فصل 10کتاب: اتحادیه ابلهان / فصل 10
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Gus Levy was a nice guy. He was also a regular fellow. He had friends among promoters and trainers and coaches and managers across the country. At any arena or stadium or track Gus Levy could count on knowing at least one person connected with the place. He knew owners and ticket sellers and players. He even got a Christmas card every year from a peanut vendor who worked the parking lot across from Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He was very well liked.
Levy’s Lodge was where he went between seasons. He had no friends there. At Christmas the only sign of the season at Levy’s Lodge, the only barometer of Yuletide spirit was the appearance of his daughters, who descended upon him from college with demands for additional money coupled with threats to disavow his paternity forever if he continued to mistreat their mother. For Christmas, Mrs. Levy always compiled not a gift list but rather a list of the injustices and brutalities she had suffered since August. The girls got this list in their stockings. The only gift Mrs. Levy asked of the girls was that they attack their father. Mrs. Levy loved Christmas.
Now Mr. Levy was waiting at the lodge for spring practice to begin. Gonzalez had his reservations to Florida and Arizona in order. But at Levy’s Lodge it was like Christmas all over again, and what was going on in Levy’s Lodge could have been postponed until he left for the practice camps, Mr. Levy thought.
Mrs. Levy had stretched Miss Trixie across his favorite couch, the yellow nylon one, and was rubbing skin cream into the old woman’s face. Now and then Miss Trixie’s tongue would flap out and sample a bit of cream from her upper lip.
“I’m getting nauseous from watching that,” Mr. Levy said. “Can’t you take her outside? It’s a nice day.”
“She likes this couch,” Mrs. Levy answered. “Let her have some enjoyment. Why don’t you go outside and wax your sports car?”
“Silence!” Miss Trixie snarled with the stupendous false teeth that Mrs. Levy had just bought her.
“Listen to that,” Mr. Levy said. “She’s really running this place.”
“So she’s asserting herself. Does that bother you? The teeth have given her a little self-confidence. Of course, you begrudge the woman even that. I’m beginning to understand why she’s so insecure. I’ve found out that Gonzalez ignores her all day, makes her feel unwanted in about a hundred different ways. Subconsciously she hates Levy Pants.” “Who doesn’t?” said Miss Trixie.
“Sad, sad,” was all that Mr. Levy answered.
Miss Trixie grunted and some air whistled through her lips.
“Now let’s cut this out,” Mr. Levy said. “I’ve let you play a lot of ridiculous games around here. This one doesn’t even make sense. If you want to open a funeral parlor, I’ll set you up. But not in my rumpus room. Now wipe that goo off her face and let me drive her back to town. Let me have some peace while I’m in this house.” “So. You’re angry all of a sudden. At least you’re having a normal response. That’s unusual for you.”
“Are you doing this just to make me angry? You can make me angry without all this. Now let her alone. All she wants is to retire. It’s like torturing a dumb animal.”
“I am a very attractive woman,” Miss Trixie mumbled in her sleep.
“Listen to that!” Mrs. Levy cried happily. “And you want to throw her out in the snow? I’m just getting through to her. She’s like a symbol of everything you haven’t done.” Suddenly Miss Trixie leaped up, snarling, “Where’s my eyeshade?”
“This is going to be good,” Mr. Levy said. “Wait till she sinks those five-hundred-dollar teeth in you.”
“Who took my eyeshade?” Miss Trixie demanded fiercely. “Where am I? Take your hands off me.”
“Darling,” Mrs. Levy began, but Miss Trixie had fallen asleep on her side, her creamed face smearing the couch.
“Look, Fairy Godmother, how much have you spent on this little game already? I’m not paying to have that couch re-covered.”
“That’s right. Spend all your money on the horses. Let this human flounder.”
“You’d better take those teeth out of her mouth before she bites off her tongue. Then she’ll really be stuck.”
“Speaking of tongue, you should have heard all that she told me about Gloria this morning.” Mrs. Levy made a gesture that indicated acceptance of injustice and tragedy. “Gloria was the soul of kindness, the first person in years who took an interest in Miss Trixie. Then out of the blue you walk in and kick Gloria out of her life. I think it’s given her a very bad trauma. The girls would love to know about Gloria. They’d ask you some questions, believe me.” “I bet they would. You know, I think you’re really going out of your mind. There is no Gloria. If you keep on talking to your little protégé there, she’s going to take you with her right into the twilight zone. When Susan and Sandra come home for Easter, they’ll find you bouncing on that board with a paper bag full of rags in your arms.” “Oh, oh. I see. Mere guilt about this Gloria incident. Fighting, resentment. It’s all going to end very badly, Gus. Please skip one of your tournaments and go see Lenny’s doctor. The man works miracles, believe me.” “Then ask him to take Levy Pants off our hands. I talked to three realtors this week. Every one of them said it was the most unsalable property they’d ever seen.”
“Gus, did I hear correctly? Did I hear you say something about selling your heritage?” Mrs. Levy screamed.
