On a cloudy day in early November 1979, a caravan of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan members careened into Greensboro, North Carolina, winding toward a local Communist Workers’ Party protest that had gathered in the city to march against the state’s white supremacists. The communists, wearing berets and hard hats, spotted the fleet and taunted the new arrivals with chants of “Death to the Klan!” The KKK convoy slowed, and stopped. Far-left protesters, bearing both wooden planks and concealed pistols, began surrounding the motorcade, beating the doors. As TV cameras rolled, the trunk of a Ford Fairlane, stuffed with shotguns and rifles, popped open. Someone yelled from one of the cars, “You asked for the Klan! Now you’ve got ’em!”
Eighty-eight seconds and 39 shots later, five communists lay dead. Eight other demonstrators were wounded, some permanently paralyzed. For a brief moment, the Greensboro Massacre became one of America’s most notorious acts of political blood-letting. And yet, unlike Wounded Knee or Selma, Greensboro has over the decades largely faded from memory.
Except in Portland.
It’s been awhile, I know; June turned out to be curiously busy for a number of reasons, mostly work-related. There was a trip to LA that left me oddly… exhausted isn’t the right word, but definitely out of sorts for some time afterwards, more than I’d expected. It was a good trip, though, and something that was exhilarating during the trip itself despite the transcription and work it left in its wake. Still. June was mobbed and then it was over, somehow early, and now it’s July and Comic-Con is just two weeks away as I write and oh God where does the time go, how am I always behind, this is horrible.
I remembered, across the weekend, that when I was a kid, summer was a different time. Not just because of the time off from school, although that was its own reward — the laziness of those first couple of weeks, when it felt as if nothing mattered and everything was strangely unreal because time stretched out, endlessly, ahead of you — but because my dad would play hooky increasingly from work for the two weeks of Wimbledon, and that was always weirdly funny and wonderful.
My dad, you see, was a massive tennis fan. If you asked me at any other time of the year whether or not my fannish tendencies — such as they are — came from my parents, I would likely say no, but at summer, I always feel like I could draw a line from my comic book adoration to my dad’s love of tennis, which was really a love of Wimbledon. He played tennis himself, although that dropped off somewhere along the line of my childhood; I have memories of him in his shorts and his white shirt, racket in hand off to the local tennis club with an air of excitement, but I couldn’t really date them. Definitely, by the time I was finishing high school, he barely played any more, but I don’t really know why or when. Similarly, while he was an avid fan of Wimbledon, I don’t really remember him having the same interest in other tennis tournaments, and I couldn’t tell you why. Was it simply that they weren’t as available on television at the time, or something else…?
Nonetheless, Wimbledon would roll around every year and my dad would be on board. Evenings would be spent watching the matches on BBC2, which would come with lots of verbal appreciation (and advice) from my dad, and mornings would include commentary about what lay ahead that day in terms of tennis. Best of all, my dad would do that thing he never did for the rest of the year, unless there were special circumstances: he would leave his office for lunch, and come back for a lengthy period of watching whoever was playing at the time. If it ended up being a particularly engrossing game, well, that just meant a long lunch.
As a kid, I didn’t have much appreciation for tennis — I still don’t, to be honest — but there was something about my dad’s appreciation of Wimbledon that made me want to join in. Part of it was that the players became characters in this epic narrative that I watched him watch, if that makes sense: I couldn’t tell which players were talented and who deserved to win, but nonetheless I felt like each one was a particular character with defining features, and that was something that I could, and did, latch onto eagerly.
(Occasionally, I frame wrestling in this light, so that I can understand the appeal. The actual thing, all the matches and the stories and the complicated mythology, that doesn’t actually interest me at all, but when I think of it as “Oh, it’s the thing I kind of invented for Wimbledon when I was a kid, but for everyone else!” it all makes sense.)
I’m not saying that Wimbledon was some amazing bonding experience between me and my dad, because I don’t think either of us really thought it was, any more than his love of playing with my Star Wars toys when he thought I wasn’t paying attention was, or his encouragement of my love of comics (and reading in general) was, or any of a number of other things. But when summer comes, and I read online that Wimbledon has started over in the U.K., I often think about those days when he’d come back for lunch, make himself, and often me, a bacon sandwich or a roll with sliced sausage, and we’d sit down and watch Wimbledon together, happy silence punctuated by his ooooooh come ons or yes yes yes look at that LOOK AT THATs.
Now I really, really wish I had some Robinson’s Orange Barley to drink. Does that still exist in the UK? (One quick Google later: yes.)