فصل 04

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فصل 04

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Four

Levy Pants was two structures fused into one macabre unit. The front of the plant was a brick commercial building of the nineteenth century with a mansard roof that bulged out into several rococo dormer windows, the panes of which were mostly cracked. Within this section the office occupied the third floor, a storage area the second, and refuse the first. Attached to this building, which Mr. Gonzalez referred to as “the brain center,” was the factory, a barnlike prototype of an airplane hangar. The two smokestacks that rose from the factory’s tin roof leaned apart at an angle that formed an outsized rabbit-eared television antenna, an antenna that received no hopeful electronic signal from the outside world but instead discharged occasional smoke of a very sickly shade. Alongside the neat gray wharf sheds that lined the river and canal across the railroad tracks, Levy Pants huddled, a silent and smoky plea for urban renewal.

Within the brain center there was more than the usual amount of activity. Ignatius was tacking to a post near his files a wide cardboard sign that said in bold blue Gothic lettering: DEPARTMENT OF RESEARCH AND REFERENCE

I. J. REILLY, CUSTODIAN

He had neglected the morning filing to make the sign, spreading himself upon the floor with the cardboard and blue poster paint and painting meticulously for more than an hour. Miss Trixie had stepped on the sign during one of her occasional pointless tours of the office, but the damage was limited to only a small sneaker print on one corner of the cardboard. Still, Ignatius found the tiny imprint offensive, and over it he painted a dramatic and stylized version of a fleur-de-lis.

“Isn’t that nice,” Mr. Gonzalez said when Ignatius had stopped hammering. “It gives the office a certain tone.”

“What does it mean?” Miss Trixie demanded, standing directly beneath the sign and examining it frantically.

“It is simply a guidepost,” Ignatius said proudly.

“I don’t understand all this,” Miss Trixie said. “What’s going on around here?” She turned to Ignatius. “Gomez, who is this person?”

“Miss Trixie, you know Mr. Reilly. He’s been working with us for a week now.”

“Reilly? I thought it was Gloria.”

“Go back and work on your figures,” Mr. Gonzalez told her. “We have to send that statement to the bank before noon.”

“Oh, yes, we must send that statement,” Miss Trixie agreed and shuffled off to the ladies’ room.

“Mr. Reilly, I don’t want to pressure you,” Mr. Gonzalez said cautiously, “but I do notice that you have quite a pile of material on your desk that hasn’t been filed yet.” “Oh, that. Yes. Well, when I opened the first drawer this morning, I was greeted by a rather large rat which seemed to be devouring the Abelman’s Dry Goods folder. I thought it politic to wait until he was sated. I would hate to contract the bubonic plague and lay the blame upon Levy Pants.” “Quite right,” Mr. Gonzalez said anxiously, his dapper person quivering at the prospect of an on-the-job accident.

“In addition, my valve has been misbehaving and has prevented me from bending over to reach the lower drawers.”

“I have just the thing for that,” Mr. Gonzalez said and went into the little office storeroom to get, Ignatius imagined, some type of medicine. But he returned with one of the smallest metal stools that Ignatius had ever seen. “Here. The person who used to work on the files used to wheel back and forth on this along the lower drawers. Try it.” “I don’t believe that my particular body structure is easily adaptable to that type of device,” Ignatius observed, a gimlet eye fixed upon the rusting stool. Ignatius had always had a poor sense of balance, and ever since his obese childhood, he had suffered a tendency to fall, trip, and stumble. Until he was five years old and had finally managed to walk in an almost normal manner, he had been a mass of bruises and hickeys. “However, for the sake of Levy Pants, I shall try.” Ignatius squatted lower and lower until his great buttocks touched the stool, his knees reaching almost to his shoulders. When he was at last nestled upon his perch, he looked like an eggplant balanced atop a thumb tack.

“This will never do. I feel quite uncomfortable.”

“Give it a try,” Mr. Gonzalez said brightly.

Propelling himself with his feet, Ignatius traveled anxiously along the side of the files until one of the miniature wheels lodged in a crack. The stool tipped slightly and then turned over, dumping Ignatius heavily to the floor.

“Oh, my God!” he bellowed. “I think I’ve broken my back.”

“Here,” Mr. Gonzalez cried in his terrorized tenor. “I’ll help you up.”

“No! You must never move a person with a broken back unless you have a stretcher. I won’t be paralyzed through your incompetence.”

