field on the shoulders of teammates.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Musical youth

Just sittin' here thinkin' early on a Sunday morning. And for no particular reason, here's a brief timeline . . . of my musical youth.

"Dem goddamn Beatles say dey bigger den Jesus Christ. Dey muss be a bunch a commerniss."

I am 5 and easily bullied by parental units. Original copy of "Meet the Beatles' given to me by Aunt Sybil ends up busted up and pitched into the garbage as some sort of religious act. As opposed to . . . going to church?

1966-67: Take to playing the phonograph in the 1949 Silvertone console, cutting musical teeth on old 78s by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, Ivory Joe Hunter, Hank Williams and (yes) Elvis Presley (quite rare, as it turns out). Burn through vintage 45s by the Everly Brothers, Elvis (again), Jerry Lee Lewis, The Kingston Trio, et al.

Unfamiliar enough with the concept of "irony" not to appreciate it in the context of what I've just been listening to from my folks' 1940s and '50s records as compared to their rants about "n****r music."

1971: "C'mon Mama, it's the Carpenters. The Carpenters ain't hippie music."

"Oh, all right."

1971: Out at camp in Head of Island, stay awake half the night under the covers, earphone in ear, listening to acid rock on the "Chad Noga Choo-Choo" on Rampart 102 in New Orleans.

1972: Score 45s by Joe Tex, Dr. Hook, Edgar Winter Group and Gallery, among others, at Howard Bros.

1973: Score 45s by George Harrison, Paul Simon, Billy Preston, Wings, Clarence Carter, Dobie Gray, Elton John and Three Dog Night, among others, at TG&Y.

Have a knack for winning stuff on the phone from

1975: Divide listening time between WLCS and Loose Radio.

1976: Skip lunch a lot to spend lunch money on LPs. All "hippie music."

Regular midnight announcement from parents' bedroom -- "CUT THAT S*** OFF!"

SUMMER 1977: "It's the Sex Pistols. So what?"

FALL 1977: Radio teacher John Dobbs bans from the WBRH airwaves (and confiscates) the copy of "God Save the Queen" my Aunt Ailsa brought back from London that summer -- just as I begged her to. I get my 45 back after promising never to bring it to school again.

Thus ends the last time ever that Baton Rouge was a trendsetter.

Special trek to Musicland at Cortana Mall to buy "Never Mind the Bollocks." Lustily sing the chorus to Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands" while playing air guitar.
For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it aint no sin to be glad you're alive
I wanna find one face that aint looking through me
I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these Badlands
You got to live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you got to pay
We'll keep pushing till it's understood
And these badlands start treating us good

1979: Find now-rare "fire cover" of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Street Survivors" (complete with concert-schedule insert) hiding in the bins of the little-visited Sears record department. Also find "Let It Be" with a rare red-apple label.

Finally get around to replacing that copy of "Meet the Beatles."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

40 years ago today

Forty years gone, Jimi Hendrix is today.

I think of what could have been. And what never was.

A year before, however, we see what was in this appearance on The Lulu Show on the BBC.

You take what you have left, you know? Especially after 40 years.

We leave you now with this 1969 appearance on The Dick Cavett Show:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We are overcoming

You know, I was watching the inauguration today and thinking about Janice Grigsby.

And I started crying. By the time the Rev. Joseph Lowery -- the old lion of the civil-rights movement -- got out of his wheelchair and up to the rostrum to deliver the benediction, the tears were streaming down my face.

GOD BLESS HIM, at this moment, President Obama's politics are irrelevant. And my quite eclectic politics are irrelevant, and the evil (grin) Republicans' politics are irrelevant.

What's relevant is that I lived to see something -- something positive, at least -- that was unthinkable even 30 years ago.

What's relevant is that Barack Obama has overcome . . . that I have overcome . . . that, God willing, we have overcome.

I found myself wishing that Janice Grigsby would knock on my door so that I could give her a big, fat kiss on the lips, pick her up and spin her around and around.

Because the bastards didn't win, after all.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

For Janice, wherever she might be

(OK, this post will have some rough language. And it will use the N-word. A lot. But to tell this story -- and to be true to the times I'm recalling -- it has to be done. Reader discretion is advised.)

* * *

I wrote this post more than a decade ago, and a version of it first appeared on this blog Dec. 16, 2006. It seems to me to be appropriate to run it again after the historic night we just experienced, a night when we learned Barack Obama, a black man, will be president and America's original sin seemed less onerous and more redeemable than it did a day ago.

Last night was for Janice Grigsby. This post is, too. God bless her, wherever she might be.

* * *

Joe's Barber Shop smelled of witch hazel, hot shaving cream and talcum powder. Of old magazines, the newsprint of strewn-about State-Times and Morning Advocates, and of sweat and cigarette smoke.

WHEN YOU OPENED the front door onto Scenic Highway, Mr. Joe's place might smell of complex hydrocarbons, too. The front gate of the Humble Oil and Refining Co.'s Baton Rouge complex sat slap-dab across the street.

One summer day in 1970, though, Mr. Joe's just smelled.

