فصل 03کتاب: اتحادیه ابلهان / فصل 3
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متن انگلیسی فصل
Ignatius staggered up the brick path to the house, climbed the steps painfully, and rang the bell. One stalk of the dead banana tree had expired and collapsed stiffly onto the hood of the Plymouth.
“Ignatius, baby,” Mrs. Reilly cried when she opened the door. “What’s wrong? You look like you dying.”
“My valve closed on the streetcar.”
“Lord, come in quick out the cold.”
Ignatius shuffled miserably back to the kitchen and fell into a chair.
“The personnel manager at that insurance company treated me very insultingly.”
“You didn’t get the job?”
“Of course I didn’t get the job.”
“I would rather not discuss it.”
“Did you go to the other places?”
“Obviously not. Do I appear to be in a condition that would attract prospective employers? I had the good judgment to come home as soon as possible.”
“Don’t feel blue, precious.”
“‘Blue’? I am afraid that I never feel ‘blue.’”
“Now don’t be nasty. You’ll get a nice job. You only been on the streets a few days,” his mother said and looked at him. “Ignatius, was you wearing that cap when you spoke to the insurance man?” “Of course I was. That office was improperly heated. I don’t know how the employees of that company manage to stay alive exposing themselves to that chill day after day. And then there are those fluorescent tubes baking their brains out and blinding them. I did not like the office at all. I tried to explain the inadequacies of the place to the personnel manager, but he seemed rather uninterested. He was ultimately very hostile.” Ignatius let out a monstrous belch. “However, I told you that it would be like this. I am an anachronism. People realize this and resent it.” “Lord, babe, you gotta look up.”
“Look up?” Ignatius repeated savagely. “Who has been sowing that unnatural garbage into your mind?”
“Oh, my God! I should have known. Is he an example of ‘looking up’?”
“You oughta hear the whole story of that poor man’s life. You oughta hear what this sergeant at the precinct’s trying…”
“Stop!” Ignatius covered one ear and beat a fist on the table. “I will not listen to another word about that man. Throughout the centuries it has been the Mancusos of the world who have caused wars and spread diseases. Suddenly the spirit of that evil man is haunting this house. He has become your Svengali!” “Ignatius, get a holt of yourself.”
“I refuse to ‘look up.’ Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”
“I ain’t miserable.”
“No, I ain’t.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Ignatius, I ain’t miserable. If I was, I’d tell you.”
“If I had demolished private property while intoxicated and had thereby thrown my child to the wolves, I would be beating my breast and wailing. I would kneel in penance until my knees bled. By the way, what penance has the priest given you for your sin?” “Three Hail Mary’s and a Our Father.”
“Is that all?” Ignatius screamed. “Did you tell him what you did, that you halted a critical work of great brilliance?”
“I went to confession, Ignatius. I told Father everything. He says, ‘It don’t sound like your fault, honey. It sounds to me like you just took a little skid on a wet street.’ So I told him about you. I says ‘My boy says I’m the one stopping him from writing in his copybooks. He’s been writing on this story for almost five years.’ And Father says, ‘Yeah? Well, don’t sound too important to me. You tell him to get out the house and go to work.’” “No wonder I cannot support the Church,” Ignatius bellowed. “You should have been lashed right there in the confessional.”
“Now tomorrow, Ignatius, you go try some other place. They got plenty jobs in the city. I was talking to Miss Marie-Louise, the old lady works in the German’s. She’s got a crippled brother with a earphone. He’s kinda deaf, you know? He got himself a good job over by the Goodwill Industries.” “Perhaps I should try there.”
“Ignatius! They only hire blind people and dummies to make brooms and things.”
“I am certain that those people are pleasant co-workers.”
“Let’s us look in the afternoon’s paper. Maybe they got a nice job in there!”
“If I must go out tomorrow, I am not leaving the house so early. I felt very disoriented all the while I was downtown.”
“You didn’t leave here until after lunch.”
“Still, I was not functioning properly. I suffered several bad dreams last night. I awoke bruised and muttering.”
“Here, listen to this. I been seeing this ad in the paper every day,” Mrs. Reilly said, holding the newspaper very close to her eyes. “‘Clean, hard-worker man…’” “That’s ‘hard-working.’”
“‘Clean, hard-working man, dependable, quite type…’”
“‘Quiet type.’ Give that to me,” Ignatius said, snatching the paper from his mother. “It’s unfortunate that you couldn’t complete your education.” “Poppa was very poor.”
“Please! I couldn’t bear to hear that grim story again at the moment. ‘Clean, hard-working, dependable, quiet type.’ Good God! What kind of monster is this that they want. I am afraid that I could never work for a concern with a worldview like that.” “Read the rest, babe.”
