Read Reckless Eyeballing Online

Authors: Ishmael Reed

Reckless Eyeballing (7 page)


For some reason, Tremonisha wanted their meeting to take place at the Oyster Bar located in Grand Central Station on East Forty-second Street. The building's artwork was elaborate. It reminded him of Henry James' prose style. Excessive, equivocating. It contrasted with the modernist temple, the Pan-Am Building, that stood behind it. Tremonisha was about forty-five minutes late, which gave him an opportunity to read
The New York Pillar
. The Flower Phantom, as the man who assaulted Tremonisha Smarts was called, had struck again, this time tying up at gunpoint and shaving the head of a feminist writer who had suggested in a book that the typical rapist was a black man. The newspaper was calling the culprit a hair fetishist because of his practice of collecting the victim's hair and placing it in a black plastic bag. A sketch of the Flower Phantom appeared in all of the newspapers. Panels of experts discussed him on television. Some black men began to appear in public wearing a chrysanthemum pinned to their clothes. Ian's head told him that this man was a lunatic who should be put away for a long time, but his gut was cheering the man on. His head was Dr. Jekyll, but his gut was Mr. Hyde.

The place was full of commuters who were gulping down oysters and crackers. Finally somebody said, “Mr. Ball.” He looked up. She was standing there. Her skin was smooth and had a tapioca color. She wore a white turbanlike headpiece, earrings that dangled, bright red paint on her lips, which seemed in a puckered state. She wore black beads around her neck and the kind of skirt women wear in the Caribbean marketplace. She dressed like Carmen Miranda and had Carmen Miranda's sexy eyes.

“When they find that nigger I hope they put him under the jail.” She sat down. “He walked about the room calling me a collaborator before he did it. Said that the French knew how to punish traitors.”

“Brashford said that throughout history when the brothers feel that they're being pushed against the wall, they strike back and when they do strike back it's like a tornado, uprooting, flinging about, and dashing to pieces everything in its path. A tornado has no conscience. He says the fellas feel that they are catching it from all sides.”

“What else would a senior male chauvinist like Brashford say? He's just a fifth-rate O'Neill anyway, and his opinions about women are just like O'Neill's. We're all whores to them. I'm really surprised that you seem to be agreeing with him.” She went into her bag and removed a small gun. “I was always a pacifist, always sympathizing with these guys, but if one of them tries that again, I'm going to blow him away.” Sympathize, Ball thought. By the end of
Wrong-Headed Man
, the lead villain has screwed his children, sodomized his missionary wife, put his mother-in-law in bondage, performed bestial acts with pets, and when the police break down the door he's emptied the fish bowl and is going after the fish.

“Get me a bowl of oyster stew and some crackers, and I think I'd like a bottle of Löwenbräu Light.” She threw a hundred-dollar bill at him. As he rose to comply with her wish, a white man who could have been created by Sloan Wilson approached the table. He wore a blue three-piece suit without a trace of lint, black cordovan shoes, manicured nails. He was clean-shaven. As Ball started toward the order counter, he heard the man ask was she Tremonisha Smarts. He turned and she was signing the man's autograph and grinning. A European-American man came and took his order. He brought it back. “Isn't that Tremonisha Smarts sitting over there?” He told the man that it was, the man made a smart aleck grin like James Dean's, looked him up and down and said, no charge. “I loved that play,” he said. He came back and set down the tray bearing Tre's requests and his shrimp cocktail.

She threw the script onto the table.

“I brought this script to you. I've red-penciled all of my suggestions; of course you'll have the final say so of what goes, and what's to be added. I think that the characters need more definition.” She paused and stared into his eyes after that sentence. He looked away. “We're going to have to cut down on some of the props and costumes. Becky said they're reducing the original budget for the play.”

“But Jim said that the budget was already skin and bones.”

“Look, I just work here.” You can say that again, Ball thought.

“Becky wants to put all of her money into Eva Braun's play. You ready for that? Now, I want you to take the script home and go over my corrections, I mean, my suggestions.” You were right the first time, Ball thought. “And give me a call. We'll meet at my place early next week.” She handed him her card.