“Please try to get up, Mr. Reilly.” Mr. Gonzalez looked at the mound at his feet. His heart sank. “I’ll help you. I don’t think you’re badly injured.” “Let me alone,” Ignatius screamed. “You fool. I refuse to spend the remainder of my life in a wheel chair.”

Mr. Gonzalez felt his feet turn cold and numb.

The thud of Ignatius’s fall had attracted Miss Trixie from the ladies’ room; she came around the files and tripped on the mountain of supine flesh.

“Oh, dear,” she said feebly. “Is Gloria dying, Gomez?”

“No,” Mr. Gonzalez said sharply.

“Well, I’m certainly glad of that,” Miss Trixie said, stepping onto one of Ignatius’s outstretched hands.

“Good grief!” Ignatius thundered and sprang into a sitting position. “The bones in my hand are crushed. I’ll never be able to use it again.”

“Miss Trixie is very light,” the office manager told Ignatius. “I don’t think she could have hurt you much.”

“Has she ever stepped on you, you idiot? How would you know?”

Ignatius sat at the feet of his co-workers and studied his hand.

“I suspect that I won’t be able to use this hand again today. I had better go home immediately and bathe it.”

“But the filing has to be done. Look how behind you are already.”

“Are you talking about filing at a time like this? I am prepared to contact my attorneys and have them sue you for making me get on that obscene stool.” “We’ll help you up, Gloria.” Miss Trixie assumed what was apparently a hoisting position. She spread her sneakers far apart, toes pointing outward, and squatted like a Balinese dancer.

“Get up,” Mr. Gonzalez snapped at her. “You’re going to fall over.”

“No,” she answered through tight, withered lips. “I’m going to help Gloria. Get down on that side, Gomez. We’ll just grab Gloria by the elbows.” Ignatius watched passively while Mr. Gonzalez squatted on his other side.

“You are distributing your weight incorrectly,” he told them didactically. “If you are going to attempt to raise me, that position offers you no leverage. I suspect that the three of us will be injured. I suggest that you try a standing position. In that way you can easily bend over and hoist me.” “Don’t be nervous, Gloria,” Miss Trixie said, rocking back and forth on her haunches. Then she fell forward onto Ignatius, throwing him on his back once again. The edge of her celluloid visor hit him in the throat.

“Oof,” gurgled from somewhere in the depths of Ignatius’s throat. “Braah.”

“Gloria!” Miss Trixie wheezed. She looked into the full face directly beneath hers. “Gomez, call a doctor.”

“Miss Trixie, get off Mr. Reilly,” the office manager hissed from where he squatted beside his two underlings.

“Braah.”

“What are you people doing down there on the floor?” a man asked from the door. Mr. Gonzalez’s chipper face hardened into a mask of horror, and he squeaked, “Good morning, Mr. Levy. We’re so glad to see you.” “I just came in to see if I had any personal mail. I’m driving back to the coast right away. What’s this big sign over here for? Somebody’s going to get his eye knocked out on that thing.” “Is that Mr. Levy?” Ignatius called from the floor. He could not see the man over the row of filing cabinets. “Braah. I have been wanting to meet him.” Shedding Miss Trixie, who slumped to the floor, Ignatius struggled to his feet and saw a sportily dressed middle-aged man holding the handle of the office door so that he could flee as rapidly as he had entered.

“Hello there,” Mr. Levy said casually. “New worker, Gonzalez?”

“Oh, yes sir. Mr. Levy, this is Mr. Reilly. He’s very efficient. A whiz. As a matter of fact, he’s made it possible for us to do away with several other workers.” “Braah.”

“Oh, yeah, the name on this sign.” Mr. Levy gave Ignatius a strange look.

“I have taken an unusual interest in your firm,” Ignatius said to Mr. Levy. “The sign which you noticed upon entering is only the first of several innovations which I plan. Braah. I will change your mind about this firm, sir. Mark my word.” “You don’t say?” Mr. Levy studied Ignatius with certain curiosity. “What about the mail, Gonzalez?”

“There’s not much. You received your new credit cards. Transglobal Airlines sent you a certificate making you an honorary pilot for flying one hundred hours with them.” Mr. Gonzalez opened his desk and gave Mr. Levy the mail. “There’s also a brochure from a hotel in Miami.” “You’d better start making my spring practice reservations. I gave you my itinerary of practice camps, didn’t I?”

“Yes, sir. By the way, I have some letters for you to sign. I had to write a letter to Abelman’s Dry Goods. We always have trouble with them.”

“I know. What do those crooks want now?”