“‘Clerical work. 25-35 years old. Apply Levy Pants, Industrial Canal and River, between 8 and 9 daily.’ Well, that’s out. I could never get all the way down there before nine o’clock.” “Honey, if you gonna work, you gotta get up early.”
“No, Mother.” Ignatius threw the paper on top of the oven. “I have been setting my sights too high. I cannot survive this type of work. I suspect that something like a newspaper route would be rather agreeable.” “Ignatius, a big man like you can’t pedal around on no bike delivering newspapers.”
“Perhaps you could drive me about in the car and I could toss the papers from the rear window.”
“Listen, boy,” Mrs. Reilly said angrily. “You gonna go try somewheres tomorrow. I mean it. The first thing you gonna do is answer this ad. You playing around, Ignatius. I know you.” “Ho hum,” Ignatius yawned, exhibiting the flabby pink of his tongue. “Levy Pants sounds just as bad if not worse than the titles of the other organizations I have contacted. I can see that I am obviously beginning to scrape the bottom of the job market already.” “Just you wait, babe. You’ll make good.”
“Oh, my God!”
Patrolman Mancuso had a good idea that had been given to him by, of all people, Ignatius Reilly. He had telephoned the Reillys’ house to ask Mrs. Reilly when she could go bowling with him and his aunt. But Ignatius had answered the telephone and screamed, “Stop molesting us, you mongoloid. If you had any sense, you would be investigating dens like that Night of Joy in which my beloved mother and I were mistreated and robbed. I, unfortunately, was the prey of a vicious, depraved B-girl. In addition, the proprietress is a Nazi. We barely escaped with our lives. Go investigate that gang and let us alone, you homewrecker.” Then Mrs. Reilly had wrestled the phone away from her son.
The sergeant would be glad to know about the place. He might even compliment Patrolman Mancuso for getting the tip. Clearing his throat, Patrolman Mancuso stood before the sergeant and said, “I got a lead on a place where they got B-girls.” “You got a lead?” the sergeant asked. “Who gave you the lead?”
Patrolman Mancuso decided against dragging Ignatius into the matter for several reasons. He settled on Mrs. Reilly.
“A lady I know,” he answered.
“How come this lady knows about the place?” the sergeant asked. “Who took her to this place?”
Patrolman Mancuso couldn’t say “her son.” It might reopen some wounds. Why couldn’t conversations with the sergeant ever go smoothly?
“She was there alone,” Patrolman Mancuso said finally, trying to save the interview from becoming a shambles.
“A lady was in a place like that alone?” the sergeant screamed. “What kinda lady was this? She’s probly a B-girl herself. Get outta here, Mancuso, and bring me in a suspicious character. You ain’t brought in one person yet. Don’t gimme no tips from B-girls. Go look in your locker. You’re a soldier today. Beat it.” Patrolman Mancuso drifted sadly off to the lockers, wondering why he could never do anything right for the sergeant. When he was gone, the sergeant turned to a detective and said, “Send a couple men over to that Night of Joy some night. Someone there might’ve been just dumb enough to talk to Mancuso. But don’t tell him. I don’t want that goon taking any credit. He stays in costume until he brings me in a character.” “You know, we got another complaint on Mancuso today from somebody who says a small man wearing a sombrero pressed up against her in a bus last night,” the detective said.
“No kidding,” the sergeant said thoughtfully. “Well, any more complaints like that, and we arrest Mancuso.”
Mr. Gonzalez turned the lights on in the small office and lit the gas heater beside his desk. In the twenty years that he had been working for Levy Pants, he had always been the first person to arrive each morning.
“It was still dark when I got here this morning,” Mr. Gonzalez would say to Mr. Levy on those rare occasions when Mr. Levy was forced to visit Levy Pants.
“You must be leaving home too early,” Mr. Levy would say.
“I was standing out on the steps of the office this morning talking to the milkman.”
“Oh, shut up, Gonzalez. Did you get my plane ticket to Chicago for the Bears’ game with the Packers?”
“I had the office all warm by the time everybody else came in for work.”
“You’re burning up my gas. Sit in the cold. It’s good for you.”
“I did two pages in the ledger this morning when I was in here all by myself. Look, I caught a rat near the water cooler. He didn’t think anybody was around yet, and I hit him with a paperweight.” “Get that damned rat away from me. This place depresses me enough. Get on the phone and make my hotel reservations for the Derby.”
But the criteria at Levy Pants were very low. Promptness was sufficient excuse for promotion. Mr. Gonzalez became the office manager and took control of the few dispirited clerks under him. He could never really remember the names of his clerks and typists. They seemed, at times, to come and go almost daily, with the exception of Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant, who had been copying figures inaccurately into the Levy ledgers for almost half a century. She even wore her green celluloid visor on her way to and from work, a gesture that Mr. Gonzalez interpreted as a symbol of loyalty to Levy Pants. On Sundays she sometimes wore the visor to church, mistaking it for a hat. She had even worn it to her brother’s funeral, where it was ripped from her head by her more alert and slightly younger sister-in-law. Mrs. Levy, though, had issued orders that Miss Trixie was to be retained, no matter what.
