* * * *
Folks started calling me Trotsky in my freshman year after I participated in a debate in the New Patriots Forum. I joined the New Patriots out of curiosity and on a lark. Actually, I didn’t really join it; I integrated it. The Forum was an all-white, red-blooded, flag-waving club of the first order. I wanted to know what the members argued about and I wanted to learn how they went about it. In order to be accepted into the debate club, you had to submit a written essay. If the membership committee was sufficiently impressed with the strength of your reasoning and persuasiveness of your prose, then you were in.
My essay was on the excesses of the press. I wrote it with the best right-wing bent I could swing. And, I wrote it well. I received a hand-written, enthusiastically worded acceptance note. They were so delighted to welcome me into their ranks—until I showed up for the first meeting. There was little room for them to renege on their invitation, so I became the first Black member of the New Patriots Forum. For my inaugural debate, I was assigned the position of arguing in favor of the Communist Manifesto. At the time, I knew zilch about communism which meant I actually had to bone up on the Manifesto, do some research on socialism and think through my arguments.
Joseph Wiley Wellington, a junior who was president of the Forum and my gleeful opponent, debated by rote, with plenty of patriotic passion, of course. By the time we finished our summations, his ears were pinned to the back of his crew-cut blond head. My victory was so lopsided that the silver-tongued Jake McCormick, the faculty advisor for the New Patriots, was speechless. When he recovered, he let loose a shitload of insulting questions. If I hated America so much, why didn’t I go back to Africa? What secret cell was I a member of? How many of my comrades helped prep me for the debate?
While downing a six-pack of Old Milwaukee beer with a couple of my dorm buddies the weekend after, I ran down the verbal ass kicking I had rendered and the reaction from McCormick and the New Patriots. Both Dino and Wesley thought it was all a hoot. Between guffaws, Dino blurted out, “Yeah, Trotter the aspiring bourgeoisie communist."
Wesley chortled, laughing so hard he spit out the suds he was gulping in one big messy spurt, “Naw, make that “Trotsky, the bourgie commie.”
That became a running joke. In time, the gibe ran out and I became just plain Trotsky. The moniker stuck with me throughout my college years. Some of my closest friends still use the nickname.
* * * *
“What up, Trotsky?” Reginald 23X asked as we brushed past each other through the glass double doors. I gave Reginald a power sign. He powered back. A line of Black students streamed through the left door as a lonely soul--me--exited to the right. Then Allison, who had been just another body in the middle of the pack of students, popped out. She gave me a puzzled look. I could read her mind. Where are you going? Why aren’t you in there?
In a reflex, I made an about face. Hesitated long enough to recollect my cool and rediscover my game face before swinging back through the door I had just flipped out of. I re-entered the room with a determined urgency, marching straight for the front. I tapped my ashen and fidgeting boss on the shoulder of his plaid sports jacket, and then deftly snatched out the pen and reporter’s notepad I carried in the deep thighpocket of my green Army fatigue pants. I gave him a paternal pat on the shoulder before whispering reassuringly in his ear: “Don’t worry, Bob. I’ve got it covered.”