فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Five

Darlene was pouring water into the half-filled liquor bottles behind the bar.

“Hey, Darlene, listen to this sh@t,” Lana Lee commanded, folding the newspaper and weighting it down with her ashtray. “‘Frieda Club, Betty Bumper, and Liz Steele, all of 796 St. Peter St., were arrested from El Caballo Lounge, 570 Burgundy St., last night and booked with disturbing the peace and creating a public nuisance. According to arresting officers, the incident started when an unidentified man made a proposal to one of the women. The woman’s two companions struck the man, who fled from the lounge. The Steele woman threw a stool at the bartender, and the other two women menaced customers in the lounge with stools and broken beer bottles. Customers in the lounge said that the man who fled was wearing bowling shoes.’ How’s about that? People like that are ruining the Quarter. Some honest Joe tries to make off with one of those dykes and they try to beat him up. Once upon a time it was nice and straight around here. Now it’s all dykes and fairies. No wonder business stinks. I can’t stand dykes. I can’t!” “The only people we get in here at night anymore is plainclothesmen,” Darlene said. “How come they don’t get a plainclothesman after women like that?”

“This place is turning into a goddam precinct. All I’m putting on is a benefit show for the Policemen’s Benevolent Association,” Lana said disgustedly. “A lotta empty space and few cops throwing signals at each other. Half the time I gotta watch you, brain, to see you don’t try to sell them a drink.” “Well, Lana,” Darlene said. “How I’m supposed to know who’s a cop? Everybody looks the same to me.” She blew her nose. “I try to make a living.”

“You tell a cop by his eyes, Darlene. They’re very self-assured. I been in this business too long. I know every dirty cop angle. The marked bills, the phony clothes. If you can’t tell by the eyes, then take a look at the money. It’s full of pencil marks and crap.” “How I’m supposed to see the money? It’s so dark in here I can hardly see the eyes even.”

“Well, we’re gonna have to do something about you. I don’t want you sittin out here on my stools. You’re gonna try to sell a double martini to the chief of police one of these nights.”

“Then let me get on the stage and dance. I got a socko routine.”

“Oh, shut up,” Lana hollered. If Jones knew about the police in the place at night, then goodbye, discount porter. “Now look here, Darlene, don’t tell that Jones we suddenly got the whole force in here at night. You know how colored people feel about cops. He might get scared and quit. I mean, I’m trying to help the boy out and keep him off the streets.” “Okay,” Darlene said. “But I ain’t making no money I’m so afraid the guy on the next stool is the police. You know what we need in here to make money?”

“What?” Lana asked angrily.

“What we need in here is a animal.”

“A what? Jesus Christ.”

“I ain cleanin up after no animal,” Jones said, bumping his mop noisily against the legs of the barstools.

“Come on over and check under these stools,” Lana called to him.

“Oh! Whoa! Where I miss a spot? Hey!”

“Look in the paper, Lana,” Darlene said. “Almost every other club on the street’s got them an animal.”

Lana turned to the entertainment pages and through Jones’s fog studied the nightclub ads.

“Well, little Darlene’s on the ball. I guess you’d like to become the manager of this club, huh?”

“No, ma’m.”

“Well, remember that,” Lana said and ran a finger along the ads. “Look at this. They got a snake at Jerry’s, got them some doves at the 104, a baby tiger, a chimp…”

“And that’s where the people are going,” Darlene said. “You gotta keep up with things in this business.”

“Thanks a lot. Since it’s your idea, you got any suggestions?”

“I suggest we vote unanimous agains changing over to a zoo.”

“Keep on the floor,” Lana said.

“We could use my cockatoo,” Darlene said. “I been practicing a smash dance with it. The bird’s very smart. You oughta hear that thing talk.”

“In color bars peoples all the time tryina keep birds out.”

“Give the birds a chance,” Darlene pleaded.

“Whoa!” Jones said. “Watch out. Your orphan frien just pullin in. It’s humanitaria time.”

George was slouching through the door in a bulky red sweater, white denims, and beige flamenco boots with slim-pointed toes. On both his hands there were tattoos of daggers drawn with ball-point pen.

“Sorry, George, nothing for the orphans today,” Lana said quickly.

“See that? Well them orphan they better star applyin to the United Fun,” Jones said and blew some smoke on the daggers. “We having trouble with salary as it is. Chariddy begin at home.”

“Huh?” George asked.

“They sure keeping a buncha hoods in the orphanages these days,” Darlene observed. “I wouldn’t give him nothing, Lana. He’s operating some kinda shakedown racket, if you ast me. If this kid’s a orphan, I’m the queen of England.” “Come here,” Lana said to George and led him out onto the street.

“Whatsa matter?” George asked.

“I can’t talk in front of those two jerks,” Lana said. “Look, this new porter’s not like the old one. This smartass has been asking me about this orphan crap since he first saw you. I don’t trust him. I got cop trouble already.” “Then get yourself a new jig. There’s plenty around.”

“I couldn’t get a blind Eskimo for the salary I’m paying him. I got him on something of a deal, like discount price. And he thinks if he tries to quit, I can get him arrested for vagrancy. The whole thing’s a deal, George. I mean, in my line of business, you gotta keep your eye peeled for a bargain. Understand?” “But what about me?”

“This Jones goes out to lunch from twelve to twelve-thirty. So you come around about twelve-forty-five.”

“What am I supposed to do with them packages all afternoon? I can’t do nothing till after three. I don’t want to be carrying that stuff around.”

“Go check it in the bus station. I don’t care. Just be sure they’re safe. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lana went back into the bar.