Mr. Gonzalez rubbed a rag over his desk and thought, as he did every morning at this time when the office was still chilly and deserted and the wharf rats played frenetic games among themselves within the walls, about the happiness that his association with Levy Pants had brought him. On the river the freighters gliding through the lifting mist bellowed at one another, the sound of their deep foghorns echoing among the rusting file cabinets in the office. Beside him the little heater popped and cracked as its parts grew warmer and expanded. He listened unconsciously to all the sounds that had begun his day for twenty years and lit the first of the ten cigarettes that he smoked every day. When he had smoked the cigarette down to its filter, he put it out and emptied the ashtray into the wastebasket. He always liked to impress Mr. Levy with the cleanliness of his desk.
Next to his desk was Miss Trixie’s rolltop desk. Old newspapers filled every half-opened drawer. Among the little spherical formations of lint under the desk a piece of cardboard had been wedged under one corner to make the desk level. In place of Miss Trixie, a brown paper bag filled with old pieces of material, and a ball of twine occupied the chair. Cigarette butts spilled out of the ashtray on the desk. This was a mystery which Mr. Gonzalez had never been able to solve, for Miss Trixie did not smoke. He had questioned her about this several times, but had never received a coherent answer. There was something magnetic about Miss Trixie’s area. It attracted whatever refuse there was in the office, and whenever pens, eyeglasses, purses, or cigarette lighters were missing they could usually be found somewhere in her desk. Miss Trixie also hoarded all of the telephone books, which were stored in some cluttered drawer in her desk.
Mr. Gonzalez was about to search Miss Trixie’s area for his missing stamp pad when the door of the office opened and she shuffled in, scuffing her sneakers across the wooden floor. She had with her another paper bag that seemed to contain the same assortment of material and twine, aside from the stamp pad which was sticking out of the top of the bag. For two or three years Miss Trixie had been carrying these bags with her, sometimes accumulating three or four by the side of her desk, never disclosing their purpose or destination to anyone.
“Good morning, Miss Trixie,” Mr. Gonzalez called in his effervescent tenor. “And how are we this morning?”
“Who? Oh, hello, Gomez,” Miss Trixie said feebly and drifted off toward the ladies’ room as if she were tacking into a gale. Miss Trixie was never perfectly vertical; she and the floor always met at an angle of less than ninety degrees.
Mr. Gonzalez took the opportunity of her disappearance to retrieve his stamp pad from the bag and discovered that it was covered with what felt and smelled like bacon grease. While he was wiping his stamp pad, he wondered how many of the other workers would appear. One day a year ago only he and Miss Trixie had shown up for work, but that was before the company had granted a five-dollar monthly increase. Still, the office help at Levy Pants often quit without even telephoning Mr. Gonzalez. This was a constant worry, and always after Miss Trixie’s arrival he watched the door hopefully, especially now that the factory was supposed to begin shipment of its spring and summer line. The truth of the matter was that he needed office help desperately.
Mr. Gonzalez saw a green visor outside the door. Had Miss Trixie gone out through the factory and decided to reenter through the front door? It was like her. She had once gone to the ladies’ room in the morning and been found by Mr. Gonzalez late that afternoon asleep on a pile of piece goods in the factory loft. Then the door opened, and one of the largest men that Mr. Gonzalez had ever seen entered the office. He removed the green cap and revealed thick black hair plastered to his skull with Vaseline in the style of the 1920s. When the overcoat came off, Mr. Gonzalez saw rings of fat squeezed into a tight white shirt that was vertically divided by a wide flowered tie. It appeared that Vaseline had also been applied to the moustache for it gleamed very brightly. And then there were the unbelievable blue and yellow eyes laced with the finest tracing of pinkish veins. Mr. Gonzalez prayed almost audibly that this behemoth was an applicant for a job. He was impressed and overwhelmed.
Ignatius found himself in perhaps the most disreputable office that he had ever entered. The naked light bulbs that hung irregularly from the stained ceiling cast a weak yellow light upon the warped floorboards. Old filing cabinets divided the room into several small cubicles, in each of which was a desk painted with a peculiar orange varnish. Through the dusty windows of the office there was a gray view of the Poland Avenue wharf, the Army Terminal, the Mississippi, and, far in the distance, the drydocks and the roofs of Algiers across the river. A very old woman hobbled into the room and bumped into a row of filing cabinets. The atmosphere of the place reminded Ignatius of his own room, and his valve agreed by opening joyfully. Ignatius prayed almost audibly that he would be accepted for the job. He was impressed and overwhelmed.