The doorman at Tremonisha's apartment building was Randy Shank, the first playwright who'd made the theater feminists' sex list in the 1960s. The one who'd gotten into trouble with his satire
The Rise and Fall of Mighty Joe Young
, whose premise was that American women craved to be raped by a beast. The play not only caused problems for the author but for one of the male critics who'd given it a good review. Feminists had the man followed. The women who dated him were harassed outside their apartment buildings by something calling itself “the feminist education committee,” whose members shouted all kinds of rotten things about the critic as these women attempted to enter and leave their homes. The feminists ransacked his office and smeared blood all over his typewriter and papers. Ball was surprised to see Randy because he'd heard that Randy had left for Europe. He'd heard rumors about Randy and his travels through Amsterdam and Brussels. How women waited for him in shifts at his favorite cafés. Shank was stroking his chin and looking Ball up and down. He frowned and folded his arms. He still walked with his shoulders stooped. In his doorman's outfit he resembled a World War I Ukrainian general.

“Randy, what are you doing here?” Ball asked.

“Well. It talks,” he said, glowering. “You weren't so friendly the other night. I caught you down in the East Village on Avenue A. I called and you didn't even turn around to acknowledge me. And that woman you were with. She looked like a bat out of hell. Had that next-wave shit all over her face and one side of her hair dyed blond, the other looking like a rooster had slept on it. What were you, high, or something?”

Funny line coming from a guy who in the sixties was so full of heroin he couldn't stand up, Ian thought. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he said.

“It was Tuesday night, at about eleven A.M. down in the Village. Avenue A. You walked right by me.”

“I was working on my script Tuesday night; I didn't even come out of the house.”

“Well, if it wasn't you, somebody was wearing your face.” All of the fellas were saying that something had happened to Shank in Europe. That there had been a personality change. Maybe he was beginning to see apparitions.

“I thought you were in Europe,” Ball said, hoping to steer the conversation in a different direction.

“Oh, that. I got into a lot of hassles. Man, as soon as Tremonisha's plays and those other feminist bitches' books started to get translated into foreign languages, the women in these countries began to come down hard on black men. With the missiles and the strong dollar, anti-Americanism is very rife.”

“Look, I,” Ball reached into his pocket.

“I don't need your money,” Shank sneered. “I make enough here. Got me a one-bedroom up on West End. I'm saving my money and I'm going to stage my new play myself. That way I'll have independence and won't have to rely on these downtown Jews to get my stuff over. I won't have to kiss anybody's ass to get over.”

Ball lifted the man from his feet. Ball may have been from the South, but he knew about Afro-American signifying. “What do you mean by that?” he said, ready to punch Shank.

“Nothing, man. I don't mean nothing.” Ball let him down.

“Man, you country niggers are sure paranoid. Every time somebody say something, you think they talking about you. I just be hearing things, that's all,” he said, brushing himself off.

“Hearing what things?”

“Aw, man. You know there's always going to be talk. They say that you've given in to those dykes over there at the Mountbatten and that—” Shank covered his grin. “They say that now that the Jew boy, your security, has disappeared, Tremonisha”—he started to laugh aloud—“Tremonisha Smarts is directing your play.” Shank doubled over, holding his gut, he was laughing so.

Ball thought for a moment. “So what's wrong with that?” Ball said, weakly. “She's a competent director.”

“Aw, man, you know the reason the white boys love her so. It's because she portrays black men as hurried, inattentive lovers, and then there's that scene where this brute throws the woman down the stairs. They love that. That's all the white boys talk about. Man, do they cream behind that. They love stuff showing black dudes as animalistic sexual brutes because that's what they are. Just like when they called people cannibals. They're the biggest cannibals there are. They've cannibalized whole civilizations, they've cannibalized nature, they'd even cannibalize their own mothers.” Ball had heard this speech a million times over the years in New York.

“I'm proud to have Tremonisha direct my play. I've learned a lot from her already.”

“I agree with this Flower Phantom dude. He's right. Some of these black feminist writers are just as guilty as those French whores who collaborated with the Nazis. They deserve what they get. Cut off their hair, but leave a flower.” He snapped his fingers, annoyed with himself. “Damn. Why didn't I think of that?” He stamped a foot.

