Monday, February 28, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt eight)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

“He get that at the World’s Fair?” Leland asked. The little dinosaur.

Carney said yes. They’d taken the subway to Flushing to check out the exhibition last May. “This is what they call ‘Queens,’ guys.” The publicity machine had plugged it so much that it was bound to disappoint, and the editorial pages had wrung their hands over how the city’d pay for it, but the whole production was top-notch. Years from now May and John would look back on it and understand they’d been a part of something special. Sinclair Oil had handed out plastic versions of their brontosaurus mascot at the Dinoland pavilion. John slept with it under his pillow.

“We’d still like to take them,” Leland said. “Max and Judy said that Futurama was something else.” May and John squealed. The fairground was too vast, too stuffed to take in on one visit. The grandchildren provided an alibi for Alma and Leland to mix with the commoners.

“That’s fine,” Carney said.



Sunday, February 27, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt seven)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

It was time to get to business. Miss Laura stubbed out her cigarette. “You ready?”

“Can I put a record on?” Zippo asked. She waved her beer can toward the Zenith RecordMaster. He dropped the needle on Mingus Ah Um.

Zippo opened his bag of equipment. Laura went for hers.



Saturday, February 26, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt six)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

“It might be in flagrante,” Carney said.

“In flagrante, out flagrante, you’re the boss.” Zippo emphasized his superiority to the assignment. “When I was younger, I was more ‘fine art,’ if you know what I mean.” Certainly not the first Nightbirds customer to wax over the promise of bygone days, and not the last. “I wanted to be one of the great chroniclers,” he said, “like Van Der Zee. Carl Van Vechten. Harlem life, Harlem people. But my luck has always been rotten. You know that. Any chance I get, I piss it away. Now it’s tits. And people pretending to be dead.”

“I think you’ll like the money,” Carney said.



Friday, February 25, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt five)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

She exhaled. Once they got Freddie out of the way, Carney and his aunt did what relatives and friends do sometimes—pretended that time and circumstance had not sent them down different paths, and that they were as close as they had ever been. The performance was easy for Carney; he was scheming so much these days. For his aunt, it was likely a welcome refuge. She told him that a Puerto Rican had taken over Mickey’s Grocery and filled it with these Spanish foods and drinks; Miss Isabel from upstairs had moved into the new public housing complex on 131st, where Maybelle’s Beauty used to be; and don’t eat at that new place across from the Apollo, Jimmy Ellis had a bad meatloaf there and had to get his stomach pumped.

Things she would’ve told her husband, her son, her dear little sister, if they were around. But there was just Carney.



Thursday, February 24, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt four)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

You hear people say, “Oh, when our boy came back from the war, he was changed.” The war didn’t change Pepper, it completed him. He’d lose himself in different, darker caves and ditches when he returned to the States and started his career in earnest.

The rain washed the Burmese’s blood off his hands. In the barracks, Armed Forces Radio announced the score of the Dodger–Giants game eight thousand miles away. Back among normal people and their diversions. The normal world kept spinning when he was up to no good and he stepped back in like nothing happened. This Houdini trick.

The Dodgers were playing Cincinnati when he heard about Arthur.



Wednesday, February 23, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt three)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

They got two more calls about the banging. It was loud, rebounding on the vault walls, vibrating in the very bones of the building. The excuse about the broken elevator came about after they decided to keep the operator on ice in the office. How many people would call for the elevator between 4:00 and 4:20 a.m.? Maybe none, maybe plenty. How many would take the stairs down and be ushered by Pepper in his gentle way into the office with the other captives? Just one it turned out, at 4: 17, a certain Fernando Gabriel Ruiz, Venezuelan national and distributor of handcrafted crockery, who would never visit this city again, after what happened last time and now this, fuck it. And how many guests knocked on the front door to be let into their rooms? Also one—Pepper unlocked the door and marched Mr. Leonard Gates of Gary, Indiana, currently staying in room 807 with its lumpy bed and the hex from the guy who’d had a heart attack, into the back with the rest. Plenty of room in the manager’s office. Stack them like firewood or standing room only if need be.