“I sure hope you told that kid off,” Darlene said. “Somebody oughta report him to the Better Business Bureau.”

“Whoa!”

“Come on, Lana. Give me and the bird a chance. We’re boffo.”

“It used to be the old Kiwanis types liked to come in and watch a cute girl shake it a little. Now it’s gotta be with some kinda animal. You know what’s wrong with people today? They’re sick. It’s hard for a person to earn an honest buck.” Lana lit a cigarette and matched Jones cloud for cloud. “Okay. We audition the bird. It’s probably safer for you to be on my stage with a bird than on my stools with a cop. Bring in the goddam bird.” II

Mr. Gonzalez sat next to his little heater listening to the sounds of the river, his peaceful soul suspended in a Nirvana somewhere far above the two antennae of Levy Pants. His senses subconsciously savored the clatter of rats and the smell of old paper and wood and the possessed feeling that his pair of baggy Levy Pants gave him. He exhaled a thin stream of filtered smoke and aimed the cigarette’s ashes like a marksman directly at the center of his ashtray. The impossible had happened: life at Levy Pants had become even better. The reason was Mr. Reilly. What fairy godmother had dropped Mr. Ignatius J. Reilly on the worn and rotting steps of Levy Pants?

He was four workers in one. In Mr. Reilly’s competent hands, the filing seemed to disappear. He was also quite kind to Miss Trixie; there was hardly any friction in the office. Mr. Gonzalez was touched by what he had seen the previous afternoon — Mr. Reilly on his knees changing Miss Trixie’s socks. Mr. Reilly was all heart. Of course, he was part valve, too. But the constant conversation about the valve could be accepted. It was the only drawback.

Looking happily about, Mr. Gonzalez noticed the results of Mr. Reilly’s handiwork in the office. Tacked to Miss Trixie’s desk was a large sign that said MISS TRIXIE with an old-fashioned nosegay drawn in crayon in one corner. Tacked to his desk was another sign that said SR. GONZALEZ and was decorated with the crest of King Alfonso. A multisectioned cross was nailed to a post in the office, the LIBBY’S TOMATO JUICE and KRAFT JELLY on two sections awaiting what Mr. Reilly had said would be brown paint with some black streaks to suggest the grain of the wood. In several empty ice cream cartons on top of the filing cabinets beans were already sprouting little vines. The purple monkscloth drapes that hung from the window next to Mr. Reilly’s desk created a meditative area in the office. There the sun cast a claret-colored glow over the three-foot plaster statue of St. Anthony that stood near the wastebasket.

There had never been a worker like Mr. Reilly. He was so dedicated, so interested in the business. He was even planning to visit the factory when his valve was better to see how he could improve conditions there. The other workers had always been so unconcerned, so slipshod.

The door opened slowly as Miss Trixie made her day’s entrance, a large bag preceding her.

“Miss Trixie!” Mr. Gonzalez said in what was, for him, a very sharp tone.

“Who?” Miss Trixie cried frantically.

She looked down at her tattered nightgown and flannel robe.

“Oh, my goodness,” she wheezed. “I thought I felt a little chilly outside.”

“Go home right now.”

“It’s cold outside, Gomez.”

“You can’t stay at Levy Pants like that. I’m sorry.”

“Am I retired?” Miss Trixie asked hopefully.

“No!” Mr. Gonzalez squeaked. “I just want you to go home and change. You only live around the block. Hurry up.”

Miss Trixie shuffled through the door, banging it closed. Then she came in again to get the bag, which she had left on the floor, and banged out again.

By the time Ignatius arrived an hour later, Miss Trixie had not returned. Mr. Gonzalez listened to Mr. Reilly’s heavy, slow tread on the stairs. The door was thrust open, and the marvelous Ignatius J. Reilly appeared, a plaid scarf as large as a shawl wound around his neck, one end of it stuffed down into his coat.

“Good morning, sir,” he said majestically.

“Good morning,” Mr. Gonzalez said with delight. “Did you have a nice ride here?”

“Only fair. I suspect that the driver was a latent speed racer. I had to caution him continually. Actually, we parted company with a degree of hostility on both sides. Where is our little distaff member this morning?” “I had to send her home. She came to work this morning in her nightgown.”

Ignatius frowned and said, “I do not understand why she was sent away. After all, we are quite informal here. We are one big family. I only hope that you have not damaged her morale.” He filled a glass at the water cooler to water his beans. “You may not be surprised to see me appear one morning in my nightshirt. I find it rather comfortable.” “I certainly don’t mean to dictate what you people should wear,” Mr. Gonzalez said anxiously.

“I should hope not. Miss Trixie and I can only take so much.”

Mr. Gonzalez pretended to look for something in his desk to avoid the terrible eyes that Ignatius had turned on him.

“I shall finish the cross,” Ignatius said finally, removing two quarts of paint from the pouchlike pockets of his overcoat.

“That’s wonderful.”

“The cross is top priority at the moment. Filing, alphabetizing — all of that must wait until I have completed this project. Then, when I finish the cross, I am going to have to visit the factory. I suspect that those people are screaming for a compassionate ear, a dedicated guide. I may be able to aid them.” “Of course. Don’t let me tell you what to do.”

“I won’t.” Ignatius stared at the office manager. “At last my valve seems to permit a visit to the factory. I must not pass up this opportunity. If I wait, it may seal up for several weeks.”

“Then you must go to the factory today,” the office manager agreed enthusiastically.

