فصل 11

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فصل 11

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Eleven

“Aw, look,” Santa said, holding the newspaper close to her eyes. “They got a cute picture show on in the neighborhood with little Debbie Reynolds.” “Aw, she’s sweet,” Mrs. Reilly said. “You like her, Claude?”

“Who’s that?” Mr. Robichaux asked pleasantly.

“Little Debra Reynolds,” Mrs. Reilly answered.

“I don’t think I can place her. I don’t go to the show much.”

“She’s darling,” Santa said. “So petite. You ever seen her in that cute picture where she played Tammy, Irene?”

“Ain’t that the picture where she went blind?”

“No, girl! You must be thinking of the wrong show.”

“Oh, I know who I was thinking of, precious. I was thinking of June Wyman. She was sweet, too.”

“Aw, she was good,” Santa said. “I remember that picture where she played the dummy who got herself raped.”

“Lord, I’m glad I didn’t go see that show.”

“Aw, it was wonderful, babe. Very dramatic. You know? The look on that poor dummy’s face when she got raped. I’ll never forget it.”

“Anybody want more coffee?” Mr. Robichaux asked.

“Yeah, gimmee some there, Claude,” Santa said, folding the newspaper and throwing it on top of the refrigerator. “I’m sure sorry Angelo couldn’t make it. That poor boy. He told me he’s gonna be working day and night on his own so he can bring somebody in. He’s out someplace tonight, I guess. You oughta heard what his Rita been telling me. It seems Angelo went out an bought a lot of expensive clothes he can wear so maybe he can attract some character. Ain’t that a shame. That just shows you how much that boy loves the force. If they was to kick him out, it’d break his heart. I sure hope he takes in some bum.” “Angelo’s got him a hard road to travel,” Mrs. Reilly said absently. She was thinking of the PEACE TO MEN OF GOOD WILL sign that Ignatius had tacked to the front of their house after he had come home from work. Miss Annie had immediately started an inquisition about that as soon as it had appeared, screaming questions through her shutters. “What you think about somebody wants peace, Claude?” “That sounds like a communiss to me.”

Mrs. Reilly’s worst fears were realized.

“Who wants peace?” Santa asked.

“Ignatius got a sign up in front the house about peace.”

“I mighta known,” Santa said angrily. “First that boy wants a king, now he wants peace. I’m telling you, Irene. For your own good. That boy’s gotta be put away.” “He ain’t wearing no earring. I ask him and he says, ‘I ain’t wearing no earring, momma.’”

“Angelo don’t lie.”

“Maybe he just got him a small one.”

“A earring’s a earring to me. Ain’t that right, Claude?”

“That’s right,” Claude answered Santa.

“Santa, honey, that’s a sweet little Blessed Virgin you got on top that TV,” Mrs. Reilly said to get them off the earring topic.

Everyone looked at the television set next to the refrigerator, and Santa said, “Ain’t that nice, though? It’s a little Our Lady of the Television. It’s got a suction cup base so I don’t knock it over when I’m banging around in the kitchen. I bought it by Lenny’s.” “Lenny’s got everything,” Mrs. Reilly said. “It looks like it’s made outta nice plastic, too, don’t break.”

“Well, how you kids liked that dinner?”

“It was delicious,” Mr. Robichaux said.

“It was wonderful,” Mrs. Reilly agreed. “I ain’t had me a good meal in a long time.”

“Aarff,” Santa belched. “I think I put too much garlic in them stuffed eggplants, but I got a heavy hand with garlic. Even my granchirren tell me, they say, ‘Hey, maw-maw, you sure got a heavy hand with garlic.’” “Ain’t that sweet,” Mrs. Reilly said of the gourmet grandchildren.

“I thought the eggplants was fine,” Mr. Robichaux said.

“I’m only happy when I’m scrubbing my floors and cooking my food,” Santa told her guests. “I love to fix a big pot of meatballs or jumbalaya with shrimps.” “I like to cook,” Mr. Robichaux said. “It helps out my daughter sometimes.”

“I bet it does,” Santa said. “A man who can cook is a big help around the house, believe me.” She kicked Mrs. Reilly under the table. “A woman’s got a man that likes to cook is a lucky girl.” “You like to cook, Irene?” Mr. Robichaux asked.

“You talking to me, Claude?” Mrs. Reilly had been wondering what Ignatius looked like in an earring.

“Come back out the clouds, girl,” Santa ordered. “Claude here was axing you if you like to cook.”

“Yeah,” Mrs. Reilly lied. “I like to cook okay. But sometimes it gets so hot in that kitchen, especially in the summer. You don’t get no breeze out that alley. Ignatius likes to eat junk, anyways. You give Ignatius a few bottles of Dr. Nut and plenty bakery cakes, and he’s satisfied.” “You oughta get you a letrit range,” Mr. Robichaux said. “I bought my daughter one. It don’t get hot like a gas stove.”

“Where you getting all this money from, Claude?” Santa asked interestedly.

“I got me a nice pension from the railroad. I was with them for forty-five years, you know. They gimme a beautiful gold pin when I retired.”

“Ain’t that nice,” Mrs. Reilly said. “You made good, huh, Claude?”

“Then,” Mr. Robichaux said, “I got me a few little rental properties around my house. I was always putting a little of my salary aside to invest in properties. Property’s a good investment.” “It sure is,” Santa said, rolling her eyes wildly at Mrs. Reilly. “Now you well fixed, huh?”

“I’m pretty comfortable. But you know sometimes I get tired of living with my daughter and her husband. I mean, they’re young. They got they own family. They are very nice to me, but I’d rather have my own home. You know what I mean?” “If I was you,” Mrs. Reilly said, “I’d stay where I was. If your little daughter don’t mind having you around, you got you a nice setup. I wisht I had me a nice child. Be grateful for what you got, Claude.” Santa ground the heel of her shoe into Mrs. Reilly’s ankle.

“Ouch!” Mrs. Reilly cried.

“Lord, I’m sorry, babe. Me and my big feet. Big feet’s always been my problem. They can hardly fit me down by the shoe store. That clerk sees me coming, and he says, ‘Lord, here comes Miss Battaglia again. What I’m gonna do?’” “Your feet ain’t so big,” Mrs. Reilly observed, looking under the kitchen table.

“I just got them squshed up in this little pair of shoes. You oughta see them things when I’m barefoot, girl.”

“I got bum feet,” Mrs. Reilly told the other two. Santa made a sign for Mrs. Reilly not to discuss her deficiencies, but Mrs. Reilly was not to be silenced. “Some days I can’t hardly walk. I think they went bad when Ignatius was little and I useta have to carry him around. Lord but he was slow walking. Always falling down. He was sure heavy, too. Maybe that’s how I got my arthuritis.” “Listen, you two,” Santa said quickly so that Mrs. Reilly would not describe some new, horrible deficiency. “Why don’t we go see that cute little Debbie Reynolds?” “That would be nice,” Mr. Robichaux said. “I never go to the show.”

“You wanna go see a show?” Mrs. Reilly asked. “I don’t know. My feet.”

“Aw, come on, girl. Let’s get out the house. It smells like garlic in here.”

“I think Ignatius told me this movie ain’t no good. He sees every picture that comes out, that boy.”

“Irene!” Santa said angrily. “You all the time thinking of that boy, and with all the trouble he’s giving you. You better wake up, babe. If you had any sense, you woulda had that boy locked away at Charity Hospital a long time ago. They’d turn a hose on him. They’d stick a letrit socket in that boy. They’d show that Ignatius. They’d make him behave himself.” “Yeah?” Mrs. Reilly asked with interest. “How much that cost?”

“It’s all for free, Irene.”

“Socialized medicine,” Mr. Robichaux observed. “They probly got communiss and fellow travelers working in that place.”

“They got nuns operating the place, Claude. Lord, where you all the time getting this communiss stuff from?”

“Maybe them sisters been fooled,” Mr. Robichaux said.

“Ain’t that awful,” Mrs. Reilly said sadly. “Them poor sisters. Operating for a buncha communiss.”

“I don’t care who’s operating the place.” Santa said. “If it’s free and they lock people away, Ignatius oughta be there.”

“Once Ignatius started talking to them people, they’d maybe get mad and lock him up for good,” Mrs. Reilly said, but she was thinking that even that alternative wasn’t too unattractive. “Maybe he wouldn’t listen to the doctors.” “They’d make him listen. They’d beat him in the head, they’d lock him up in a straitjacket, they’d pump some water on him,” Santa said a little too eagerly.