"My boy ain't goin' to school with no goddamn niggers," this fellow said from up in one of Mr. Joe's three barber chairs -- under the placard that proclaimed the establishment a proud "Union Shop" -- to expressions of sympathy from Mr. Joe, my old man and the rest. Fearing his son's life might be in mortal danger, the man was popping off about having his kid pack heat.

Blame it on the Feds. A federal judge had just ruled against East Baton Rouge Parish's grade-at-a-time "freedom of choice" school desegregation plan, which had taken effect in 1963, started with the 12th grade and worked its way down to the sixth grade. Starting in the fall, a "neighborhood school" plan would take over, coupled with voluntary majority-to-minority transfers. For the first time, all students in a school's attendance area -- black and white -- would go to the same school.

Not a popular concept in the all-white, working-class world of Joe's Barber Shop.

I was 9 years old.

Summer gave way to fall in 1970 -- to the surprise of many white folks (including, I imagine, the guy planning to arm his son), the world did not end -- and school opened, "integrated" under the neighborhood schools scheme.

"Integrated" Capitol High School was supposed to have 230 white students and 1,363 blacks. Five whites showed up for classes. And "integrated" McKinley High was supposed to have 81 whites and 1,051 black students. No whites showed up.

THAT FALL, I returned to suburban Red Oaks Elementary School, a sprawling, brick-and-concrete 1950s monument to homogeneity and bad taste that assaulted the eyes with its covered walkways and copious amounts of puke-green paint. My parents saw no need to place a snub-nose .38 in my book sack; there was little chance I'd face assault by some snarling black menace from "Bucktown."

Chances were much better that I'd be assaulted by gangs of snarling white menaces from North Red Oaks.

In the fall of 1970, I was starting fourth grade, and for the past three years I had hated all-white, de jure-segregated Red Oaks Elementary. The only thing worse than Red Oaks, I imagined, must be having to go to "the nigger school," which, I was assured, just might happen if I messed up bad enough.

In the fall of 1970, Janice Grigsby was starting fourth grade at Red Oaks, too. She hadn't had the opportunity to work up a good hate for the place; this was the first year she and her little brother could attend.

Janice was black, and though her family had lived just a few blocks from the school since before there was a school there -- before there was a neighborhood, even -- she had been barred from Red Oaks by force of law, relegated to "the nigger school."

I remember that Janice had skin the color of a Hershey bar, a pair of pigtails and a big smile. She was the first black person my own age I'd ever known. And despite almost a decade of racial indoctrination -- with warnings about "nigger music," "nigger rigs" and "nigger lovers," deliveries from "the drugstore nigger" and subtropical heat that left you "sweatin' like a nigger preacher" -- despite growing up with Jim Crow as the crazy uncle in the attic, I liked Janice. She was in Mrs. Anderson's class with me, and I found that I didn't care whether she was black, white, purple or green.

She was a friend.

I REMEMBER that Janice and I used to play together at recess. I'd pull her pigtails, she'd chase me, and we'd both have a grand time.

My folks had no real problem with this. Poor Southern kids during the Great Depression, they grew up around black folks. And the only difference between them and "the niggers" was a society and a legal system that placed blacks at the bottom of the pecking order and "white trash" a little bit above.

So, for some white folks, there was nothing overly unusual about playing with black kids. Or about being friendly -- not friends -- with blacks as an adult, so long as everyone remembered that God Almighty ordained that whites were the superior race.

On the other hand, you had problems if black folks got "uppity." Uppity included such concepts as sitting in the front of buses, voting and using the same restrooms as whites. Or going to school with whites.

I guess that, by 1970 standards, my parents were something less than white-supremacy hardliners. I know they weren't hot on the idea of racial integration, not by a long shot. But I suppose they figured that if the Feds were letting the "coloreds" (what polite white folks called blacks in 1970) into "white" schools, there was no use being mean to them, or in keeping your kid from playing with Janice Grigsby.

The powers-that-be at Red Oaks Elementary, however, didn't see things the same way.

MORE THAN three decades later, I remember one day when Janice and I were playing at recess, following the standard rituals of 9-year-old boys and girls. Soon enough, Mrs. Anderson got my attention, took me aside by a red-brick wing of classrooms and gave me a good talking to.

Maybe I ought not be playing with Janice, she gravely advised me. It didn't look right, she was worried about it, the Red Oaks administration was worried about it, and white boys hanging around with colored girls wasn't wise. In 1970, it seems, certain white adults were worried about miscegenation, even among the playground crowd.

Janice Grigsby, one of two lonely black children among hundreds of white faces at Red Oaks Elementary, was to be isolated. Blackness was akin to the mumps, and the authorities were worried about infection.

At day's end, I walked across the playground, then over the foot bridge of heavy timbers and the pungent smell of creosote, then across Darryl Drive and down the sidewalk to home. My mother was waiting, and I told her I couldn't play with Janice anymore.

