School buddy helps recall time of real education

November 08, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

SAN DIEGO -- I stood in the door of the Lanai Coffee Shop at this city's Town and Country Resort waiting for a man I hadn't seen in 30 years.

Oh, technically I'm here for the four-day National Symposium on Sentencing sponsored by the American Judicature Society, the State Justice Institute, the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice. But registration is a few hours off. I have time to meet with an old friend.

He walked into the shop, still rail thin as he was at 15. A full mustache had bloomed on the top lip, but he still had the spots on his face that distinguished him as the only black kid with freckles at Harlem Park Junior High School.

We shook hands and hugged affectionately.

"Walter," I noted, with my keen eye for detail, "you haven't gained a pound in 30 years."

"I have my mother's metabolism," he explained.

I thought back to Walter Carr's mother, a slender, elegant woman who never failed to treat me as one of her own children. That was in the days when Walter and I were classmates and running buddies at Harlem Park. I wondered if Mrs. Carr knew that her son had taught me a little bit of karate and that we had had a sparring match right in her kitchen one day. I had sent Walter reeling into the sink with a side kick. He retaliated with a swift kick to the ribs that left me sprawled on the kitchen floor.

We were temporary adversaries then -- the first and last time I dared accept Walter Carr's challenge to engage in a karate sparring session. But mostly we were partners. In the ninth grade, our English teacher, Mr. Scott, kind of volunteered us to team up in a debating contest with two of our classmates. We won the debate, taking the position that teen-age curfews were valid and necessary. Walter remembered our position as being against glue sniffing. One of our memories is faulty, but if Carr's is right, it's no wonder we won.

We sat in the coffee shop and reminisced -- Walter had the club sandwich, I had the fruit salad. We had both headed to Baltimore City College after graduating from Harlem Park. After high school, Walter joined the Navy and then the San Diego Police Department, rising to the rank of detective before he retired to pursue acting full time.

There we were: two guys who grew up in sections of West Baltimore that today commentators claim are forever doomed to be inhabited by the "permanent black underclass." I had grown -- because of the black liberals' despicable lack of backbone on the issue of crime -- more conservative over the years. Walter didn't identify himself as either conservative or liberal. But as an ex-cop, he knows what he knows.

"I think we spend too much time bending over backward to listen to the whiners and complainers who get themselves involved in crime," Walter lamented. "I've encountered guys on the street who claim, 'You're only hassling me because I'm black.' No, I tell them, I'm hassling you because you're a criminal."

Another of Walter's peeves was the insistence of liberals with a soft spot in their hearts for convicts that prisoners should have the "right" to have weightlifting equipment.

"This is new, state-of-the-art equipment, mind you," Walter said. "When they get out of jail, they'll be a lot stronger. Police will have a tougher time subduing them." Over the next few days, I was to hear a liberal counsel for the House Judiciary Committee bemoan how nasty conservatives were for taking away the weightlifting privileges of prisoners.

"Never mind that inmates who lift weights are the most disciplined," she maintained, apparently oblivious to the fact that if they were all that disciplined, they wouldn't be in prison in the first place. Some liberals want prisons to be resorts. Conservatives, God love 'em, want prisons to be prisons. If convicts want to get stronger, let them do it the old-fashioned way -- by doing push-ups.

Later Walter and I talked a while in the parking lot, trying to gauge how society continues its descent into stupidity. Educational standards, we both concluded, were not what they once were.

"When I taught at the police academy, we'd get cadets -- college graduates -- who couldn't spell or string together an intelligent sentence," he said. "And it was across the board -- black, white, Asian, Hispanic."

Later he took on the topic of Ebonics, dismissing it as the ridiculous educational ploy it was.

"I know Mr. Scott doesn't have a top to his head," Walter said. "I know he must have blown his stack." We could both appreciate Scott now, for insisting that we would leave his class knowing how to spell, write and speak proper English or he'd know the reason why.

Those days seem to be long gone. But it was a pleasure spending a little time with an old friend who could help me remember them.

Pub Date: 11/08/97

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