“Abelman claims that the last lot of trousers we shipped him were only two feet long in the leg. I’m trying to straighten out the matter.”

“Yeah? Well, stranger things have happened around this place,” Mr. Levy said quickly. The office was already beginning to depress him. He had to get out. “Better check with that foreman in the factory. What’s his name? Look, suppose you sign those letters like always. I have to go.” Mr. Levy pulled the door open. “Don’t work these kids too hard, Gonzalez. So long, Miss Trixie. My wife asked about you.” Miss Trixie was sitting on the floor relacing one of her sneakers.

“Miss Trixie,” Mr. Gonzalez screamed. “Mr. Levy is talking to you.”

“Who?” Miss Trixie snarled. “I thought you said he was dead.”

“I hope that you will see some vast changes the next time that you drop in on us,” Ignatius said. “We are going to revitalize, as it were, your business.” “Okay. Take it easy,” Mr. Levy said and slammed the door.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Mr. Gonzalez told Ignatius fervently. From a window the two watched Mr. Levy get into his sports car. The motor roared, and Mr. Levy sped away within a few seconds, leaving a settling cloud of blue exhaust.

“Perhaps I shall get to the filing,” Ignatius said when he found himself staring out the window at only an empty street. “Will you please sign that correspondence so that I can file the carbon copies. It should now be safe to approach what that rodent has left of the Abelman folder.” Ignatius spied while Mr. Gonzalez, painstaking, forged Gus Levy to the letters.

“Mr. Reilly,” Mr. Gonzalez said, carefully screwing the top onto his two-dollar pen, “I am going into the factory to speak with the foreman. Please keep an eye on things.” By things, Ignatius imagined that Mr. Gonzalez meant Miss Trixie, who was snoring loudly on the floor in front of the file cabinet.

“Seguro,” Ignatius said and smiled. “A little Spanish in honor of your noble heritage.”

As soon as the office manager went through the door, Ignatius rolled a sheet of Levy stationery into Mr. Gonzalez’s high black typewriter. If Levy Pants was to succeed, the first step would be imposing a heavy hand upon its detractors. Levy Pants must become more militant and authoritarian in order to survive in the jungle of modern commercialism. Ignatius began to type the first step: Abelman’s Dry Goods

Kansas City, Missouri

U. S. A.

Mr. I. Abelman, Mongoloid, Esq.:

We have received via post your absurd comments about our trousers, the comments revealing, as they did, your total lack of contact with reality. Were you more aware, you would know or realize by now that the offending trousers were dispatched to you with our full knowledge that they were inadequate so far as length was concerned.

“Why? Why?” you are in your incomprehensible babble, unable to assimilate stimulating concepts of commerce into your retarded and blighted worldview.

The trousers were sent to you (1) as a means of testing your initiative (A clever, wide-awake business concern should be able to make three-quarter length trousers a by-word of masculine fashion. Your advertising and merchandising programs are obviously faulty.) and (2) as a means of testing your ability to meet the standards requisite in a distributor of our quality product. (Our loyal and dependable outlets can vend any trouser bearing the Levy label no matter how abominable their design and construction. You are apparently a faithless people.) We do not wish to be bothered in the future by such tedious complaints. Please confine your correspondence to orders only. We are a busy and dynamic organization whose mission needless effrontery and harassment can only hinder. If you molest us again, sir, you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.

Yours in anger,

Gus Levy, Pres.

Happily pondering the thought that the world understood only strength and force, Ignatius copied the Levy signature onto the letter with the office manager’s pen, tore up Mr. Gonzalez’s letter to Abelman, and slipped his own into the correspondence Outgoing box. Then he tiptoed carefully around the little inert figure of Miss Trixie, returned to the filing department, picked up the stack of still unfiled material, and threw it into the wastebasket.

II

“Hey, Miss Lee, that fat mother got him the green cap, he comin in here anymore?”

“No, thank God. It’s characters like that ruin your investment.”

“When your little orphan frien comin here again? Whoa! I like to fin out what goin on with them orphan. I bet they be the firs orphan the po-lice be interes in ever.” “I told you I send the orphans things. A little charity never hurt nobody. It makes you feel good.”

“That really soun like Night of Joy chariddy when them orphan payin in a lotta money for whatever they gettin.”

“Stop worrying about the orphans and start worrying about my floor. I got enough problems already. Darlene wants to dance. You want a raise. And I got worse problems on top of that.” Lana thought of the plainclothesmen who had suddenly started to appear in the club late at night. “Business stinks.” “Yeah. I can tell that. I starvin to death in this cathouse.”