“You gotta think about yourself, Irene,” Mr. Robichaux said. “That son of yours is gonna put you in your grave.”

“That’s it. You tell her, Claude.”

“Well,” Mrs. Reilly said, “We’ll give Ignatius a chance. Maybe he’ll make good yet.”

“Selling weenies?” Santa asked. “Lord.” She shook her head. “Well, lemme go dump these dishes in the zink. Come on, let’s go see that precious Debbie Reynolds.” A few minutes later, after Santa had stopped in the parlor to kiss her mother goodbye, the three of them set out for the theater. The day had been a balmy day; a south wind had been blowing steadily from the Gulf. Now the evening was still warm. Heavy odors of Mediterranean cooking floated across the congested neighborhood from the opened kitchen windows in every apartment building and double house. Each resident seemed to be making some contribution, however small, to the general cacophony of dropping pots, booming television sets, arguing voices, screaming children, and slamming doors.

“St. Odo Parish is really at it tonight,” Santa commented thoughtfully as the three slowly strolled down the narrow sidewalk between the curb and the steps of the double houses built in solid, straight rows down each block. The streetlights shone on the treeless stretches of asphalt and cement and continuous old slate roofs. “It’s even worst in the summertime. Everybody’s out on the streets till ten-eleven o’clock.” “Don’t tell me, precious,” Mrs. Reilly said as she hobbled dramatically between her friends. “Remember I’m from Dauphine Street. We useta put the kitchen chairs out on the banquette and set there till midnight sometimes waiting for the house to cool off. And the things the people down here say! Lord.” “Vicious is what it is,” Santa agreed. “Dirty mouths.”

“Poor poppa,” Mrs. Reilly said. “He was so poor. Then when he went and got his hand caught in that fanbelt, the people in the neighborhood had the nerve to say he musta been drunk. The anonymous letters we got about that. And my poor old Tante Boo-boo. Eighty years old. She was burning a candle for her poor departed husband and it fall off the night table and sets her mattress on fire. The people said she was smoking in bed.” “I believe people innocent until they proven guilty.”

“That’s the same way I feel, Claude,” Mrs. Reilly said. “Just the other day I says to Ignatius, ‘Ignatius, I think people innocent until they prove guilty.’” “Irene!”

They crossed St. Claude Avenue during a lull in the heavy traffic and walked along the other side of the avenue under the neon lights. As they were passing a funeral parlor, Santa stopped to talk to one of the mourners standing out on the sidewalk.

“Say, Mister, who they got laid out in there?” she asked the man.

“They waking old lady Lopez,” the man answered.

“You don’t say. She the wife of that Lopez ran the little market over on Frenchman Street?”

“That’s the one.”

“Aw, I’m sorry to hear that,” Santa said. “What she died from?”

“Heart trouble.”

“Ain’t that a shame,” Mrs. Reilly said emotionally. “Poor girl.”

“Well, if I was dressed,” Santa told the man, “I’d go in and pay my respects. Me and my friends here just on our way to a picture show. Thank you.” As they walked along, Santa described to Mrs. Reilly the many sadnesses and tribulations that had comprised old lady Lopez’s dismal existence. Finally Santa said, “I think I’ll send her family a Mass.” “Lord,” Mrs. Reilly said, overcome by old lady Lopez’s biography, “I think I’ll send a Mass, too, for the repose of that poor woman’s soul.” “Irene!” Santa screamed. “You don’t even know them people.”

“Well, that’s true,” Mrs. Reilly agreed weakly.

When they arrived at the theater, there was some discussion between Santa and Mr. Robichaux over who was going to buy the tickets. Mrs. Reilly said that she would if she didn’t have to meet a payment on Ignatius’s trumpet before the week was out. Mr. Robichaux was adamant, though, and Santa at last let him have his way.

“After all,” Santa said to him as he handed tickets to the two ladies, “you the one’s got all the money.”

She winked at Mrs. Reilly, whose mind had wandered again to that sign that Ignatius refused to explain to her. During most of the movie Mrs. Reilly thought about Ignatius’s rapidly decreasing salary, the payment on the trumpet, the payment on the wrecked building, the earring, and the sign. Only Santa’s happy exclamations of “Ain’t she precious!” and “Just take a look at that cute dress she’s got, Irene!” brought Mrs. Reilly back to what was happening on the screen. Then something else drew her from her meditations about her son and her problems, both of which were really the same thing. Mr. Robichaux’s hand had gently covered and was now holding hers. Mrs. Reilly was too afraid to move. Why did movies always seem to make the men she had known — Mr. Reilly and Mr. Robichaux — amorous? She stared blindly at the screen, on which she saw not Debbie Reynolds cavorting in color but rather Jean Harlow taking a bath in black and white.

Mrs. Reilly was wondering if she could easily wrench her hand out of Mr. Robichaux’s and bolt from the theater when Santa cried, “Just watch it, Irene, I betcha little Debbie’s gonna have her a baby!” “A what?” Mrs. Reilly screamed wildly, bursting into crazy, loud tears that didn’t subside until the frightened Mr. Robichaux took her maroon head and placed it carefully on his shoulder.

II

Dear Reader,

Nature has sometimes made a fool; but a coxcomb is always of man’s own making.

— Addison

As I was wearing the soles of my desert boots down to a mere sliver of crepe rubber on the old flagstone banquettes of the French Quarter in my fevered attempt to wrest a living from an unthinking and uncaring society, I was hailed by a cherished old acquaintance (deviate). After a few minutes of conversation in which I established most easily my moral superiority over this degenerate, I found myself pondering once more the crises of our times. My mentality, uncontrollable and wanton as always, whispered to me a scheme so magnificent and daring that I shrank from the very thought of what I was hearing. “Stop!” I cried imploringly to my god-like mind. “This is madness.” But still I listened to the counsel of my brain. It was offering me the opportunity to Save the World Through Degeneracy. There on the worn stones of the Quarter I enlisted the aid of this wilted flower of a human in gathering his associates in foppery together behind a banner of brotherhood.

Our first step will be to elect one of their number to some very high office — the presidency, if Fortuna spins us kindly. Then they will infiltrate the military. As soldiers, they will all be so continually busy in fraternizing with one another, tailoring their uniforms to fit like sausage skins, inventing new and varied battle dress, giving cocktail parties, etc., that they will never have time for battle. The one whom we finally make Chief of Staff will want only to attend to his fashionable wardrobe, a wardrobe which, alternately, will permit him to be either Chief of Staff or debutante, as the desire strikes him. In seeing the success of their unified fellows here, perverts around the world will also band together to capture the military in their respective countries. In those reactionary countries in which the deviates seem to be having some trouble in gaining control, we will send aid to them as rebels to help them in toppling their governments. When we have at last overthrown all existing governments, the world will enjoy not war but global orgies conducted with the utmost protocol and the most truly international spirit, for these people do transcend simple national differences. Their minds are on one goal; they are truly united; they think as one.

None of the pederasts in power, of course, will be practical enough to know about such devices as bombs; these nuclear weapons would lie rotting in their vaults somewhere. From time to time the Chief of Staff, the President, and so on, dressed in sequins and feathers, will entertain the leaders, i.e., the perverts, of all the other countries at balls and parties. Quarrels of any sort could easily be straightened out in the men’s room of the redecorated United Nations. Ballets and Broadway musicals and entertainments of that sort will flourish everywhere and will probably make the common folk happier than did the grim, hostile, fascistic pronouncements of their former leaders.

Almost everyone else has had an opportunity to run the world. I cannot see why these people should not be given their chance. They have certainly been the underdog long enough. Their movement into power will be, in a sense, only a part of the global movement toward opportunity, justice, and equality for all. (For example, can you name one good, practicing transvestite in the Senate? No! These people have been without representation long enough. Their plight is a national, a global disgrace.) Degeneracy, rather than signaling the downfall of a society, as it once did, will now signal peace for a troubled world. We must have new solutions to new problems.

I shall act as a sort of mentor and guide for the movement, my not inconsiderable knowledge of world history, economics, religion, and political strategy acting as a reservoir, as it were, from which these people can draw rules of operational procedure. Boethius himself played a somewhat similar role in degenerate Rome. As Chesterton has said of Boethius, “Thus he truly served as a guide, philosopher, and friend to many Christians; precisely because, while his own times were corrupt, his own culture was complete.” This time I shall really confound Myrna minx. The scheme is too breathtaking for the literal, liberal minx mind mired in a claustrophobic clutch of clichés. The Crusade for Moorish Dignity, my brilliant first attack upon the problems of our times, would have been a rather grand and decisive coup had it not been for the basically bourgeois worldview of the rather simple people who were members of the vanguard. This time, however, I shall be working with people who eschew the insipid philosophy of the middle class, people who are willing to assume controversial positions, to follow their cause, however unpopular it may be, however it may threaten the smugness of the middle class.