Mr. Gonzalez looked at Ignatius hopefully, but he received no reply. Ignatius filed his overcoat, scarf, and cap in one of the file drawers and began working on the cross. By eleven o’clock he was giving the cross its first coat, meticulously applying the paint with a small watercolor brush. Miss Trixie was still AWOL.

At noon Mr. Gonzalez looked over the stack of papers on which he was working and said, “I wonder where Miss Trixie can be.”

“You have probably broken her spirit,” Ignatius replied coldly. He was dabbing at the rough edges of the cardboard with the brush. “However, she may appear for lunch. I told her yesterday that I was bringing her a luncheon meat sandwich. I have discovered that Miss Trixie considers luncheon meat a rather toothsome delicacy. I would offer you a sandwich, but I am afraid that there are only enough for Miss Trixie and me.” “That’s quite all right.” Mr. Gonzalez produced a wan smile and watched Ignatius open his greasy brown paper bag. “I’m going to have to work straight through lunch anyway to finish these statements and billings.” “Yes, you’d better. We must not allow Levy Pants to fall behind in the struggle for the survival of the fittest.”

Ignatius bit into his first sandwich, tearing it in half, and chewed contentedly for a while.

“I do hope that Miss Trixie does appear,” he said after he had finished the first sandwich and emitted a series of belches which sounded as if they had disintegrated his digestive tract. “My valve will not tolerate luncheon meat, I’m afraid.” While he was tearing the filling of the second sandwich from the bread with his teeth, Miss Trixie came in, her green celluloid visor facing the rear.

“Here she is,” Ignatius said to the office manager through the big leaf of limp lettuce that was hanging from his mouth.

“Oh, yes,” Mr. Gonzalez said weakly. “Miss Trixie.”

“I imagined that the luncheon meat would activate her faculties. Over here, Mother Commerce.”

Miss Trixie bumped into the statue of St. Anthony.

“I knew I had something on my mind all morning, Gloria,” Miss Trixie said, taking the sandwich in her claws and going to her desk. Ignatius watched with fascination the elaborate process of gums, tongue, and lips that every piece of sandwich set into motion.

“You took a very long time to change,” the office manager said to Miss Trixie, noting bitterly that her new ensemble was only a little more presentable than the robe and nightgown.

“Who?” Miss Trixie asked, sticking out a tongueful of masticated luncheon meat and bread.

“I said you took a long time to change.”

“Me? I just left here.”

“Will you please stop harassing her?” Ignatius demanded angrily.

“There was no need for the delay. She only lives down by the wharves somewhere,” the office manager said and returned to his papers.

“Did you enjoy that?” Ignatius asked Miss Trixie when the last grimace of her lips had stopped.

Miss Trixie nodded and began industriously on a second sandwich. But when she had at last eaten half, she slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, I’m full, Gloria. That was delicious.”

“Mr. Gonzalez, would you care for the bit of sandwich that Miss Trixie cannot eat?”

“No, thank you.”

“I wish that you would take it. Otherwise, the rats will storm us en masse.”

“Yes, Gomez, take this,” Miss Trixie said, dropping the soggy half of uneaten sandwich on top of the papers on the office manager’s desk.

“Now look what you’ve done, you old idiot!” Mr. Gonzalez screamed. “Damn Mrs. Levy. That’s the statement for the bank.”

“How dare you attack the spirit of the noble Mrs. Levy,” Ignatius thundered. “I shall report you, sir.”

“It took over an hour to prepare that statement. Look at what she’s done.”

“I want that Easter ham!” Miss Trixie snarled. “Where’s my Thanksgiving turkey? I quit a wonderful job as cashier in a nickelodeon to come to work for this company. Now I guess I’ll die in this office. I must say a worker gets shabby treatment around here. I’m retiring right now.” “Why don’t you go wash your hands?” Mr. Gonzalez said to her.

“That’s a good idea, Gomez,” Miss Trixie said and tacked off to the ladies’ room.

Ignatius felt cheated. He had hoped for a scene. While the office manager began making a copy of the statement, Ignatius returned to the cross. First, however, he had to lift Miss Trixie, who had returned and was kneeling directly beneath it and praying in the spot where Ignatius had been standing to paint. Miss Trixie hovered about him, leaving only to seal some envelopes for Mr. Gonzalez, to visit the bathroom several times, and to catnap. The office manager made the only noise in the office with his typewriter and adding machine, both of which Ignatius found slightly distracting. By one-thirty the cross was almost finished. It lacked only the little gold leaf letters that spelled GOD AND COMMERCE which Ignatius had ready to apply across the bottom of the cross. After the motto was applied, Ignatius stood back and said to Miss Trixie, “It is complete.” “Oh, Gloria, that’s beautiful,” Miss Trixie said sincerely. “Look at this, Gomez.”

“Isn’t that fine,” Mr. Gonzalez said, studying the cross with tired eyes.

“Now to the filing,” Ignatius said busily. “Then off to the factory. I cannot tolerate social injustice.”

“Yes, you must go to the factory while your valve is operating,” the office manager said.

Ignatius went behind the filing cabinets, picked up the accumulated and unfiled material, and threw it in the wastebasket. Noticing that the office manager was sitting at his desk with his hand over his eyes, Ignatius pulled out the first drawer of the files, and, turning it over, dumped its alphabetical contents into the wastebasket, too.

Then he lumbered off to the factory door, thundering past Miss Trixie, who had fallen to her knees again before the cross.