Given that only two souls had intruded on their scheme, Miami Joe said, “Keep going,” when Arthur told him twenty minutes was up.

He wanted to push their luck.



Tuesday, February 22, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt two)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

Sandra knew how to handle herself, whether dealing with the kitchen staff or the impetuous attentions of customers. Dancing at the Apollo was a tutorial in the male animal, after all. Considering the hotel’s legend for nighttime fun, men probably bought her drinks at the bar across from the lobby, everybody hung out there in those days. Lighting her cigarettes over dreary promises. Back in the glory days—hers and the hotel’s. One time Carney asked why she quit dancing. “Baby,” she said, “God tells you it’s time to hang it up, you listen.” She took off her high heels and slipped on a waist apron, but she couldn’t quit 125th Street—you could see the Apollo from the window.



Monday, February 21, 2022

the last book I ever read (Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead, excerpt one)

from Harlem Shuffle: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

The old man had always been droopy in the face, a jowl overall with saggy lobes and eyelids, and droopy in his wretched posture. As if when he bent over the machines all those hours they were sucking him into themselves. The downward pull had accelerated recently, his submission to the facts of his life. The merchandise had changed, the clientele transformed into new beings, and aspiration wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But he had a few diversions to keep him busy, these twilight days.

“I have your TV,” he said. He coughed into a faded yellow handkerchief. Carney followed him into the back.



Sunday, February 20, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt ten)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

OPAL JEWEL:

I gave less than three damns about fixing up a crumbling old palace, but Paris? Now that was worth investing my time. I had always been curious about going—what intelligent Negro wasn’t? James Baldwin was in France, being Black and gay in every sense, and some of the jazz cats had visited and wouldn’t shut up about this sense of freedom they felt just walking the streets. I wanted to see for myself what was up. So I told Stephen I would come sit in his box, as long as he could cough up a second ticket. I had a friend I owed a favor or two. [Laughs]



Saturday, February 19, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt nine)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

PEARL WELMONT:

You could see the gleam in her eyes while she told me the things she had done, the fornicating and so on, and wasn’t nobody but the devil and his minions who put it there. Drove her to whack off the perfectly good hair she had left on her head, tempted her into committing sins with married men… Well, it was a struggle, especially with her ankle in that cast, but I managed to get her down on her knees, yes I did!

VIRGIL LAFLEUR:

As you can imagine, this was quite terrifying but also fascinating to witness. The Exorcist was still years away, understand.



Friday, February 18, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt eight)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

VIRGIL LAFLEUR:

We’d had trespassers and troublemakers come up our stoop. Vampires and looky-loos, reporters scheming to get their blood… Miss Ernestine had broached the idea of reinforcing the front gate with chicken wire, which was a rather drastic and country-Georgia solution, but I was not of the mind that making our home feel more like a prison was best for encouraging Mad to be positive. So we simply ignored the knocks and the ringing of the bell, kept the shutters closed and the chains and dead bolts engaged. But before long Miss Ernestine had had enough—she decamped to stay temporarily with one of her sons—and then there was someone new at the door, pounding and yelling and, my God, singing.



Thursday, February 17, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt seven)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

ROSEMARY SALDUCCI:

I had a few girlfriends who wanted access, but I had to warn ’em, “You might be disappointed by the pillow talk.” I’m not saying Beau was dumb—just that he hadn’t been exposed to much. Case in point: During the rehearsals I was picking up lunch for everyone one day, so I give him a menu and he says he’ll have the corned beef. But when I bring it back he’s opening it up and poking at it, digging around in the bag. I ask him, “Beau, what’s wrong with your sandwich?” and he says to me, completely serious, “I thought it came with corn.” So he certainly wasn’t a man of the world—certainly wasn’t reading, like, the Pentagon Papers every morning. Physically, though? Freakin’ adorable. Like a bumpkin Bon Jovi, in the face.



