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Kristy McNichol and the fall of Berlin

INSIDE/OUT

The second of two parts.

“Aw, dude, are you serious? Nazis? In Huntington Park?” Buck

whistled through his teeth. “Wow. Dude, that’s not right, man. We

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need to get the guys and go break their windows or something.”

I had made a vow to myself not to tell my friends that my new

girlfriend and her family were anti-Semitic. The vow lasted two days,

and then Buck asked me how things were going with Aubrey.

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“No, seriously, Buck, don’t tell anybody about it,” I said,

suddenly sure that he would. “If you tell the guys, they’re gonna say

something to Aubrey, and I want to handle this myself, OK? Promise me

you won’t tell anybody.”

Buck looked down at his feet. “OK, dude. I promise.”

I left Buck’s house and went home. An hour, my friends Mike and

his brother Greg were at my door. “Dude! You’re girlfriend’s a Nazi?”

Dang it, Buck. I extracted the same promise from Mike and Greg,

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but I knew the jig was up. It had been my plan to try use the power

of my love to turn Aubrey away from her Nazi-sympathizing ways, just

like Kristy McNichol did in the movie “Summer of My German Soldier.”

But now that my friends knew about it, I was out of time. The Allies

were closing in on Berlin.

The next morning, I walked to Aubrey’s house. Fourth of July was

just a week away, and several homes on her block were flying bright

American flags. When I reached Aubrey’s place, I saw a small group of

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people standing on the sidewalk in front of it, looking up and

shaking their heads. I recognized them as Aubrey’s neighbors. I

looked up, and there, unfurled from Aubrey’s living room window, was

a big, red Confederate flag. The Stars and Bars.

“Oh, no,” I whispered. “Aubrey!”

Her head popped in the window. “Hey! Come on up!”

No way was I going up there. “No, you come down here!” She told me

to wait a moment and disappeared from view. I turned and looked at

the gathering of adults on the sidewalk, all of them Latino. They

glared at me in silence. Aubrey came running down the steps.

“Look at this garbage someone taped to our front door!” she

shouted, and held up a sheet of notebook paper. On it was scrawled,

in big, Magic Marker lettering, “NAZIS! GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME

FROM!”

“That’s terrible,” I said, recognizing the handwriting. “Who would

do something like that?”

“I don’t know, maybe they did!” She nodded angrily at the crowd

standing a few feet from us. “Maybe they don’t like our flag! But no

one’s going to intimidate us! Everybody’s flying their precious Union

flags, right? So we’re flying ours! This is our flag!”

“Well, how do you expect people to react if you’re going to do

things like that?” I said, exasperated. “Flying that flag’s just

asking for trouble!”

“So? We’re not afraid of anyone!” She turned to face the crowd.

“What are you all staring at? You’re standing on private property!

Get out of here, you --"

The neighbors flinched as if Aubrey let out a stream of racial

invectives. But they didn’t leave.

“Hey!” I shouted at Aubrey. “Don’t say things like that! I’m

Puerto Rican!”

Call it the blindness of puppy love, but for the time it occurred

to me that my girlfriend’s racism might apply to me, too.

“Well, you’re different,” she said.

“How am I different?” I said. “I’m just like them! I’m Latino! My

family speaks Spanish!”

“Yeah, but you’re -- just different,” Aubrey said, suddenly

looking uneasy.

And that’s when it occurred to me that Aubrey was in as much as

denial as I was. As my feelings for her had blinded me to what she

was, so had hers blinded her to my ethnicity. A thought occurred to

me that maybe now I had the key to unlock the racial harmony I

believed had to exist in Aubrey’s heart.

“Aubrey, listen to yourself!” I said. “You say that I’m different,

but I’m not! And you still like me, don’t you? Can’t you see what

that means? You and your parents keep talking about the truth, about

the Big Jewish Conspiracy, but you don’t even know what the truth is!

Did you know, for instance, that I’m Jewish?”

Now it was Aubrey’s turn to flinch. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m Jewish!” I shouted, putting my hands on my hips. “My mother’s

father was a French Jew. So that makes me a Jew!”

Actually, it didn’t make me any such thing, and I knew it. But I

figured Aubrey didn’t.

“You’re lying!” she shouted, her voice suddenly shrill.

“No, I’m not! I’m a Jew! And you kissed me, so you kissed a Jew!

What do you think your beloved Nazis would say about that, huh? The

Nazis would have hung you for kissing a Jew!”

Aubrey stood there staring at me, her body trembling. It was the

most pitiful sight, and suddenly my heart went out to her. “Look, I’m

just trying to say --"

WHACK! She punched me in the nose with her right fist. Hard. My

head rolled back and came forward, just in time to see her left fist

coming my way. WHOP! She punched me on the mouth. Alarmed, I grabbed

her arms by the wrists.

“Aubrey, for God’s sake, calm down!” I held her wrists until she

stopped struggling. “OK, I’m going to let you go. You’re calm,

right?”

Silence. I let her go. WHOP! This punch landed on my chest and

caused me to fall back a step. I looked up to see Aubrey rearing back

to punch me again, then suddenly one of the men who had been standing

on the sidewalk stepped up behind her and caught her arm.

""That’s enough,” he said to her in a thick accent. “You go inside

now.”

Aubrey started to say something, but she saw the women in the

crowd begin to move forward. She shook free from the man, shot me a

glare that caused me to flinch, then she ran upstairs.

I watched her slam the door closed. Something dripped from the

corner of my mouth and I reached up; my lower lip was bleeding. I

turned and saw the group of neighbors still there, watching me. Their

eyes told me that none of what they had just witnessed surprised them

in the slightest. I felt like I was about to cry.

“You should go home now too,” the man said to me gently. And I

did.

That was, of course, the end of Aubrey and I as an item. Getting

over her was easier than I would have thought -- the power of my love

just couldn’t survive the power of a good right hook. It was the

first and only time I was punched in the mouth by a girl, at least in

the literal sense.

In fact, I would remember my time with Aubrey as a season of

firsts. My first girlfriend. My first kiss. My first real encounter

with anti-Semitism. I learned a lot.

I learned that love was sometimes a blinding force with a will of

its own. I learned that my heritage was something I was prepared to

defend. And I learned that when you’ve got an angry Nazi by the

wrists, you want to think carefully before letting go.

Editor’s note: The names of several characters in this column have

been changed.

* DAVID SILVA is the editor of the Rancho Cucamonga Voice and the

Claremont-Upland Voice. Reach him at 484-7019, or by e-mail at

david.silva@latimes.com.


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