This adventure began during my first year at trade school in San Francisco where I made a new best friend. For him, I was extra-willing to do audacious things. This is just one of the stunts I pulled on him because; this is what friends do . . .
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Two things in the world are not meant to be hidden – love and a woman in a red dress.
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I opened the car door for her and she extended a long sleeved, white gloved hand to take my arm. She was breathtaking. It was an, “I don’t believe I’m doing this” moment. She was an exotic beauty, dressed to melt hearts. Her shocking red gown and hair styling would silence the room as she walked in – her smile was radiant. I knew the venue well and she was about reduce all the other women to raw envy and all the guys to barely disciplined desire; and – she would be on my arm.
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Because I’ve spoken with him about my using his real name, I now get to name my good friend. In our first months in class together, we discovered similar spirits, goals and drive and thus became great study friends. Joseph Santo-Domingo and I preferred doing life with a smile. If I ever arrived with an cranky attitude – he would cause a correction and drag me into a better frame of mind and vice versa.
By second semester, we were a study team. We had flawless attendance and then afterwards, would stake out a nearby restaurant for study and dinner for up to 4 hours some days – reviewing formulas, circuits and solutions. Each time a quiz rolled around – we owned it!
Joseph was also a man of integrity. My father drove a freight truck and used to bring me interesting books discarded by one of his customers. Once he brought me a book that I recognized could replace our current electronics theory text book. It had all the same chapters and topics. I brought it to class and suggested to Joseph that we add the chapter questions to what we were studying.
Later that week, we felt over-prepared and almost cocky as the exams were handed out. On the professor’s signal, we quickly turned over our papers to read the first question and wow! I quickly read the second and several others to make sure, but it was certain. We knew these test questions. They were copied from that extra book my dad had given me.
I turned to Joseph – who was already looking at me. He mouthed silently, “what do we do?”
I mouthed back, trying to not look like I was having a test-related conversation, that we should, “answer as we studied.”
What else could we have done? We had studied hard. We didn’t know the exact same questions would be on the test . It was not our fault we happened on the question source.
After this, we still studied our brains out for each quiz. Joseph was unwilling to short cut our studies to memorizing the questions and answers from my extra book. If anything, we worked harder to deserve our high test scores and the “A” we both got for the class.
In the run up to graduation, we both assumed that we’d be going our separate ways because we were from such different worlds. He was suburban San Francisco sophisticate while I was a dusty hill wanderer and wise guy from Petaluma. He had never even been camping so I had to fix that.
In the mid 70’s, the whole area was hiring electronics technicians, so he and I were taking many interviews. It was fun and chaotic. One morning, he announced, “last night I received an offer from Four Phase Systems in Cupertino (the heart of Silicone Valley).
“Very cool! I answered, “How much and starting when?” He gave me the details and I wished him well. I had interviewed there also and had a slightly better GPA so I wondered if I would also get an offer. My call and offer came that night. When the guy cited the salary, I recognized it as the same that was offered Joseph. I answered that I was hoping for a bit more, but before I could finish my pitch, he bumped up the offer by a couple thousand dollars per year. I thought I had pushed my luck enough and accepted.
My parents and I did a crash move of me and my books to a nearby apartment complex in San Jose for a commute of only about 20 minutes. I appeared on time at my new employer’s building and was shown to my desk. Joseph had just started the previous week – but I neglected to tell him that I too had gotten an offer so I could surprise him when I walked up to a desk near him. He laughed and quizzed me for details and went on about how cool this was going to be, but he finally asked the key question. “Did they give you the same money?”.
“As a matter of fact,” I smile with a touch of sneak in my tone, They gave me a couple thousand more I finally answered proudly. He looks scandalized and deeply annoyed. I was beginning to wonder if I had managed to hit a sore spot, when he suddenly smiled and concluded that it was okay because, “You were always the better student anyway and I agree that you’re worth it.”
Thus two great friends from trade school simply changed our daily meetups from classroom to assembly floor and our banking activities from tuition draws to bi-monthly deposits – just like real adults. Working literally next to each other, we dug into the work and brought some real value to the desks we manned. We took lunch together, laughed and told each other our girl-friend distress stories. We made some great new friends on the floor and it was this group that we called to gather for lunch one day to celebrate Joseph’s birthday at a nearby favorite restaurant.