III

Patrolman Mancuso had tried a little moonlighting in his effort to apprehend someone, anyone for the sergeant. After dropping off his aunt from the bowling alley, he had stopped in the bar on his own to see what he could turn up. What had turned up was these three terrifying girls who had struck him. He touched the bandage on his head as he entered the precinct to see the sergeant, who had summoned him.

“What happened to you, Mancuso?” the sergeant screamed when he saw the bandage.

“I fell down.”

“That sounds like you. If you knew anything about your job, you’d be in bars tipping us off on people like those three girls we brought in last night.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t know what whore give you the tip on this Night of Joy, but our boys have been in there almost every night and they haven’t turned up anything.”

“Well, I thought…”

“Shut up. You gave us a phony lead. You know what we do to people give us a phony lead?”

“No.”

“We put them in the rest room at the bus station.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You stay in the booths there eight hours a day until you bring somebody in.”

“Okay.”

“Don’t say ‘okay.’ Say ‘yes, sir.’ Now get outta here and go look in your locker. You’re a farmer today.”

IV

Ignatius opened “The Journal of a Working Boy” to the first unused sheet of Blue Horse looseleaf filler, officiously snapping the point of his ballpoint pen forward. The point of the Levy Pants pen did not catch on the first snap and slipped back into the plastic cylinder. Ignatius snapped more vigorously, but again the point slid disobediently back out of sight. Cracking the pen furiously on the edge of his desk, Ignatius picked up one of the Venus Medalist pencils lying on the floor. He probed the wax in his ears with the pencil and began to concentrate, listening to the sounds of his mother’s preparations for an evening at the bowling alley. There were many staccato footfalls back and forth in the bathroom which meant, he knew, that his mother was attempting to accomplish several phases of her toilet at once. Then there were the noises that he had grown accustomed to over the years whenever his mother was preparing to leave the house: the plop of a hairbrush falling into the toilet bowl, the sound of a box of powder hitting the floor, the sudden exclamations of confusion and chaos.

“Ouch!” his mother cried at one point.

Ignatius found the subdued and solitary din in the bathroom annoying and wished that she would finish. At last he heard the light click off. She knocked at his door.

“Ignatius, honey, I’m going.”

“All right,” Ignatius replied icily.

“Open the door, babe, and come kiss me goodbye.”

“Mother, I am quite busy at the moment.”

“Don’t be like that, Ignatius. Open up.”

“Run off with your friends, please.”

“Aw, Ignatius.”

“Must you distract me at every level. I am working on something with wonderful movie possibilities. Highly commercial.”

Mrs. Reilly kicked at the door with her bowling shoes.

“Are you ruining that pair of absurd shoes that were bought with my hard-earned wages?”

“Huh? What’s that, precious?”

Ignatius extracted the pencil from his ear and opened the door. His mother’s maroon hair was fluffed high over her forehead; her cheekbones were red with rouge that had been spread nervously up to the eyeballs. One wild puff full of powder had whitened Mrs. Reilly’s face, the front of her dress, and a few loose maroon wisps.

“Oh, my God,” Ignatius said, “you have powder all over your dress, although that is probably one of Mrs. Battaglia’s beauty hints.”

“Why you always knocking Santa, Ignatius?”

“She appears to have been knocked a bit in her life already. Up rather than down. If she ever nears me, however, the direction will be reversed.”

“Ignatius!”

“She also brings to mind the vulgarism ‘knockers.’”

“Santa’s a grammaw. You oughta be ashamed.”

“Thank goodness Miss Annie’s coarse cries restored peace the other night. Never in my life have I seen so shameless an orgy. And right in my very own kitchen. If that man were any sort of law enforcement officer, he would have arrested that ‘aunt’ right there on the spot.” “Don’t knock Angelo, neither. He’s got him a hard road, boy. Santa says he’s been in the bathroom at the bus station all day.”

“Oh, my God! Do I believe what I’m hearing? Please run along with your two cohorts from the Mafia and let me alone.”

“Don’t treat your poor momma like that.”

“Poor? Did I hear poor? When the dollars are literally flowing into this home from my labors? And flowing out even more rapidly.”

“Don’t start that again, Ignatius. I only got twenty dollars out of you this week, and I almost had to get down on my knees and beg for it. Look at all them thing-a-ma-jigs you been buying. Look at that movie camera you brung home today.” “The movie camera will shortly be put to use. That harmonica was rather cheap.”

“We never gonna pay off that man at this rate.”

“That is hardly my problem. I don’t drive.”

“No, you don’t care. You never cared for nothing, boy.”

“I should have known that every time I open the door of my room I am literally opening a Pandora’s Box. Doesn’t Mrs. Battaglia want you to await her debauched nephew and her at the curb so that not one invaluable moment of bowling time will be lost?” Ignatius belched the gas of a dozen brownies trapped by his valve. “Grant me a little peace. Isn’t it enough that I am harried all day long at work? I thought that I had adequately described to you the horrors which I must face daily.” “You know I appreciate you, babe,” Mrs. Reilly sniffed. “Come on and gimme a little goodbye kiss like a good boy.”

Ignatius bent down and lightly bussed her on the cheek.

“Oh, my God,” he said, spitting out powder. “Now my mouth will feel gritty all night.”

“I got too much powder on?”

“No, it’s just fine. Aren’t you an arthritic or something? How in the world can you bowl?”

“I think the exercise is helping me out. I’m feeling better.”

A horn honked out on the street.

“Apparently your friend has escaped the bathroom,” Ignatius snorted. “It’s just like him to hang around a bus station. He probably likes to watch those Scenicruiser horrors arrive and depart. In his worldview the bus is apparently a good thing. That shows how retarded he is.” “I’ll be in early, honey,” Mrs. Reilly said, closing the miniature front door.