“Yes?” the dapper man at the clean desk asked brightly.
“Oh. I thought that the lady was in charge,” Ignatius said in his most stentorian voice, finding the man the only blight in the office. “I have come in response to your advertisement.” “Oh, wonderful. Which one?” the man cried enthusiastically. “We’re running two in the paper, one for a woman and one for a man.”
“Which one do you think I’m answering?” Ignatius hollered.
“Oh,” Mr. Gonzalez said in great confusion. “I’m very sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I mean, the s@x doesn’t matter. You could handle either job. I mean, I’m not concerned with s@x.” “Please forget it,” Ignatius said. He noticed with interest that the old woman was beginning to nod at her desk. Working conditions looked wonderful.
“Come sit down, please. Miss Trixie will take your coat and hat and put them in the employees’ locker. We want you to feel at home at Levy Pants.”
“But I haven’t even spoken with you yet.”
“That’s all right. I’m sure that we’ll see eye to eye. Miss Trixie. Miss Trixie.”
“Who?” Miss Trixie cried, knocking her loaded ashtray to the floor.
“Here, I’ll take your things.” Mr. Gonzalez was slapped on the hand when he reached for the cap, but he was permitted to have the coat. “Isn’t that a fine tie. You see very few like that anymore.” “It belonged to my departed father.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Mr. Gonzalez said and put the coat into an old metal locker in which Ignatius saw a bag like the two beside the old woman’s desk. “By the way, this is Miss Trixie, one of our oldest employees. You’ll enjoy knowing her.” Miss Trixie had fallen asleep, her white head among the old newspapers on her desk.
“Yes,” Miss Trixie finally sighed. “Oh, it’s you, Gomez. Is it quitting time already?”
“Miss Trixie, this is one of our new workers.”
“Fine big boy,” Miss Trixie said, turning her rheumy eyes up toward Ignatius. “Well fed.”
“Miss Trixie has been with us for over fifty years. That will give you some idea of the satisfaction that our workers get from their association with Levy Pants. Miss Trixie worked for Mr. Levy’s late father, a fine old gentleman.” “Yes, a fine old gentleman,” Miss Trixie said, unable to remember the elder Mr. Levy at all anymore. “He treated me well. Always had a kind word, that man.” “Thank you, Miss Trixie,” Mr. Gonzalez said quickly, like a master of ceremonies trying to end a variety act that had failed horribly.
“The company says it’s going to give me a nice boiled ham for Easter,” Miss Trixie told Ignatius. “I certainly hope so. They forgot all about my Thanksgiving turkey.” “Miss Trixie has stood by Levy Pants through the years,” the office manager explained while the ancient assistant accountant babbled something else about the turkey.
“I’ve been waiting for years to retire, but every year they say I have one more to go. They work you till you drop,” Miss Trixie wheezed. Then losing interest in retirement, she added, “I could have used that turkey.” She began sorting through one of her bags.
“Can you begin work today?” Mr. Gonzalez asked Ignatius.
“I don’t believe that we have discussed anything concerning salary and so forth. Isn’t that the normal procedure at this time?” Ignatius asked condescendingly.
“Well, the filing job, which is the one you’ll have because we really need someone on the files, pays sixty dollars a week. Any days that you are absent due to sickness, et cetera, are deducted from your weekly wage.” “That is certainly far below the wage that I had expected.” Ignatius sounded abnormally important. “I have a valve which is subject to vicissitudes which may force me to lie abed on certain days. Several more attractive organizations are currently vying for my services. I must consider them first.” “But listen,” the office manager said confidentially. “Miss Trixie here earns only forty dollars a week, and she does have some seniority.”
“She does look rather worn,” Ignatius said, watching Miss Trixie spread the contents of her bag on her desk and sort through the scraps. “Isn’t she past retirement?” “Sshh,” Mr. Gonzalez hissed. “Mrs. Levy won’t let us retire her. She thinks it’s better for Miss Trixie to keep active. Mrs. Levy is a brilliant, educated woman. She’s taken a correspondence course in psychology.” Mr. Gonzalez let this sink in. “Now, to return to your prospects, you are very fortunate to start with the salary I quoted. This is all part of the Levy Pants Plan to attract new blood into the company. Miss Trixie, unfortunately, was hired before the plan went into effect. It was not retroactive, and therefore doesn’t cover her.” “I hate to disappoint you, sir, but I am afraid that the salary is not adequate. An oil magnate is currently dangling thousands before me trying to tempt me to be his personal secretary. At the moment, I am trying to decide whether I can accept the man’s materialistic worldview. I suspect that I am going to finally tell him, ‘Yes.’” “We’ll include twenty cents a day for carfare,” Mr. Gonzalez pleaded.