Wednesday, February 16, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt six)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

BOB HIZE:

The Bond sessions were a nightmare. They’d be blotto off cheap beer; these raccoon-eyed women they’d have hanging around would bring cases of it to the studio, rolling it in on dollies, and then lay about all night complaining. Chet would get into vicious barking rows with the other guys, and once he hurled a bottle at my head when I cut him off in the middle of a song to make some necessary adjustments—I think the primary reason he missed is because he wore sunglasses indoors and could only estimate my general vicinity. After that, I was interested in getting that album done as quickly as possible. In fact, we blasted through it in six nights, and the mixing was done soon after. Other than the constant threats of violence and idiocy by osmosis, making it was simple, wasn’t it? All I had to do was let any thinking and caring and creativity seep away.

I was relieved, but also extremely bitter, when the first single hit.



Tuesday, February 15, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt five)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

OPAL JEWEL:

I had never met anybody like him before. Not just gay, because we had a lot of that where I’m from… But I mean, so big with himself. He didn’t talk; Virgil purred, honey. No, I mean literally purred—some of his people were Haitian, so he could speak some pretty French, and the other half might as well have been Eartha Kitt. His fingers were long and elegant, the nails filed and buffed smooth and shiny. It’s thinning out now, but he used to have what folks called “good hair”—the kind that just naturally leans back and waves—and his head was giant as a lion’s. I could see he was trim and fit under the pajamas, and he had these big hazel eyes and a smooth caramel coloring. He was a specimen! And he was the first true friend I ever had.

Virgil was my introduction to New York, and you better believe he loved playing My Fair Lady. He knew all kinds of interesting people who worked all kinds of places. Busboys on the Upper East Side, costume assistants on Broadway—if there was a back door, we just had to knock to get a meal, or a spot in the rafters to watch a show. Every day back then was like a new adventure. Cattle calls and house parties; up in the morning with caffeine, down at night with cabernet. Making meals out of whatever scraps we could get from Virgil’s actor-slash-dancer-slash-waiter friends—knishes, garlic knots, curries, all kinds of exotic stuff I was tasting for the first time. I thought maybe he had some star quality just waiting to bust out, because everybody seemed to be smitten with him.

But also Virgil sold reefer. Everybody loves the reefer man.



Monday, February 14, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt four)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

Opal Robinson arrived in New York City via bus in July 1970—the same month and year Funkadelic dropped that fierce edict to “Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow.” She lugged to the taxi stand at Port Authority two duffel bags—one of them bursting with brand-new fabrics, sewing supplies, and paperbacks; the other stuffed with an assortment of shoes for every season and cheap synthetic wigs. (As for the fluffy Afro wig that would not fit into her luggage, she wore that during her travels.) In her jeans pocket was a slip of paper with the address for her new home in Harlem. She had found the room listed in the classifieds of the Amsterdam News and arranged to rent it via phone from her station at Michigan Bell, after the other accounts-payable girls had gone home. She gave the address to the hack, and from the back seat of his cab, Opal absorbed her new environs. In this city of nearly eight million people, she was completely anonymous. No one she knew, neither relative nor acquaintance, could say her exact whereabouts.



Sunday, February 13, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt three)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

OPAL JEWEL:

For years Pearl had adored “To Sir with Love”—I mean, everybody was crazy about the movie because Sidney Poitier was so damn fine, and the sentiment of it was very sweet and chaste. But don’t let the sweetness fool you—that’s a belter’s song, a big chance to show out, and Pearl used to beat it dead. You remember, though, that on the original track Lulu doesn’t have any backing vocals, so I had to make up my own part. Get in where I fit in. And when I listened to that record, I realized that a big part of it, what gave it emotion and light and air, was the strings. At the Gemini, there was obviously nobody with a damn violin in the house band. I figured, Well, then that’s my part. I’m the strings. Pearl would go loud and broad, just like Lulu, and I’d fill in high above her, floating real soft and pretty. Like painting those letters in the sky.