“Say, Jones, you been over to the precinct lately?” Lana asked cautiously, wondering whether there was an outside chance that Jones might be leading the cops to the place. This Jones was turning out to be a headache, in spite of the low salary.

“No, I ain been visitin all my po-lice frien. I waitin till I get some good evidence.” Jones shot out a nimbus formation. “I waitin for a break in the orphan case. Ooo-wee!” Lana twisted up her coral lips and tried to imagine who had tipped off the police.

III

Mrs. Reilly could not believe that it had really happened to her. There was no television. There were no complaints. The bathroom was empty. Even the roaches seemed to have pulled up stakes. She sat at the kitchen table sipping a little muscatel and blew away the one baby roach that was starting to cross the table. The tiny body flew off the table and disappeared, and Mrs. Reilly said, “So long, darling.” She poured another inch of wine, realizing for the first time that the house smelled different, too. It smelled as close as it ever did, but her son’s curious personal odor, which always reminded her of the scent of old tea bags, seemed to have lifted. She lifted her glass and wondered whether Levy Pants was beginning to reek a little of used pekoe.

Suddenly Mrs. Reilly remembered the horrible night that she and Mr. Reilly had gone to the Prytania to see Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in Red Dust. In the heat and confusion that had followed their return home, nice Mr. Reilly had tried one of his indirect approaches, and Ignatius was conceived. Poor Mr. Reilly. He had never gone to another movie as long as he lived.

Mrs. Reilly sighed and looked at the floor to see whether the baby roach was still around and functioning. She was in too pleasant a mood to harm anything. While she was studying the linoleum, the telephone rang in the narrow hall. Mrs. Reilly corked her bottle and put it in the cold oven.

“Hello,” she said into the telephone.

“Hey, Irene?” a woman’s hoarse voice asked. “What you doing, babe? It’s Santa Battaglia.”

“How you making, honey?”

“I’m beat. I just finished opening four dozen ersters out in the backyard,” Santa said in her rocky baritone. “That’s hard work, believe me, banging that erster knife on them bricks.” “I wouldn’t try nothing like that,” Mrs. Reilly said honestly.

“I don’t mind. When I was a little girl I use to open ersters up for my momma. She had her a little seafood stand outside the Lautenschlaeger Market. Poor momma. Right off the boat. Couldn’t speak a word of English hardly. There I was just a little thing breaking them ersters open. I didn’t go to no school. Not me, babe. I was right there with them ersters banging away on the banquette. Every now and then momma start banging away on me for something. We always had a lotta commotion around our stand, us.” “Your momma was very excitable, huh?”

“Poor girl. Standing there in the rain and cold with her old sunbonnet on not knowing what nobody was saying half the time. It was hard in them days, Irene. Things was tough, kid.” “You can say that again,” Mrs. Reilly agreed. “We sure had us some hard times down on Dauphine Street. Poppa was very poor. He had him a job by a wagon works, but then the automobiles come in, and he gets his hand caught in a fanbelt. Many’s the week we lived on red beans and rice.” “Red beans gives me gas.”

“Me, too. Listen, Santa, why you called, sugar?”

“Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. You remember when we was out bowling the other night?”

“Tuesday?”

“No, it was Wednesday, I think. Anyway, it was the night Angelo got arrested and couldn’t come.”

“Wasn’t that awful. The police arresting one of they very own.”

“Yeah. Poor Angelo. He’s so sweet. He sure got trouble at that precinct.” Santa coughed hoarsely into the telephone. “Anyway, it was the night you come for me in that car of yours and we went to the alley alone. This morning I was over by the fish market buying them ersters, and this old man comes up to me and says, ‘Wasn’t you by the bowling alley the other night?’ So I says, ‘Yeah, mister, I go there a lot.’ And he says, ‘Well, I was there with my daughter and her husband and I seen you with a lady got sorta red hair.’ I says, ‘You mean the lady got the henna hair? That’s my friend Miss Reilly. I’m learning her how to bowl.’ That’s all, Irene. He just tips his hat and walks out the market.” “I wonder who that could be,” Mrs. Reilly said with great interest. “That’s sure funny. What he looks like, babe?”

“Nice man, kinda old. I seen him around the neighborhood before taking some little kids to Mass. I think they his granchirren.”

“Ain’t that strange? Who’d be asking about me?”

“I don’t know, kid, but you better watch out. Somebody’s got they eye on you.”

“Aw, Santa! I’m too old, girl.”

