Voices of Black Los Angeles: At 15, he’s confident about his future
This story originally ran in 1982 as part of the “Black L.A.: Looking at Diversity” series. We have preserved the original text in order to provide an accurate account of the work in print.
Ocie Washington, the small-framed son of a truck driver and a secretary, is 15 but looks even younger. He is soft-spoken and polite as he walks in the schoolyard of Gompers Junior High in South-Central Los Angeles.
But his quiet demeanor breaks and he suddenly rocks with embarrassed delight when a school friend runs by and yells out to him, “Yoda!” — his nickname taken from the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back.” And he shouts back, “Wale Tail!” with the same teasing affection.
Probably because my father got a truck, I want to be a truck driver. I’m gonna do both, go to college and be a truck driver.
— Ocie Washington
Explanation of nicknames
Ocie, who 10 minutes earlier had spoken in muted tones about gang violence, launched into an animated explanation of nicknames at the school, how “Computer Brain” refers to a smart student, “Metal Mouth,” “Amtrak” and “Trailways” are kids with braces, and “Whale Tail” is a girl with a protruding posterior.
The art of insults and sarcasm among good friends is understood by Ocie and his schoolmates, and they have a good start on what will probably be a lifetime habit of “shooting” on each other, a practice that to an unknowing listener might be mistakenly perceived as hostile. Ocie has already learned that real hostility usually does not express itself in mere words.
“It’s better here than at other schools. It’s more quiet, peaceful — not a lot of fights and stuff. Everybody knows each other and nobody’s lonely. People don’t go around beating up people for nothing.
“I hang around the quiet ones, like me, like the ones that play basketball a lot, and football. I don’t hang around none of the bad ones.
“I want to go to college for a few years, not over three years. See, when I was finished with the sixth grade, I thought I was getting out of school for good! Then I had to turn around and go to seventh, eighth, ninth. I want to learn, but I want to hurry up and learn so I can get out and just play around, drive a truck.
“I want to drive across the country. Our whole family is going to Kentucky, Alabama and Ohio this summer in our mobile home. I see myself in Kentucky ‘cause it’s the country.
“I don’t like the city. Oh, I like it, but I like the country better ‘cause it’s quiet. You don’t have to worry about walking down the street and being beat up in the country. That’s why I want to go to the country.
“Here it just comes, when you don’t even know it, cars racing down on the street, people be shooting late at night, waking you up. Like on my street it’s peaceful. On some other streets, like when you’re walking home and you don’t know nobody, that gets dangerous. I ain’t got jumped yet, except once, when I was little, in the fifth grade.
“I was with my friends and I had my little brother with me. He was real little. And these girls went and told these whole bunch of boys playing football that we were messing with them. We started running but my little brother couldn’t run fast so I put him on my back. But we didn’t make it. Then they just surrounded me. Then my friend got his father and his father came out with his gun and everybody ran.
“I don’t like that, ‘cause see, I just like walking around without being nervous. I don’t like to fight. I used to when I was in the sixth and seventh grade, but then I started working at the diesel mechanic place. Didn’t have to time for fighting then.
Wouldn’t join a gang
“I wouldn’t join a gang. My mother, she’d be on me if I did, and my dad, he’d probably be on me too. My mom wants me to go to college and stay in it a long time. First, I wanted to be a policeman, then I said, ‘Naw.’ I was hearing on the news about police getting shot, so I don’t want to be one of them.
“Probably because my father got a truck, I want to be a truck driver. I’m gonna do both, go to college and be a truck driver.
“At home we don’t hardly worry about those gangs ‘cause we know we’re not gonna get into that. We tell jokes and sing. My mother sings these old songs I don’t like — B.B. King and stuff. We try not to worry about nothing else... We got each other.”
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