“She's a collaborator because she told that columnist that rapists should be castrated. You know who's going to be castrated, don't you? Me and the fellas are going to contribute to this guy's defense fund if he's ever arrested. These Jew bitches are the ones behind it. They're putting Coretha and Clotel up to it. The way I figure, by having your play produced by Becky French, you're collaborating with these Zionists.”

“Becky's not Jewish. Her family's ancestry goes all the way back to the

“That's what all these Jews say. They'd rather be pilgrims and the descendents of slave owners than be themselves. The Jews over here ain't the real Jews anyway.”

Ball was looking toward the elevator in hopes of escaping Shank's crazy tirade. He wished that there was some way he could get away. He'd finally run into a man who was more extreme than Brashford in his anti-Semitism.

“How are these hymies over here supposed to be Jews when Abraham was a black man who fucked black women and had babies by them? The Flower Phantom, he said he'd get Becky French for agreeing with Tremonisha. Boy, why can't I be him.” Shank had a reputation for being on the tail end of trends. Some people called him a copycat. Ball was becoming uncomfortable.

“Just like the Jew. Black people invented Judaism and then these Europeans take it over and water it down into some kind of stale crossover religion. Next the white Jews say they the only Jews and the original Jews, the black Jews who invented the religion in the first place, have to take a test when they go to Israel. Imagine that. Like these Falashas, whose traditions are pre-Talmudistic, have to take a test from these fake Jews when they go to Israel, and Israel is becoming such a theocratic state that they're even going to stop admitting these jive American Jews. These American Jews want it both ways. They play Marrano pretending to be Christian on the side, but in the back they still Jews. You heard what old Begin told them, didn't you? He said if they were so Jewish why don't they go to Israel, but now these reform Jews are scared because the Israeli people might even stop letting them in.” Ball tried to sneak up to the elevator when the downstairs phone rang, but it stopped ringing and Shank continued. “The Jew hates the Gentile. He thinks that the Gentile is a dog, which explains why the Jews who own the media are always shoving this eye dog food up into his face. If you want to know how much the Jew hates the Gentile, watch the fall preview of TV shows, the movies that come out of Hollywood. He thinks the Gentile drinks too much and is uncivilized.” Ball was relieved when a man dressed in a tweed jacket, brown gabardine pants, and casual shoes entered the lobby. The man's face was distinguished. He had a prominent nose. What in the old days the fellas would have called a “handsome” woman accompanied him. She was wearing a tweed jacket and conservatively styled British skirt, as well as a Robin Hood hat with a feather.

“How are you, Randy,” she asked. Randy Shank turned to the couple.

“Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Epstein,” he said gushingly, almost falling over himself, “shall I fetch you a taxi?” The woman nodded. With one eye shut she examined Ball. “Aren't you—yes, you are Ian Ball. I recognized your picture from the newspaper. Congratulations on your new play. Tragic about Jim Minsk,” she said, shaking her head. “He was such a brilliant director.” Randy Shank glanced from Mrs. Epstein to Ian Ball. He was angry. He couldn't stand it. Rage bristled at his insides.

“He went south to be the guest of some college. We can't even locate the college to find out what happened. We're going ahead anyway. You know, the show must go on. They've brought in Tremonisha Smarts to take his place,” Ball said.

“Tremendous talent. Tremendous talent,” Mr. Epstein said. “There's that one scene…” He trailed off and returned to sleeping on his feet.

“Well, good luck on your play,” Mrs. Epstein said, smiling as she followed Shank outside. As the elevator shut behind him, Ball could hear Shank's whistle.