“Listen to you. You still cute, Irene. I seen plenty men giving you the eye in the bowling alley.”

“Aw, go on.”

“That’s the truth, kid. I ain’t lying. You been stuck away with that son of yours too long.”

“Ignatius says he’s making good at Levy Pants,” Mrs. Reilly said defensively. “I don’t wanna get mixed up with no old man.”

“He ain’t that old,” Santa said, sounding a little hurt. “Listen, Irene, me and Angelo coming by for you about seven tonight.”

“I don’t know, darling. Ignatius been telling me I oughta stay home more.”

“Why you gotta stay home, girl? Angelo says he’s a big man.”

“Ignatius says he’s afraid when I leave him alone here at night. He says he’s scared of burgulars.”

“Bring him along, and Angelo can learn him how to bowl, too.”

“Whoo! Ignatius ain’t what you’d call the sporting type,” Mrs. Reilly said quickly.

“You come along anyways, huh?”

“Okay,” Mrs. Reilly said finally. “I think the exercise is helping my elbow out. I’ll tell Ignatius he can lock himself up in his room.”

“Sure,” Santa said. “Nobody’s gonna hurt him.”

“We ain’t got nothing worth stealing anyways. I don’t know where Ignatius gets them ideas of his.”

“Me and Angelo be by at seven.”

“Fine, and listen, precious, try and ask by the fish market who that old man is.”

IV

The Levy home stood among the pines on a small rise overlooking the gray waters of Bay St. Louis. The exterior was an example of elegant rusticity; the interior was a successful attempt at keeping the rustic out entirely, a permanently seventy-five-degree womb connected to the year-round air-conditioning unit by an umbilicus of vents and pipes that silently filled the rooms with filtered and reconstituted Gulf of Mexico breezes and exhaled the Levys’ carbon dioxide and cigarette smoke and ennui. The central machinery of the great life-giving unit throbbed somewhere in the acoustically tiled bowels of the home, like a Red Cross instructor giving cadence in an artificial respiration class, “In comes the good air, out goes the bad air, in comes the good air.” The home was as sensually comfortable as the human womb supposedly is. Every chair sank several inches at the lightest touch, foam and down surrendering abjectly to any pressure. The tufts of the acrylic nylon carpets tickled the ankles of anyone kind enough to walk on them. Beside the bar what looked like a radio dial would, upon being turned, make the lighting throughout the house as mellow or as bright as the mood demanded. Located throughout the house within easy walking distance of one another were contour chairs, a massage table, and a motorized exercising board whose many sections prodded the body with a motion that was at once gentle yet suggestive. Levy’s Lodge — that was what the sign at the coast road said — was a Xanadu of the senses; within its insulated walls there was something that could gratify anything.

Mr. and Mrs. Levy, who considered each other the only ungratifying objects in the home, sat before their television set watching the colors merge together on the screen.

“Perry Como’s face is all green,” Mrs. Levy said with great hostility. “He looks like a corpse. You’d better take this set back to the shop.” “I just brought it back from New Orleans this week,” Mr. Levy said, blowing on the black hairs of his chest that he could see through the V of his terry cloth robe. He had just taken a steam bath and wanted to dry himself completely. Even with year-round air conditioning and central heating one could never be sure.

“Well, take it back again. I’m not going to go blind looking at a broken TV.”

“Oh, shut up. He looks all right.”

“He does not look all right. Look how green his lips are.”

“It’s the makeup those people use.”

“You mean to tell me they put green makeup on Como’s lips?”

“I don’t know what they do.”

“Of course you don’t,” Mrs. Levy said, turning her aquamarine-lidded eyes toward her husband, who was submerged somewhere among the pillows of a yellow nylon couch. She saw some terry cloth and a rubber shower clog at the end of a hairy leg.

“Don’t bother me,” he said. “Go play with your exercising board.”

“I can’t get on that thing tonight. My hair was done today.”

She touched the high plasticized curls of her platinum hair.

“The hairdresser told me that I should get a wig, too,” she said.

“What do you want with a wig? Look at all the hair you’ve got already.”

“I want a brunette wig. That way I can change my personality.”

“Look, you’re already a brunette anyway, right? So why don’t you let your hair grow out naturally and buy a blonde wig?”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Well, think about it for a while and keep quiet. I’m tired. When I went into town today I stopped at the company. That always makes me depressed.” “What’s happening there?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

“That’s what I thought,” Mrs. Levy sighed. “You’ve thrown your father’s business down the drain. That’s the tragedy of your life.”