“Well. That does change things,” Ignatius conceded. “I shall take the job temporarily. I must admit that the ‘Levy Pants Plan’ rather attracts me.” “Oh, that’s wonderful,” Mr. Gonzalez blurted. “He’ll love it here, won’t he, Miss Trixie?”
Miss Trixie was too preoccupied with her scraps to reply.
“I find it strange that you have not even asked for my name,” Ignatius snorted.
“Oh, my goodness. I completely forgot about that. Who are you?”
That day one other office worker, the stenographer, appeared. One woman telephoned to say that she had decided to quit and go on relief instead. The others did not contact Levy Pants at all.
“Take those glasses off. How the hell can you see all that crap on the floor?”
“Who wanna look at all that crap?”
“I told you to take the glasses off, Jones.”
“The glasses stayin on.” Jones bumped the push broom into a bar stool. “For twenty dollar a week, you ain running a plantation in here.”
Lana Lee started snapping a rubber band around the pile of bills and making little piles of nickels that she was taking out of the cash register.
“Stop knocking that broom against the bar,” she screamed. “Goddamit to hell, you making me nervous.”
“You want quiet sweeping, you get you a old lady. I sweep yawng.”
The broom bumped against the bar several more times. Then the cloud of smoke and the broom moved off across the floor.
“You oughta tell your customer use they ashtray, tell them peoples you workin a man in here below the minimal wage. Maybe they be a little considerate.”
“You better be glad I’m giving you a chance, boy,” Lana Lee said. “There’s plenty colored boys looking for work these days.”
“Yeah, and they’s plenty color boy turnin vagran, too, when they see what kinda wage peoples offerin. Sometime I think if you color, it better to be a vagran.” “You better be glad you’re working.”
“Ever night I’m fallin on my knee.”
The broom bumped against a table.
“Let me know when you finish with that sweeping,” Lana Lee said. “I got a little errand I want you to run for me.”
“Erran? Hey! I thought this a sweepin and moppin job.” Jones blew out a cumulus formation. “What this erran sh@t?”
“Listen here, Jones,” Lana Lee dumped a pile of nickels into the cash register and wrote down a figure on a sheet of paper. “All I gotta do is phone the police and report you’re out of work. You understand me?” “And I tell the po-lice the Night of Joy a glorify cathouse. I fall in a trap when I come to work in this place. Whoa! Now I jus waitin to get some kinda evidence. When I do, I really gonna flap my mouth at the precinct.” “Watch your tongue.”
“Times changin,” Jones said, adjusting his sunglasses. “You cain scare color peoples no more. I got me some peoples form a human chain in front your door, drive away your business, get you on the TV news. Color peoples took enough horsesh@t already, and for twenty dollar a week you ain piling no more on. I getting pretty tire of bein vagran or workin below the minimal wage. Get somebody else run your erran.” “Aw, knock it off and finish my floor. I’ll get Darlene to go.”
“That po gal.” Jones explored a booth with the broom. “Hustlin water, runnin erran. Whoa!”
“Ring up the precinct about her. She’s a B-drinker.”
“I waitin till I can ring up the precinct about you. Darlene don wanna be a B-drinker. She force to be a B-drinker. She say she wanna go in show biz.”
“Yeah? Well, with the brains that girl’s got she’s lucky they haven’t shipped her off to the funny farm.”
“She be better off there.”
“She’d be better off if she just put that mind of hers to selling my liquor and quit with the dancing crap. I can just imagine what somebody like her would do on my stage. Darlene’s the kinda person ruin your investment if you don’t watch her.” The padded door banged open and a young boy clicked into the bar, scraping the metal taps on his flamenco boots across the floor.
“Well, it’s about time,” Lana said to him.
“You got a new jig, huh?” The boy looked out at Jones through his swirls of oiled hair. “What happened to the last one? He die or something?”
“Honey,” said Lana blandly.
The boy opened a flashy hand-tooled wallet and gave Lana a number of bills.
“Everything went okay, George?” she asked him. “The orphans liked them?”
“They liked the one on the desk with the glasses on. They thought it was some kinda teacher or something. I want only that one this time.”
“You think they want another like that?” Lana asked with interest.
“Yeah. Why not? Maybe one with a blackboard and a book. You know. Doing something with a piece of chalk.”
The boy and Lana smiled at each other.
“I get the picture,” Lana said and winked.
“Hey, you a junkie?” the boy called to Jones. “You look like a junkie to me.”
“You be lookin pretty junky with a Night of Joy broom stickin out your ass,” Jones said very slowly. “Night of Joy broom old, they good and splintery.” “Okay, okay,” Lana screamed. “I don’t want a race riot in here. I got an investment to protect.”
“You better tell your little ofay kid friend move along.” Jones blew some smoke on the two. “I ain takin no insult with this kinda job.”