“Quiet!” Miss Trixie snarled. “I’ll get you people. Wait and see. You’ll get it. I’ll get even.”
“Oh, shut up,” Mrs. Levy shouted at her and pressed her back to the couch, where she promptly dozed off.
“Well, one guy,” Mr. Levy continued calmly, “this very aggressive-looking agent, gave me some hope. Like all the others, he said, ‘Nobody wants a clothing factory today. The market’s dead. Your place is outmoded. Thousands for repairs and modernization. It’s got a railroad switch line, but light goods like clothes are going by truck today, and the place is badly located for trucks. Across town from the highways. Southern garment business folding. Even the land’s not worth much. The whole area is becoming a slum.’ And on and on. But this one agent said maybe he could interest some supermarket chain in buying the factory for a store. Well, that sounded good. Then the hitch came in. There’s no parking area around Levy Pants, the neighborhood’s living median or something is too low to support a big market, and on and on again. He said the only hope was renting it out as a warehouse, but again warehouse revenues are not high and the place is badly located for a warehouse. Something about highways again. So don’t worry. Levy Pants is still ours, like a chamberpot we inherited.” “A chamberpot? Your father’s sweat and blood is a chamberpot? I see your motive. Destroy the last monument to your father’s accomplishments.”
“Levy Pants is a monument?”
“Why I ever wanted to work there I’ll never know,” Miss Trixie said angrily from among the pillows where Mrs. Levy had her pinioned. “Thank goodness poor Gloria got out of there in time.” “Pardon me, ladies,” Mr. Levy said, whistling through his teeth. “You two can discuss Gloria alone.”
He got up and went into the whirlpool bath. While the water swirled and jetted around him, he wondered how he might somehow be able to dump Levy Pants in the lap of some poor buyer. It must have some uses. A skating rink? A gym? A Negro cathedral? Then he wondered what would happen if he carried Mrs. Levy’s exercising table to the seawall and dumped it into the Gulf. He dried himself carefully, put on his terry-cloth robe, and went back into the rumpus room to get his dope sheet.
Miss Trixie was sitting up on the couch. Her face had been cleaned. Her mouth was an orange smear. Her weak eyes were accentuated by shadow. Mrs. Levy was adjusting a coiffed black wig over the old woman’s thin hair.
“What in the world are you doing to me now?” Miss Trixie was wheezing at her benefactress. “You’ll pay for this.”
“Do you believe it?” Mrs. Levy asked her husband proudly, all traces of hostility gone from her voice. “Just look at that.”
Mr. Levy couldn’t believe it. Miss Trixie looked exactly like Mrs. Levy’s mother.
In Mattie’s Ramble Inn, Jones poured a glassful of beer and sank his long teeth into the foam.
“That Lee woman ain’t treatin you right, Jones,” Mr. Watson was telling him. “One thing I don like to see a colored man make fun of hisself for bein colored. That what she be doin with you fix up like a plantation darky.” “Whoa! Color cats got it har enough without peoples bustin out laughin cause they color. sh@t. I make my mistake when I tell that Lee mother a po-lice tell me to get a job. I shoulda tell her them fair employmen peoples sendin me over, scare that gal a little.” “You better go to the po-lice and tell them you quittin at that place but you gonna fin you another job.”
“Hey! I ain walkin in no precinc and flappin my mouth at no po-lice. Them po-lice take one look at me, throw my ass in jail. Whoa! Color peoples cain fin no job, but they sure can fin a openin in jail. Goin in jail the bes way you get you somethin to eat regular. But I rather starve outside. I rather mop a whore floor than go to jail and be makin plenny license plate and rug and leather belt and sh@t. I jus was stupor enough to get my ass snatch up in a trap at that Night of Joy. I gotta figure this thing out myself.” “I still say you go to the po-lice and tell them you be between job a little while.”
“Yeah. And maybe I be between job about fifdy year. I ain seen no peoples screamin for unskill color cats. Ooo-wee. Somebody like that Lee bastar know plenny po-lice. Otherwise that B-drinker, knockout drop cathouse be close down long ago. I ain takin no chance going to no Lee frien in the po-lice and sayin, ‘Hey, man, I jus be vagran a little while.’ He say, ‘Okay, boy, you be servin jus a little while, too.’ Whoa!” “Well, how the sabotage comin along.”
“Pretty poor. Lee make me work overtime on the floor the other day, she see the crap gettin a little thicker so pretty soon her poor, stupor customer be up to they ankle in dus. sh@t. I tol you I wrote a address on one of her orphan package, so if she still distributin for the United Fun maybe we be gettin some answer on that. I sure like to see wha that address bringin in. Maybe it’ll be bringin in a po-lice. Whoa!” “It pretty clear you not gettin nowhere. Go talk to the po-lice, man. They understand your story.”
