|Study Guide - Chapter Summaries - Part Two
Part Two – Summaries of Chapters 14 - 30
Chapter 14 – Young Brian
Chapter 14 – “Fighting Back” Page 117
Brian picks up the phone extension and listens as his mom talks with Mrs. Wentworth, the landlord’s wife, about the 15 day eviction notice. He hears Mrs. Wentworth say that “they are no longer renting to families your size” and he hears her call his mother a “nigger.” Brian is terribly upset about the name-calling. How can someone call his mother THAT NAME? And even though he feels the tears begin to well up in his eyes, after everything that happened that day-- the accusations about the cat, the hot water, the eviction notice, the name calling -- Brian doesn’t cry. His mom seems reinvigorated by all that’s happened and very determinedly proclaims, “I’m going to sue the bastards.”
Chapter 15 – San Leandro Background Information
Chapter 15 – “The City’s Conscience” Page 119
The Rev. Dorel Londagin, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in San Leandro became the conscience of the city. The chapter discusses Rev. Londagin’s fight for civil rights, challenging the de facto segregation in San Leandro. When the good Reverend invited a mostly black congregation to join his mostly white church for a picnic, he received death threats. The picnic went on with out incident, but many of his white congregation did not attend. When his efforts to rent a house to a black couple fell through because the woman said, “she couldn’t do it” because she feared for her safety, the Rev. Londagin became a San Leandro realtor fighting for equal rights in a different way.
Chapter 16 – Adult Brian
Chapter 16 – “Waking Up Is Hard To Do” Page 123
Brian is on a hospital gurney, an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, his right leg tied to the gurney with a leather belt to keep him from escaping. He ponders that if they really didn’t want him to escape, they would have tied his hands. Even in the hospital, Brian is reminded of racial profiling.
A couple of hours before, Brian woke up in his car in the garage when a white cop, alerted by Brian’s neighbor who heard music coming from the garage, put his hand on Brian’s shoulder and roused him back into consciousness. Brian was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and that’s where he is now, trying to talk his way out of the suicide attempt, saying he “fell asleep” putting his car away. Then Brian thinks he recognizes the cop who is questioning him: is it the same cop who took Brian’s ball and bat and lied to Brian’s mom? Just when he thinks the cop recognizes him too, the policeman asks for Brian’s autograph for his wife who is a big fan. Finally, Brian discusses the vagaries of celebrity, and he understands why his hands were not tied – they needed him to be able to sign autographs.
Chapter 17 – Young Brian
Chapter 17 – “A Great Big Can of Worms” Page 127
Brian’s mom sues for “housing discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Brian is not enthusiastic because if she “wins,” they “get” to stay in San Leandro where he is so very unhappy. The judge put a hold on the eviction until the case could come to trial two years hence. In that two years, many strange things happened to the Copeland apartment: their sewer pipe burst – no one else’s, just theirs. Mr. Wentworth entered the apartment and took papers illegally. The landlord is caught when he enters the Copeland home not realizing that Brian is home sick from school. Wentworth lies when Brian catches him, saying that Carolyn wanted him to fix some things around the apartment, but Brian knows better. As Brian holds Mr. Wentworth at bay with his baseball bat, Mr. Wentworth lets himself out of the apartment, locking the door behind him with his passkey.
Chapter 18 – Young Brian
Chapter 18 – “Mixed Messages” Page 131
On one hand, Brian’s mama tells him “to be proud he’s black; black is beautiful.” But on the other hand, every time he hears the word “black” the context is negative. From Black Tuesday and the stock market crash to the bad guys in cowboy movies always wearing black hats – he is bombarded with the understanding that black is bad and white is good. He even quotes from the thesaurus to reinforce our understanding of how the meaning of the words “white” and “black” negatively affect African Americans.
Then he gives us an example of another kind of mixed message. While walking his little sisters to school one morning, a white man with a Southern drawl talks to them. Brian is wary because he’d just watched a documentary with his Grandma about Martin Luther King Jr. which showed blacks being beaten and having dogs set on them by people with Southern drawls. At first, Brian steers his sisters away from the Southern white man who says hello and wears dirty overalls and a clean white shirt. But this man surprises Brian.