“Christ, who wants that old factory? Nobody’s buying the kind of pants they make anymore. That’s all my father’s fault. When pleats came in in the thirties, he wouldn’t change over from plain-front trousers. He was the Henry Ford of the garment industry. Then when the plain front came back in the fifties, he started making trousers with pleats. Now you should see what Gonzalez calls ‘the new summer line.’ They look like those balloon pants the clowns wear in circuses. And the fabric. I wouldn’t use it for a dishrag myself.” “When we were married, I idolized you, Gus. I thought you had drive. You could have made Levy Pants really big. Maybe even an office in New York. It was handed all to you and you threw it away.” “Oh, stop all that crap. You’re comfortable.”

“Your father had character. I respected him.”

“My father was a very mean and cheap man, a little tyrant. I had some interest in that company when I was young. I had plenty interest. Well, he destroyed all that with his tyranny. So far as I’m concerned, Levy Pants is his company. Let it go down the drain. He blocked every good idea I had for that firm just to prove that he was the father and I was the son. If I said, ‘Pleats,’ he said, ‘No pleats! Never!’ If I said, ‘Let’s try some of the new synthetics,’ he said, ‘Synthetics over my dead body.’” “He started peddling pants in a wagon. Look what he built that into. With your start you could have made Levy Pants nationwide.”

“The nation is lucky, believe me. I spent my childhood in those pants. Anyway, I’m tired of listening to you talk. Period.”

“Good. Let’s keep quiet. Look, Como’s lips are turning pink.”

“You’ve never been a father figure to Susan and Sandra.”

“The last time Sandra was home, she opened her purse to get cigarettes and a pack of rubbers falls on the floor right at my feet.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say to you. You never gave your daughters an image. No wonder they’re so mixed up. I tried with them.”

“Listen, let’s not discuss Susan and Sandra. They’re away at college. We’re lucky we don’t know what’s going on. When they get tired they’ll marry some poor guy and everything will be all right.” “Then what kind of a grandfather are you going to be?”

“I don’t know. Let me alone. Go get on your exercising board, get in the whirlpool bath. I’m enjoying this show.”

“How can you enjoy it when the faces are all discolored.”

“Let’s not start that again.”

“Are we going to Miami next month?”

“Maybe. Maybe we could settle there.”

“And give up everything we have?”

“Give up what? They can fit your exercising board in a moving van.”

“But the company.”

“The company has made all the money it’s ever going to make. Now is the time to sell.”

“It’s a good thing your father’s dead. He should have lived to see this.” Mrs. Levy gave the shower shoe a tragic glance. “Now I guess you’ll spend all your time at the World Series or the Derby or Daytona. It’s a real tragedy, Gus. A real tragedy.” “Don’t try to make a big Arthur Miller play out of Levy Pants.”

“Thank goodness I’m around to watch over you. Thank goodness I have an interest in that company. How’s Miss Trixie? I hope she’s still relating and functioning pretty well.” “She’s still alive, and that’s saying a lot for her.”

“At least I have an interest in her. You would have thrown her out in the snow long ago.”

“The woman should have been retired long ago.”

“I told you retirement will kill her. She must be made to feel wanted and loved. That woman’s a real prospect for psychic rejuvenation. I want you to bring her out here someday. I’d like to really get to work on her.” “Bring that old bag here? Are you nuts? I don’t want a reminder of Levy Pants snoring in my den. She’ll wet all over your couch. You can play with her by long distance.” “How typical,” Mrs. Levy sighed. “How I’ve stood this heartlessness through the years I’ll never know.”

“I’ve already let you keep Trixie at the office, where I know she must drive that Gonzalez nuts all day long. When I went there this morning everybody was on the floor. Don’t ask me what they were doing. It could have been anything.” Mr. Levy whistled through his teeth. “Gonzalez is on the moon, as usual, but you should see this other character working in there. I don’t know where they got him from. You wouldn’t believe your eyes, believe me. I’m afraid to guess what those three clowns do in that office all day long. It’s a wonder nothing’s happened already.” V Ignatius had decided against going to the Prytania. The movie being shown was a widely praised Swedish drama about a man who was losing his soul, and Ignatius was not particularly interested in seeing it. He would have to speak with the manager of the theater about booking such dull fare.