“I scare of the po-lice, Watson. Ooo-wee. You be scare, too, if you was jus standin in Woolsworth and some po-lice drag you off. Especially when Lee probly goin roun the whirl with half the po-lice on the force. Whoa!” Jones sent up what looked like a cloud, a radioactive one which gradually sent some fallout down onto the bar and the cooler filled with pickled meat. “Say, whatever happen to that dumb mother was in here that day, the one workin for Levy Pant? You ever seen him aroun again?” “The man talking about demonstratin?”
“Yeah, the cat got him that fat white freak for a leader, the one tellin them poor color peoples they suppose to drop a nucular bum on top they factory, kill theirselves and get what’s left of their ass throwed in jail.” “I ain’t seen him since.”
“sh@t. I like to fin out where that fat freak hidin out. Maybe I call up Levy Pant and ax for him. I like to drop him in the Night of Joy like a nucular bum. Seem like he the kin make that Lee mother sh@t in her drawer. Whoa! If I gonna be a doorman, I gonna be the mos sabotagin doorman ever guarded a plantation. Ooo-wee. The cotton fiel be burn to the groun before I’m through.” “Watch out, Jones. Don be gettin yourself in no trouble.”
Ignatius was beginning to feel worse and worse. His valve seemed to be glued, and no amount of bouncing was opening it. Great belches ripped out of the gas pockets of his stomach and tore through his digestive tract. Some escaped noisily. Others, weaning belches, lodged in his chest and caused massive heartburn.
The physical cause for this health decline was, he knew, the too strenuous consuming of Paradise products. But there were other, subtler reasons. His mother was becoming increasingly bold and overtly antagonistic; it was becoming impossible to control her. Perhaps she had joined some fringe group of the far right wing that was making her belligerent and hostile. At any rate, she certainly had been carrying on a witch-hunt in the brown kitchen recently, asking him all sorts of questions concerning his political philosophy. Which was strange. His mother had always been notably apolitical, voting only for candidates who seemed to have been kind to their mothers. Mrs. Reilly had been solidly behind Franklin Roosevelt for four terms not because of the New Deal, but because his mother, Mrs. Sara Roosevelt, seemed to have been respected and well treated by her son. Mrs. Reilly had also voted for the Truman woman standing before her Victorian house in Independence, Missouri, and not specifically for Harry Truman. To Mrs. Reilly, Nixon and Kennedy had meant Hannah and Rose. Motherless candidates confused her, and in motherless elections she stayed at home. Ignatius could not understand her sudden, clumsy effort to protect the American Way against her son.
Then there was Myrna, who had been appearing to him in a series of dreams that was taking the form of the old Batman serials that he had seen at the Prytania as a child. One chapter followed the other. In one gruesome chapter, he had been standing on a subway platform, reincarnated as St. James, the Less, who was martyred by the Jews. Myrna appeared through a turnstile carrying a NON-VIOLENT CONGRESS FOR THE s@xUALLY NEEDY placard and began heckling him. “Jesus will come to the fore, skins or not,” Ignatius-St. James prophesied grandly. But Myrna, sneering, pushed him with the placard onto the tracks before the speeding subway train. He had awakened just as the train was about to crush him. The M. Minkoff dreams were getting worse than the old, terrifying Scenicruiser dreams in which Ignatius, magnificent on the upper deck, had ridden doomed buses over the rails of bridges and into collisions with jets taxiing along airport runways.
By night he was plagued by dreams and by day by the impossible route that Mr. Clyde had given him. No one in the French Quarter, it seemed, was interested in hot dogs. So his take-home pay was getting smaller, and his mother, in turn, was getting surlier. When and how would this vicious cycle end?
He had read in the morning paper that a ladies’ art guild was having a hanging of its paintings in Pirate’s Alley. Imagining that the paintings would be offensive enough to interest him for a while, he pushed his wagon up onto the flagstones of the Alley toward the variety of artwork dangling from the iron pickets of the fence behind the Cathedral. On the prow of the wagon, in an attempt to attract business among the Quarterites, Ignatius taped a sheet of Big Chief paper on which he had printed in crayon: TWELVE INCHES (12”) OF PARADISE. So far no one had responded to its message.
The Alley was filled with well-dressed ladies in large hats. Ignatius pointed the prow of the wagon into the throng and pushed forward. A woman read the Big Chief statement and screamed, summoning her companions to draw aside from the ghastly apparition that had appeared at their art show.
“Hot dogs, ladies?” Ignatius asked pleasantly.
The ladies’ eyes studied the sign, the earring, the scarf, the cutlass, and pleaded for him to move along. Rain for their hanging would have been bad enough. But this.
“Hot dogs, hot dogs,” Ignatius said a little angrily. “Savories from the hygienic Paradise kitchens.”
He belched violently during the silence that followed. The ladies pretended to study the sky and the little garden behind the Cathedral.
Ignatius lumbered over to the picket fence, abandoning the hopeless cause espoused by the wagon, and viewed the oil paintings and pastels and watercolors strung there. Although the style of each varied in crudity, the subjects of the paintings were relatively similar: camellias floating in bowls of water, azaleas tortured into ambitious flower arrangements, magnolias that looked like white windmills. Ignatius scrutinized the offerings furiously for a while all by himself, for the ladies had stepped back from the fence and had formed what looked like a protective little grouping. The wagon, too, stood forlorn on the flagstones, several feet from the newest member of the art guild.
“Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed after he had promenaded up and down along the fence. “How dare you present such abortions to the public.”
“Please move along, sir,” a bold lady said.
“Magnolias don’t look like that,” Ignatius said, thrusting his cutlass at the offending pastel magnolia. “You ladies need a course in botany. And perhaps geometry, too.” “You don’t have to look at our work,” an offended voice said from the group, the voice of the lady who had drawn the magnolia in question.
“Yes, I do!” Ignatius screamed. “You ladies need a critic with some taste and decency. Good heavens! Which one of you did this camellia? Speak up. The water in this bowl looks like motor oil.” “Let us alone,” a shrill voice said.
“You women had better stop giving teas and brunches and settle down to the business of learning how to draw,” Ignatius thundered. “First, you must learn how to handle a brush. I would suggest that you all get together and paint someone’s house for a start.” “Go away.”
“Had you ‘artists’ had a part in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, it would have ended up looking like a particularly vulgar train terminal,” Ignatius snorted.
“We don’t intend to be insulted by a coarse vendor,” a spokeswoman for the band of large hats said haughtily.
“I see!” Ignatius screamed. “So it is you people who slander the reputation of the hot dog vendor.”
“He’s so common.”
“Don’t encourage him.”
“We don’t want you here,” the spokeswoman said tartly and simply.
“I should imagine not!” Ignatius was breathing heavily. “Apparently you are afraid of someone who has some contact with reality, who can truthfully describe to you the offenses which you have committed to canvas.” “Please leave,” the spokeswoman ordered.
“I shall.” Ignatius grabbed the handle of his cart and pushed off. “You women should all be on your knees begging forgiveness for what I have seen here on this fence.” “The city is certainly going down when that’s out on the streets,” a woman said as Ignatius waddled off down the Alley.
Ignatius was surprised to feel a small rock bounce off the back of his head. Angrily, he shoved the wagon along the flagstones until he was near the end of the alley. There he parked the wagon in a little passageway so that it would be out of sight. His feet hurt, and while he was resting he didn’t want anyone to bother him by asking for a hot dog. Even though business couldn’t be worse, there were times when a person had to be true to himself and consider his welfare first. Much more of this vending and his feet would be bloody stumps.
Ignatius squatted uncomfortably on the side steps of the Cathedral. His recently increased weight and the bloating caused by the inoperative valve made any position other than standing or lying down somewhat awkward. Removing his boots, he began to inspect his great slabs of feet.
“Oh, dear,” a voice said above Ignatius. “What am I seeing? I come out to see this dreadful, tacky art exhibit, and what do I find as Exhibit Number One? It’s the ghost of Lafitte, the pirate. No. It’s Fatty Arbuckle. Or is it Marie Dressler? Tell me soon or I’ll die.” Ignatius looked up and saw the young man who had bought his mother’s hat in the Night of Joy.
“Get away from me, you fop. Where is my mother’s hat?”
“Oh, that,” the young man sighed. “I’m afraid it was destroyed at a really wild gathering. Everyone dearly loved it.”
“I’m sure that they did. I won’t ask you just how it was desecrated.”
“I wouldn’t remember anyway. Too many martinis that night for little moi.”
“Oh, my God.”
“What in God’s name are you doing in that bizarre outfit? You look like Charles Laughton in drag as the Queen of the Gypsies. What are you supposed to be? I really want to know.” “Move along, you coxcomb,” Ignatius belched, the gassy eructations echoing between the walls of the Alley. The women’s art guild turned its hats toward the source of the volcanic sound. Ignatius glared at the young man’s tawny velvet jacket and mauve cashmere sweater and the wave of blonde hair that fell over the forehead of his sharp, glittering face. “Get away from me before I strike you down.” “Oh, my goodness,” the young man laughed in short, merry, childish breaths that made his downy jacket quiver. “You really are insane, aren’t you?”
“How dare you!” Ignatius screamed. He unpinned his cutlass and began to strike the young man’s calves with the plastic weapon. The young man giggled and danced about in front of Ignatius to avoid the thrusts, his lithe movements making him a difficult target. Finally he danced across the Alley and waved to Ignatius. Ignatius picked up one of his elephantine desert boots and flung it at the pirouetting figure.
“Oh,” the young man squealed. He caught the shoe and threw it back at Ignatius, whom it hit squarely in the face.
“Oh, my God! I’ve been disfigured.”
“I can easily have you booked for assault.”
“If I were you, I’d stay as far away from the police as possible. What do you think they’d say when they saw that outfit, Mary Marvel? And booking me with assault? Let’s be a little realistic. I’m surprised that they’re permitting you to go cruising at all in that fortune-teller’s ensemble.” The young man clicked his lighter open, lit a Salem, and clicked it closed. “And with those bare feet and that toy sword? Are you kidding?” “The police will believe anything I tell them.”
