How to feel about this bit of noblesse oblige by one of my relatives? I’ve never met either of them. An ancient quarrel led to Fred and Jerry, my father’s uncle, now long dead, splitting from the rest of my relatives. Fred still lives in the same Peter Cooper apartment though, and when I called recently, he picked up. He and Scott-Heron, he told me, had remained close. Fred said he’d seen him two weeks before he died. In high school, Fred said, Scott-Heron “used to sleep over two or three nights a week.” Jerry and Scott-Heron would discuss politics. The two teenagers had a band together.
Later, in 2005, when Scott-Heron was sent to prison upstate for violating parole, Fred mailed him a leather-bound book — a journal, I guess — with a picture of Scott-Heron from their high school days secreted in the spine. In the photo, Fred told me, Scott-Heron “looked like an angel. At this point, because he was doing crack, he resembled my grandfather. His hair was all white and wizened and his teeth were bad. I stuffed the picture in the binding of the book so they wouldn’t find it. And when he got out I saw him and he said, ‘Man, you really nailed my ass.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, it was late one night, and I couldn’t sleep, and I had this book and I started flipping through it. And all of a sudden this picture fell right on my chest. And it really hit me, all the places I’ve been, you know?’ ”
I asked Fred if we could have dinner and meet each other in real life. He declined. He’d just had surgery, he said, to remove a freckle on his nose, but the surgeon had been overzealous. “He cut all the skin off,” Fred said. “Now I look like Quasimodo.” He didn’t want to see me until he was healed. Maybe he didn’t want to see me at all.
More in the link. [via The Daily]