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Authors: Ishmael Reed

Reckless Eyeballing

BOOK: Reckless Eyeballing
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“This is a fifteen-round cat-and-dog fight—and O with what zip, verve and wounding laughter the fur doth fly.”

—Tom Robbins

Reckless Eyeballing
Reed creates a literary tornado, a book so irreverent and sweeping in its condemnations that it's certain to offend just about everyone.”

—Larry McCaffery,
Los Angeles Times

“Literature is lucky to have Ishmael Reed around. If only for the fun of it.”

—David Remnick,
Washington Post

“Reed is a master of the satirical novel, who takes no single group's side: as usual, he gets everybody. Engaging, disturbing, and really funny.”


“Mr. Reed's fiction bristles with parables, asides, voodoo rituals, razor blades and spikes enough to vex even the most competent plot summarizer.”

—Brent Staples,
New York Times Book Review

“There's something to offend and amuse everyone.”

—Library Journal



Writin' Is Fightin'

God Made Alaska for the Indians

Shrovetide in Old New Orleans

Airing Dirty Laundry


Japanese by Spring

The Terrible Threes

Reckless Eyeballing

The Terrible Twos

Flight to Canada

The Last Days of Louisiana Red

Mumbo Jumbo

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down

The Free-Lance Pallbearers


New and Collected Poems

A Secretary to the Spirits



Catechism of D Neoamerican Hoodoo Church


Mother Hubbard,
Hell Hath No Fury

The Ace Boons

Savage Wilds

Hubba City


The Reed Reader

The Before Columbus Foundation Fiction Anthology

The Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology


19 Necromancers from Now

Multi-America: Essays on Cultural War and Cultural Peace

by Ishmael Reed

Copyright © 1986 by Ishmael Reed

First Dalkey Archive edition, 2000

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Reed, Ishmael, 1938-

Reckless eyeballing / by Ishmael Reed. — 1st Dalkey Archive ed.

p. cm.

ISBN: 978-1-56478-237-3

1. Theater—Production and direction—Fiction. 2. Afro-American dramatists—Fiction. 3. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3568.E365 R4 2000



Partially funded by grants from the Lannan Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

Dalkey Archive Press

This novel is dedicated to Taj Mahal,
David Murray, Allen Toussaint, Steve
Swallow, Carla Bley, Carman Moore,
Lester Bowie, Kip Hanrahan, Scott
Marcus, and all of the others who made
the album
such a striking

What's the American dream?

A million blacks swimming back to Africa
with a Jew under each arm.

—Blanche Knott,
Truly Tasteless Jokes


At first the faces were a blur, but then he was able to identify the people who owned them. It was a painting he'd seen in a book about Salem, of the Puritan fathers solemnly condemning the witches, but in place of these patriarchs' faces were those of Tremonisha Smarts and Becky French. He couldn't hear what they were saying. They were moving their lips. They were mad. He was sitting in the dock where they kept the witches. Becky said something to a guard and the guard started toward him. The guard was about to take him away to the gallows, he'd gathered from the logic you get in dreams, but when the guard looked up from underneath the black Puritan's hat she wore, she wasn't a guard at all but his mother.

Becky and Tremonisha said cut it, cut it, and then the dream cut to a scene in the desert. He was cowering behind a huge cactus plant as a snakeskinned hand was about to cut off a rattler's head with a large, gleaming blade. He shot up in his bed. He was sweating. He looked next to him. The cover had been pulled aside and the woman he'd brought home from the evening of nonreferential poetry had left. Her subtle perfume still hung in the air. While he'd been making love to her he kept thinking of that ad for Jamaica that contained the line: “Come daydream in a private cove.” At one point, they were fucking so heavy that they began to warble involuntarily like birds. He'd had about three gin and tonics. This drink always brought out his romance. He got up and put on a robe.