“Get with it, please.”
“You may be locked away for several years.”
“Oh, you really are on the moon.”
“Well, I certainly don’t have to sit here listening to you,” Ignatius said, putting on his suede boots.
“Oh!” the young man shrieked happily. “That look on your face. Like Bette Davis with indigestion.”
“Don’t talk to me, you degenerate. Go play with your little friends. I am certain that the Quarter is crawling with them.”
“How is that dear mother of yours?”
“I don’t want to hear her sainted name cross your decadent lips.”
“Well, since it already has, is she all right? She’s so sweet and dear, that woman, so unspoiled. You’re very lucky.”
“I will not discuss her with you.”
“If that’s the way you want to be, all right. I just hope that she doesn’t know that you’re flouncing around the streets like some sort of Hungarian Joan of Arc. That earring. It’s so Magyar.” “If you want a costume like this, then buy one,” Ignatius said. “Let me alone.”
“I know that something like that couldn’t be bought anywhere. Oh, but it would bring the house down at a party.”
“I suspect that the parties you attend must be true visions of the apocalypse. I knew that our society was coming to this. In a few years, you and your friends will probably take over the country.” “Oh, we’re planning to,” the young man said with a bright smile. “We have connections in the highest places. You’d be surprised.”
“No, I wouldn’t. Hroswitha could have predicted this long ago.”
“Who in the world is that?”
“A sibyl of a medieval nun. She has guided my life.”
“Oh, you’re truly fantastic,” the young man said gleefully. “And although I didn’t think it would be possible, you’ve gained weight. Where will you ever end? There’s something so unbelievably tacky about your obesity.” Ignatius rose to his feet and stabbed the young man in the chest with his plastic cutlass.
“Take that, you offal,” Ignatius cried, digging the cutlass into the cashmere sweater. The tip of the cutlass broke off and fell to the flagstone walk.
“Oh, dear,” the young man shrieked. “You’ll tear my sweater, you big crazy thing.”
Down the Alley the women’s art guild members were removing their paintings from the fence and folding their aluminum lawn chairs like Arabs in preparation for stealing away. Their annual outdoor exhibit had been ruined.
“I am the avenging sword of taste and decency,” Ignatius was shouting. As he slashed at the sweater with his broken weapon, the ladies began to dash out the Royal Street end of the Alley. A few stragglers were snatching at their magnolias and camellias in panic.
“Why did I ever stop to talk to you, you maniac?” the young man asked in a vicious and breathless whisper. “This is my very finest sweater.”
“Whore!” Ignatius cried, scraping the cutlass across the young man’s chest.
“Oh, isn’t this horrible.”
He tried to run away, but Ignatius had been holding his arm firmly with the hand that was not wielding the cutlass. Slipping a finger through Ignatius’s hoop earring, the young man pulled downward, breathing to Ignatius, “Drop that sword.” “Good grief.” Ignatius dropped the sword onto the flagstones. “I think that my ear is broken.”
The young man released the earring.
“Now you’ve done it!” Ignatius slobbered. “You will rot in a federal prison for the remainder of your life.”
“Just look at my sweater, you disgusting monster.”
“Only the most flamboyant offal would be seen in a miscarriage like that. You must have some shame or at least some taste in dress.”
“You awful creature. You huge thing.”
“I will probably spend several years at the Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital having this attended to,” Ignatius said, fingering his ear. “You may expect to receive some rather staggering medical bills each month. My corps of attorneys will contact you in the morning wherever it is that you carry on your questionable activities. I shall warn them beforehand that they may expect to see and hear anything. They are all brilliant attorneys, pillars of the community, aristocratic Creole scholars whose knowledge of the more surreptitious forms of living is quite limited. They may even refuse to see you. A considerably lesser representative may be sent to call upon you, some junior partner whom they’ve taken in out of pity.” “You awful, terrible animal.”
“However, to save you the anxiety of awaiting this phalanx of legal luminaries to arrive at your spider web of an apartment, I shall consent to accepting a settlement now, if you wish. Five or six dollars should suffice.” “My sweater cost me forty dollars,” the young man said. He felt the worn portion that had been scraped by the cutlass. “Are you prepared to pay for it?”
“Of course not. Never become involved in an altercation with a pauper.”
“I can easily sue you.”
“Perhaps we should both drop the idea of legal recourse. For an event so auspicious as a courtroom trial, you would probably get completely carried away and appear in a tiara and evening gown. An old judge would grow quite confused. Both of us would doubtlessly be found guilty on some trumped up charge.” “You revolting beast.”
“Why don’t you run along and partake in some dubious recreation that appeals to you,” Ignatius belched. “Look, there’s a sailor drifting along Chartres Street. He looks rather lonely.” The young man glanced down to the Chartres Street end of the Alley.
“Oh, him,” he said. “That’s only Timmy.”
“Timmy?” Ignatius asked angrily. “Do you know him?”