Does M. Minkoff want s@x in politics? I shall give her s@x in politics — and plenty of it! No doubt she will be too overcome to respond to the originality of my project. At the very least, she will seethe with envy. (That girl must be attended to. Such effrontery cannot go unchecked.) A debate between Pragmatism and Morality rages in my brain. Is the glorious end, Peace, worth the awesome means, Degeneracy? Like two figures in the medieval Morality play, Pragmatism and Morality spar in the boxing ring of my brain. I cannot await the outcome of their furious debate: I am too obsessed with Peace. (If any perceptive film producers are interested in buying the movie rights to this Journal, I might here make a note on the filming of this debate. A musical saw would provide excellent background accompaniment, and the hero’s eyeball may be superimposed upon the debate scene in a most symbolic manner. Certainly some attractive new discovery could be found in a drugstore or a motel or in whatever den people are “discovered” to play the Working Boy. The film may be made in Spain, Italy, or some other interesting land which the cast may wish to see, such as North America.) Sorry. Those of you who are interested in the latest bleak frankfurter news will find none. My mind is too preoccupied with the magnificence of this design. Now I must communicate with M. Minkoff and make some jottings for my lecture at the kickoff rally.

Social note: My truant mother is gone again, which is really rather fortunate. Her vigorous assaults and blistering attacks against my being are negatively affecting my valve. She said that she was going out to attend a Crowning of the May Queen at some church, but since it isn’t May, I tend to doubt her veracity.

The “sophisticated comedy” featuring my number one female film favorite is opening at a downtown palace momentarily. Somehow I must be there on opening day. I can only imagine the film’s latest horrors, its flaunting of vulgarity in the face of theology and geometry, taste and decency. (I do not understand this compulsion of mine for seeing movies; it almost seems as if movies are “in my blood.”) Health note: My stomach is getting out of bounds; the seams of my vendor’s smock are creaking ominously.

Until later,

Tab, Your pacifist Working Boy

III

Mrs. Levy helped the renovated Miss Trixie up the steps and opened the door.

“This is Levy Pants!” Miss Trixie snarled.

“You’re back again where you’re wanted and needed, darling.” Mrs. Levy spoke as if she were comforting a child. “And how you’ve been missed. Every day Mr. Gonzalez has been on the phone begging for you. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you’re so vital to a business?” “I thought I was retired.” The massive teeth snapped like a bear trap. “You people have tricked me!”

“Now are you happy?” Mr. Levy asked his wife. He was walking behind them carrying one of Miss Trixie’s bags of scraps. “If she had a knife on her, I’d be taking you to the hospital right now.” “Listen to the fire in her voice,” Mrs. Levy said. “So vigorous. It’s unbelievable.”

Miss Trixie tried to break away from Mrs. Levy as they entered the office, but her pumps did not give her the traction that she was used to with sneakers, and she only wobbled.

“She’s back?” Mr. Gonzalez cried heartbrokenly.

“Can you believe your eyes?” Mrs. Levy asked him.

Mr. Gonzalez was forced to look at Miss Trixie, whose eyes were weak pools edged with blue shadow. Her lips had been extended in an orange line that almost reached her nostrils. Near the earrings a few gray wisps of hair escaped from beneath the black wig, which was slightly awry. The short skirt revealed withered, bowed legs and small feet that made the pumps look like snowshoes. Whole days of napping under a sunlamp had baked Miss Trixie to a golden brown.

“She certainly looks fit,” Mr. Gonzalez said. His voice was false and he smiled a broken smile. “You’ve done her a wonderful service, Mrs. Levy.” “I am a very attractive woman,” Miss Trixie babbled.

Mr. Gonzalez laughed nervously.

“Now listen here,” Mrs. Levy said to him. “Part of this woman’s trouble is that kind of attitude. Ridicule she doesn’t need.”

Mr. Gonzalez tried unsuccessfully to kiss Mrs. Levy’s hand.

“I want you to make her feel wanted, Gonzalez. This woman still has a sharp mind. Give her work that will exercise those faculties of hers. Give her more authority. She desperately needs an active role in this business.” “Definitely,” Mr. Gonzalez agreed. “I’ve said that myself all along. Haven’t I, Miss Trixie.”

“Who?” Miss Trixie snarled.

“I’ve always wanted you to assume more responsibility and authority,” the office manager screamed. “Isn’t that correct?”

“Oh, shut up, Gomez.” Miss Trixie’s teeth clattered like castanets. “Have you bought me that Easter ham yet? Answer me that.”

“All right. You’ve had your fun. Let’s go,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “Come on. I’m getting depressed.”

“Just a moment,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I have some mail for you.”

As the office manager went to his desk to get the mail, there was a crash in the rear of the office. Everyone, aside from Miss Trixie who had begun napping on her desk, turned around and looked in the filing department. There an extremely tall man with long black hair was picking up a file drawer that had fallen to the floor. He stuffed the filing roughly back into the drawer and slammed the drawer into its slot in the files.

“That’s Mr. Zalatimo,” Mr. Gonzalez whispered. “He’s only been with us for a few days, and I don’t think he’s going to work out. I don’t think we’ll want to include him in the Levy Pants plan.” Mr. Zalatimo looked confusedly at the filing cabinets and scratched himself. Then he opened another drawer and fumbled through its contents with one hand while the other scratched at his armpit through his threadbare knitted shirt.

“Would you care to meet him?” the office manager asked.

“No thanks,” Mr. Levy said. “Where do you find the people that work in this place, Gonzalez? I never see people like this anywhere else.”

“He looks like a gangster to me,” Mrs. Levy said. “You don’t keep any cash around here, do you?”

“I think Mr. Zalatimo’s honest,” the office manager whispered. “He only has trouble alphabetizing.” He handed Mr. Levy a sheaf of mail. “These are mostly confirmations on your hotel reservations for spring practice. There’s a letter in there from Abelman. It’s addressed to you and not the company, and it’s marked personal, so I thought you’d better open it. It’s been around for a few days.” “What does that crack want now?” Mr. Levy said angrily.

“Maybe he wonders what happened to a brilliant, growing concern,” Mrs. Levy observed. “Maybe he wonders what happened since Leon Levy died. Maybe this Abelman has some words of advice to a playboy. Read it, Gus. It will be your work for Levy Pants for the week.” Mr. Levy looked at the envelope, on which “personal” had been written three times in red ball-point. He opened it and found a letter on which some attachment had been stapled.

Dear Gus Levy,

We were shocked and grievously injured to receive the attached letter. We have been a faithful outlet for your merchandise for thirty years and have heretofore always had the warmest affectionate feelings for your firm. Maybe you remember the wreath we sent when your father died for which we spared no expense.

This will be very short. After many nights without sleep, we have given the original letter to our lawyer, who is instigating a libel suit for $500,000. This may do a little to compensate for our hurt feelings.

Get a lawyer. We will see you in court like gentlemen. No more threats, please.

Very best wishes,

I. Abelman,

Manager, Abelman’s Dry Goods

Mr. Levy turned cold as he flipped the page and read the Thermofaxed copy of the letter to Abelman’s. It was incredible. Who would go to the trouble of writing things like that? “Mr. I. Abelman, Mongoloid, Esq.”; “your total lack of contact with reality”; “your blighted worldview”; “you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.” Worst of all, the “Gus Levy” signature looked fairly authentic. Abelman must be kissing the original right now and smacking his lips. To somebody like Abelman that letter was like a savings bond, a blank draft on a bank.

“Who wrote this?” Mr. Levy demanded, giving the letter to Mr. Gonzalez.

“What is it, Gus? A problem? Are you having a problem? That’s one of your problems. You never tell me your problems.”

“Oh, my goodness!” Mr. Gonzalez squeaked. “This is horrible.”

“Silence!” Miss Trixie snapped.

“What is it, Gus? Something you didn’t handle correctly? Some authority you delegated to somebody else?”

“Yes, it’s a problem. It’s a problem that means we could lose the shirts off our backs.”

“What?” Mrs. Levy grabbed the letters from Mr. Gonzalez. She read them and became a hag. Her lacquered curls turned into snakes. “Now you’ve done it. Anything to get back at your father, to ruin his business. I knew it was going to end like this.” “Oh, shut up. I never write the letters around here.”