He occupied a large studio in a run-down hotel in the west twenties of Manhattan. A huge poster of Bugs Bunny, carrot in hand, hung over the white fireplace. On a table near the stove and refrigerator lay a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken with only a half-eaten breast and a couple of French fries remaining. The packet of ketchup hadn't been opened. There was a quart bottle of Bombay Gin next to the box. He removed the sheets and blanket from the bed, converted it into a sofa, and added a couple of pillows. On the floor lay a copy of
World War II special issue, and a book about negritude poets. On another wall was a Hagler vs. Hearns fight poster. An IBM typewriter, a gift from his mother, lay on a table with more books and magazines. Two magazines with mammoth circulation carried cover photos of Ronald Reagan laying a wreath at Bitburg, a cemetery in Germany where a number of Nazis were buried. A record cover lay on the floor. The Kronos Quartet playing Thelonius Monk's “Crepuscule for Nellie” had played all night. They'd gone to sleep without removing it from the turntable. Underneath that record was one that featured Archie Shepp playing piano, Tadd Dameron's “If You Could See Me Now”; his version was rich and sweet. Most of the records in his collection were from the Caribbean, but he loved jazz, be-bop, and blues as well. They'd gone to a Clifford Jordan performance after the reading; he invited her up to his hotel room for “conversation.” He told her that she didn't talk like an American. He remembered that he had told her she looked like an Arawak Indian. That's why the opened map lay on the floor next to the subway tokens. He had brought out this map of the Caribbean to show her were the Arawaks were located. Sometimes when you're inspired you'll say anything, Ian thought. The dishes in the sink were giving off a sour odor. He fixed himself a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa after turning on the Sony 25-inch, also a gift from his mother.

His mother had second sight. Once when they were having an argument she had blurted out, Maybe I don't have such a grand education as you but there are some things that I know that your professors and all your high-class education don't know. She could know your business before you knew it. One of the reasons he came to New York from the South was to become a playwright. The other was to get away from his mother. Being the son of a mother who had what the people in Arkansas called “the Indian gift” was not easy. When he was a kid he couldn't get away with a thing. He had the vague feeling that even here she was noticing him, and knew what he was up to. The phone rang. Speaking of the devil.

“Are you all right, Ian? I had a bad dream about you. You aren't getting those women mad at you again, are you?” How did she know that? Ian wondered. “I'm one step ahead of you, Ma,” he said. “I've written a play that's guaranteed to please them. The women get all of the good parts and the best speeches. I've taken all the criticism they made of
to heart. You'd be proud of me. I'm—I'm going for it.”

“You what?”

“I'm trying to reform, Ma.”

“Don't be using that low-class vulgar Yankee talk on me, you hear? When you coming home? End this artistic foolishness. It's been six years since you left the South. I worry about you up there in New York.”

“I'm here for the limit, Ma. I'm going to make it as a playwright. I can't quit now. They're doing my play at the Lord Mountbatten. Anyway, I have to go to a meeting with my director. I'll call you later.”

“Did you get the check?”

“Yeah, thanks, Ma. And, look, this time I think I've got a hit. You won't have to send me any more cash.”

“That's what you said the last time. Before
. Don't get me started on that.”

“Goodbye, Ma.” He put the receiver down. He put on some jeans and a sweater.

There were real problems growing up with a clairvoyant mother. A woman who could look around comers and underneath the ground. He used to have nightmares of eyes with wings swooping down on him. Then the room would be full of women wearing white dresses and white head coverings. And then he would be at peace again as they knelt, rocked, and keened about his bed in a circle. He cleaned up the place, leaving the chore of putting away the gin until last. He took a swig of the gin, twisted the cap on, and put it on a shelf above the sink. Actually he preferred rum. He walked out to get the newspaper. What it carried on the front page woke him:
. He read the story. It said that a man dressed in a gray leather coat, matching beret, and dark glasses had entered Tremonisha Smarts' apartment two nights before, tied her up, and shaved all of her hair off. His twisted explanation: this is what the French Resistance did to those women who collaborated with the Nazis. The man had said that because of her “blood libel” of black men, she was doing the same thing. Collaborating with the enemies of black men. Ian blinked and read the story again.

BOOK: Reckless Eyeballing
11.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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