“Of course,” the young man said in a voice heavy with boredom. “He’s one of my dearest, oldest friends. He’s not a sailor at all.”
“What?” Ignatius thundered. “Do you mean that he is impersonating a member of the armed forces of this country?”
“That’s not all he impersonates.”
“This is extremely serious.” Ignatius frowned and the red sateen scarf rode down on his hunting cap. “Every soldier and sailor that we see could simply be some mad decadent in disguise. My God! We may all be trapped in some horrible conspiracy. I knew that something like this was going to happen. The United States is probably totally defenseless!” The young man and the sailor waved at each other familiarly, and the sailor drifted out of sight around the front of the Cathedral. Following a few steps behind the sailor, Patrolman Mancuso appeared at the end of Pirate’s Alley wearing a beret and goatee.
“Oh!” the young man shrieked gaily, watching Patrolman Mancuso stalking the sailor. “It’s that marvelous policeman. Don’t they know that everyone in the Quarter knows who he is?” “Do you know him, too?” Ignatius asked guardedly. “He’s a very dangerous man!”
“Everyone knows him. Thank goodness he’s back again. We were beginning to wonder what had happened to him. We love him dearly. Oh, I simply wait to see what new disguise they put on him. You should have seen him a few weeks ago before he had disappeared, he was just too much in that cowboy outfit.” The young man exploded in wild laughter. “He could hardly walk in these boots, his ankles kept giving way. Once he stopped me on Chartres when I was going truly mad with your mother’s W.P.A. hat. Then he stopped me again on Dumaine and tried to start a conversation. That day he was wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a crew sweater, and he told me that he was a Princeton student down here on a vacation. He’s just fabulous. I’m so glad the police have returned him to the people who truly appreciate him. I’m sure he was being wasted wherever he was recently. Oh, that accent of his. Some people like him best as the British tourist. That is choice. But I’ve always preferred his southern colonel. It’s really a matter of taste, I guess. We’ve had him arrested twice for making indecent proposals. That’s always wonderfully confusing to the police. I do hope that we haven’t gotten him in too much trouble, for he’s close to our hearts.” “He is thoroughly evil,” Ignatius observed. Then he said, “I wonder how many of our ‘military’ are simply people like your friend, disguised tarts.”
“Who knows? I wish they all were.”
“Of course,” Ignatius said in a thoughtful, serious voice, “this could be a worldwide deception.” The red sateen scarf rode up and down. “The next war could turn out to be one massive orgy. Good grief. How many of the military leaders of the world may simply be deranged old sodomites acting out some fake fantasy role? Actually, this might be quite beneficial to the world. It could mean an end to war forever. This could be the key to lasting peace.” “It certainly could,” the young man said pleasantly. “Peace at any price.”
Two nerve ends in Ignatius’s mind met and formed an immediate association. Perhaps he had found a means of assaulting the effrontery of M. Minkoff.
“The power-crazed leaders of the world would certainly be surprised to find that their military leaders and troops were only masquerading sodomites who were only too eager to meet the masquerading sodomite armies of other nations in order to have dances and balls and learn some foreign dance steps.” “Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The government would pay us to travel. How divine. We would bring an end to world strife and renew people’s hope and faith.”
“Perhaps you are the hope for the future,” Ignatius said, dramatically pounding one paw into the other. “There certainly doesn’t seem to be anything else very promising on the horizon.” “We would also help to end the population explosion.”
“Oh, my God!” The blue and yellow eyes flashed wildly. “Your method would probably be more satisfying and acceptable than the rather stringent birth control tactics which I have always advocated. I must dedicate some space to this in my writings. This subject deserves the attention of a profound thinker who has a certain perspective on the world’s cultural development. I am certainly glad that you have given me this valuable new insight.” “Oh, what a fun day this has been. You’re a gypsy. Timmy’s a sailor. The marvelous policeman’s an artist.” The young man sighed. “It’s just like Mardi Gras, and I feel so left out. I think I’ll go home and throw something on.” “Wait just a moment,” Ignatius said. He couldn’t permit this opportunity to slip through his swollen fingers.
“I’ll put on some clogs. I’m in my Ruby Keeler phase,” the young man told Ignatius gaily. Then he began to sing. “‘You go home and get your scanties, I’ll go home and get my panties, and away we’ll go. Oh-ho-ho. Off we’re gonna shuffle, shuffle off to Buffalo-ho-ho…’” “Stop that offensive performance,” Ignatius ordered angrily. These people must be whipped into line.
The young man did a little soft shoe around Ignatius and said, “Ruby was such a darling. I watch her old movies on television religiously. ‘And for just a silver quarter, we can tip the pullman porter, turn the lights down low, oh-ho-ho, off we’re gonna shuffle, shuffle off to…’” “Please be serious for a moment. Stop fluttering around here.”
“Moi? Fluttering? What do you want, Gypsy Woman?”
“Have you people considered forming a political party and running a candidate?”
“Politics? Oh, Maid of Orleans. How dreary.”