“Susan and Sandra will have to quit college. They’ll be selling themselves to sailors and gangsters like that one there.”

“Huh?” Mr. Zalatimo asked, sensing that he was being discussed.

“You’re sick,” Mrs. Levy shouted at her husband.

“Quiet!”

“And will I be any better off?” Mrs. Levy’s aquamarine lids were trembling. “What will become of me? Already my life has been wrecked. What happens to me now? Prowling in garbage cans, following the fleet. My mother was right.” “Quiet!” Miss Trixie demanded, this time much more fiercely. “You people are the noisiest I’ve ever met.”

Mrs. Levy had collapsed in a chair, sobbing something about going out to sell Avon products.

“What do you know about this, Gonzalez?” Mr. Levy asked the office manager whose lips had turned white.

“I don’t know a thing,” Mr. Gonzalez piped. “It’s the first time I’ve seen that letter.”

“You write the correspondence around here.”

“I didn’t write that.” His lips were quivering. “I wouldn’t do something like that to Levy Pants!”

“No, I know you wouldn’t.” Mr. Levy tried to think. “Somebody really had it in for us.”

Mr. Levy went over to the files, pushed the scratching Mr. Zalatimo aside, and opened the files in the A’s. There was no Abelman folder. The drawer was completely empty. He opened several other drawers, but half of them were empty, too. What a way to begin fighting a libel suit.

“What do you people do with the filing?”

“I was wondering about that myself,” Mr. Zalatimo said vaguely.

“Gonzalez, what was the name of that big kook you had working in here, the big fat one with the green cap?”

“Mr. Ignatius Reilly. He handled the letter to go out.” Who had composed that awful thing?

“Hey,” Jones’s voice said over the telephone, “you people still got a fat mother with a green cap workin there at Levy Pant? A big white guy got him a moustache?” “No, we don’t,” Mr. Gonzalez answered in a shrill voice and slammed the phone down.

“Who was that?” Mr. Levy asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Someone for Mr. Reilly.” The office manager wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “The one who tried to make the factory workers kill me.” “Reilly?” Miss Trixie said. “That wasn’t Reilly, that was…”

“The young idealist?” Mrs. Levy sobbed. “Who wanted him?”

“I don’t know,” the office manager answered. “It sounded like a Negro voice to me.”

“Well, I guess so,” Mrs. Levy said. “He’s out trying to help some other unfortunates right now. It’s encouraging to know that his idealism is still intact.” Mr. Levy had been thinking of something, and he asked the office manager, “What was the name of that kook?”

“Reilly. Ignatius J. Reilly.”

“It was?” Miss Trixie said with interest. “That’s strange. I always thought it…”

“Miss Trixie, please,” Mr. Levy said angrily. That Reilly blimp was working for the company at the time that that letter to Abelman was dated. “Do you think that that Reilly would write a letter like that?” “Maybe,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I don’t know. I had high hopes for him until he tried to get that worker to brain me.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Levy moaned. “Try to pin it on the young idealist. Put him away where his idealism won’t bother you. People like the young idealist don’t deal in underhanded things like that. Wait until Susan and Sandra hear about this.” Mrs. Levy made a gesture that indicated that the girls would clearly go into a state of shock. “Negroes are calling here to get his counsel. You’re about to frame him. I can’t take much more of this, Gus. I can’t, I can’t!” “Then do you want me to say I wrote that?”

“Of course not!” Mrs. Levy screamed at her husband. “I’m supposed to end in the poorhouse? If the young idealist wrote it, he goes to jail for forgery.” “Say, what’s going on?” Mr. Zalatimo asked. “Is this dump gonna close down or what? I mean, I’d like to know.”

“Shut up, gangster,” Mrs. Levy answered wildly, “before we pin it on you.”

“Huh?”

“Will you keep quiet? You’re getting everything confused,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. Then he turned to the office manager. “Get me this Reilly’s phone number.” Mr. Gonzalez awakened Miss Trixie and asked her for a phone book.

“I keep all of the phone books,” Miss Trixie snapped. “And no one is going to use them.”

“Then look up a Reilly on Constantinople Street for us.”

“Well, all right, Gomez,” Miss Trixie snarled. “Hold your horses.” She took the three hoarded office telephone books out of some recess in her desk, and, studying the pages with a magnifying glass, gave them a number.

Mr. Levy dialed it and a voice answered, “Good morning. Regal Cleaners.”

“Give me one of those phone books,” Mr. Levy hollered.

“No,” Miss Trixie rasped, slapping her hand down on the stack of books, guarding them with her newly enameled nails. “You’ll only lose it. I’ll find the right number. I must say you people are very impatient and excitable. Staying at your house took ten years off my life. Why can’t you let poor Reilly alone? You already kicked him out over nothing.” Mr. Levy dialed the second number that she gave him. A woman who sounded slightly intoxicated answered and told him that Mr. Reilly wouldn’t be home until late in the afternoon. Then she started crying, and Mr. Levy got depressed and thanked her and hung up.

“Well, he’s not at home,” Mr. Levy told the audience in the office.

“Mr. Reilly always seemed to have the best interests of Levy Pants at heart,” the office manager said sadly. “Why he started that riot I’ll never know.” “For one thing because he had a police record.”

“When he came to apply, I certainly didn’t think he was a police character.” The office manager shook his head. “He seemed so refined.”

Mr. Gonzalez watched Mr. Zalatimo probing his long index finger high into one of his nostrils. What would this one do? His feet tingled with fear.

The factory door banged open and one of the workers screamed, “Hey, Mr. Gonzalez, Mr. Palerma just burn his hand on one of them furnace door.”

There were sounds of disorder in the factory. A man was cursing.

“Oh, my goodness,” Mr. Gonzalez cried. “Quiet the workers. I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Come on,” Mr. Levy said to his wife. “Let’s get out of here. I’m getting heartburn.”

“Just a moment.” Mrs. Levy gestured to Mr. Gonzalez. “About Miss Trixie. I want you to give her a welcome every morning. Give her meaningful work to do. In the past her insecurity probably made her afraid of taking any responsible work. I think she’s over that now. Basically she has a deep seated hatred of Levy Pants that I’ve analyzed as being rooted in fear. The insecurity and fear have led to hatred.” “Of course,” the office manager said, half listening. The factory sounded bad.

“Go see about the factory, Gonzalez,” Mr. Levy said. “I’ll get in touch with Reilly.”

“Yes, sir.” Mr. Gonzalez made a deep bow to them and dashed out of the office.

“Okay.” Mr. Levy was holding the door open. Just come near Levy Pants and you were subjected to all sorts of annoyances and depressing influences. You couldn’t leave the place alone for a minute. Anyone who wanted to take it easy and not be bothered had better not have a company like Levy Pants. Gonzalez didn’t even know what kind of mail was going out of the office. “Come on, Dr. Freud. Let’s go.” “Look how calm you are. It doesn’t matter to you that Abelman is about to sue our lives away if he can.” The aquamarine lids trembled. “Aren’t you going to get the idealist?” “Some other time. I’ve had enough for one day.”

“Meanwhile Abelman has Scotland Yard at our throats.”

“He’s not even home.” Mr. Levy didn’t feel like speaking with the crying woman again. “I’ll call him tonight from the coast. There’s nothing to worry about. They can’t sue me for a half million for a letter I didn’t write.” “Oh, no? I’m sure somebody like Abelman could. I can just see that lawyer he’s got. Crippled from chasing ambulances. Mutilated from being caught in fires he’s started for insurance money.” “Well, you’ll take the bus back to the coast if you don’t hurry up. I’m getting indigestion from this office.”

“All right, all right. You can’t spare a minute of your wasted life for this woman, can you?” Mrs. Levy indicated the loudly snoring Miss Trixie. She shook Miss Trixie’s shoulder. “I’m going, darling. Everything is going to be fine. I’ve spoken to Mr. Gonzalez and he’s delighted to see you again.” “Quiet!” Miss Trixie ordered. Her teeth snapped menacingly.

“Come on before I have to take you to get a rabies shot,” Mr. Levy said angrily and grabbed his wife through her fur coat.

“Just look at this place.” A gloved hand gestured to the dingy office furniture, to the warped floors, to the crepe paper streamers still hanging from the days when I. J. Reilly was custodian of the files, to Mr. Zalatimo who was kicking at the wastebasket in alphabetical frustration. “Sad, sad. A business down the drain, unhappy young idealists stooping to forgery to get even.” “Get out of here, you people,” Miss Trixie snarled, slapping her palm on the desk.