“Come on, George,” Lana said. She opened the cabinet under the bar and gave George a package wrapped in brown paper. “This is the one you want. Now go on. Beat it.” George winked at her and banged out the door.
“That suppose to be a messenger for the orphans?” Jones asked. “I like to see the orphans he operatin for. I bet the United Fun don know about them orphans.” “What the hell are you talking about?” Lana asked angrily. She studied Jones’s face, but the glasses prevented her reading anything there. “There’s nothing wrong with a little charity. Now get back on my floor.” Lana started to make sounds, like the imprecations of a priestess, over the bills that the boy had given her. Whispered numerals and words floated upward from her coral lips, and, closing her eyes, she copied some figures onto a pad of paper. Her fine body, itself a profitable investment through the years, bent reverently over the formica top altar. Smoke, like incense, rose from the cigarette in the ashtray at her elbow, curling upward with her prayers, up above the host which she was elevating in order to study the date of its minting, the single silver dollar that lay among the offerings. Her bracelet tinkled, calling communicants to the altar, but the only one in the temple had been excommunicated from the Faith because of his parentage and continued mopping. An offering fell to the floor, the host, and Lana knelt to venerate and retrieve it.
“Hey, watch out,” Jones called, violating the sanctity of the rite. “You droppin your profit from the orphans, butterfinger.”
“Did you see where it went to, Jones?” she asked. “See if you can find it.”
Jones rested his mop against the bar and scouted for the coin, squinting through his sunglasses and smoke.
“Ain this the sh@t,” he mumbled to himself while the two searched the floor. “Ooo-wee!”
“I found it,” Lana said emotionally. “I got it.”
“Whoa! I’m sure glad you did. Hey! You better not be droppin silver dollars on the floor like that, Night of Joy be going bankrup. You be havin trouble meetin that big payroll.” “And why don’t you try keeping your mouth shut, boy?”
“Say, who you callin ‘boy’?” Jones took the handle of the broom and pushed vigorously toward the altar. “You ain Scarla O’Horror.”
V Ignatius eased himself into the taxi and gave the driver the Constantinople Street address. From the pocket of his overcoat he took a sheet of Levy Pants stationery, and borrowing the driver’s clipboard for a desk, he began to write as the taxi joined the dense traffic on St. Claude Avenue.
I am really quite fatigued as my first working day draws to a close. I do not wish to suggest, however, that I am disheartened or depressed or defeated. For the first time in my life I have met the system face to face, fully determined to function within its context as an observer and critic in disguise, so to speak. Were there more firms like Levy Pants, I do believe that America’s working forces would be better adjusted to their tasks. The obviously reliable worker is completely unmolested. Mr. Gonzalez, my “boss,” is rather a cretin, but is nonetheless quite pleasant. He seems eternally apprehensive, certainly too apprehensive to criticize any worker’s performance of duty. Actually, he will accept anything, almost, and is therefore appealingly democratic in his retarded way. As an example of this, Miss Trixie, our Earth Mother of the world of commerce, inadvertently set flame to some important orders in the process of lighting a heater. Mr. Gonzalez was quite tolerant of this gaffe when one considers that the company of late has been receiving fewer and fewer orders and that the orders were a demand from Kansas City for some five hundred dollars ($500!) worth of our product. We must remember, though, that Mr. Gonzalez is under orders from that mysterious tycooness, the reputedly brilliant and learned Mrs. Levy, to treat Miss Trixie well and to make her feel active and wanted. But he has also been most courteous to me, permitting me to have my will among the files.
I intend to draw Miss Trixie out rather shortly; I suspect that this Medusa of capitalism has many valuable insights and more than one pithy observation to offer.
The only sour note — and here I degenerate into slang to more properly set the mood for the creature whom I am about to discuss — was Gloria, the stenographer, a young and brazen tart. Her mind was reeling with misconceptions and abysmal value judgments. After she had made one or two bold and unsolicited comments about my person and bearing, I drew Mr. Gonzalez aside to tell him that Gloria was planning to quit without notice at the end of the day. Mr. Gonzalez, thereupon, grew quite manic and fired Gloria immediately, affording himself an opportunity at authority which, I could see, he rarely enjoyed. Actually, it was the awful sound of Gloria’s stake-like heels that led me to do what I did. Another day of that clatter would have sealed my valve for good. Then, too, there was all of that mascara and lipstick and other vulgarities which I would rather not catalogue.
I have many plans for my filing department and have taken — from among the many empty ones — a desk near a window. There I sat with my little gas heater at full force throughout the afternoon, watching the ships from many an exotic port steaming through the cold, dark waters of the harbor. Miss Trixie’s light snore and the furious typing of Mr. Gonzalez provided a pleasant counterpoint to my reflections.