“This is very important!” Ignatius shouted worriedly. He would show Myrna how to inject s@x into politics. “Although I had never considered it before, you may hold the key to the future.” “Well, what do you want to do about it, Eleanor Roosevelt?”
“You must start a party organization. Plans must be made.”
“Oh, please,” the young man sighed. “All this man’s talk is making my mind reel.”
“We may be able to save the world!” Ignatius bellowed in an orator’s voice. “Good heavens. Why haven’t I thought of this before?”
“This kind of conversation depresses me more than you could possibly imagine,” the young man told him. “You’re beginning to remind me of my father, and what could be more depressing than that?” The young man sighed. “I’m afraid I’ll have to be running along. It’s costume time.” “No!” Ignatius grabbed the lapel of the young man’s jacket.
“Oh, my goodness,” the young man breathed, putting his hand to his throat. “Now I’ll be on pills all night.”
“We must organize immediately.”
“I can’t tell you how much you’re depressing me.”
“There must be a large organizational meeting to kick off the campaign.”
“Wouldn’t that be something like a party?”
“Yes, in a way. However, it would have to express your purpose.”
“Then it might be sort of fun. You can’t imagine how drab, drab the parties have been lately.”
“This is not to be a party, you ass.”
“Oh, we’ll be very serious.”
“Good. Now listen to me. I must come to lecture to you people so that you will be set upon the correct path. I have a rather extensive knowledge of political organization.” “Marvelous. And you must wear that fantastic costume. I can assure you that you’ll get everyone’s undivided attention,” the young man shrieked, covering his mouth with a hand. “Oh, my dear, what a wild gathering it could be.” “There is no time to be lost,” Ignatius said sternly. “The apocalypse is near at hand.”
“We’ll have it next week at my place.”
“You must have some red, white, and blue bunting,” Ignatius advised. “Political meetings always have that.”
“I’ll have yards and yards of it. What a decorating job lies ahead. I’ll have to get some close friends in to help me.”
“Yes, do that,” Ignatius said excitedly. “Begin organizing at every level.”
“Oh, I never guessed that you would be such a fun person to know. You were so hostile in that dreadful, tacky bar.”
“My being has many facets.”
“You amaze me.” The young man stared at Ignatius’s outfit. “To think that they’re letting you run around loose. In a way, I respect you.”
“Thank you very much.” Ignatius’s voice was smooth, pleased. “Most fools don’t comprehend my worldview at all.”
“I wouldn’t imagine so.”
“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?”
“Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers.”
“Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age,” Ignatius said solemnly. “Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books.” “You’re fantastic.”
“I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he’s found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.” “Oh, look, there’s Timmy again,” the young man said. The sailor was passing on Chartres Street in the opposite direction. “Doesn’t he ever get tired of the same old route? Back and forth, back and forth. Look at him. It’s winter and he’s still wearing his summer whites. Of course he doesn’t realize that he’s a sitting duck for the shore patrol. You can’t imagine how stupid and foolish that boy is.” “His face did appear rather clouded,” Ignatius said. The artist in the beret and goatee passed Chartres, busily following the sailor by several feet. “Oh, my God! That ludicrous law officer will ruin everything. He’s the fly in everyone’s ointment. Perhaps you should run along and get the deranged sailor off the street. If the naval authorities apprehend him, they will discover that he is an imposter, and our political strategy will be undone. Spirit that clown away before he wrecks the most fiendish political coup in the history of western civilization.” “Oh!” the young man shrieked happily. “I’ll go back and tell him about it. When he hears what he’s almost done, he’ll scream and faint.”
“Now don’t slacken in your preparations,” Ignatius warned.
“I’ll work myself to exhaustion,” the young man said gaily. “Ward meetings, voter registration, pamphlets, committees. We’ll start the kickoff rally around eightish. I’m on St. Peter Street, the yellow stucco building just off Royal. You can’t miss it. Here’s my card.” “Oh, my God!” Ignatius mumbled, looking at the austere little calling card. “You can’t really be named Dorian Greene.”
“Yes, isn’t that wild?” Dorian asked languidly. “If I told you my real name, you’d never speak to me again. It’s so common I could die just thinking of it. I was born on a wheat farm in Nebraska. You can take it from there.” “Well, at any rate, I am Ignatius J. Reilly.”
“That isn’t too dreadful. I sort of imagined you as a Horace or Humphrey or something like that. Well, don’t fail us. Practice your speech. I guarantee a large crowd, everyone is almost dead from ennui and general depression, so they’ll be fighting for invitations. Give me a tinkle and we’ll iron out the exact date.” “Be sure to stress the importance of this historic conclave,” Ignatius said. “We shall want no fly-by-nights in this core group.”