He checked the bolt on his door and wondered when his mother would be coming home. Suddenly she was going out almost every night. But Ignatius had other considerations at the moment. Opening his desk, he looked at a pile of articles he had once written with an eye on the magazine market. For the journals of opinion there were “Boethius Observed” and “In Defense of Hroswitha: To Those Who Say She Did Not Exist.” For the family magazines he had written “The Death of Rex” and “Children, the Hope of the World.” In an attempt to crack the Sunday supplement market he had done “The Challenge of Water Safety,” “The Danger of Eight-Cylinder Automobiles,” “Abstinence, the Safest Method of Birth Control,” and “New Orleans, City of Romance and Culture.” As he looked through the old manuscripts, he wondered why he had failed to send any of them off, for each was excellent in its own way.

There was a new, extremely commercial project at hand, though. Ignatius quickly cleared the desk by brushing the magazine articles and Big Chief tablets smartly to the floor with one sweep of his paws. He placed a new looseleaf folder before him and printed slowly on its rough cover with a red crayon THE JOURNAL OF A WORKING BOY, OR, UP FROM SLOTH. When he had finished that, he tore the Blue Horse bands from the stacks of new lined paper and placed them in the folder. With a pencil he punched holes in the sheets of Levy stationery which already held some notes and inserted them in the front section of the folder. Taking up his Levy Pants ball-point pen, he began writing on the first sheet of new Blue Horse paper: Dear Reader,

Books are immortal sons defying their sires.

— Plato

I find, dear reader, that I have grown accustomed to the hectic pace of office life, an adjustment which I doubted I could make. Of course, it is true that in my brief career at Levy Pants, Limited, I have succeeded in initiating several work-saving methods. Those of you who are fellow office workers and find yourselves reading this incisive journal during a coffee break or such might take note of one or two of my innovations. I direct these observations to officers and tycoons, also.

I have taken to arriving at the office one hour later than I am expected. Therefore, I am far more rested and refreshed when I do arrive, and I avoid that bleak first hour of the working day during which my still sluggish senses and body make every chore a penance. I find that in arriving later, the work which I do perform is of a much higher quality.

My innovation in connection with the filing system must remain secret for the moment, for it is rather revolutionary, and I shall have to see how it works out. In theory the innovation is magnificent. However, I will say that the brittle and yellowing papers in the files constitute a fire hazard. A more special aspect that may not apply in all cases is that my files apparently are a tenement for assorted vermin. The bubonic plague is a valid Medieval fate; I do believe, though, that contracting the plague in this dreadful century would be only ludicrous.

Today our office was at last graced by the presence of our lord and master, Mr. G. Levy. To be quite honest, I found him rather casual and unconcerned. I brought to his attention the sign (Yes, reader, it has finally been painted and posted; a rather imperial fleur-de-lis now gives it added significance.), but that, too, elicited little interest on his part. His stay was brief and not at all businesslike, but who are we to question the motives of these giants of commerce whose whims rule the course of our nation. In time he will learn of my devotion to his firm, of my dedication. My example, in turn, may lead him to once again believe in Levy Pants.

La Trixie still keeps her own counsel, thereby proving herself even wiser than I had thought. I suspect that this woman knows a great deal, that her apathy is a façade for her seeming resentment against Levy Pants. She grows more coherent when she speaks of retirement. I have noticed that she needs a new pair of white socks, her current pair having grown rather gray. Perhaps I shall gift her with a pair of absorbent white athletic socks in the near future; this gesture may affect her and lead her to conversation. She seems to have grown fond of my cap, for she has taken to wearing it rather than her celluloid visor on occasion.

As I have told you in earlier installments, I was emulating the poet Milton by spending my youth in seclusion, meditation, and study in order to perfect my craft of writing as he did; my mother’s cataclysmic intemperance has thrust me into the world in the most cavalier manner; my system is still in a state of flux. Therefore, I am still in the process of adapting myself to the tension of the working world. As soon as my system becomes used to the office, I shall take the giant step of visiting the factory, the bustling heart of Levy Pants. I have heard more than a little hissing and roaring through the factory door, but my presently somewhat enervated condition precludes a descent into that particular inferno at the moment. Now and then some factory worker straggles into the office to illiterately plead some cause (usually the drunkenness of the foreman, a chronic tosspot). When I am once again whole, I shall visit those factory people; I have deep and abiding convictions concerning social action. I am certain that I can perhaps do something to aid these factory folk. I cannot abide those who would act cowardly in the face of a social injustice. I believe in bold and shattering commitment to the problems of our times.

Social note: I have sought escape in the Prytania on more than one occasion, pulled by the attractions of some technicolored horrors, filmed abortions that were offenses against any criteria of taste and decency, reels and reels of perversion and blasphemy that stunned my disbelieving eyes, that shocked my virginal mind, and sealed my valve.

