One particular set of incidents illustrates that, unlike typical images of urban dwellers, the black regulars at Valois were not merely guardians of turf, attempting to maintain and reinforce expectations about themselves and others. They were creatures of sociability for whom contact with the wider circle of cafeteria groups was a source of gratification. (Duneier 87)
My father idealized my uncles, my mother’s brothers, as just the sort of group represented by the black regulars at Valois. When I interviewed my father during the summer of 2006, he had the following things to say about my uncles:
Dad: There’s a certain kind of thing about the Hite’s, the boys, that I never saw them as cool, I saw them as brothers. I saw them as brothers that I wish that they were my brothers because they were so close. As brothers they were cool.
Me: Did you know any of them before you met my mother? Or did it all happen at the same time?
Dad: You know I saw them, I didn’t know them. I always felt it was a divine plan because, like I say, I’m closer to Gerald than anybody…this don’t have nothin’ to do with that. Cool? There’s a distinct difference between each one of them.
Dad: Distinct. But as brothers? There’s no difference.
Me: That’s right.
Dad: They’re connected. Fighting? That’s out. They fight together. They don’t fight against one another regardless of what the circumstance is. Me and my brother been fighting since I come out the womb. I never wanted that; I always wanted a big brother. And whenever I would be around them, there was an envy because I wanted that. I wanted that. They were cool as brothers. They’d laugh. They found the same things funny. And even if they had differences of opinion it was of love and it was like “come on man.” And they discussed it and it went on and on. And it’s been like that for forty years that I’ve seen so I know it was like that before I even met them. So cool? I saw them as cool brothers. So anytime we’re talking about cool we have to be specific as to what kind of cool we’re talking about.
My father told me a story about my uncles that exemplified the kind of cool he thought their brotherhood represented. In my father’s version, my uncles ran into some character who had a gun and shot one of them. The police were on the scene and everybody ran. One of my uncles could have gotten away but he sacrificed his freedom by going back to get his brother.
I asked my Uncle Eric about this story when we corresponded while he was living in Costa Rica. Eric told a fascinating story that differed greatly from the one my father told. My uncle entitled his story “Shootout at the Crosstown Poolroom.” Here’s the whole story unfiltered.
I’ll try to relate this story one more time. I was mad as a Grizzly when I lost it last night. It took a while to remember, you know that happened thirty-five years ago. A person can accumulate an awful lot of cobwebs on the brain in thirty-five years. This time should be a little easier. O.K. now first of all, keep in mind that I’m nineteen years old and six months out of high school at the time when I still thought it was all about a good fight. Back then, dudes were willing to go all over town just to find a good fight, and after the fight, win, lose or draw you went on. It wasn’t about killing then. As a matter of fact, I’ve always felt that it’s a poor ass that can’t take a whipping. By the way, this event truly marked the end of my bullying career. From that day to this, I’ve never acted aggressively first toward another human being.
The bad vibe really began the day before the shooting. A guy named Sanford Sparks and I had just smoked a joint and re-entered the poolroom. The poolroom had a shoeshine stand with I think six seats. Now, I was sitting in seat three. We left the next seat empty and Sanford sat in seat five. When Wooten and his three road dogs entered drinking a quart of beer they wanted to sit together and kick it and enjoy their beer. But the way Sanford and I were sitting made this impossible, you see. So Wooten asked me would I move over so they could share their beer together.
Now Wooten and I didn’t know each other personally, but he had heard of me and I seen him around the poolroom and on different sets. I knew he was kind of soft and would avoid any kind of confrontation. But him and his three road dogs all knew Sanford. Now of all the killers, fools, and tough dudes that I’ve ever met, I would have to say without hesitation that Sanford was by far the toughest man I’ve ever known; bar none. Oh my goodness could that man fight. And of course, he went the way of all tough guys: gunned down at the tender age of 20. When he asked me to move over he didn’t do it in a demeaning or authoritative manner, and there was no reason for me to respond the way I did. Anyway, I responded like I was looking for trouble, which I was, and the end result was that he backed down and Sanford and I wouldn’t let it die. So Wooten and his mob left with their tail between their legs, so to speak.
