He found one
other weapon: poetry. He would go into his room and shut the door, utter the
great verses quietly and write them down into a notebook, read and reread them
until he could recite them anywhere, anytime. The cadence of the words, their
rhythm and rhyme, was like magic. Murmur them in just the right sequence, with
just the right pauses for air, and a door would spring open; on the other side
there was a roomful of beauty and order and calm. At 13, the boy who lived in
Black Bottom memorized and murmured this:
A thing of beauty
is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
When his soul was
full with Keats's song, he would put away the book of magic words, go outside
and play basketball. He was always smaller and slighter than the other boys his
age, but he could jump just as high, could dribble sweet and low. The big boys
would get frustrated after a while, and then they would reach down for the ball
and catch him with an elbow or an insult.
That was all it
took. The quiet bower collapsed. The world went black. Mr. Futch bloodied their
goddam heads. It nearly got him killed, Mike. The rage, I mean. At 16, he took
a job as a room-service waiter at the Wolverine Hotel in Detroit, where he
served breakfast to Hank Greenberg, who always stayed there when the Tigers
played at home. Such a quiet, respectful kid, people said of Mr. Futch. And
then one day when he was 20, the American Legion came to town, and a whole
regiment of World War I vets, all tanked up on nostalgia and booze, holed up at
the Wolverine. No, Mr. Futch didn't want any part of that white girl in the
lobby who kept chatting with him; he knew that made white people crazy, and so
he tried to back away. Too late. Across the lobby stood five Legionnaires,
pointing and glaring at him.
One of them, a
West Virginian, started walking right at him. "Hey, boy," he called.
"Hey, nigger." Mr. Futch felt it coming over him. He stepped out of the
lobby, out a service exit, and hid behind the doorway. Stay inside the lobby
and you're fine, sir, he said to himself; step outside and you're mine. The man
stepped through the door. Mr. Futch crumpled him with his fist, picked him up
and hit him again and again.
bottle," lied the bleeding man when he stumbled back inside. "The
nigger ambushed me with a beer bottle."
Mr. Futch went on
to the restaurant down the block where the hotel got its room-service food,
picked up another order and headed back toward the hotel. There stood the five
men, waiting in an alley behind the hotel, four rifles and a pistol. He stepped
back to put down the tray, get ready for trouble. The desk clerk came running.
"Leave, now!" he hissed. "Leave the food with me, go the other way
and take a taxi home!"
think that's nec—"
crazy? They're drunk, and they're from the South and their guns are loaded.
They'll kill you." Mr. Futch relented. A little after he left, he learned
later, the men burst into the kitchen, guns cocked, looking for him.
really the trouble, Mike. The trouble was, there was a beautiful room inside of
him that nobody knew about, a room inhabited by Shakespeare and Khayyám and
Keats. Somehow, if he let the insult stand, the elbow pass, the beautiful room
would be ransacked, and then what reason was there to live? The trouble was
your trouble, Mike: no tepid zone between the sweetness and the incinerating
rage. Mr. Futch didn't argue. He hit. And he lived with a fear, the sweet
little man did, that one day the police would pull him over for some minor
thing, and one of them would drop an insult and....