It was summertime, during some racial debacle akin to the Rodney King fiasco, the weather was hot, even for New Orleans, and race relations were tense. My Uncle Ray was a large, impressive southern progressive living in Algiers -- a working-class black neighborhood. Ray was an elderly Caucasian gentleman, on the roundish side, with a broad, milky-white patriarchal beard spread over his chest. Nobody in the neighborhood had given him any trouble so far. In fact, people were universally nice, but he was still a little nervous, given the news.
It was late afternoon. He was alone at a bus stop. A black kid who looked to be about nine or ten came over to wait and sat at the other end of the bench. My uncle became more and more aware that the kid was staring at him. Hard.
Ray glanced over. The boy was sitting slightly forward, as if he were about to spring, his mouth pressed into a straight line, his brow furrowed, his eyes narrow. He was husky kid, and my uncle, as I said was elderly. Ray sat there in his tie-dyed t-shirt, shorts and birkenstocks (with socks, of course.) He was that his own eyes weren't visible behind his sunglasses, because he was becoming well and truly scared. Sure, the kid was young, but who knew what he was thinking? Maybe he had a knife? A straight razor? Every stereotype my uncle had known as boy growing up in the south -- and resisted -- came crashing down on him. "Urban poor," "welfare mothers" "young gang members..."
Then, with a suddenness that caused Ray to jump, the kid declared, with the air of someone who'd come to a momentous decision.
"You IS Santa Claus!"