“Listen to the conviction in that voice,” Mrs. Levy said proudly as her round, furry figure was being hauled through the door. “I’ve worked a miracle.” The door closed and Mr. Zalatimo came over to Miss Trixie, absently scratching himself. He tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Say, lady, maybe you can help me out with this. What would you say comes first, Willis or Williams?” Miss Trixie glared at him for a moment. Then she sank her teeth into his hand. In the factory Mr. Gonzalez heard Mr. Zalatimo’s screaming. He didn’t know whether to desert the seared Mr. Palermo and see what had happened or to stay in the factory, where the workers had begun dancing with one another under the loudspeakers. Levy Pants demanded a lot of a person.

In the sports car, as they drove through the salt marshes that led back to the coast, Mrs. Levy, pulling her blowing fur up closer around her neck said, “I’m establishing a Foundation.” “I see. Suppose Abelman’s lawyer gets the money out of us.”

“He won’t. The young idealist is trapped,” she said calmly. “A police record, inciting a riot. His character references will stink.”

“Oh. Suddenly you agree that your young idealist is a criminal.”

“He obviously was all alone.”

“But you wanted to get your hands on Miss Trixie.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, there will be no Foundation.”

“Susan and Sandra will hate to know that your bum’s attitude toward the world almost ruined them, that because you won’t even take the time to supervise your own company, we have somebody suing us for half a million. The girls will really resent that. The least that you’ve always given them has been material comfort. Susan and Sandra will hate to know that they could have ended up as prostitutes or worse.” “They might at least have made some money at it. As it is, they’re all for free.”

“Please, Gus. Not another word. Even my brutalized spirit has some sensitivity left. I can’t let you slander my girls like that.” Mrs. Levy sighed contentedly. “This Abelman business is the most dangerous of all your mistakes and errors and evasions through the years. The girls’ hair will curl when they read of it. Of course, I won’t frighten them if you don’t want me to.” “How much do you want for this Foundation?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I’ve been composing the rules and regulations.”

“May I ask what this Foundation is going to be called, Mrs. Guggenheim? The Susan and Sandra slush fund?”

“It will be called the Leon Levy Foundation, in honor of your father. I have to do something to honor your father’s name for all that you haven’t done to honor it. The awards will commemorate the memory of that great man.” “I see. In other words, you’ll be tossing laurels at old men outstanding only for their unequaled meanness.”

“Please, Gus.” Mrs. Levy held up a gloved hand. “The girls have been thrilled by my reports on the Miss Trixie project. The Foundation will really give them faith in their name. I must do all I can to make up for your complete failure as a parent.” “Getting an award from the Leon Levy Foundation will be a public insult. Your hands will be really full of libel suits then, libel suits from the recipients. Forget it. Whatever happened to bridge? Other people are still playing it. Can’t you go play golf at Lakewood anymore? Take some more dancing lessons. Take Miss Trixie with you.” “To be quite honest with you, Miss Trixie was beginning to bore me the last few days.”

“So that’s why the rejuvenation course ended all of a sudden.”

“I’ve done all I can for that woman. Susan and Sandra are proud that I’ve tried to keep her active so long.”

“Well, there will be no Leon Levy Foundation.”

“Do you resent it? There’s resentment in your voice. I can hear it. There’s hostility. Gus, for your own sake. That doctor in the Medical Arts building. Lenny’s savior. Before it’s too late. Now I’ll have to watch over you every minute to see to it that you get in touch with that idealist criminal as soon as possible. I know you. You’ll put it off, and Abelman will have a van out in front of Levy’s Lodge taking everything away.” “Including your exercising board.”

“I’ve already told you!” Mrs. Levy screamed. “Leave the board out of this!” She adjusted her ruffled furs. “Now get to that Reilly psycho before Abelman comes down here and starts taking the hub caps off this sports car. With somebody like that, Abelman has no case. Lenny’s doctor can analyze Reilly, and the state will put him away someplace where he can’t try to wreck people. Thank goodness Susan and Sandra won’t know that they almost ended up selling roach tablets from door to door. Their hearts would break if they knew how carelessly their own father handled their welfare.” IV

George had set up his stakeout on Poydras Street across from the Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, garage. He had remembered the name on the wagon and looked up the address of the vending firm. All morning he had waited for the big vendor, who had never shown up. Perhaps he had been fired for stabbing the fairy in Pirate’s Alley. At noon George had left his outpost and gone down to the Quarter to get the packages from Miss Lee. Now he was back on Poydras wondering whether the vendor was going to show. George had decided to try to be nice to him, to hand him a few dollars right away. Hot dog vendors must be poor. He’d appreciate a few bucks. This vendor was a perfect front man. He would never know what was coming off. He had a good education, though.

At last, sometime after one o’clock, a white smock billowed off the trolley and whipped into the garage. A few minutes later the oddball vendor wheeled his wagon out onto the sidewalk. He was still wearing the earring, scarf, and cutlass, George noticed. If he put them on in the garage, they must be part of his sales gimmick. You could tell by the way that he talked, though, that he had gone to school a long time. That was probably what was wrong with him. George had been wise enough to get out of school as soon as possible. He didn’t want to end up like that guy.

George watched him push the wagon a few feet down the block, stop, and tape a piece of tablet paper to the front of his wagon. George would use psychology on him; he’d play up to the vendor’s education. That and the money should make him rent out his bun compartment.

Then an old man stuck his head out of the garage, ran up behind the vendor, and struck him across the back with a long fork.

“Get moving, you ape,” the old man shouted. “You’re already late. It’s already afternoon. Today you’re gonna bring in a profit or else.” The vendor said something coolly and quietly. George couldn’t understand it, but it lasted a long time.

“I don’t care if your mother takes dope,” the old man answered. “I don’t wanna hear no more bullsh@t about that automobile accident and your dreams and your goddam girl friend. Now get outta here, you big baboon. I want five dollars minimum from you today.” With a push from the old man, the vendor rolled to the corner and disappeared onto St. Charles. After the old man returned to the garage, George slouched off in pursuit of the wagon.

Unaware that he was being trailed, Ignatius pushed his cart against the traffic down St. Charles toward the Quarter. He had stayed up so late the night before working on his lecture for the kickoff rally that he hadn’t been able to move from his yellowed sheets until almost noon, and then it had only been his mother’s violent pounding and screaming that had awakened him. Now that he was out on the streets, he had a problem. Today the sophisticated comedy was opening at the RKO Orpheum. He had been able to bleed ten cents out of his mother for carfare home, although she had even begrudged him that. Somehow he had to sell five or six hot dogs quickly, park the wagon somewhere, and get to that theater so that his disbelieving eyes could drink in every blasphemous technicolored moment.

Lost in speculation about means for raising the money, Ignatius did not notice that for quite some time his cart had been traveling in a straight and unswerving line. When he attempted to pull closer to the curb, the cart would not incline to the right at all. Stopping, he saw that one of the bicycle tires had lodged in the groove of a streetcar track. He tried to bump the cart out of the groove; it was too heavy to be easily bounced. He bent and tried to lift the cart on one side. As he slipped his hands beneath the big tin bun, he heard through the light mist the grinding of an approaching streetcar. The hard little bumps appeared on his hands, and his valve, after wavering for a moment of frantic decision, slammed closed. Wildly Ignatius pulled upward on the tin bun. The bicycle tire shot up out of the tracks, rose upward, balanced for a second in the air, and then became horizontal as the cart turned over loudly on its other side. One of the little lids in the tin bun opened and deposited a few steaming hot dogs on the street.

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius mumbled to himself, watching the silhouette of the streetcar forming a half-block away. “What vicious trick is Fortuna playing on me now?” Deserting the wreck, Ignatius lumbered down the tracks toward the streetcar, the white muu-muu of a uniform swishing around his ankles. The olive and copper trolley car ground slowly toward him, leisurely pitching and rocking. The motorman, seeing the huge, spherical, white figure panting in the center of the tracks, slid the car to a halt and opened one of the front windows.

“Pardon me, sir,” the earring called up to him. “If you will wait a moment, I shall attempt to right my listing craft.”

George saw his opportunity. He ran over to Ignatius and said cheerily, “Come on, prof, let’s you and me get this off the street.”

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius thundered. “My pubescent nemesis. What a promising day this appears to be. I am apparently to be run over by a streetcar and robbed simultaneously, thereby setting a Paradise record. Get away, you depraved urchin.” “You grab that end and I’ll get this one.”

The streetcar clanged at them.

“Oh, all right,” Ignatius said finally. “Actually, I would be perfectly happy to let this ridiculous liability lie here on its side.”