Mr. Levy did not appear today; I am given to understand that he visits the business rarely, that he is actually, as Mr. Gonzalez puts it, “trying to sell out as soon as possible.” Perhaps the three of us (for I shall endeavor to make Mr. Gonzalez dismiss the other workers if they arrive tomorrow; too many people in that office will probably prove distracting) in the office can revitalize the business and restore the faith of Mr. Levy The Younger. I have several excellent ideas already, and I know that I, for one, will eventually make Mr. Levy decide to put his heart and soul in the firm.
I have, incidentally, made a very shrewd bargain with Mr. Gonzalez: I convinced him that because I had helped him save the expense of Gloria’s salary, he could respond by transporting me to and fro by taxi. The haggling that ensued was a blot upon an otherwise pleasant day, but I finally won my point by explaining to the man the dangers of my valve and of my health in general.
So we see that even when Fortuna spins us downward, the wheel sometimes halts for a moment and we find ourselves in a good, small cycle within the larger bad cycle. The universe, of course, is based upon the principle of the circle within the circle. At the moment, I am in an inner circle. Of course, smaller circles within this circle are also possible.
Ignatius gave the driver the clipboard and a variety of instructions upon speed, direction, and shifting. By the time they had reached Constantinople Street there was a hostile silence in the taxi, which was only broken by the driver’s request for the fare.
As Ignatius pulled himself angrily up and out of the taxi, he saw his mother coming down the street. She was wearing her short pink topper and the small red hat that tilted over one eye so that she looked like a refugee starlet from the Golddiggers film series. Ignatius noticed hopelessly that she had added a dash of color by pinning a wilted poinsettia to the lapel of her topper. Her brown wedgies squeaked with discount price defiance, as she walked redly and pinkly along the broken brick sidewalk. Even though he had been seeing her outfits for years, the sight of his mother in full regalia always slightly appalled his valve.
“Oh, honey,” Mrs. Reilly said breathlessly when they met by the rear bumper of the Plymouth, which blocked all sidewalk traffic. “A terrible thing’s happened.” “Oh, my God. What is it now?”
Ignatius imagined it was something in his mother’s family, a group of people who tended to suffer violence and pain. There was the old aunt who had been robbed of fifty cents by some hoodlums, the cousin who had been struck by the Magazine streetcar, the uncle who had eaten a bad cream puff, the godfather who had touched a live wire knocked loose in a hurricane.
“It’s poor Miss Annie next door. This morning she took a little fainting spell in the alley. Nerves, babe. She says you woke her up this morning playing on your banjo.” “That is a lute, not a banjo,” Ignatius thundered. “Does she think that I’m one of these perverse Mark Twain characters?”
“I just come from seeing her. She’s staying over by her son’s house on St. Mary Street.”
“Oh, that offensive boy.” Ignatius climbed the steps ahead of his mother. “Well, thank God Miss Annie has left for a while. Now perhaps I can play my lute without her rasping denunciations assailing me from across the alley.” “I stopped off at Lenny’s and bought her a nice little pair of beads filled with Lourdes water.”
“Good grief. Lenny’s. Never in my life have I seen a shop filled with so much religious hexerei. I suspect that that jewelry shop is going to be the scene of a miracle before long. Lenny himself may ascend.” “Miss Annie loved them beads, boy. Right away she started saying a rosary.”
“No doubt that was better than conversing with you.”
“Have a chair, babe, and I’ll fix you something to eat.”
“In the confusion of Miss Annie’s collapse, you seem to have forgotten that you shipped me off to Levy Pants this morning.”
“Oh, Ignatius, what happened?” Mrs. Reilly asked, putting a match to a burner that she had turned on several seconds before. There was a localized explosion on the top of the stove. “Lord, I almost got myself burnt.” “I am now an employee of Levy Pants.”
“Ignatius!” his mother cried, circling his oily head in a clumsy pink woolen embrace that crushed his nose. Tears welled in her eyes. “I’m so proud of my boy.” “I’m quite exhausted. The atmosphere in that office is hypertense.”
“I knew you’d make good.”
“Thank you for your confidence.”
“How much Levy Pants is gonna pay you, darling?”
“Sixty American dollars a week.”
“Aw, that’s all? Maybe you should of looked around some more.”
“There are wonderful opportunities for advancement, wonderful plans for the alert young man. The salary may soon change.”
“You think so? Well, I’m still proud, babe. Take off your overcoat.” Mrs. Reilly opened a can of Libby’s stew and tossed it in the pot. “They got any cute girls working there?” Ignatius thought of Miss Trixie and said, “Yes, there is one.”
“She appears to be.”
Mrs. Reilly winked at Ignatius and threw his overcoat on top of the cupboard.
“Look, honey, I put a fire under this stew. Open you a can of peas, and they’s bread in the icebox. I got a cake from the German’s, too, but I can’t remember right off where I put it. Take a look around the kitchen. I gotta go.” “Where are you going now?”