“I shall probably be misused by some intruder!” Ignatius screamed.

Bolting the door to his room, he grabbed an empty ink bottle and opened his shutters. He stuck his head out of the window and looked down the alley to where the little white Rambler was visible in the darkness at the curb. With all of his strength, he heaved the bottle and heard it hit the roof of the car with greater sound effects than he had expected it to.

“Hey!” he heard Santa Battaglia shout as he silently closed the shutters. Gloating, he opened his looseleaf folder again and picked up his Venus Medalist.

Dear Reader,

A great writer is the friend and benefactor of his readers.

— Macaulay

Another working day is ended, gentle reader. As I told you before, I have succeeded in laying a patina, as it were, over the turbulence and mania of our office. All non-essential activities in the office are slowly being curtailed. At the moment I am busily decorating our throbbing hive of whitecollared bees (three). The analogy of the three bees brings to mind three b’s which describe most aptly my actions as an office worker: banish, benefit, beautify. There are also three b’s which describe most aptly the actions of our buffoon of an office manager: bait, beg, blight, blunder, bore, boss, bother, bungle, burden, buzz. (In this case, I am afraid that the list gets somewhat out of hand.) I have come to the conclusion that our office manager serves no purpose other than one of obfuscation and hindrance. Were it not for him, the other clerical worker (La Dama del Comercio) and I would be quite peaceful and content, attending to our duties in an atmosphere of mutual consideration. I am certain that his dictatorial methods are, in part, responsible for Miss T.’s desire to retire.

I can at last describe to you our factory. This afternoon, feeling fulfilled after having completed the cross (Yes! It is completed and gives our office a needed spiritual dimension.), I set out to visit the clank and whirr and hiss of the factory.

The scene which met my eyes was at once compelling and repelling. The original sweatshop has been preserved for posterity at Levy Pants. If only the Smithsonian Institution, that grab-bag of our nation’s refuse, could somehow vacuum-seal the Levy Pants factory and transport it to the capital of the United States of America, each worker frozen in an attitude of labor, the visitors to that questionable museum would defecate into their garish tourist outfits. It is a scene which combines the worst of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; it is mechanized Negro slavery; it represents the progress which the Negro has made from picking cotton to tailoring it. (Were they in the picking stage of their evolution, they would at least be in the healthful outdoors singing and eating watermelons [as they are, I believe, supposed to do when in groups al fresco].) My intense and deeply felt convictions concerning social injustice were aroused. My valve threw in a hearty response.

(In connection with the watermelons, I must say, lest some professional civil rights organization be offended, that I have never been an observer of American folk customs. I may be wrong. I would imagine that today people grasp for the cotton with one hand while the other hand presses a transistor radio to the sides of their heads so that it can spew bulletins about used cars and Sofstyle Hair Relaxer and Royal Crown Hair Dressing and Gallo wine about their eardrums, a filtered menthol cigarette dangling from their lips and threatening to set the entire cotton field ablaze. Although residing along the Mississippi River [This river is famed in atrocious song and verse; the most prevalent motif is one which attempts to make of the river an ersatz father figure. Actually, the Mississippi River is a treacherous and sinister body of water whose eddies and currents yearly claim many lives. I have never known anyone who would even venture to stick his toe in its polluted brown waters, which seethe with sewage, industrial waste, and deadly insecticides. Even the fish are dying. Therefore, the Mississippi as Father-God-Moses-Daddy-Phallus-Pops is an altogether false motif begun, I would imagine, by that dreary fraud, Mark Twain. This failure to make contact with reality is, however, characteristic of almost all of America’s “art.” Any connection between American art and American nature is purely coincidental, but this is only because the nation as a whole has no contact with reality. That is only one of the reasons why I have always been forced to exist on the fringes of its society, consigned to the Limbo reserved for those who do know reality when they see it.], I have never seen cotton growing and have no desire to do so. The only excursion in my life outside of New Orleans took me through the vortex to the whirlpool of despair: Baton Rouge. In some future installment, a flashback, I shall perhaps recount that pilgrimage through the swamps, a journey into the desert from which I returned broken physically, mentally, and spiritually. New Orleans is, on the other hand, a comfortable metropolis which has a certain apathy and stagnation which I find inoffensive. At least its climate is mild; too, it is here in the Crescent City that I am assured of having a roof over my head and a Dr. Nut in my stomach, although certain sections of North Africa [Tangiers, etc.] have from time to time excited my interest. The voyage by boat, however, would probably enervate me, and I am certainly not perverse enough to attempt air travel even if I were able to afford it. The Greyhound Bus Line is sufficiently menacing to make me accept my status quo. I wish that those Scenicruisers would be discontinued; it would seem to me that their height violates some interstate highway statute regarding clearance in tunnels and so forth. Perhaps one of you, dear readers, with a legal turn of mind can dredge the appropriate clause from memory. Those things really must be removed. Simply knowing that they are hurtling somewhere on this dark night makes me most apprehensive.) The factory is a large, barn-like structure that houses bolts of fabric, cutting tables, massive sewing machines, and furnaces that provide the steam for pressing. The total effect is rather surreal, especially when one sees Les Africains moving about attending to their tasks in this mechanized setting. The irony involved caught my fancy, I must admit. Something from Joseph Conrad sprang to my mind, although I cannot seem to remember what it was at the time. Perhaps I likened myself to Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness when, far from the trading company offices in Europe, he was faced with the ultimate horror. I do remember imagining myself in a pith helmet and white linen jodhpurs, my face enigmatic behind a veil of mosquito netting.