I spent the night at Charlie Hite’s (Note: Eric means his oldest brother. Everyone in my family refers to my Uncle Charles by his full name at times.) and he and I spent the best part of the next day drinking until Ronnie Clay arrived at around 8 or 9. I guess at about 10, Clay wanted to go to the Poolroom so I volunteered to go with him. When I saw Wooten there, I mentioned to Clay that we had words the previous day. He asked whether or not it was settled and if not he had my back. So I invited him outside, but before we got there, he pulled a knife. Now I still wanted to continue but Clay stepped in and broke it up–I still to this day think I could have whipped him even with the knife–but Clay made the mistake of telling him we’d be back. Never give a person the opportunity to prepare for your return. They’ll know you’re coming back when you show.
When we got back to Chuck’s house, I was very surprised to learn he had a pistol. The downside was he only had one bullet. Clay begged and pleaded that he be allowed to carry the gun, so we let him. All the way up to the poolroom this fool was rolling in the snow coming up with the pistol. Pow, pow, pow. Practicing his quick draw, peeking around corners at the enemy, shooting ’em dead on the spot; the whole little kid routine, playing with the cap gun. Now, Charlie Hite is devising his brilliant strategy where Clay and I hang out at the back door, count to something giving him time to get around front, and we got all entrances and exits blocked off. With all this going on the only thing I want is a good fight. I never dreamed these people would have real guns with real bullets. I just want to kick some ass.
So when Clay and I enter the backdoor, Chuck is already in the back and the next person I see is Wooten hiding behind a pole watching the front door. He has his gang posted up watching all ways in and out. When I go to hit him his boy screamed so my only blow was a glancing blow because he was moving away when I swung and shot me thru his coat. I didn’t feel a thing, just heard the shot and that told me what to do: get the hell out of there. I don’t know how Chuck got hit, but Clay broke to the bathroom and never fired a shot. While he was in there hiding, they came in there to kill him but the people in there said he had nothing to do with it so they let him live. I still tease him and he replies that he was sure Chuck and I were dead therefore it became necessary for someone to record the story of how the Hite boys were gunned down at the Crosstown Poolroom.
I was halfway back to Chuck’s house before I realized I was shot. Whooten and his mob were riding around looking to finish the job when they caught up to me on the basketball court at POC (Note: POC is a community abbreviation of PORC, which was an abbreviation of Portland Outhwait Recreation Center.) and the only place to hide was behind a basketball pole. When they see me and are in the process of moving in for the kill, Sanford showed up from nowhere and called them off.
While me and Chuck were laying up in the hospital recovering from our wounds, a friend of ours named Tootie who knew me and Chuck, and was also cool with Wooten, came to see us and told us that Wooten wanted to make peace. Well hell, I was all for that. So that next Sunday, he came to the hospital with the same gun and we settled it. Today, me, him and Chuck are the best of friends. I tease him today about how he could have never pulled the trigger since he was trembling so much, and he responds that if I ever want the job finished, just fuck with him again.
But what I thought was funny is that this happened February 5, two days before I would have turned 19 and lost my eligibility under The Ole Man’s work insurance coverage (Note: My Uncle’s tend to refer to my grandfather as “The Ole Man” in their stories.). Now when we first were admitted, they immediately took Chuck to surgery and removed his bullet, and were telling me that it would be best to leave mine in. It wasn’t until The Ole Man showed and assured them that I was still covered did they decide it would be “in my best interest” to remove it.
Yeah, me and Chuck’s gunshots and surgery are in almost identical spots. So that is the story of the gunfight at the crosstown poolroom. Now, that is the bullet they took out, but I still got the one in me when them police shot my ass off that roof in Lakewood.
In my Uncle E’s story, the only thing that looks like the loyalty my father would have admired occurred when my Uncle Charles went to the Poolroom. My father’s brother, My Uncle B.B., would have tried to talk him out of it and certainly would have had sense enough to stay home and tell someone in a position to intervene to do so. My father would have thought that details of this actual story confirmed his impression of my uncles as comedic hustlers estranged from being cool. But for showing up and devising a plan to fight with his brother, my father definitely would have thought they were cool brothers for that.