On Good Friday, Brian is heading to the comic book store when 3 white boys attack him and throw rocks at him. The chase him as he tries to run away, continuing to throw rocks. He runs into a dead end where the boys pelt him with rocks. Brian doesn’t let himself cry, even though he is bleeding and hurt.
Just then, the “creepy white man” with the Southern drawl rescues Brian and chases the 3 boys off. Brian, bleeding and stinging all over his body finally allows the tears to come. The man takes Brian to his home. And though Brian is scared, he goes, waiting near the carpentry tool filled garage for the man to return from his house with a cold towel. After much hesitation, he finally tells the man his name and learns that the man’s name is Josiah Wilkins, who is a fine carpenter.
He shows Brian a tiny birdhouse he made and gives him a hand made cutting board to take to Brian’s grandma. Mr. Wilkins watches until Brian is almost out of site, and Brian actually waves to him – a white man with a Southern drawl who says “theah.”
Chapter 19 – Adult Brian
Chapter 19 – “Waking Up Is Hard To Do, Part II” Page 147
Brian is now in the hospital on an official 72 hour hold called a 5150 and soon will be transferred to John George Psychiatric Hospital for evaluation. The two drivers, big fans of Brian’s comedy, joke and laugh with him as they are driving him to the Psychiatric hospital. He’s glad they don’t ask for an autograph, because all Brian really wants to do is to go home. Whey try to get him to do his controversial comedy routine about the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, he recreates it for the drivers, hoping that they will just take him home instead of to the hospital. But as they zoom past his exit, Brian begins to lose control and yells at them and cries, making the drivers turn somber and sad. They take him to the hospital where there are men in white coats.
Thinking again of Houdini, Brian tells the attendant the same story he told the first cops about falling asleep in the car. When the attendant watches the computer screen instead of listening to Brian, Brian screams at him. Now he’s really done it. He is transferred to the Washington Hospital Mental Ward in Fremont, CA. All he knew of Washington Hospital was that a former girlfriend, Dana, had been in that mental ward for a suicide attempt and was released from there a few weeks before Brian met her.
The Washington Hospital attendant listens to Brian but recommends that he be kept at the hospital for observation. Brian cries, and they take him to a private room, saying he will be there until he is “no longer a threat to himself or others.” Brian feels that he is still the “threatening Black Man” – seemingly unable to “win for losing.” Unable to sleep, Brian paces, pondering his life, blaming his mom for leaving (dieing) him so young. Finally released after 48 instead of 72 hours, Brian ruminates over the complete absurdity that suicide is illegal in California. What are they going to do if one succeeds in committing suicide? Arrest the person?
Chapter 20 – Young Brian
Chapter 20 – “Mr. Ware” Page 159
Grandma drives Brian to meet with his mother’s attorney in Palo Alto, a city across the Bay from San Leandro which is so fancy and filled with huge homes that Brian is reminded of pictures he’s seen of Beverley Hills. The office is richly adorned with wood paneling, a thick carpet, and beautiful mahogany furniture. Wearing an expensive suit and gold cufflinks, Mr. James Ware is the first professional black man Brian has ever seen. Impressed that this black man tells the white secretary what to do, Brian asks Mr. Ware why he became an attorney.
Mr. Ware sadly tells Brian of the death of his brother in Birmingham on the same day as the infamous bombing at the Birmingham Baptist Church where 4 little girls were killed. Riding his brother, Virgil, on the handlebars of his bike, Virgil was shot in a kind of “drive by” by two boys riding a motorcycle. Virgil died in Mr. Ware’s arms. The two boys only got probation for “manslaughter. With tears in his eyes, Mr. Ware explains that incident caused him to devote his life to the law. Brian is so very impressed with Mr. Ware that he and his sisters would fantasize about their Mom marrying him. Brian felt that if only Mr. Ware were his father, the family would have a fine life in Palo Alto and be respected. He would have a father who would never hurt or yell at Brian.