The furnaces keep the place rather warm and toasty on these chill days, but in the summer I suspect that the workers once again enjoy the climate of their forebears, the tropic heat somewhat magnified by those great coal-burning steam-producing contrivances. I understand that the factory is not working at capacity currently, and I did observe that only one of these devices was operating, burning coal and what looked like one of the cutting tables. Also, I saw only one pair of trousers actually completed during the time that I spent there, although the factory workers were shambling about clutching all sorts of scraps of cloth. One woman, I noticed, was pressing some baby’s clothing and another seemed to be making remarkable progress with the sections of fuchsia satin which she was joining together on one of the large sewing machines. She appeared to be fashioning a rather colorful but nonetheless rakish evening gown. I must say that I admired the efficiency with which she whipped the material back and forth under the massive electric needle. This woman was apparently a skilled worker, and I thought it doubly unfortunate that she was not lending her talents to the creation of a pair of Levy Pants… pants. There was obviously a morale problem in the factory.

I looked for Mr. Palermo, the foreman of the factory, who is, incidentally, normally only a few steps from the bottle, as the many contusions that he has sustained from falling down among the cutting tables and sewing machines can testify, with no success. He was probably quaffing a liquid lunch in one of the many taverns in the vicinity of our organization; there is a bar on every corner in the neighborhood of Levy Pants, an indication that salaries in the area are abysmally low. On particularly desperate blocks there are three or four bars at every intersection.

In my innocence, I suspected that the obscene jazz issuing forth from the loudspeakers on the walls of the factory was at the root of the apathy which I was witnessing among the workers. The psyche can be bombarded only so much by these rhythms before it begins to crumble and atrophy. Therefore, I found and turned off the switch which controlled the music. This action on my part led to a rather loud and defiantly boorish roar of protest from the collective workers, who began to regard me with sullen eyes. So I turned the music on again, smiling broadly and waving amiably in an attempt to acknowledge my poor judgment and to win the workers’ confidence. (Their huge white eyes were already labeling me a “Mister Charlie.” I would have to struggle to show them my almost psychotic dedication to helping them.) Obviously continual response to the music had developed within them an almost Pavlovian response to the noise, a response which they believed was pleasure. Having spent countless hours of my life watching those blighted children on television dancing to this sort of music, I knew the physical spasm which it was supposed to elicit, and I attempted my own conservative version of the same on the spot to further pacify the workers. I must admit that my body moved with surprising agility; I am not without an innate sense of rhythm; my ancestors must have been rather outstanding at jigging on the heath. Ignoring the eyes of the workers, I shuffled about beneath one of the loudspeakers, twisting and shouting, mumbling insanely, “Go! Go! Do it, baby, do it! Hear me talkin’ to ya. Wow!” I knew that I had recovered my ground with them when several began pointing to me and laughing. I laughed back to demonstrate that I, too, shared their high spirits. De Casibus Virorum Illustrium! Of the Fall of Great Men! My downfall occurred. Literally. My considerable system, weakened by the gyrations (especially in the region of the knees), at last rebelled, and I plummeted to the floor in a senseless attempt at one of the more egregiously perverse steps which I had witnessed on the television so many times. The workers seemed rather concerned and helped me up most politely, smiling in the friendliest fashion. I realized then that I had no more to fear concerning my faux pas in turning off their music.

In spite of all to which they have been subjected, Negroes are nonetheless a rather pleasant folk for the most part. I really have had little to do with them, for I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one. Upon speaking with several of the workers, all of whom seemed eager to speak with me, I discovered that they received even less pay than Miss Trixie.

In a sense I have always felt something of a kinship with the colored race because its position is the same as mine: we both exist outside the inner realm of American society. Of course, my exile is voluntary. However, it is apparent that many of the Negroes wish to become active members of the American middle class. I cannot imagine why. I must admit that this desire on their part leads me to question their value judgments. However, if they wish to join the bourgeoisie, it is really none of my business. They may seal their own doom. Personally, I would agitate quite adamantly if I suspected that anyone were attempting to help me upward toward the middle class. I would agitate against the bemused person who was attempting to help me upward, that is. The agitation would take the form of many protest marches complete with the traditional banners and posters, but these would say, “End the Middle Class,” “The Middle Class Must Go.” I am not above tossing a small Molotov cocktail or two, either. In addition, I would studiously avoid sitting near the middle class in lunch counters and on public transportation, maintaining the intrinsic honesty and grandeur of my being. If a middle-class white were suicidal enough to sit next to me, I imagine that I would beat him soundly about the head and shoulders with one great hand, tossing, quite deftly, one of my Molotov cocktails into a passing bus jammed with middle-class whites with the other hand. Whether my siege were to last a month or a year, I am certain that ultimately everyone would let me alone after the total carnage and destruction of property had been evaluated.

I do admire the terror which Negroes are able to inspire in the hearts of some members of the white proletariat and only wish (This is a rather personal confession.) that I possessed the ability to similarly terrorize. The Negro terrorizes simply by being himself; I, however, must browbeat a bit in order to achieve the same end. Perhaps I should have been a Negro. I suspect that I would have been a rather large and terrifying one, continually pressing my ample thigh against the withered thighs of old white ladies in public conveyances a great deal and eliciting more than one shriek of panic. Then, too, if I were a Negro, I would not be pressured by my mother to find a good job, for no good jobs would be available. My mother herself, a worn old Negress, would be too broken by years of underpaid labor as a domestic to go out bowling at night. She and I could live most pleasantly in some moldy shack in the slums in a state of ambitionless peace, realizing contentedly that we were unwanted, that striving was meaningless.

