Quien es Alvin?

stockton map

In central California, there is a rich agricultural region called the San Joaquin Valley. One of the cities that dots this region is Stockton.

I was in Stockton a few weeks ago, just visiting. I still have family there. A friend and I drove north from Los Angeles to Stockton. It was a very nice 5 hour drive, especially because I convinced my friend to do most of the driving. When you live in CA, like I did for about 30 years of my life before I moved to Maryland, you can easily forget how beautiful it is and how nice and predictable the weather can be. My visit and drive reminded me of California’s beauty. Thank you Wright brothers, because of you California is always a flight away. A very long flight, I might add.

When we arrived in Stockton, we got off on MLK Blvd, which use to be known as Charter Way. My old high school, Edison High School, is on MLK Blvd. My friend was driving as we passed Edison High on our right. I gazed at it for a few seconds and thought “Wow, 23 years ago I graduated from there. Time sure does zoom by.” I looked at the odometer in the car we were driving so I could measure the miles from my old high school to where I use to live. We weren’t going exactly to where I use to live, but somewhere close by to meet my father, close enough.

edison high school logo

We arrived where my father was, and I did the math and some adjustments. “Wow, I use to walk about 1.5 miles from school to my house” That’s about a 30 to 40 minute walk, easily. I wasn’t amazed at the distance or time of the walk, because when you’re a teenager you can and will walk anywhere and any distance. The part that amazed me was Alvin’s kindness. Quien es Alvin?

Alvin was a student in high school with me. He was in with the in-crowd at school because he was a jock and a cool teenager. You could say he had natural swag. I don’t know all the sports he played, but I know he played basketball. He was 6 foot plus. If I had to guess, he was at least 6ft 2 inches. I was about 5 ‘8’ at the time, so he seemed gigantic to me. We were both about 16 years old.

bmx and graffiti

I was a Latino kid from the south side of Stockton. I was into BMX bicycles and graffiti, and spoke English at school and mostly Spanish at home. Alvin was African-American, tall, lean, played organized sports, and spoke only English. Well, I saw him order tacos from a taco truck on a few occasions, but that’s not real Spanish. My memories of Alvin have faded, time does that, but his sincere kindness I will never forget.

I use to play basketball against Alvin. That’s a lie, sorry. Technically, he practiced against me while I played my heart out, but still, we played. There was a park that divided the apartment complex I lived in, and the “neighborhood with homes” complex he lived in. The park was large, it had handball courts and basketball courts. That is where he practiced and I played, in the same game.

One of the kind things that Alvin use to do when we played one-on-one basketball was that he would make rules. The rules favored me. The first rule was that he couldn’t dunk on me. Oh, did I forget to tell you, Alvin could dunk! I am not talking on lowered elementary school courts, or barely getting the ball over the rim dunks. He could dunk with two hands and power, on a 10 foot high rim. So there was no dunking on the 5 ‘8’ skinny Latino kid from 6th St. He never dunked on me.

I did enjoy watching him practice his dunks though. I would even throw him alley-oops sometimes. He was like a real life LeBron James, but LeBron was only 2 years old at the time, and Michael Jordan was yet to win a championship. I know, it was a long time ago, don’t remind me.

basketball court

The next “Alvin rule” during our play was that he couldn’t rebound the ball inside the paint, that means close to the rim or in the free-throw area. Think about it, he could jump higher than me, and he was taller, I had no chance. We did play winner take out though, so he had to basically make a basket to get the ball back, if not, I would get the rebound.  Getting a rebound against Alvin was such an accomplishment that when I did get a rebound, I felt like I scored a point. He also couldn’t leave his feet to block my shots. Even with his self-inflicted, feet glued to the floor rule, he blocked my shots. Damn you Alvin!

Before I continue with Alvin’s kindness, I must write a realization; playing with Alvin forced me to jump higher, learn to rebound, and shoot the ball with a high arc to get it over a tall defenders reach. So kids, practice hoops against the tall kids. Now, back to the kindness.

Remember I told you I would walk home from school for about 3o to 40 minutes? I walked because back then, school buses didn’t bus to where I lived. I have no idea why. I also didn’t have money to ride a city bus, so I walked home, no biggie because kindness was just a stroll away.

Alvin would see me walking home sometimes, get off of the city bus, and walk all the way home with me. Can you believe his kindness? He did not have to do that. Or sometimes, one of his friends with access to a car would be giving him a ride home, I would be strolling along on Charter Way, and he would yell “Hector!” out of the passenger’s side window. He would have his friend pull over. Alvin would get out of the car and walk all the way home with me.  Again, he did not have to do that.

On our walks home we would talk about Michael Jordan and how awesome he was. Remember this was 1988 or 1989. Jordan was taking the NBA by storm. We had no internet, i-phones, or i-pods, because the technology didn’t exist yet. We weren’t hooked up to music or media, so we just talked, imagine that.

On one of our walks home, I noticed that Alvin was walking on his tippy toes. I looked up to him and asked “Why are you walking on your tippy toes?” He replied “to get my calves stronger so I can jump higher.” I thought “Oh no, he’s wants to jump even higher!” I don’t know if he noticed, but I started walking on my tippy toes next to him.  Unfortunately, I did not reap the “walking on your tippy toes all the way home” benefits that Alvin did.  All I got was worn out shoe tips and sore calves.

Humans love to ask why? We are not robots, so we inquire about things. Although it feels like children have more “ask why” neurons, we all ask why. Why did this happen? Why did she do this? Why did he do that? Why did they act that way? Why did he act that way? Even if psychology or philosophy is not your thing, you do ask why. Or is that just me?

I have thought about Alvin’s kindness towards me many times. Why did he do it? Why did a teenager from a better socio-economic background than my own walk home with me, if he didn’t have to? In school, we hung out with different crowds. I don’t even think his friends knew he was my friend, and vice versa. In the hallways we just did the cool “what’s up bro?” nod whenever we saw each other.

My conclusion: When God made Alvin, he created a kind child, and his parents nurtured and encouraged his kindness.

On one of our walks home from school, Alvin invited me to his house. With backpacks securely strapped to our backs, we passed my apartment complex, cut through the park, walked a few blocks, and we were at his house. It always has amazed me how much neighborhoods can change from block to block, for better or worse. In his neighborhood’s case, it was for the better.

We walked into Alvin’s home. He introduced me to his mother and we went to his room. He had sneakers and sports stuff everywhere. I was in awe. He put on his basketball sneakers on off we went to the basketball courts. The homework could wait.

original jordans

We said goodbye to his mom that day. And 25 years later, I must tell her what I forgot to tell her on the way out the door. ” Mrs. Alvin’s mother, I thank you for raising a kind teenager. I don’t know if you know this, but your son, when he doesn’t have after school activities, walks all the way home with me, even when it’s hot as hell outside. I appreciate that. They say humans are a reflection of their parents. You must be a kind and caring woman.”

And sometimes, maybe kindness just happens. No need to ask why.

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