My mother is currently associating with some undesirables who are attempting to transform her into an athlete of sorts, depraved specimens of mankind who regularly bowl their way to oblivion. At times I find carrying on my blossoming business career rather painful, suffering as I do from these distractions at home.

Health note: My valve did close quite violently this afternoon when Mr. Gonzalez asked me to add a column of figures for him. When he saw the state into which I was thrown by the request, he thoughtfully added the figures himself. I tried not to make a scene, but my valve got the better of me. That office manager could, incidentally, develop into something of a nuisance.

Until later,

Darryl, Your Working Boy

Ignatius read what he had just written with pleasure. The Journal had all sorts of possibilities. It could be a contemporary, vital, real document of a young man’s problems. At last he closed the looseleaf folder and contemplated a reply to Myrna, a slashing, vicious attack upon her being and worldview. It would be better to wait until he had visited the factory and seen what possibilities for social action there were there. Such boldness had to be handled properly; he might be able to do something with the factory workers which would make Myrna look like a reactionary in the field of social action. He had to prove his superiority to the offensive minx.

Picking up his lute, he decided to relax in song for a moment. His massive tongue rolled up over his moustache in preparation and, strumming, he began to sing, “Tarye no longer; toward thyn heritage/ Hast on thy weye, and be of ryght good chere.” “Shut up!” Miss Annie hollered through her closed shutters.

“How dare you!” Ignatius replied, ripping open his own shutters and looking out into the dark, cold alley. “Open up there. How dare you hide behind those shutters.” He ran furiously to the kitchen, filled a pot with water, and rushed back to his room. Just as he was about to throw the water on Miss Annie’s still unopened shutters, he heard a car door slam out on the street. Some people were coming down the alley. Ignatius closed his shutters and turned off the light, listening to his mother speaking to someone. Patrolman Mancuso said something as they passed under his window, and a woman’s hoarse voice said, “It looks safe to me, Irene. There ain’t no lights on. He must of gone to the show.” Ignatius slipped his overcoat on and ran down the hall to the front door as they were opening the kitchen door. He went down the front steps and saw Patrolman Mancuso’s white Rambler parked before the house. Bending over with great effort, Ignatius stuck a finger into the valve of one of the tires until the hissing stopped and the tire’s bottom pancaked across the brick gutter. Then he walked down the alley, which was just wide enough for his bulk, to the rear of the house.

Bright lights were burning in the kitchen, and he could hear his mother’s cheap radio through the closed window. Ignatius climbed the back steps silently and looked in through the greasy glass of the back door. His mother and Patrolman Mancuso were sitting at the table around an almost full fifth of Early Times. Patrolman Mancuso looked more downtrodden than ever, but Mrs. Reilly was tapping one foot on the linoleum and laughing shyly at what she was watching in the center of the room. A stocky woman with kinky gray hair was dancing alone on the linoleum, shaking her pendulous breasts, which were slung in a white bowling blouse. Her bowling shoes pounded the floor purposefully, carrying the swinging breasts and rotating hips back and forth between the table and the stove.

So this was Patrolman Mancuso’s aunt. Only Patrolman Mancuso could have something like that for an aunt, Ignatius snorted to himself.

“Whoo!” Mrs. Reilly screamed gaily. “Santa!”

“Watch this, kids,” the gray-haired woman screamed back like a prizefight referee and began shaking lower and lower until she was almost on the floor.

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius said to the wind.

“You gonna bust a gut, girl,” Mrs. Reilly laughed. “You gonna go through my good floor.”

“Maybe you better stop, Aunt Santa,” Patrolman Mancuso said morosely.

“Hell, I ain’t stopping now. I just got here,” the woman answered, rising rhythmically. “Who says a grammaw can’t dance no more?”

Holding her arms outward, the woman bumped across the linoleum runway.

“Lord!” Mrs. Reilly said and guffawed, tipping the whiskey bottle to her glass. “What if Ignatius comes home and sees this.”

“fu@k Ignatius!”

“Santa!” Mrs. Reilly gasped, shocked but, Ignatius noticed, slightly pleased.

“You people cut it out,” Miss Annie screamed through her shutters.

“Who’s that?” Santa asked Mrs. Reilly.

“Cut it out before I ring up the cops,” Miss Annie’s muffled voice cried.

“Please stop,” Patrolman Mancuso pleaded nervously.

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