The Dynamite Kid used to clean my room for whatever spare change he could find. I would lay on my stomach on the bed, hands crossed under my chin and who knows what we discussed? Imaginary girlfriends, Galaga, and what we wanted to buy from Kmart most likely. I think my mom knew about our arrangement and had no issue with me sub-contracting.
TDK was my best friend and technically, he never forfeited the job. I remember the day Mr. Howard, our 5th grade teacher, asked me to stick with the new kid for his first day and help him out. I loved Mr. Howard, but this was pushing it. I agreed with a wishy-washy nod and gestured for the new kid to come on already and let's go eat lunch.
It was cold that day, at least in the 50's and we were all bundled up in Central Florida. The Dynamite Kid wore a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt and elastic athletic shorts. We all thought he was poor because he didn't have a coat. He was a chunky kid. His eyes were slanted, his skin was brown and he said he moved here from Alaska. Everyone called him Eskimo.
They didn't call him that for long. Eskimo could fight. I found myself the de facto best friend of a controversial 5th grader, a son of a single-parent father who was a Correctional Officer who understood the sad need for his kid to make a few trips to the office. His Pittsburgh Steelers ball cap would tumble to the floor in the hall and I would think, here we go again, as The Dynamite Kid turned head down to tackle whomever had felt the need to test the Eskimo.
Before much longer I became the son of two single-parents myself and The Dynamite Kid taught me a lot about negotiating the post-divorce middle school environment.
By 10th grade I was working with him in the Chinese restaurant he adopted when he was 10. They hired him because he wouldn't go away. Everyone thought the owners were his parents. They didn't know he was a non-Eskimo, non-Chinese, half-Thai, half Irish kid. We would get off work and go break-dance behind Winn Dixie or K-Mart, which is when he became The Dynamite Kid.
After his father died he moved back to Alaska, where he stayed for many years.
Last week we met in Nashville to teach a class together about Race and Culture.
I started the class by telling everyone this story.