However, I do not wish to witness the awful spectacle of the Negroes moving upward into a middle class. I consider this movement a great insult to their integrity as a people. But I am beginning to sound like the Beards and Parringtons and will soon totally forget Levy Pants, the commercial muse for this particular effort. A project for the future could be a social history of the United States from my vantage point; if The Journal of a Working Boy meets with any success at the book stalls, I shall perhaps etch a likeness of our nation with my pen. Our nation demands the scrutiny of a completely disengaged observer like your Working Boy, and I already have in my files a rather formidable collection of notes and jottings that evaluate and lend a perspective to the contemporary scene.

We must hasten back on the wings of prose to the factory and its folk, who prompted my rather lengthy digression. As I was telling you, they had just lifted me from the floor, my performance and subsequent pratfall the sources of a great feeling of camaraderie. I thanked them cordially, they meanwhile inquiring in their seventeenth-century English accents about my condition most solicitously. I was uninjured, and since pride is a Deadly Sin which I feel I generally eschew, absolutely nothing was hurt.

I then questioned them about the factory, for this was the purpose behind my visit. They were rather eager to speak with me and seemed even most interested in me as a person. Apparently the dull hours among the cutting tables make a visitor doubly welcome. We chatted freely, although the workers were generally non-committal about their work. Actually, they seemed more interested in me than in anything else; I was not bothered by their attentions and parried all of their questions blithely until they at last grew rather personal. Some of them who had from time to time straggled into the office asked pointed questions about the cross and the attendant decorations; one intense lady asked permission (which, of course, was granted) to gather some of her confreres about the cross occasionally to sing spirituals. (I abhor spirituals and those deadly nineteenth-century Calvinist hymns, but I was willing to suffer having my eardrums assaulted if a chorus or two would make these workers happy.) When I questioned them about wages, I discovered that their average weekly pay envelope contained less than thirty ($30) dollars. It is my considered opinion that someone deserves more than that in the way of a wage for simply staying in a place like the factory for five days a week, especially when the factory is one like the Levy Pants factory in which the leaking roof threatens to collapse at any moment. And who knows? Those people might have much better things to do than to loiter about Levy Pants, such as composing jazz or creating new dances or doing whatever those things are that they do with such facility. No wonder there was such apathy in the factory. Still it was incredible that the disparity between the doldrums of the production line and the fevered hustle of the office could be housed within the same (Levy Pants) bosom. Were I one of the factory workers (and I would probably be a large and particularly terrifying one, as I said earlier), I would long before have stormed the office and demanded a decent wage.

Here I must make a note. While I was desultorily attending graduate school, I met in the coffee shop one day a Miss Myrna Minkoff, a young undergraduate, a loud, offensive maiden from the Bronx. This expert from the universe of the Grand Concourse was attracted to the table at which I was holding court by the singularity and magnetism of my being. As the magnificence and originality of my worldview became explicit through conversation, the Minkoff minx began attacking me on all levels, even kicking me under the table rather vigorously at one point. I both fascinated and confused her; in short, I was too much for her. The parochialism of the ghettoes of Gotham had not prepared her for the uniqueness of Your Working Boy. Myrna, you see, believed that all humans living south and west of the Hudson River were illiterate cowboys or — even worse — White Protestants, a class of humans who as a group specialized in ignorance, cruelty, and torture. (I don’t wish to especially defend White Protestants; I am not too fond of them myself.) Soon Myrna’s brutal social manner had driven my courtiers from the table and we were left alone, all cold coffee and hot words. When I failed to agree with her braying and babbling, she told me that I was obviously anti-Semitic. Her logic was a combination of half-truths and clichés, her worldview a compound of misconceptions deriving from a history of our nation as written from the perspective of a subway tunnel. She dug into her large black valise and assaulted me (almost literally) with greasy copies of Men and Masses and Now! and Broken Barricades and Surge and Revulsion and various manifestos and pamphlets pertaining to organizations of which she was a most active member: Students for Liberty, Youth for s@x, The Black Muslims, Friends of Latvia, Children for Miscegenation, The White Citizens’ Councils. Myrna was, you see, terribly engaged in her society; I, on the other hand, older and wiser, was terribly dis-engaged.

She had chiseled quite a bit of money from her father to go away to college to see what it was like “out there.” Unfortunately, she found me. The trauma of our first meeting fed each other’s masochism and led to an affair (platonic) of sorts. (Myrna was decidedly masochistic. She was only happy when a police dog was sinking its fangs into her black leotards or when she was being dragged feet first down stone steps from a Senate hearing.) I must admit that I always suspected Myrna of being interested in me sensually; my stringent attitude toward s@x intrigued her; in a sense, I became another project of sorts. I did, however, succeed in thwarting her every attempt to assail the castle of my body and mind. Since Myrna and I confused most of the other students when we were apart, as a couple we were doubly confusing to the smiling Southern birdbrains who, for the most part, made up the student body. Campus rumor, I understand, linked us in the most unspeakably depraved intrigues.

Myrna’s cure-all for everything from fallen arches to depression was s@x. She promulgated this philosophy with disastrous effects to two Southern belles whom she took under her wing in order to renovate their backward minds. Heeding Myrna’s counsel with the eager assistance of various young men, one of the simple lovelies suffered a nervous breakdown; the other attempted unsuccessfully to slash her wrists with a broken Coca-Cola bottle. Myrna’s explanation was that the girls had been too reactionary to begin with, and with renewed vigor, she preached s@x in every classroom and pizza parlor, almost getting herself raped by a janitor in the Social Studies building. Meanwhile, I tried to guide her toward the path of truth.