The door was open, but he knocked anyway. He heard Tremonisha's voice, “Come in.” He walked into the apartment. Tremonisha was on the phone, pacing up and down, while puffing from the cigarette. She beckoned him to sit in a chair. He sat down. The ambience of the apartment indicated that she was in the upper range of the income distribution. He recognized some paintings and prints by some of the leading black Lower East Side painters. “You could have told me, you still could have told me,” she said to the person on the other end. She was wearing some kind of designer pants with large pockets, a blue blouse. She wore a blue kerchief on her head. She was jangling as usual. Bracelets on her wrists and ankles. “Shit on that, you still could have said something about it before I read it in the papers. And what's this about my acting surly? You said that about me. You know you did. Gal, I'm not your fucking gal, don't give me that gal shit.” She hung up. She folded her arms and looked at him. “Men,” she said. He was embarrassed. He glanced toward the table.
The New York Pillar,
. A reporter was quoting Towers Bradhurst, producer of the movie version of
Wrong-Headed Man
, as saying that when Tremonisha Smarts, the black playwright, was told that a white male screenwriter had been hired to “doctor” her screenplay for the movie, Ms. Smarts began throwing ashtrays and furniture in the producer's office and when she finished the place looked as though the Oakland Raiders had had a training session in there.

“Is anything wrong?”

“Is anything wrong, the nigger says,” she mumbles. “No, everything is just wonderful,” she said, her voice coated with sarcasm. “I need a drink.” She went to the cabinet and removed a bottle of whiskey. She poured herself a large glass. She gulped down some pills. She offered him some. He declined.

“They follow me out to Hollywood only to tell me that my script wasn't adequate for my movie and so they brought in______.” (She mentioned the name of a white male screen writer who'd been called the Charlie Parker of prose for his “be-bop style.” The fellas had said that if he was the Charlie Parker of prose then Connie Francis was the princess of rock and roll.) She sat down, spread her legs, and leaned forward.

“I knew something was wrong with him. Every time we were supposed to have a script session he would get all tooted up and start talking about how black boys, as he called them, used to beat him at basketball and about how little he was. He wanted to know whether all the unsavory things that happened to the missionary in
Wrong-Headed Man
had really happened to me. What a voyeur.”

Ball changed the subject. “Have you seen rehearsals for the important play, I mean the play about Eva Braun?” he asked.

“That silly thing,” she said, throwing back her head. “Becky's still on the white woman as a victim trip. She feels that whatever evil white women do is traceable to some man. That's why she removed the white women from the lynching scene in your play.”

“She what!” Ball said.

“Oh, didn't you know? She said that you and what's-his-name—”


“Right, Jim. She said that you and Jim had agreed.”

“I certainly didn't, and Jim's not here.”

“She feels that the white women who attended those lynchings did so under coercion by their husbands.”

“They could have fooled me. I got those pictures up at the Schomburg. Their eyes are glassy and they wear fixed grins as they watch these poor men dangling from a rope. Drooling over the burnt flesh. I mean, some of them dragged their kids along. She's saying that they were pretending? Couldn't they have gotten baby-sitters?”

“She has the same theory about Nazi Germany. She said that Jewish and German women were innocent victims, caught in a battle between men over sexual turf. That the reason Jewish men got into trouble in Germany was because they couldn't get goyim ass off their minds. They were sexually addicted to white women. She got the idea from this film called
Jud Süss
. Afterward, during an interview, she said that if someone wrote a play about Nazi Germany from Eva Braun's point of view she would consider producing it. Mysteriously, a script turned up. It was written by some old biddy who lives in seclusion on Long Island.”

“Yeah. She told me. That's why I got booted out of the Lord Mountbatten. You say she got the idea from a film?”

“She started to collect all kinds of supporting material. I've never seen her so driven. She collected cartoons from Nazi magazines and newspapers that showed Jewish men mugging and raping German women. The Jewish men were always drawn dark. But her main inspiration was the Nazi film. Becky saw it about thirty times.”

“I've never heard of it.”

“It rarely plays here in the States. We saw it at one of those bohemian art theaters in the village. You see, the Nazis were paranoid about Jewish men and foreigners diddling their women. It drove Joseph Goebbels crazy. He was the one behind the film. They'd play this movie for German troops before they went to the front. It would get them all steamed up. Some say that Goebbels arranged the film to get Hitler mad. They were always teasing Hitler about the grandfather on his father's side. Some bourgeois Jewish man impregnated his grandmother, a German who worked in his household. So in the film you have this usurious and dark Jew raping this German girl who goes through the film posing as some kind of idealized Gretel. In pigtails. Some say that this hatred of Jews by German men was the reason for the concentration camps. That's where Becky got the idea. That the World War Two holocaust was caused by a primal struggle between the Nordic man and the Moorish types.”

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