Then Brian takes us to the present day for an update on the lawyer. Mr. Ware not only became a lawyer and federal court judge, but 25 years later when Clinton appointed him to the 9th Circuit court of Appeals, another James Ware from Birmingham found out that the lawyer had been using his story to advance the lawyer’s career and exposed the fraudulent story James Ware had been telling all these years. Attorney James Ware was using another man’s story for his own gain. When the truth came out, Mr. Ware was humiliated and had to withdraw from consideration to be a Judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Brian discusses the possible reasons Mr. Ware chose to lie about his motivations for becoming a lawyer. “Was it survivor’s guilt?” Did James Ware have to make up the story in order to be “a genuine Black Man,” to be credible among Black people? One simply could not have come from Birmingham at that time and not have a story to tell about one’s involvement in the civil rights movement. When the true story was exposed, at first James Ware lied again saying that his father had two families. Finally, however, he told the truth and apologized to the “real” James Ware.
Still the essential question of the book persists. Why are black men like Sylvester who beat Brian and abandon the family considered “genuine black men,” while those who are successful, educated, caring family men criticized and called “Oreo” or “Al Jolsen?” With a sardonic edge, Brian fantasizes about actually finding the man who wrote him the anonymous letter. He would grab the man, pull him close to his face, and yell at him, saying, among other things, that he’s sorry he wanted more for himself and his family. Then he would end the diatribe by saying to the author of the letter, “I know. I’m still a nigger.”
When a very enraptured young Brian leaves the attorney’s office that day, he is certain that he will become a civil rights attorney, helping people like his mom when he grows up. Excited with his new goal in life, Brian runs into the apartment to tell her of his decision. Upon entering the apartment, however, he is suddenly aware of the smell of Brut. Carolyn announces to Brian that Sylvester has returned to the family.
Chapter 21 – Adult Brian
Chapter 21 – “The Funk” Page 173
Brian tells us about his friend and former colleague at KGO Radio, Duane Garrett who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. People were very shocked at the time and thought that Duane’s suicide was “selfish.” Brian, however, understands that “suicide is the result of pain,” a pain so great that one cannot even think straight. Most people have a support system that can help them cope with the pain, but many people who are depressed feel isolated and are unable to seek the support they need sometimes because they feel it would show a sign of weakness. Black people simply do not allow themselves to experience or admit that they are experiencing depression. Ironically, this attitude made Brian more of a “genuine black man” than he realized at the time.
Often Brian would drive to the Golden Gate Bridge as Duane Garret had done and stand in a spot near one of the towers where he imagined that Duane had waited before he jumped to his death. Hidden from the traffic on the bridge, Brian would contemplate jumping. But his own “fear of heights would trump his fear of life,” and Brian would leave for work or home, hiding his depression for as long as he could.
Chapter 22 – Young Brian
Chapter 22 – “There’s Always Something” Page 177
While the lawsuit is in process, the Copelands attempt to live a normal life, with Brian pretending to live and be as much like everyone else as possible. However, at Christmastime when he actually has saved and earned $24 to spend on presents, Brian faces yet another atrocious incident of racial profiling while he is shopping at Gemco for a Christmas present for his youngest sister, Tonya. A man in a brown corduroy jacket follows Brian from practically the first moment he enters the store. At first, Brian thinks the man is also shopping for a little sister’s Christmas present. However, when Brian picks up and studies a Barbie Doll, the man pulls out a badge and takes Brian to the manager’s office. Here, they ask him to empty his pockets, frisk him, and after much humiliation, they finally let Brian go. But the damage is done – Brian who has always been taught to be a gentleman, now realizes that the men thought he was a crook. Crying, “I’m an alter boy,” Brian’s mom cradles him in her arms, trying to soothe the pain of the bigotry. She explains that “Some people are always going to look at you as though you’re doing something wrong because. . . you are black.” (pg. 184) Carolyn Copeland attempts to explain to her son how life is not fair. All the while Brian is sobbing and shouting “Black is bad… Why is God punishing me?” He finally falls asleep after crying into his pillow, “I don’t want to be black. I’m not bad. I’m not bad.” (pg. 185)
Chapter 23 – Young Brian
Chapter 23 – “A Kindred Spirit” Page 187
Sitting alone at a desk made for two students, Brian explains how he purposely marks answers wrong on tests so that he wouldn’t stand out so much by getting all the answers correct. He explains that was what Superboy in the comic books did to avoid having his secret identity exposed when he was in school. Brian tells us that he is already tormented because he is black and doesn’t want any more torment because of his intellect, so he always did the same thing – mark a few of the answers wrong on purpose.