After several semesters Myrna disappeared from the college, saying in her offensive manner, “This place can’t teach me anything I don’t know.” The black leotards, the matted mane of hair, the monstrous valise were all gone; the palmlined campus returned to its traditional lethargy and necking. I have seen that liberated doxy a few times since then, for, from time to time she embarks on an “inspection tour” of the South, stopping eventually in New Orleans to harangue me and to attempt to seduce me with the grim prison and chain-gang songs she strums on her guitar. Myrna is very sincere; unfortunately, she is also offensive.

When I saw her after her last “inspection tour” she was rather bedraggled. She had stopped throughout the rural South to teach Negroes folk songs she had learned at the Library of Congress. The Negroes, it seems, preferred more contemporary music and turned up their transistor radios loudly and defiantly whenever Myrna began one of her lugubrious dirges. Although the Negroes had tried to ignore her, the whites had shown great interest in her. Bands of crackers and rednecks had chased her from villages, slashed her tires, whipped her a bit about the arms. She had been hunted by bloodhounds, shocked by cattle prods, chewed by police dogs, peppered lightly with shotgun pellets. She had loved every minute of it, showing me quite proudly (and, I might add, suggestively) a fang mark on her upper thigh. My stunned and disbelieving eyes noted that on that occasion she was wearing dark stockings and not leotards. My blood, however, failed to rise.

We do correspond quite regularly, the usual theme of Myrna’s correspondence tending to urge me to participate in lie-ins and wade-ins and sit-ins and such. Since, however, I do not eat at lunch counters and do not swim, I have ignored her advice. The subsidiary theme in the correspondence is one urging me to come to Manhattan so that she and I may raise our banner of twin confusion in that center of mechanized horrors. If I am ever really well, I may make the trip. At the moment that little musky Minkoff minx is probably in some tunnel far beneath the streets of the Bronx speeding in a subway train from a meeting on social protest to an orgy of folk singing or worse. Someday the authorities of our society will no doubt apprehend her for simply being herself. Incarceration will finally make her life meaningful and end her frustration.

A recent communication from her was bolder and more offensive than usual. She must be dealt with on her own level, and thus I thought of her as I surveyed the substandard conditions in the factory. Too long have I confined myself in Miltonic isolation and meditation. It is clearly time for me to step boldly into our society, not in the boring, passive manner of the Myrna Minkoff school of social action, but with great style and zest.

You will be witnesses to a certain courageous, daring, and aggressive decision on the part of the author, a decision which reveals a militancy, depth, and strength quite unexpected in so gentle a nature. Tomorrow I will describe in detail my answer to the Myrna Minkoffs of the world. The result may, incidentally, topple (all too literally) Mr. Gonzalez as a power within Levy Pants. That fiend must be dealt with. One of the more powerful civil rights organizations will no doubt cover me with laurels.

There is an almost unbearable pain needling my fingers as a result of these overabundant scribblings. I must lay down my pencil, my engine of truth, and bathe my crippled hands in some warm water. My intense devotion to the cause of justice has led to this lengthy diatribe, and I feel that my Levy circle-within-a-circle is zooming upward to new successes and heights.

Health note: Hands crippled, valve temporarily open (halfway)

Social note: Nothing today; Mother gone again, looking like a courtesan; one of her cohorts, you might like to know, has revealed his hopelessness by revealing a fetish for Greyhound buses.

I am going to pray to St. Martin de Porres, the patron saint of mulattoes, for our cause in the factory. Because he is also invoked against rats, he will perhaps aid us in the office, too.

Until later,

Gary, Your Militant Working Boy

V Dr. Talc lit a Benson and Hedges, looking out of the window of his office in the Social Studies Building. Across the dark campus he saw some lights from the night classes in other buildings. All night he had been ransacking his desk for his notes on the British monarch of legend, notes hurriedly copied from a hundred-page survey of British history that he had once read in paperback. The lecture was to be given tomorrow, and it was now almost eight-thirty. As a lecturer Dr. Talc was renowned for the facile and sarcastic wit and easily disgested generalizations that made him popular among the girl students and helped to conceal his lack of knowledge about almost everything in general and British history in particular.

But even Talc realized that his reputation for sophistication and glibness would not save him in the face of his being unable to remember absolutely anything about Lear and Arthur aside from the fact that the former had some children. He put his cigarette in the ashtray and began on the bottom drawer again. In the rear of the drawer there was a stack of old papers that he had not examined very thoroughly during his first search through the desk. Placing the papers in his lap, he thumbed through them one by one and found that they were, as he had imagined, principally unreturned essays that had accumulated over a period of more than five years. As he turned over one essay, his eye fell upon a rough, yellowed sheet of Big Chief tablet paper on which was printed with a red crayon: Your total ignorance of that which you profess to teach merits the death penalty. I doubt whether you would know that St. Cassian of Imola was stabbed to death by his students with their styli. His death, a martyr’s honorable one, made him a patron saint of teachers.

Pray to him, you deluded fool, you “anyone for tennis?” golf-playing, cocktail-quaffing pseudo-pedant, for you do indeed need a heavenly patron. Although your days are numbered, you will not die as a martyr — for you further no holy cause — but as the total ass which you really are.

ZORRO

A sword was drawn on the last line of the page.

“Oh, I wonder whatever happened to him,” Talc said aloud.

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