“NATE”–Now available at Amazon

#Nate #BlackWriterInBerlin

Those of you who always wanted to read this book can now get it at Amazon, on Kindle.

A new paperback version is also in the making.

I felt compelled to reissue Nate because the issues it deals with have not only NOT gone away, but have become even more pertinent today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. I put the finishing touches on this book in 1998, but the overall text was done by December of 1996. Nothing, as far as I can see, has really changed at all in the past two decades, unless it’s for the worse.

Everything that YouTube bloggers have been ranting and raving about these past few years–the gender wars between black men and women, so-called “alpha male” and “beta male” syndromes (particularly the latter, and especially concerning black men), coonery, thuggery, gang violence, the whole so-called “ratchet” mentality, etc. It also deals with the buffoonery that infests HBCUs, and I guess that my ridicule of black university life (represented in the novel by the now-notorious Coon State University) got underneath the skin of more than a few black readers of Nate–those who bothered to read it, that is.

Someone on AALBC.com who reviewed the book (who called himself “Thumper”) panned the book, calling it “used dishwater going down the drain.” Other black critics decried the lack of plot and took me to task for not creating “likable” characters. Ishmael Reed, Darryl Dickson-Carr, Darius James and many other writers and readers have thought otherwise.

Of course, there is no “plot” in the traditional, conventional sense. Nate is a picaresque novel. Most Black authors (American, that is) don’t write in a picaresque style, though it is the oldest and most traditional of novel styles. The style of writing was developed in Spain, with obvious roots in Arabic/Moorish literature. Don Quixote as well as Paul Beatty’s The Sellout are picaresque. Darius James’s Negrophobia is also a picaresque novel. It is a style of narrative in which the protagonist–usually a rascal like Don Quixote or a naif like Candide–stumbles from one ridiculous episode to the next; the story is generally told in a humorous, grotesque or satirical fashion.

Nate is all of these.

*

Originally published in 2006, this powerful, disturbing, award-winning novel chronicles the free-wheeling mishaps of one Nathan James Morris, a talented, ambitious middle-class black kid from Prince Georges County, Maryland. At 19, he has been expelled from Freedom College for alleged misconduct. He has few friends, aside from the parasitic Guy Sellers; and save for his scholarship’s chump change, even fewer dollars. Hurt, angry, and in desperate need of cash, he joins the Marines. “The road to manhood is paved with tanks and convoys!” he loudly boasts.

But he soon discovers that his own “road” has been paved with far more unpleasant things: whimsical officers, endless bomb attacks, disease, an unbelievable desolation. After the military, his “road” gets rockier….an unhappy reuniting with family, friends and fiancee….a kidnaping in Turkey ….violent confrontations with neo-Nazis and racist North Africans….his studies and miseries at C.S.U., America’s most prestigious black university, and his final days in a DC slum, as witness to (and participant in) the wild destruction of his older brother’s marriage, with a little help from the one “friend” who never seems to leave him be: Guy Sellers.

“Lewis is an original talent whose English cuts through a lot of contemporary BS like a butcher knife….It’s important that a powerful novel such as this surfaces at a time when the black lit. scene is being smothered by a lot of dumb frivolous chick-lit and down low scribbling. Anybody want to know where the kick-behind black male literary tradition of Himes, Wright, John A. Williams went? It’s alive and well in Berlin.”

–Ishmael Reed, author of JUICE! and Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: Return of the Nigger Breakers

“A brutally funny novel satirizing diverse subjects from American military misadventures, African-American cultural politics, to the chaos of contemporary American life. Like the protagonists of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the eponymous hero, Nathan James Morris, is a classic picaro, a naive everyman and would-be artist whose foolhardiness shows us more about American life and the human condition than would seem possible in one novel.”

–Darryl Dickson-Carr, Associate professor of English at Southern Methodist University and author of The Columbia Guide to Contemporary African American Fiction

#Nate #BlackWriterInBerlin

Announcement Concerning “Nate” Reissue

My award-winning novel of 2006, “Nate,” is still in the final stage of preparation. I’m designing a new cover for it (I don’t think the old one is adequate) and making corrections in the old text. And since I’m still struggling financially to keep afloat I have to bump the date of publication ahead to January 4, 2018.

Also note: I am preparing a series of essays to be published sometime in 2018 (an exact date has not been set) about the current state of affairs in Black America. It is not exactly a response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me because I have not read his book. From what I have heard about it, and from the few excerpts I have glimpsed of it, Coates’s book is not saying anything particularly groundbreaking. I have my own views on this subject, and as you know they are considerably less compromising than those of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

In the meantime here is another excerpt from “Nate” to whet your appetite.

********************

When I regained consciousness, I felt like I had been on a five-year acid trip. Life around me slowly took on some fearful shapes.

Well….they frightened me at first. Then they disgusted me: a big tent, a dirty floor, half-empty plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, scattered papers, a bunch of grimy backpacks and battered clothes, and, last but not least, the unwashed asses of six or seven men, all looking at me, and all hating me.

I wasn’t high; I knew I had woken up where I had always feared I would wake up: at the bottom of the world. Hadegouine, Numidia. The hot spot of America’s war against international terrorism. More Marines than gooks had lost their lives here. But we weren’t about to take their irons out of the fire. It was the eighties, Reagan was in power, America was back—and if anything, we had to prove it to the world. The 3lst Ostrogoths had trained for this mission for over ten months before they transferred me to the unit, all with a “recommendation” from that same vicious black bastard, whom I’d smirked at some months ago.