One day a new white kid, Jon Regan, joins the class, and the teacher tells him to sit in the only empty seat, the one next to Brian. After introducing themselves to each other, the boys hardly talk to each other for about a month. Brian is hesitant to make friends, only to have the intimacy exploited. Even though Jon is also bullied and picked on by the other kids in the class, Brian is still wary of making friends until one day when Jon invites the whole class to his birthday party. Not really wanting to go and spend time with people who torment him during the week, on that Saturday Brian does go to the party. On the way to Jon’s house, Brian realizes that he is walking exactly where the teenagers picked on him and the cop frisked him on that horrible day, and he arrives at Jon’s house rather sad. The sadness continues as forty-five minutes pass, and he realizes that no one else from the class is going to come to the party – only Brian himself. Jon’s mother, his siblings, and Brian all have a great time celebrating the birthday, and for the first time Brian has made a friend. Both boys are outsiders – and soon they are not alone anymore.
Not feeling so alone anymore, Brian decides he will answer all the questions correctly on the next test.
Chapter 24 – Adult Brian
Chapter 24 – “A Gesture” Page 193
This short chapter shows us Brian learning that his suicide attempt was only classified as “a gesture,” not as a real attempt. The doctors give Brian mood elevating medication, but it takes a month before the drugs will kick in. Brian tries as hard as he can to “put on a happy face,” but he cannot fool his daughter, Carolyn. She asks why he is so sad, and Brian sinks lower into his depression. As his family falls apart, Brian’s wife retreats to a local biker bar for solace among new friends. And while he longs to play with his kids and be a father and husband, Brian cannot move.
Chapter 25 – Young Brian
Chapter 25 – “The Man of the House” Page 195
Brian comes home from school one day to what he thinks is an empty house. Heading for the kitchen to get himself a big bowl of Captain Crunch cereal for an after school snack, Brian hears loud bumps coming from his mother’s room. Running upstairs to the door of her room to investigate the noises, he sees Sylvester gripping his mother’s head and repeatedly banging her skull against the wall, denting the wallboard into the shape of his mother’s skull. Brian runs downstairs looking for a weapon, no time to boil water, and finds his Grandma’s butcher knife.
Returning with the knife, Brian finds that Sylvester now has his mom pinned to the wall by her throat, and Brian screams in rage at his father to let his mother go. At first, Sylvester is almost laughing at his son, but then he threatens to kill Brian if the boy doesn’t leave the room. Brian stands his ground and says, “You’re going to have to if you don’t let my mother go.” (pg. 197) Sylvester lets go of Carolyn’s neck, and starts toward Brian. A struggle ensues, during which Brian slashes Sylvester’s palm with the knife and manages to hit Sylvester in his private parts with his other fist. Only partly injured, Sylvester is still coming for Brian when Brian musters all his strength and punches Sylvester in his crotch once again. In pain, Sylvester finally releases Brian but soon attacks again putting his bloody hands around Brian’s throat. With his mother screaming, the police arrive at the front door. Acting disgusted, Sylvester lets Brian go as the police are breaking into the apartment. Like his readers, Brian does not understand how or why Sylvester could be disgusted. As Sylvester is talking to the police, Carolyn pries the butcher knife from Brian’s hand telling him he “shouldn’t talk to his father like that.” The chapter concludes with a discussion of how his mother loved his father and how, like her, he seemed to always be attracted to the downtrodden women he could “save” from their environment and condition in life. He tells us that he has worked past that missionary attitude, but that his mother never lived long enough to do the same.
Chapter 26 – Young Brian
Chapter 26 – “Responsibilities” Page 201
After the butcher knife incident, Brian is now “the man of the house.” One day, while walking home after helping his favorite teacher, Mrs. Carrion, grade papers after school, Mr. Wilkins stops Brian and offers him some candy which Brian puts in his pockets. Then this nice old white man from Tennessee gives Brian a rolling pin he made to give to Brian’s Grandma and wants Brian to look at some of the photographs he’s taken of Brian and his sisters. On the box containing the slide photos, the words “Negro Children” are written. Brian objects to the term Negro, telling Mr. Wilkins that hi mom says that “Black” is the preferred term. Mr. Wilkins understands, and saying, “Folks should be called whatever it is they want to be called,” he changes the word on the box from “Negro” to “Black.” Then he apologetically explains that even through when he lived in Tennessee it was a different time, it didn’t make “things that were wrong, right.”