She was outraged. To this day, I'm not sure where that outrage came from -- perhaps it was that defiant suspicion of authority bred into a class of white folk raised dirt poor and accustomed to being beaten down by the powers-that-be. Maybe it was a subconscious compulsion to do the right thing despite her own prejudices and enculturation. Maybe it was the invisible hand of God determined to see that such blatant injustice, such cruelty directed toward a 9-year-old girl, not pass unnoticed.

Whatever it was, it caused my mother to go straight to the phone book, look up the number of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, pick up the telephone and give whomever answered at the NAACP an earful about the shenanigans going on at Red Oaks Elementary School.

IN AN OLD MOVIE, the outrage of the righteous would have come down foursquare upon the heads of Mrs. Anderson and her partners in crime, and Janice Grigsby would have lived happily ever after. But old movies are just that, and morality plays were long out of fashion by the dawn of the '70s.

Life did not get easier for Janice. Her black face stood out like a bulls eye in Red Oaks' lily-white world, and she took her shots from Mrs. Anderson, a surly, tanklike woman who had about as much business in the classroom as Pol Pot would have had on Amnesty International's board of directors.

No, for Janice, ridicule at Mrs. Anderson's beefy hands became a daily ritual.

For instance, every Monday was lunch-money day, and the proper procedure for paying for the week's meals involved paying separately for your lunch and for your milk -- or something like that. One Monday, Janice did something horrible. She brought a single check from home to pay for everything.

You would have thought Janice had just set fire to the classroom.

"What am I supposed to do with this!" Mrs. Anderson thundered. "Cut it in half?!?"

The classroom erupted with the laughter of small minds. The cruelty of a middle-aged teacher toward a little girl is really funny when you're 9, I guess.

But Janice just sat there. She just took it.

I am not sure why this is the incident that sticks in my mind after all these years and all these miles away from Baton Rouge. There were others, many others. But as the years have passed, those incidents have subsided into the fog of memory. All that remains is the surety of Mrs. Anderson's withering remarks, the hoots of my classmates and Janice just sitting there.

Taking it.

And I remember that I hated Mrs. Anderson. I really did, and I don't know that I'm sorry I hated her.

I left Red Oaks Elementary after the fall semester of 1970. Like Janice, I was the butt of many jokes and much abuse -- at the hands of Mrs. Anderson and little rednecks with littler minds. I didn't fit in, probably was too smart by half when being smart was a one-way ticket to Adolescent Hell, and I rebelled mightily.

I ended up at the next school over, Villa del Rey Elementary. It was a much better school, though I still had my problems.

My new fourth-grade teacher was Mrs. Hawkins. She was black, talented and a sweet soul amid a sea of, on average, slightly more affluent little rednecks. I spent a while catching up on my studies, thanks to the curricular deficiencies Mrs. Anderson brought to the classroom along with her sunny disposition.

In many ways, it was Mrs. Hawkins who caught hell at the hands of her students. More than once, students might be heard to mutter "nigger" under their breath after being disciplined. I know she had to have heard, but I don't remember her ever saying anything.

And I am ashamed to admit to being among those who muttered the N-word. Like they say, racism isn't congenital; it's learned. And oftentimes we learned all the wrong lessons.

I DIDN'T SEE Janice Grigsby again until seventh grade at Broadmoor Junior High, where there was just a small handful of black kids. We didn't hang out together anymore, but I did notice one thing about her -- it seemed that her smile wasn't so big anymore. At least not often.

The dresses she once wore, I recall, had given way to a denim jacket and pants. It was fitting; she seemed to me at the time as this James Deanlike loner amid the junior-high hustlin' mob. I don't think we spoke much, if at all, during those years. But then again, the black kids had their world, and we whites had ours. The teen-age rednecks and thugs ruled supreme -- and perhaps the Mrs. Andersons of the world had won our hearts and minds.

Too, somewhere along the way at Broadmoor, Janice had to repeat a grade. I wonder whether maybe she, at some point along the line, had bought into the subtext of Mrs. Anderson's daily barrage: Niggers are stupid. Niggers don't belong. You're stupid, Janice. You don't belong.

From time to time, I wonder whatever became of Janice. Did she graduate? Is she happy? Did she ever come to terms with how that old battle axe treated her?

Is she married now? Does she have kids of her own? Grandkids?

Is Janice alive?

Of one thing I am sure: Janice Grigsby was a real little girl who suffered in very real ways due to the aftershocks of America's Original Sins -- slavery and bigotry. One's dead and buried; the other's still alive, burrowed deep into the American psyche like a mutant gene unleashing deadly cancers.

Yes, I'd like to think things weren't as bleak as my 9-year-old eyes viewed them; at least I would like to think my memories of Red Oaks, and Janice, have been darkened, have been fogged over, by the jadedness of adulthood.

But I don't think so.

And I don't think things are as changed as lots of people -- lots of people white like me -- would have us all believe. Better, yes.

Good? Probably not.

It was four decades ago, now, that Martin Luther King Jr., died. He was a great man.

And somebody shot him dead. Shot him dead for his greatness.

Somebody'd probably shoot him dead today, too.

God help us. Lord, have mercy.