“There may be a few costumes. That’s what’s so wonderful about New Orleans. You can masquerade and Mardi Gras all year round if you want to. Really, sometimes the Quarter is like one big costume ball. Sometimes I can’t tell friend from foe. But if you oppose costumes, I’ll tell everyone, although their little hearts will snap with disappointment. We haven’t had a good party in months.” “I would not oppose a few tasteful and decent maskers,” Ignatius said at last. “They may add the proper international atmosphere to the meeting. Politicians always seem to want to shake hands with mongoloids in ethnic and native costumes. Now that I think of it, you may encourage a costume or two. We do not want any female impersonators, however. I don’t believe that politicians care to be seen with them particularly. They cause resentment among rural voters, I suspect.” “Now let me run along and find that silly Timmy. I’ll frighten him to death.”
“Beware of that Machiavel of a policeman. If he gets wind of the plot, we’re lost.”
“Oh, if I weren’t so glad to see him back on the beat, I’d telephone the police and have him arrested immediately for soliciting. You don’t know the wonderful expression that man used to get on his face when the squad car arrived to take him off. And the arresting officers. It was too priceless. But we’ll all be so grateful to have him back. No one will dare mistreat him now. So long, Gypsy Mother.” Dorian skipped off down the alley to find the decadent mariner. Ignatius looked toward Royal Street and wondered what had happened to the women’s art guild. He lumbered over to the passageway where his cart was hidden, prepared a hot dog, and prayed that some customers would happen along before the day was over. Sadly he realized how low Fortuna had spun his wheel. He had never imagined that he would one day be praying that people buy hot dogs from him. At least he had a magnificent new scheme ready for launching against M. Minkoff. The thought of the kickoff rally cheered him greatly. This time the minx would be totally confounded.
It was all a matter of storage. From almost one to three every afternoon George was stuck with the packages. One afternoon he had gone to a movie, but even there in the dark watching a double bill of two nudist colony films he wasn’t comfortable. He was afraid to put the packages down on an adjoining seat, especially in a theater like that one. Holding them in his lap, he was reminded of the burden throughout the three hours of tanned flesh that filled the screen. On the other days he had carried them around with him during boring wanderings through the business district and the Quarter. But by three o’clock he was so tired from the marathon of strolling that he hardly had the enthusiasm to negotiate his day’s business; and in two hours of being carried, the wrapping on the packages got damp and started to break. If one of those packages broke open on the street, he could plan to spend the next few years in a juvenile detention home. Why had that undercover agent tried to arrest him in the rest room? He hadn’t done a thing. That agent must have had some sort of detective ESP.
Finally George thought of a place that would at least guarantee him some rest and a chance to sit down, St. Louis Cathedral. He sat in one of the pews next to a bank of vigil lights and decorated his hands, his packages stacked beside him. When his hands were done, he picked a missal from the rack before him and looked through it, refreshing his dim knowledge of the mechanics of the Mass by studying the drawings of the celebrant as he moved through the devotions. The Mass was really very simple, George thought. Until it was time to leave he flipped back and forth through the missal. Then he gathered up his packages and went out onto Chartres Street.
A sailor leaning against a lamppost winked at him. George acknowledged the greeting with an obscene gesture of his tattooed hands and slouched off down the street. As he passed Pirate’s Alley, he heard screaming. There in the Alley the crazy hot dog vendor was trying to stab a fairy with a plastic knife. That vendor was really far out. George paused for a second to look at the earring and scarf that were heaving and bobbing while the fairy shrieked. That vendor probably didn’t know what day it was or what month or even what year. He must have thought today was Mardi Gras.
Just in time George saw the rest room undercover agent coming down the street behind the sailor. He looked like a beatnik. George ran behind one of the arches of the ancient Spanish governmental building, the Cabildo, and dashed through the arcade out onto St. Peter Street, where he continued running until he reached Royal and headed uptown to the bus lines.
Now the undercover agent was prowling around the Cathedral. George had to give it to the cops. They were really on the ball. Christ. A guy didn’t have a chance.
So his mind returned to the matter of storage. He was beginning to feel like some escaped convict hiding out from the cops. Where now? He climbed on an outbound Desire bus and pondered the matter while the bus swung around and headed out on Bourbon Street, passing by the Night of Joy. Lana Lee was out on the sidewalk giving the jig some directions about a poster he was putting up in the glass case on the front of the bar. The jig flipped a cigarette that would have set Miss Lee’s hair on fire if it hadn’t been aimed by a master marksman. As it was, the butt sailed over Miss Lee’s head with about an inch to spare. These jigs were really getting smart. George would have to ride into one of their neighborhoods one of these nights and toss a few eggs. He and his friends hadn’t done that in a long time, driving along in someone’s souped-up car and splattering whatever jigs were stupid enough to be standing out on the sidewalk.
But back to the matter of storage. The bus crossed Elysian Fields before George came up with anything. There it was. It had been before him all the time and he just hadn’t realized it. He could have kicked himself in the shins with the stiletto toes of his flamenco boots. He saw a nice, roomy, weather-tight metal compartment, a mobile safety deposit box that no undercover agent in the world, however crafty, would think of opening, a safe vault operated by the biggest patsy in the world: the bun compartment in that oddball vendor’s wagon.
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