George took one end of the bun and said, “You better close that little door before more of them weenies falls out.”

Ignatius kicked the little door closed, as if he were playing to win in a professional football game, neatly severing a protruding hot dog into two six-inch sections.

“Take it easy, prof. You gonna break your wagon.”

“Shut up, you truant. I didn’t ask you to make conversation.”

“Okay,” George said, shrugging. “I mean, I’m just tryna help you out.”

“How could you possibly help me?” Ignatius bellowed, baring a tan fang or two. “Some authority of society is probably hot on the scent of your suffocating hair tonic right now. Where did you come from? Why are you following me?” “Look, you want me to help you pick up this pile of junk?”

“Pile of junk? Are you talking about this Paradise vehicle?”

The streetcar clanged at them again.

“Come on,” George said. “Up.”

“I hope you realize,” Ignatius said as he breathlessly lifted the wagon, “that our association is only the result of an emergency.”

The cart bounced back onto its two bicycle tires, the contents of the tin bun rattling against its sides.

“Okay, prof, there you go. Glad I could help you out.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, you waif, you are about to be hooked on the cowcatcher of that streetcar.”

The streetcar rolled by them slowly so that the conductor and motorman could study Ignatius’s costume more closely.

George grabbed one of Ignatius’s paws and stuck two dollars in it.

“Money?” Ignatius asked happily. “Thank God.” He quickly pocketed the two bills. “I’d rather not ask the obscene motive for this. I’d like to think that you’re attempting to make amends in your simple way for slandering me on my dismal first day with this ludicrous wagon.” “That’s it, prof. You said it better than I ever could. You’re a really educated guy.”

“Oh?” Ignatius was very pleased. “There may be some hope for you yet. Hot dog?”

“No, thanks.”

“Then pardon me while I have one. My system is petitioning for appeasement.” Ignatius looked down into the well of his wagon. “My God, the hot dogs are quite disordered.” While Ignatius was slamming doors and plunging his paws down into the well, George said, “Now I helped you out, prof. Maybe you can do the same for me.” “Perhaps,” Ignatius said disinterestedly, biting into the hot dog.

“You see these?” George indicated the brown paper packages he was carrying under his arms. “These are school supplies. Now this is my problem. I gotta pick them up from the distributor at lunchtime, but I can’t deliver them to the schools until after school’s closed. So I gotta carry them around for almost two hours. You understand? What I’m looking for is a place to put these things in the afternoon. Now I could meet you someplace about one and put them in your bun compartment and come get them out sometime before three.” “How bogus,” Ignatius belched. “Do you seriously expect me to believe you? Delivering school supplies after the schools are closed?”

“I’ll pay you a couple of bucks every day.”

“You will?” Ignatius asked with interest. “Well, you will have to pay me a week’s rent in advance. I don’t deal in small sums.”

George opened his wallet and gave Ignatius eight dollars.

“Here. With the two you already got, that makes ten for the week.”

Ignatius happily pocketed the new bills and ripped one of the packages from George’s arms, saying, “I must see what it is that I’m storing. You’re probably selling goof balls to infants.” “Hey!” George shouted. “I can’t deliver the stuff if it’s opened.”

“Too bad for you.” Ignatius fended off the boy and tore off the brown wrapping. He saw a stack of what looked like postcards. “What are these? Visual aids for civics or some other equally stultifying high school subject?” “Gimme that, you nut.”

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius stared at what he saw. Once in high school someone had shown him a @@@ographic photograph, and he had collapsed against a water cooler, injuring his ear. This photograph was far superior. A nude woman was sitting on the edge of a desk next to a globe of the world. The suggested onanism with the piece of chalk intrigued Ignatius. Her face was hidden behind a large book. While George evaded indifferent slaps from the unoccupied paw, Ignatius scrutinized the title on the cover of the book: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. “Do I believe what I am seeing? What brilliance. What taste. Good grief.” “Give that back,” George pleaded.

“This one is mine,” Ignatius gloated, pocketing the top card. He handed the torn package back to George and looked at the piece of torn wrapping between his fingers. There was an address on it. He pocketed that, too. “Where in the world did you get these? Who is this brilliant woman?” “None of your business.”

“I see. A secret operation.” Ignatius thought of the address on the piece of paper. He would do his own investigating. Some destitute woman intellectual was doing anything for a dollar. Her worldview must be quite incisive, if her reading material were any guide. It could be that she was in the same situation as the Working Boy, a seer and philosopher cast into a hostile century by forces beyond her control. Ignatius must meet her. She might have some new and valuable insights. “Well, in spite of my misgivings, I shall make my cart available to you. However, you must watch the cart this afternoon. I have a rather urgent appointment.” “Hey, what is this? How long you gonna be?”

“About two hours.”

“I gotta get uptown by three o’clock.”

“Well, you shall be a little late this afternoon,” Ignatius said angrily. “I am already lowering my standards by associating with you and fouling up my bun compartment. You should be glad that I haven’t turned you in. I have on the police force a brilliant friend, a sly undercover agent, Patrolman Mancuso. He is just looking for the sort of break a case like yours would offer. Fall to your knees and be grateful for my benevolence.” Mancuso? Wasn’t that the name of the undercover agent who had stopped him in the rest room? George got very nervous.

“What does this undercover pal of yours look like?” George sneered in an attempt at bravery.

“He is small and elusive.” Ignatius’s voice was cunning. “He is given to many disguises. He is a veritable will-o’-the-wisp, scurrying here and there in his never-ending search for marauders. For a while he chose the covert of a bathroom but now is out on the streets where he remains at my beck and call every minute.” George’s throat filled with something that choked him.

“This is a frame-up,” he swallowed.

“That’s enough from you, you guttersnipe. Encouraging the degeneration of some noble woman scholar,” Ignatius barked. “You should be kissing the hem of my uniform in gratitude for my not advising Sherlock Mancuso of your evil goods. Meet me before the RKO Orpheum in two hours!” Ignatius billowed grandly off down Common Street. George put his two packages in the bun compartment and sat down on the curb. This was really luck meeting a pal of Mancuso’s. The big vendor really had him. He looked furiously at the wagon. Now he wasn’t only stuck with the packages. He was stuck with a big hot dog wagon.

Ignatius tossed money at the cashier and literally lunged into the Orpheum, waddling down the aisle toward the footlights. His timing had been perfect. The second feature was just beginning. The boy with the magnificent photographs was definitely a find. Ignatius wondered if he could blackmail him into watching the wagon every afternoon. The urchin had certainly responded to his mention of a friend on the police force.

Ignatius snorted at the movie credits. All of the people involved in the film were equally unacceptable. A set designer, in particular, had appalled him too many times in the past. The heroine was even more offensive than she had been in the circus musical. In this film she was a bright young secretary whom an aged man of the world was trying to seduce. He flew her in a private jet to Bermuda and installed her in a suite. On their first night together she broke out in a rash just as the libertine was opening her bedroom door.

“Filth!” Ignatius shouted, spewing wet popcorn over several rows. “How dare she pretend to be virgin. Look at her degenerate face. Rape her!” “They sure got some funny people at matinees,” a lady with a shopping bag said to her companion. “Just take a look at him. He’s got on a earring.” Then there was a soft-focus love scene, and Ignatius began to lose control. He could feel the hysteria overtaking him. He tried to be silent, but he found that he couldn’t.

“They’re photographing them through several thicknesses of cheesecloth,” he spluttered. “Oh, my God. Who can imagine how wrinkled and loathsome those two really are? I think I’m getting nauseated. Can’t someone in the projection booth turn off the electricity? Please!” He rattled his cutlass loudly against the side of his seat. An old usherette came down the aisle and tried to grab the cutlass from him, but Ignatius wrestled with her, and she slid to the carpet. She got up and hobbled away.

The heroine, believing her honor to be in question, had a series of paranoid fantasies in which she was lying on a bed with her libertine. The bed was pulled through the streets and floated across a swimming pool at the resort hotel.

“Good grief. Is this smut supposed to be comedy?” Ignatius demanded in the darkness. “I have not laughed once. My eyes can hardly believe this highly discolored garbage. That woman must be lashed until she drops. She is undermining our civilization. She is a Chinese Communist agent sent over to destroy us. Please! Someone with some decency get to the fuse box. Hundreds of people in this theater are being demoralized. If we’re all lucky, the Orpheum may have forgotten to pay its electric bill.” As the film ended Ignatius cried, “Under her All-American face she is really Tokyo Rose!”

