It was the Onions

In the seventies, one of my best childhood friends and I decided to see a movie one evening. My friend Keith was a big guy, over six feet tall and well over 200 lbs. He was not a football player like many inner-city kids his size, but he was a healthy, robust kid—a huge Bobby Womack fan—and loved theater arts. Keith taught me a lot about stepping out of my comfort zone. In the 1970s, he proposed recording a show talking about our lives as teens in our hometown of Washington, DC. He was suggesting, without knowing it, a podcast long before the concept existed. Of course, the visionary I was, I poo-pooed the idea. Who would listen, I protested, to two people rapping (conversing) about art, music, movies, or as my contribution, literature, and sports.

Although formal segregation did not exist in DC, black people knew which movie theaters were most welcoming and which were not. We chose to see a French film entitled the Tall Blonde Man with One Black Shoe that evening. The movie we chose, or I went along with, was playing at a theater on upper Wisconsin Avenue. This was an unusual choice for two young black boys, especially at the height of the blaxploitation film era, Shaft, at the Tivoli; Superfly, at the Highland; a few years later, Truck Turner, at the Atlas and Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier (sigh), everywhere. Keith was determined and felt he had the right to go and be anywhere; he was correct. He loved the looks on the faces of white moviegoers when two afro-wearing kids in Chuck Taylor(s) invaded their space.  

Keith loved the movie, even the subtitles. On the other hand, I pictured Superfly with Sheila Frazier (sigh) on his arm. About halfway through the film, Keith complained of chills, and in the reflective glare of the movie screen, I could see the sweat pouring down his face. His body shook so hard, and his teeth chattered so loudly a movie usher finally came over to check on him. He led us out of the theater in the dark, three silhouetted afros moving in unison toward the exit, the large one in the middle stumbling. Keith was a year older, had a driver’s license, and had driven us to the movies. Somehow he mustered the strength to get us home safely. I called out to his mom from the porch of his home, and when she opened the door, he took one step and collapsed onto the floor.

He was shaking, and his clothing was drenched in sweat. His aunt, who was visiting, cut up two onions, opened his shirt, and covered his chest with them before calling an ambulance. Despite the eventual intervention of science, his mom and aunt were convinced the onions were the cure. They were confident garnishing him with onions would help. His body heat seemed to sauté the onions. I will never forget the ER doctor asking who was eating a sub sandwich in the treatment room. He opened Keith’s shirt, saw the onions, and held back a laugh. The doctor treated him with antibiotics, gave him intravenous fluids, and diagnosed him with food poisoning. Four hours later, they sent him home.

Science works, but science is confusing because it changes. Much misinformation is in the air over vaccinations, masks, home remedies, some fueled by social media research. The world is not flat, and bloodletting does not cure disease. Bleach, Lysol, mouthwash, or horse dewormer are not the answer. Take the shot, vaccinate your kids, wear a mask, and save the onions for your burger.

Continue to Vote for Change            

  • January 10, 2022