Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Aimless Reading: The R's, Part 11 (Ishmael Reed)

Mumbo Jumbo
Reed, Ishmael
Mumbo Jumbo

I think I took this from my younger brother. It may have been one of his high school textbooks.

I've met Ishmael Reed a couple of times. He's from Buffalo and returns now and again for readings and so forth. Early on in my career at Just Buffalo, we brought him for a reading at the Langston Hughes institute. I remember he stayed at his mother's house over on the East Side and that I picked the two of them up on a Sunday morning and took them to breakfast at Denny's. I believe Ed Taylor, Just Buffalo's director at the time, was also there.

It was just after the no-smoking laws had passed in Buffalo. It wasn't yet the outright restaurant ban, but the completely ventilated separation of smokers from non became a requirement. I remember we sat in a booth next to the smoking room. We could see through a big window into a kind of hazy room full of people eating and smoking. A bit like looking into a dirty fishbowl.

I don't remember much of the conversation. I recall Reed being somewhat taciturn. He had a kind of skeptical look on his face, almost like he expected everything that came out of your mouth to be ill-considered at best and downright stupid at worst. But breakfast was pleasant enough. His mother was a sweet woman, I recall.

Later that day he gave a great reading. Hundreds of people came out. I think they even had to turn a few away. After he'd gone back to Oakland, which he describes as "Buffalo, with weather," I got an email from him asking about his per diem. We'd had a conversation earlier in which he'd said something about sending the per diem to his mother. I'd assumed he'd been joking, and that he wanted us to send it to him. He said no, he wasn't joking and sent us his mother's name and address, and we promptly cut Ishmael Reed's mother a check for fifty dollars and dropped in the mail.

from Mumbo Jumbo


A True Sport, the Mayor of New Orleans, spiffy in his patent-leather brown and white shoes, his plaid suit, the Rudolph Valentino parted-down-the-middle hair style, sits in his office. Sprawled upon his knees is Zuzu, local doo-wacka-doo and voo-do-dee-odo fizgig. A slatternly floozy, her green, sequined dress quivers.

Work has kept Your Honor late.

The Mayor passes the flask of bootlegged gin to Zuzu. She takes a sip and continues to spread sprawl and behave skittishly. Loose. She is inhaling from a Chesterfield cigarette in a shameless brazen fashion.

The telephone rings.

The Mayor removes his hand and picks up the receiver; he recognizes at once the voice of his poker pardner on the phone. Harry, you'd better get down here quick. What was once dormant is now a Creeping Thing. The Mayor stands up and Zuzu lands on the floor. Her posture reveals a small flask stuck in her garter as well as some healthily endowed gams.

What's wrong, Harry?

I gots to git down to the infirmary, Zuzu, something awful is happening, the Thing has stirred in its moorings. The Thing that my Grandfather Harry and his generation of Harrys had thought was nothing but a false alarm.

The Mayor, dragging the woman by the fox skins hanging from her neck, leaves city hall and jumps into his Stutz Bearcat parked at the curb. They drive until they reach St. Louis Cathedral where 19th-Century HooDoo Queen Marie Laveau was a frequent worshiper; its location was about 10 blocks from Place Congo. They walk up the steps and the door's Judas Eye swings open.

Joe Sent Me.

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