After a brief discussion of how some folks can change and others don’t change, Mr. Wilkins asks about the court case Brian’s grandma told him about. Brian is surprised he knows about the case, and he explains that he has to testify tomorrow and must hurry home. Explaining that we “all got to take some kind of responsibility” Mr. Wilkins says good-bye to Brian for what turns out to be the last time. Mr. Wilkins disappeared from the neighborhood after that. Brian was never certain what happened to him, but rumor in the neighborhood was that some family members moved him back to Tennessee because they felt he was too old to take care of himself anymore.
Brian didn’t really have to hurry home; he lied because he didn’t want to talk about the trial. On his way home, Brian stops by his friend Jon’s house, finding him mowing the lawn and wiping his eyes. After discussing how the lawnmower blades need sharpening, Jon breaks down, sobbing, saying that his parents are getting a divorce. For the first time in his life, Brian hugs another boy, realizing that he isn’t the only one with family problems. When Jon is feeling better, Brian takes one side of the lawnmower and Jon the other. Together the boys finish mowing the lawn, and Jon finally smiles.
Chapter 27 – Young Brian
Chapter 27 – “Judgment Day” Page 213
Today it is Brian’s turn to testify in the trial. Many people, including Grandma and Carolyn, already testified about the harassment the Copeland family had endured, and Brian is now supposed to testify about Mr. Wentworth illegally entering the apartment. After Mr. Ware questions Brian about the illegal entry, the other attorney accuses Brian of perjury. Brian, a Perry Mason fan, objects to the line of questioning. The judge backs Brian up, the attorney withdraws the question, and Brian is feeling good about the way things are going. However, Brian is not prepared for the next line of questions involving whether or not he ever witnessed his mother and father fighting. Claiming that his mother’s emotional distress was not the result of being evicted and persecuted, but rather the result of her marriage, the lawyer asks Brian again – has he ever witnessed his mother and father fighting. Brian has to answer “yes,” and the chapter ends with Brian’s mother realizing the case is lost and hoping the judge will give them enough time to find another place to live.
Chapter 28 – Adult Brian
Chapter 28 – “Get Your Black Ass Up” Page 219
The year is 1999, and Brian, caught in his crippling depression and unable to even get off the couch to play with his kids, gets a phone call from his grandma. Instead of the sympathy and compassion he expects, she uses the best of the “tough love” techniques and tells Brian she is ashamed of him and for him to “GET YOU BLACK ASS UP NOW.” Shocked at first by her seemingly uncaring comments, Brian realizes that it is because of Grandma that he made it as long as he has, that she is the voice of reason, the voice of his past, present, and future. Brian hangs up the phone, goes out and plays with his kids, laughs a real healing laugh, and for the first time feels his own identity. He begins to feel like a genuine black man.
Chapter 29 – Adult Brian
Chapter 29 – “End Game” Page 223
Brian tells us he recently got a hold of the court proceedings and found out that the judge did not believe his or his mother’s testimony. The judge ruled that Mr. Wentworth had not entered the apartment, and he said the emotional distress Carolyn suffered was only because of her marriage to Sylvester, not anything Mr. Wentworth did. Brian’s mom received no money from her lawsuit.
However, things didn’t turn out entirely against the family; they did not have to move. On that Friday night, the family is once again playing rummy and discussing double negatives as they were in the opening chapter. Only in this chapter, we find that Tracie grows up to be a successful model, businesswoman, wife and mother, that Sylvester never came back to the family, and that Grandma, in her 80s now, is still caring for her many great grand children.