In the weeks running up to his birthday, he had told me some troubling details about his girl friend’s family. I was unprepared for his situation. This was racial and my first exposure to discrimination. I knew Joseph was a different race than me. I’m white and his skin was a lush dark brown that the girls all loved. I was envious.
He told me that he was depressed about his birthday, it was because the Filipino parents of his girl friend did not like their girl mixing with a guy who was part black. Joseph was half African-American and half Filipino. Her parents had recently told them both that, after several years of dating, they were no longer allowed to see each other or talk by phone. I was indignant for him and he was miserably in love with this girl.
So there I sat, with information like this at the tender age of 20, thinking of all the ways I could humiliate her parents into changing their minds. I gave that up because clearly, I was not going to succeed against such thinking. Instead I stewed in what-if mode, which is where some of my most audacious ideas arose.
Here’s what I finally did.
I called his mom and got her to find the girl friends number. I turned that into a discussion of; “How would you like to come to Joe’s Birthday Party as my guest?”.
She was game to try. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just take my call sometime soon when your parents are home and play along with my request.
She agreed and took that second call as planned. “Well – Hi Andrew – long time no see.” This “Andrew” of course never existed.
[additional small talk happened that no one cares about…]
“Okay, that sounds like fun. Let me ask my parents.
“Mom, my friend, Andrew, from high school is on the phone. No, you never met him because he was there only part of the year and wasn’t even there for year book photos. I didn’t think I’d ever see him again. Anyway, he’s moved back to California and now lives down in San Jose. He and some friends are doing a beach day in Santa Cruz and thought I might like to go and get reacquainted. I would like to go. May I?”.
“Okay – Andrew, Mom wants to talk with my dad when he gets home. Can you give me the dates and details? Oh, you could pick me up? That would help. It is a long way for us. Okay, I have the dates and will call you back later tonight.”
And she did. Did you note I needed to ask for a lot of time because I wanted her to really dress up and make this birthday a rich visual event for Joseph. We both still had to work that day and this was all supposed to happen during our lunch hour. This meant I had to pick her up the night before, let he sleep over at my apartment and then have the morning to wake up and prep herself to be picked up again for lunch near work. I was ready for this “overnight” part of the discussion in case her parents pressed me on it, but they didn’t.
The day of, she opened my own apartment door to me and was knock-out gorgeous when I arrived to pick her up. Now; we stood at the restaurant door, after a pause for a deep breath – it was show time, I was so calm and ready to blow him away.
I pulled the door open and, with this lovely woman on my arm, we walked in.
I quickly found the table the team was at and we strolled over. Joseph looked up and got this much out; “Gary – you’re late. Where have you . . . ” is where his brain jammed shut and his jaw dropped open – and lifeless.
I smiled extra sharply and approached the table. “I ran into a friend of yours. Any problem with her joining us for lunch? She tells me you’ve not seen her for months. Is that true?” The table, who were all in on it, went wild. She smiled at seeing Joseph so badly brain frozen. Everyone scrambled to made room for us and, of course I seated them together, making a big deal of transferring her hand carefully from my arm to his. He was struggling to speak – a malady he never suffered from and squeaked out something about how was this possible – but it was badly spoken. He was seriously tongue-knotted and kept looking at her perhaps expecting to see her evaporate. He finally rebooted his jaw and attempted introductions, but messed them all up – which made it all even funnier.
Well – we had a great lunch; laughing and getting to know each other, except for Joseph, who remained is a state of diminished capacity through out. I took her back to my apartment afterwards. Thanked her for a job well done. Because of the car situation, there was no way for me to let him bring her home or even ride with us, so she and I got to talk on the way back.
I was finally able to ask her, “How did you convince you’re parents to let you spend the night?”
“Oh, that was easy.” she said casually. “I just told them that you were white.” At this point I lost track of what we were talking about. I got badly stuck on how her parents, with the long history of knowing Joseph (who never even brought her home late) was unwilling to let her date a black Filipino they knew well but were more than willing to let her spend the night with some white guy they had never met or even heard of. These people were raving bigots in both directions.
My outrage stuck with me 45 some-odd years ago and, frankly, it never left.