He wanted to stay for another showing, but he remembered the waif. Ignatius didn’t want to ruin a good thing. He needed that boy. Weakly he climbed over the four empty popcorn boxes that had accumulated before his seat during the movie. He was completely enervated. His emotions were spent. Gasping, he staggered up the aisle and out onto the sunlit street. There, by the cab stand at the Roosevelt Hotel, George was keeping a surly watch over the wagon.

“Jesus,” he sneered. “I thought you was never coming outta there. What kinda appointment you had? You just went to see a movie.”

“Please,” Ignatius sighed. “I’ve just been through trauma. Run along. I’ll meet you at one sharp tomorrow at Canal and Royal.”

“Okay, prof.” George took his packages and started to slouch away. “Keep your mouth shut, huh?”

“We shall see,” Ignatius said sternly.

He ate a hot dog with trembling hands and peeked down into his pocket at the photograph. From above the woman’s figure looked even more matronly and reassuring. Some broken professor of Roman history? A ruined medievalist? If only she had shown her face. There was an air of solitude, of detachment, of solitary sensual and scholarly pleasure that appealed to him greatly. He looked at the scrap of wrapping paper, at the crude, tiny address. Bourbon Street. The undone woman was in the hands of commercial exploiters. What a challenging character for the Journal. That particular work, Ignatius thought, was rather lacking in the sensual department. It needed a good injection of lip-smacking innuendo. Perhaps the confessions of this woman would perk it up a bit.

Ignatius rolled down in to the Quarter and, for a wild and very fleeting moment, pondered an affair. How Myrna would gnaw at her espresso cup rim in envy. He would describe every lush moment with this scholarly woman. With her background and Boethian worldview, she would take a very stoic and fatalistic view of whatever s@xual gaucheries and blunders he committed. She would be understanding. “Be kind,” Ignatius would sigh to her. Myrna probably attacked s@x with the vehemence and seriousness that she brought to social protest. How anguished she would be when Ignatius described his tender pleasures.

“Do I dare?” Ignatius asked himself, bumping the wagon absentmindedly into a parked car. The handle sank into his stomach and he belched. He would not tell the woman how he came across her. First, he would discuss Boethius. She would be overwhelmed.

Ignatius found the address and said, “Oh, my God! The poor woman is in the hands of fiends.” He studied the façade of the Night of Joy and lumbered up to the poster in the glass case. He read: ROBERTA E. LEE

presents

Harlett O’Hara

The Virgin-ny Belle

(and pet!)

Who was Harlett O’Hara? Even more important, what kind of pet? Ignatius was intrigued. Afraid of attracting the wrath of the Nazi proprietress, he sat down uncomfortably on the curb and decided to wait.

Lana Lee was watching Darlene and the bird. They were almost ready to open. Now if only Darlene could get that line straight. She wandered away from the stage, gave Jones some additional directions about cleaning under the stools, and went to look out of the porthole of glass in the padded door. She’d seen enough of the act for one afternoon. The act was really pretty good in its own way. George was really bringing in the money with the new merchandise. Things were looking good. Too, Jones seemed to be broken in at last.

Lana pushed the door open and hollered out into the street, “Hey, you. Get off my curb, you character.”

“Please,” a rich voice answered from the street, pausing to think of some excuse. “I am only resting my rather broken feet.”

“Go rest them someplace else. Get that crappy wagon away from in front my business.”

“Let me assure you that I did not choose to collapse here before your gas chamber of a den. I did not return here of my own volition. My feet have simply ceased to function. I am paralyzed.” “Go get paralyzed down the block. All I need is you hanging around here again to ruin my investment. You look like a queer with that earring. People’ll think this is a gay bar. Go on.” “People will never make that mistake. Without a doubt you operate the most dismal bar in the city. May I interest you in purchasing a hot dog?” Darlene came to the door and said, “Well, look who it is. How’s your poor momma?”

“Oh, my God,” Ignatius bellowed. “Why did Fortuna lead me to this spot?”

“Hey, Jones,” Lana Lee called. “Quit knocking that broom and come chase this character away.”

“Sorry. Bouncer wage star at fifty dollar a week.”

“You sure treat your poor momma cruel,” Darlene said out the door.

“I don’t imagine that either of you ladies has read Boethius,” Ignatius sighed.

“Don’t talk to him,” Lana said to Darlene. “He’s a fu@king smartaleck. Jones, I’ll give you about two seconds to come out here before I get you picked up on a vagrancy rap along with this character. I’m getting fed up with smartasses in general.” “Goodness knows what storm trooper will descend upon me and beat me senseless,” Ignatius observed coolly. “You can’t frighten me. I’ve already had my trauma for the day.” “Ooo-wee!” Jones said when he looked out the door. “The green cap mother. In person. Live.”

“I see that you’ve wisely decided to hire a particularly terrifying Negro to protect you against your enraged and cheated customers,” the green cap mother said to Lana Lee.

“Hustle him off,” Lana said to Jones.

“Whoa! How you hustle off a elephan?”

“Look at those dark glasses. No doubt his system is swimming in dope.”

“Get the hell back in there,” Lana said to Darlene, who was staring at Ignatius. She pushed Darlene and said to Jones, “Okay. Get him.”

“Get out your razor and slash me,” Ignatius said as Lana and Darlene went in. “Throw lye in my face. Stab me. You wouldn’t realize, of course, that it was my interest in civil rights which led to my becoming a crippled vendor of franks. I lost a particularly successful position because of my stand on the racial question. My broken feet are the indirect result of my sensitive social conscience.” “Whoa! Levy Pant kick your ass out for tryina get all them po color people throwed in jail, huh?”

“How do you know about that?” Ignatius asked guardedly. “Were you involved in that particularly abortive coup?”

“No. I hear peoples talkin aroun.”

“You did?” Ignatius asked interestedly. “No doubt they made some mention of my carriage and bearing. Thus, I am recognizable. I hardly suspected that I have become a legend. Perhaps I abandoned that movement too hastily.” Ignatius was delighted. This was developing into a bright day after many bleak ones. “I have probably become a martyr of sorts.” He belched. “Would you care for a hot dog? I extend the same courteous service to all colors and creeds. Paradise Vendors has been a pioneer in the field of public accommodations.” “How come a white cat like you, talkin so good, sellin weenies?”

“Please blow your smoke elsewhere. My respiratory system, unfortunately, is below par. I suspect that I am the result of particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm was probably emitted in a rather offhand manner.” This was luck, Jones thought. The fat mother dropped out of the sky just when he needed him most.

“You mus be outa your min man. You oughta have you a good job, big Buick, all that sh@t. Whoa! Air condition, color TV…”

“I have a very pleasant occupation,” Ignatius answered icily. “Outdoor work, no supervision. The only pressure is on the feet.”

“If I go to college I wouldn be draggin no meat wagon aroun sellin peoples a lotta garbage and sh@t.”

“Please! Paradise products are of the very highest quality.” Ignatius rapped his cutlass against the curb. “Anyone employed by that dubious bar is not in a position to question another’s occupation.” “sh@t, you think I like the Night of Joy? Ooo-wee. I wanna get someplace. I like to get someplace good, be gainfully employ, make me a livin wage.” “Just as I suspected,” Ignatius said angrily. “In other words, you want to become totally bourgeois. You people have all been brainwashed. I imagine that you’d like to become a success or something equally vile.” “Hey, now you gettin me. Whoa!”

“I really don’t have the time to discuss the errors of your value judgments. However, I would like some information from you. Do you by any chance have a woman in that den who is given to reading?” “Yeah. She all the time slippin me somethin to read, tellin me I be improvin myself. She pretty decent.”

“Oh, my God.” The blue and yellow eyes flashed. “Is there any way that I can meet this paragon?”

Jones wondered what this was all about. He said, “Whoa! You wanna see her, you come around some night, see her dancin with her pet.”

“Good grief. Don’t tell me that she is this Harlett O’Hara.”

“Yeah. She Harla O’Horror all right.”

“Boethius plus a pet,” Ignatius mumbled. “What a discovery.”

“She be openin in a coupla three days, man. You oughta get your ass down here. This the very fines ack I ever seen. Whoa!”

“I can only imagine,” Ignatius said respectfully. Some brilliant satire on the decadent Old South being cast before the unaware swine in the Night of Joy audience. Poor Harlett. “Tell me. What sort of pet does she have?” “Hey! I cain tell you that, man. You gotta see for yourself. This ack a big surprise. Harla got somethin to say, too. This ain jus a reglar strip ack. Harla talkin.” Good heavens. Some incisive commentary which no one in her audiences could fully comprehend. He must see Harlett. They must communicate.