We also learn that many things changed in San Leandro – the community began to accept more black families, and the apartment building was sold to people who hired much better managers than the Wentworth’s ever were. Brian has people in his life now who made a significant difference for him -- Scout masters and teachers like his 8th grade teacher Marilou Ramirez who put him on stage for the first time, his long time friend Jon Regan, and his Catholic school teacher, Lisa Carrion and her father who (without Brian even knowing) paid his tuition to high school after Brian’s mother died. From family friends like Charlene Raimondi and Paul Cromwell to coaches like Tommy Thomas who gave Brian his first start in show business, Brian is finally blessed with a support system that enables him to stay and thrive in San Leandro.
Brian tells us that, according to the 2000 census, San Leandro is now one of the most diverse cities in California. Even though old prejudicial attitudes still persist, Brian is staying and living in San Leandro for three major reasons. The first is his mother – he was determined to stay and continue the fight she began. The second is because of all the friends and benefactors he met in San Leandro, and the third, and most important reason of all, is that there is still work to be done. Brian gives us several examples of recent bigotry and racism, but also shows us how things are better now. In 2004, the Mayor of San Leandro, Sheila Young, gives a City Commendation to Brian’s Grandma and his mother (posthumously) for their bravery in fighting to make the city a “more diverse, more inclusive community.” And even though Grandma and Brian’s other sisters moved to the Sacramento area where houses are less costly, the mayor proclaimed that Brian’s Grandma is “forever an Honorary resident of the city of San Leandro.”
Brian soon quits his morning show to focus on comedy and writing, but his marriage has suffered too much damage to survive, and he and his children’s mother divorce. After much settling, Brian meets and married a wonderful woman, Susie, and begins his “new” career – telling the truth about his own life with a one man show he calls, “Not A Genuine Black Man” which opens at the Marsh Theatre in San Francisco in 2004 and runs for two years, instead of only the 6 weeks it was originally scheduled to run. Since then, Brian has performed all over the country, including a stint in New York City, and has met and influenced people from all walks of life who identify with him and have learned from him what it means to “keep it real.” Brian now knows why he didn’t die in that Miata in his garage – he knows he was saved to tell everyone who is the victim of prejudice that they are okay – “they are normal.” As he says, “We must all live our lives in the way that makes use of the most comfortable and the happiest.” However,
Brian now realizes that he has one last piece of unfinished business to take care of.
Chapter 30 – Adult Brian
Chapter 30 – “Pappy” Page 234
This chapter opens with Brian spending his evenings staking out an old store front, remembering all the times he would pretend that he would use quotes from the old TV show Maverick, pretending that his father was the author of the witty and clever comments. The kids would laugh and Brian would always be happy that they never stayed up late enough to see the program he quoted from. Then one evening a man is almost hit by a car, and Brian can complete the unfinished business he needs to take care of – his father, Sylvester.
Twenty-five years before, after Carolyn had died and when Brian was almost 16, he and Sylvester rekindled a shaky relationship. Promising to buy Brian a used car for his birthday, Sylvester doesn’t show up and once again dashes his son’s hopes and dreams. This time when Brian approaches his father who is now looking very old and suffering from colon cancer, Sylvester does not recognize his son. Brian can’t bring himself to ask the questions which are nagging at him – “why were you so mean? Why didn’t you show up on my birthday?? Why??” Brian simply asks the old man what time it is. Sylvester, responds, “Quarter to seven” and continues to jay walk across the street to the shelter. Alone in his Miata, Brian can finally laugh! “It took forty-one years but he finally gave me something. The time of day.” And as Brian hugs his now 16 year old son Adam, he realizes that it was Sylvester who had missed out on all those years – not himself.
Afterward – Adult Brian
Afterward Page 241
Brian tells us how much better things are now in San Leandro, giving us examples of seeing black and white children and their mothers in friendly play and conversation, of his own daughter never being called a “nigger” until she is in the 8th grade, of realtors valuing the diversity of the community. But most important, he tells us of how he, himself, has changed. He now knows that he IS indeed a genuine black man – because he is resilient. Brian describes for us the many instances of resilience he has needed in order to survive. And, like his friend Mr. Wilkins once told him, he has the right and the ability to determine his identity, regardless of what other blacks or whites say. He is a man. Brian is a black man.
In the end Brian is grateful for that anonymous letter accusing him of not being a genuine black man, because it led him on this exploration to find his identity – an identity he now knows is true – it is his experience. It is genuine, and San Leandro is his home town.