Saturday, February 12, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt two)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

PEARL WELMONT:

And all these years later, of course, I’m the first lady of that church. Won’t He do it?

PASTOR LAWRENCE WELMONT:

By and by!



Friday, February 11, 2022

the last book I ever read (Dawnie Walton's The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, excerpt one)

from The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton:

OPAL JEWEL:

After this life I’ve led, I know it’s hard to imagine my ass in a church. [Laughs] But listen, church back then could be a different thing—a political thing, a place of organization and action, real philosophy. You had men in Birmingham like the Reverend Shuttlesworth, who gave shelter to the Freedom Riders over at Bethel Baptist, and, yeah, men like my Uncle Bill. Sometimes he would write his sermon on whatever was happening in the news and in the Movement, and those were the services I liked best. It wasn’t just about folks falling out on the floor and writhing, or pastors screaming out nonsense and threats from the pulpit. You had concerned citizens and educated leaders and a good number of them were about that business. To make it so that my pretty Auntie Rose didn’t have to use dirty facilities, you know, or move out the way of anybody coming down the sidewalk. I wanted to be part of that. Baaaaaby, let me tell you, I was a revolutionary at twelve years old! I wanted to join SNCC, CORE, SCLC, all of it! I even started reading Uncle Bill’s copy of Stride Toward Freedom [the first book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.], until Auntie Rose took it away and told me I needed to just enjoy being a girl.



Thursday, February 10, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt ten)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

Diana and the tractor-cap man were hearing about the money for the first time, and their mouths dropped open. The story I had just tried to tell in shorthand would have come across as nutty and surreal to anyone but Ted.

“Did you get your money in twenties or hundreds?” Ted asked.

“Hundreds.”

“That’s where you went wrong. People go crazy for hundred-dollar bills. You can give a caddy seven twenties and he’ll forget you in a week, but give him a hundred, and he’ll remember you forever.” He nodded to the Chief. “And that’s why I don’t play golf.”



Wednesday, February 9, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt nine)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

At the First National Bank of Alabama, I straightened my tie and walked inside. The bank building was far larger than the one-room savings and loan in Smuteye. It was in fact grand. A uniformed guard stood near the glass and brass front doors, a line of tellers stood behind a grand carved wooden barrier, and an island of the same ornate wood dominated the center of the vast room. Behind the tellers, bank people did bank work and talked bank talk and walked bankly back and forth. I walked to the reception desk, signed the list, and sat in the waiting area.



Tuesday, February 8, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt eight)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

The Georgia that surrounded Atlanta had lived up to its billing on my first migratory attempt. I made the short drive to the state’s edge in a quick dead sprint and fell into the next state, which turned out to be Alabama. Of course, I know it would be Alabama, but still I don’t think anyone is ever quite prepared for Alabama, though I imagined it appropriate and decent preparation for Mississippi; decent is a term the connotation of which I am here unable to articulate.



Monday, February 7, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt seven)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

Everett, as usual, had been of no help whatsoever. He insisted as I left that I take the doughnuts, sprinkles and all. He said that they would kill him, but he’d be happy to know I was enjoying them. I took the doughnuts and ate them as I drove back to campus and my dorm. The place was so empty, so quiet and dead, that there was a sudden and strange appeal to it, but I refused to be seduced. I would have liked to talk with Ted, but he was off at his ranch in Montana doing something with buffaloes. And what would he have said to me anyway except, “Why is it that the buffalo’s head is so disproportionately large?” or something like that. I’d always wanted to see Turner and Everett meet, imagined it a little like Perry Como performing with Ornette Coleman. I resolved as I walked across campus to again attempt my drive west. Only this time I would stick to the interstate system, the homogeneous tangle of the ribbons that made up the fifty-first state. I would observe each and every traffic rule and avoid people whenever possible. I realized that I could simply board a plane and fly to California, but being there wasn’t the point, getting there was what I was after. I didn’t know anyone there or what I would do and so the drive would afford me time to formulate some kind of plan. Also I still harbored the young, romantic, na├»ve, and stupid notion that a cross-country trek would be a valuable learning experience, a rite of passage. That night I packed up my Buick Skylark and headed west once again, my heart pounding, my palms sweating against the plastic of the steering wheel, a thermos of coffee beside me next to a sack of my newest addiction, doughnuts with sprinkles.