“Mr. Mancuso and his aunt, they gonna pick me up in a few minutes. We going down by Fazzio’s to bowl.”
“What?” Ignatius screamed. “Is that true?”
“I’ll be in early. I told Mr. Mancuso I can’t stay out late. And his aunt’s a grammaw, so I guess she needs her sleep.”
“This is certainly a fine reception that I am given after my first day of work,” Ignatius said furiously. “You can’t bowl. You have arthritis or something. This is ridiculous. Where are you going to eat?” “I can get me some chili down by the bowling alley.” Mrs. Reilly was already going to her room to change clothes. “Oh, honey, a letter come for you today from New York. I put it behind the coffee can. It looks like it came from that Myrna girl because the envelope’s all dirty and smudged up. How come that Myrna’s gotta send out mail looking like that? I thought you said her poppa’s got money.” “You can’t go bowling,” Ignatius bellowed. “This is the most absurd thing that you have ever done.”
Mrs. Reilly’s door slammed. Ignatius found the envelope and tore it to shreds in opening it. He pulled out some art theater’s year-old schedule for a summer film festival. On the reverse side of the rumpled schedule there was a letter written in the uneven and angular hand that constituted Minkoffian penmanship. Myrna’s habit of writing to editors rather than friends was always reflected in her salutation: Sirs:
What is this strange, frightening letter that you have written me, Ignatius? How can I contact the Civil Liberties Union with the little evidence that you have given me? I can’t imagine why a policeman would try to arrest you. You stay in your room all the time. I might have believed the arrest if you hadn’t written about that “automobile accident.” If both of your wrists were broken, how could you write me a letter?
Let us be honest with each other, Ignatius. I do not believe a word of what I read. But I am frightened — for you. The fantasy about the arrest has all the classic paranoid qualities. You are aware, of course, that Freud linked paranoia with homos@xual tendencies.
“Filth!” Ignatius shouted.
However, we won’t go into that aspect of the fantasy because I know how dedicated you are in your opposition to s@x of any sort. Still your emotional problem is very apparent. Since you flunked that interview for the teaching job in Baton Rouge (meanwhile blaming it on the bus and things — a transferral of guilt), you have probably suffered feelings of failure. This “automobile accident” is a new crutch to help you make excuses for your meaningless, impotent existence. Ignatius, you must identify with something. As I’ve told you time and again, you must commit yourself to the crucial problems of the times.
“Ho hum,” Ignatius yawned.
Subconsciously you feel that you must attempt to explain away your failure, as an intellectual and soldier of ideas, to actively participate in critical social movements. Also, a satisfying s@xual encounter would purify your mind and body. You need the therapy of s@x desperately. I’m afraid — from what I know about clinical cases like yours — that you may end up a psychosomatic invalid like Elizabeth B. Browning.
“How unspeakably offensive,” Ignatius spluttered.
I don’t feel much sympathy for you. You have closed your mind to both love and society. At the moment my every waking hour is spent in helping some dedicated friends raise money for a bold and shattering movie that they are planning to film about an interracial marriage. Although it will be a low-budget number, the script itself is chock full of disturbing truths and has the most fascinating tonalities and ironies. It was written by Shmuel, a boy I’ve known since Taft High days. Shmuel will also play the husband in the movie. We have found a girl from the streets of Harlem to play the wife. She is such a real, vital person that I have made her my very closest friend. I discuss her racial problems with her constantly, drawing her out even when she doesn’t feel like discussing them — and I can tell how fervently she appreciates these dialogues with me.
There is a sick, reactionary villain in the script, an Irish landlord who refuses to rent to the couple, who by this time have been married in this subdued Ethical Culture ceremony. The landlord lives in this little womb-room whose walls are covered with pictures of the Pope and stuff like that. In other words, the audience will have no trouble reading him as soon as they get one glimpse at that room. We have not cast the landlord yet. You, of course, would be fantastic for the part. You see, Ignatius, if you would just decide to cut the umbilical cord that binds you to that stagnant city, that mother of yours, and that bed, you could be up here having opportunities like this. Are you interested in the part? We can’t pay much, but you can stay with me.
I may play a little mood music or protest music on my guitar for the soundtrack. I hope that we can finally get this magnificent project on film soon because Leola, the unbelievable girl from Harlem, is beginning to bug us about salary. Already I’ve bled about $1,000 from my father, who is suspicious (as usual) of the whole enterprise.
Ignatius, I’ve humored you long enough in our correspondence. Don’t write to me again until you’ve taken part. I hate cowards.
P.S. Also write if you’d like to play the landlord.
“I’ll show this offensive trollop,” Ignatius mumbled, throwing the art theater schedule into the fire beneath the stew.
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