“There is one thing I would like to know, sir,” Ignatius said. “Is the Nazi proprietress of this cesspool around here every night?”

“Who? Miss Lee? No.” Jones smiled at himself. The sabotage was working too perfectly. The fat mother really wanted to come to the Night of Joy. “She say Harla O’Horror so perfec, she so fine, she don’t havta be comin aroun at night to supervise. She say jus as soon Harla be openin, she leavin for a vacation in Califonia. Whoa!” “What luck,” Ignatius slobbered. “Well, I shall be here to see Miss O’Hara’s act. You may secretly reserve a ringside table for me. I must see and hear everything she does.” “Ooo-wee. You be real welcome, man. Drag your ass over in a coupla days. We give you the fines service in the house.”

“Jones, are you talking to that character or what?” Lana demanded from the door.

“Don’t worry,” Ignatius told her. “I’m leaving. Your henchman has terrified me completely. I shall never make the mistake of even passing by this vile pigsty.” “Good,” Lana said and swung the door closed.

Ignatius gloated at Jones conspiratorially.

“Hey, listen,” Jones said. “Before you be leavin, tell me somethin. Wha you think a color cat can do to stop bein vagran or employ below the minimal wage?” “Please.” Ignatius fumbled through his smock to find the curb and raise himself. “You can’t possibly realize how confused you are. Your value judgments are all wrong. When you get to the top or wherever it is that you want to go, you’ll have a nervous breakdown or worse. Do you know of any Negroes with ulcers? Of course not. Live contentedly in some hovel. Thank Fortuna that you have no Caucasian parent hounding you. Read Boethius.” “Who? Read wha?”

“Boethius will show you that striving is ultimately meaningless, that we must learn to accept. Ask Miss O’Hara about him.”

“Listen. How you like bein vagran half the time?”

“Wonderful. I myself was a vagrant in happier, better days. If only I were in your shoes. I would stir from my room only once a month to fumble for my relief check in the mailbox. Realize your good fortune.” The fat mother was really a freak. The poor people at Levy Pants were lucky that they hadn’t ended up in Angola.

“Well, be sure you come aroun in a coupla nights.” Jones blew a cloud at the earring. “Harla be doin her stuff.”

“I shall be there with bells on,” Ignatius said happily. How Myrna would gnash her teeth.

“Whoa!” Jones walked around to the front of the wagon and studied the sheet of Big Chief paper. “Look like somebody been playin tricks on you.” “That is only a merchandising gimmick.”

“Ooo-wee. You better check it again.”

Ignatius lumbered around to the prow and saw that the waif had decorated the TWELVE INCHES (12”) OF PARADISE sign with a variety of genitals.

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius ripped off the sheet covered with the ball-point graffiti. “Have I been pushing this about?”

“I be out front lookin for you,” Jones said. “Hey!”

Ignatius waved a happy paw and waddled off. At last he had a reason for earning money: Harlett O’Hara. He aimed the denuded prow of the wagon toward the Algiers ferry ramp, where the longshoremen gathered in the afternoons. Calling, entreating, he guided the wagon into the crowd of men and succeeded in selling all of his hot dogs, courteously and effusively squirting ketchup and mustard on his sold goods with all the energy of a fireman.

What a brilliant day. The signs from Fortuna were more than promising. A surprised Mr. Clyde received cheery greetings and ten dollars from vendor Reilly, and Ignatius, his smock filled with bills from the waif and the mogul of frankfurters, billowed onto the trolley with a glad heart.

He entered the house and found his mother talking quietly on the telephone.

“I been thinking about what you said,” Mrs. Reilly was whispering into the phone. “Maybe it ain’t such a bad idea after all, babe. You know what I mean?” “Of course it ain’t,” Santa answered. “Them people at Charity can let Ignatius take him a little rest. Claude ain’t gonna want no Ignatius around, sweetheart.” “He likes me, huh?”

“Likes you? He called up this morning to ax me if I thought you was ever gonna remarry. Lord. I says, ‘Well, Claude, you gotta pop the question.’ Whoee. You two having a worldwin courtship if I ever seen one. That poor man’s desperate from loneliness.” “He’s sure considerate,” Mrs. Reilly breathed into the mouthpiece. “But sometimes he makes me nervous with all them communiss.”

“What in the world are you babbling about?” Ignatius thundered in the hall.

“Christ,” Santa said. “It sound like that Ignatius come in.”

“Ssh,” Mrs. Reilly said into the phone.

“Well, listen, sweetheart. Once Claude gets married, he’ll stop thinking about them communiss. His mind isn’t occupied is what’s wrong with him. You give him some loving.” “Santa!”

“Good grief,” Ignatius spluttered. “Are you speaking with that Battaglia strumpet?”

“Shut up, boy.”

“You better knock that Ignatius in the head,” Santa said.

“I wisht I was strong enough, sweetheart,” Mrs. Reilly answered.

“Oh, Irene, I almost forgot to tell you. Angelo come around this morning for a cup of coffee. I hardly reconnized him. You oughta seen him in that wool suit. He looked like Mrs. Astor’s horse. Poor Angelo. He’s sure trying hard. Now he’s going to all the high-class bars, he says. He better get him some character.” “Ain’t that awful,” Mrs. Reilly said sadly. “What Angelo’s gonna do if he gets himself kicked off the force? And him with three chirren to support.” “There are a few challenging openings at Paradise Vendors for men with initiative and good taste,” Ignatius said.

“Listen at that nut,” Santa said. “Aw, Irene. You better ring up the Charity, honey.”

“We gonna give him another chance. Maybe he’ll hit the jackpot.”

“I don’t know why I bother talking to you, girl,” Santa sighed hoarsely. “I’ll see you tonight then about seven. Claude says he’s gonna come over here. Come pick us up and we’ll take us a nice ride out to the lake for some of them good crabs. Whoo! You kids sure lucky you got me for a chaperone. You two need one, especially with that Claude around.” Santa guffawed in a voice huskier than usual and hung up.

“What in the world do you and that old bawd babble about?” Ignatius asked.

“Shut up!”

“Thank you. I see that things about here are as cheerful as ever.”

“How much money you brought in today? A quarter?” Mrs. Reilly screamed. She leaped up and stuck her hand into one of the pockets of the smock and pulled out the brilliant photograph. “Ignatius!” “Give that to me,” Ignatius thundered. “How dare you besmirch that magnificent image with your vintner’s hands.”

Mrs. Reilly peeked at the photograph again and then closed her eyes. A tear crept out from beneath her closed eyelids. “I knew when you started selling them weenies you was gonna be hanging around with people like this.” “What do you mean, ‘people like this’?” Ignatius asked angrily, pocketing the photograph. “This is a brilliant, misused woman. Speak of her with respect and reverence.” “I don’t wanna speak at all,” Mrs. Reilly sniffed, her lids still sealed. “Go sit in your room and write some more of your foolishness.” The telephone rang. “That must be that Mr. Levy. He already rang up here twice today.” “Mr. Levy? What does that monster want?”

“He wouldn’t tell me. Go on, crazy. Answer that. Pick up that phone.”

“Well, I certainly don’t want to speak with him,” Ignatius thundered. He picked up the telephone, and in an assumed voice rich with Mayfair accents said, “Yus?” “Mr. Reilly?” a man asked.

“Mr. Reilly is not here.”

“This is Gus Levy.” In the background, a woman’s voice was saying, “Let’s see what you’re going to say. Another chance down the drain, a psycho escaped.” “I’m terribly sorry,” Ignatius enunciated. “Mr. Reilly was called out of town this afternoon on rather crucial business. Actually, he is at the state mental hospital in Mandeville. Since being so viciously dismissed by your concern, he has had to commute back and forth regularly from Mandeville. His ego is badly bruised. You may yet receive his psychiatrists’ bills. They are rather staggering.” “He cracked up?”

“Violently and totally. We had something of a time with him here. The first time that he went to Mandeville, he had to be transported in an armored car. As you know, his physique is rather grand. This afternoon, however, he left in a state patrol ambulance.” “Can he have visitors at Mandeville?”

“Of course. Drive out to see him. Bring him some cookies.”

Ignatius slammed the telephone down, pressed a quarter into the palm of his still sniffling, blinded mother, and waddled to his room. Before opening the door, he stopped to straighten the PEACE TO MEN OF GOOD WILL sign that he had tacked to the peeling wood.

All signs were pointing upward; his wheel was revolving skyward.

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