Sunday, February 6, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt six)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

“So, we’re going to Lydia’s,” I said.

“Yes. A few other friends will be there. Robert will be there. I mentioned Robert. He’s at Dartmouth.”

“The boyfriend who was like a brother,” I said.

She said nothing.

I wanted to say that it all sounded rather Faulknerian to me, but I decided that was mean and perhaps unfair, but I was at least momentarily tickled by something. I suppose my private amusement somehow showed on my face, as I noticed Maggie staring over at me.

“What’s funny?” she asked.

“Nothing.”



Saturday, February 5, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt five)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

It was just sunrise, and the air was already hot and sticky. As parched as I was I refused to drink any water from the well. I could only guess how many rodents had fallen into it to drown and decompose. Neither was I hungry enough to consume just one more bean or rock-hard piece of bread. The hounds called and they sounded closer.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

Before we could leave, Sis and Bobo grabbed a few things, and Patrice had an idea to throw the dogs off our trail. He covered the ground with black pepper and every other seasoning he could find in the house.

“It’ll take ‘em awhile to sneeze dat out,” he said. He giggled. “I wish I could be here to see when dey do.”



Friday, February 4, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt four)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

At the other end of the weapon was a singularly ugly redheaded boy of perhaps twelve years. I had never thought a child could be ugly, but his mouth was too small for his pie face, and yet his teeth were those of a larger person. All this set below a nose out of something by Erskine Caldwell. And all that on a head far too large for his scrawny body. Even with the gun pointed at me I wondered immediately how I could take in so many features so quickly and wondered further if he could close those lips over his bathroom-tile teeth.



Thursday, February 3, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt three)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

What should have been a moment of triumph for me, standing up for myself and even settling the matter without blows, turned oddly sour as I realized that the kids around me were now afraid of me. By so daringly stepping away from my role as victim, I was to be feared, or at least made to feel like a shit for abandoning the rules.

I hated everything about everything. The rules that had been broken, the trust that had been broken, were all broken by that slutty history teacher, that orally fixated predator who didn’t know that normalcy was coined by a dumb president.



Wednesday, February 2, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt two)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

“You want some lemonade, Jane?” Ted called forward.

Jane waved her hand in the air in a way that could have meant yes or no or my nails are perfect.

“What about you, Nu’ott?” Wanda Fonda asked me, again.

“No, thank you,” I said.

With that Wanda Fonda disappeared down the companionway.

We passed under the sweeping suspension bridge, and Ted turned to me and said, “This is the Not Sidney Lanier Bridge.” He chuckled. “Just joking. I think Sidney Lanier was a poet or something.”

I looked at the bridge, looking both east and west along its length, but could not see where or if either end ever found land.



Tuesday, February 1, 2022

the last book I ever read (Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier, excerpt one)

from I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett:

My mother died shortly after that visit from Ted Turner. An illness came over her. That was how it was put to me. An illness has come over your mother. Within weeks death came over her as well. She passed away in her sleep, and I was told that was a good thing—no suffering, no pain. Even then I wondered why that was a good thing. We had no family, and certainly no one in the neighborhood would take in the abject spawn of the crazy lady, the product of such a strange and probably demonic, prolonged gestation. Had they known I was worth millions of dollars Elephant Boy might have been slightly more attractive, but they didn’t know and they wouldn’t have believed it if I or anyone else, even Ted Turner, had told them, even if they had known who Ted Turner was.