A Weird Experience
We were a threesome that late winter. Friday afternoons when Thomas got home at a decent hour he called on the intercom and I went down the hall to their apartment for drinks. Sometimes when he was late Krystal knocked on my door and asked me to come on down and keep her company. Later we might go out to dinner. Or we skipped dinner and just talked and listened to music. Sometimes on Saturdays he took his car and we drove down the Jersey shore or up the Hudson Valley or to Connecticut. Once we went out to The Hamptons where they were looking for a vacation house.Our friendship lasted exactly three months. A lucky number, Krystal said of the three of us. The perfect number.Thomas Milton was an investment banker. After getting his Masters from Harvard Business School, he’d returned to New York to a major firm and at 32 years old had already made $100 million, or close to it. Thomas was tall, handsome, charming—and Jamaican. His beautiful photo model wife, Krystal, was Dominican and rich in her own right. The Miltons had just bought and were remodeling a penthouse in a nearby Central Park West apartment building and would soon be moving from the cooperative.::Inevitably we ended up talking about what I was calling in those days the great American divider—the color line. Not that Thomas and Krystal initiated our discussions; they said race didn’t matter. No, it was I, the white liberal for whom race does matter, who turned an everyday conversation into a social study.I think they were embarrassed at my endless talk about such an immutable situation—they were black and basta, as Thomas once said soon after we met. And in general, he said, people are racists. That’s just the way things are.Yet with each racial affront encountered, with each new racist attack reported on TV, with each new case of police humiliation, I returned to the attack. Relentless, I forced them to participate. How long, I asked piously, this chasm between whites and blacks? Why the fears? Why the silence? I often asked that winter why race had to change our relationship? Change everything? And deprive me of what I above all needed—their respect.One evening after a number of cocktails in the sprawling salon of their big 10th floor apartment I asked them point blank what it was like being black here in the city.