Of course, he was right; I didn’t so much as smile the whole time I was stuck there.

Shortly after my arrival, I tried to muster some sympathy from my fellow Marines by telling them what happened to me at Fort Jejune. They merely laughed in my face. Every night from then on, they joked about it in the cruelest way, usually where I could hear them. They sounded like obnoxious little schoolgirls.

We passed a number of months just sitting there, in the desert, talking about nothing—or, rather, THEY talked to EACH OTHER. Not to me. After several months drilling with them I let them know just what the fuck I felt about them, and they had grown as suspicious of me as the last unit had. Some actually thought I was insane. Well, I thought, at least that’s an improvement over the old situation: they may hate me, but at least they fear me. I can handle that.

Everybody was scared; they all knew that Death was at the lining of their assholes. The Royal Numidian Army (of King Ahmed) had been assigned to do our dirty work, but they were the most inept, undisciplined fools anyone had ever seen. And the Pakistanis working alongside them had their hands tied behind their backs. When our officers heard this, they exploded in rages that filtered down the ranks from general to major to lieutenant to sergeant to corporals to sorry, smelly us. All trust had broken down on all sides; all enthusiasm was dead. (Meanwhile, the other side, what with their shells and bullets growing louder and louder and popping and whizzing and kA-blooming through the night, seemed to have an infinite supply of ammo to burn. They made it impossible for you to sleep. I sat and waited and hopelessly twiddled my thumbs and clattered my teeth as the hours wound down.)

I heard we were headed for Adjrar, to indulge in a little “light guerrilla warfare,” as soon as the other units (U.S. and U.N.) cleared the way for us. We had a whole load of goodies and treats and tricks piled into trucks we planned to give the gooks to keep them happy. I peeped into one of these trucks just as they finished loading it; it was filled with nothing but—refuse. Whatever happened to the food? “They got enough Purina cat-chow, and besides, we ran out,” one soldier explained to me. “They shoot at us whether we feed them or not, no matter what side they’re on….it’s crazy, isn’t it?”

He was one of the few soldiers who even bothered to talk to me, and I didn’t even know his full name for several months. In fact I still didn’t know half my company’s names, no matter how often I’d heard them repeated, no matter how often I’d seen their arrogant, childish, grimy faces.

The worst of my fears came true after two absolutely sleepless nights, hearing the increasing chaos and contemplating my own death. The sergeant came in before five o’clock, hysterically whipping our asses to the strains of “Reville”. Sergeant Sanders: A big, loud, ugly ape from Edgeville, South Carolina by way of Chicago and Sing Sing, six foot five and medium-to-dark complexioned, with eyes as hard and cold as diamonds. “Up!” he screamed, “up! Up! Up! Up! Up! Get your asses the fuck up! Ten-shun! Ten-shun! Camel-coon time!—”

After standing up like robots, during which time he inspected the human meat to be roasted by the rebels (or “Camel-coons,” as we had to call them, or get thrown in the stockade and make penis-necklaces for the general’s wives), we got into uniform. We had to be quick, because because because because; we didn’t even have time to wash our asses, so we all smelled. I got into uniform with deathly, quaking motions, as if I was putting on my funeral suit, and preparing to step into a casket. I already saw myself dying, bleeding and totally helpless on some God-forsaken road….like the one we were eventually forced down, unpaved, muddy, filled with deep craters and oceans of quicksand. I barely knew where anything was, it was so dark; I seemed to be surrounded, yet utterly, despicably alone. Dead tired, I made my way with them as the sun began to break through the darkness; the only thing that kept me awake was the sound of enemy gunfire. It terrified me, as did the endless roar of the tanks—but after a few hours of the unnerving monotony, I ignored everything but the gunshots.

They had two kinds of tanks—brown for the Marines, and for the U.N., the white kind, with bold, black lettering on the sides. Their drivers were having a ball, knocking over palm trees and plowing through oases and huge, dark sand drifts that were as long and deep as canyons.  Something was wrong. I was sitting in one of these vehicles—a convoy called the “Black Bastard”—when I heard some guys groaning in disgust. The vehicles suddenly stopped, and some soldiers leaped out to see what was wrong. My body pulsed with anticipatory fear. When I finally got out of the convoy myself and saw what it was, I was so shocked, I nearly went blind. Some youth had been crushed flat under a tank. The soldiers said “rebels” did it, but they said it in such a strange way, so casual, and yet so embarrassed, I immediately knew they were lying. How on earth could anyone be so cold? Were these guys just so shocked that they had to laugh, or was this all a grandiose hallucination, brought on by my hunger and exhaustion? I didn’t want to know.

The hours drummed cheerlessly on. The further we made it down the road, the more corpses began showing up. They were not our victims; they were obviously those of the rebel army, but I was revolted nonetheless. Soon I was seeing so many of these ugly, gummy, blasted up things in the road that my mind, long accustomed to nude girls, now kept on relaying back to me faces half-shot away, bodies with no heads, no arms, no legs, sometimes fully intact with heads looking every which way, eyes opened, but mouth cracked as if in stupor….

Peeping through the mud brick walls of the villages, gathered about the doorways of their crumbling souks, were Numidian peasants. They watched us pass along the battered road beneath them. They saw us kicking ourselves in our own asses, our officers routinely abusing us, thrashing us, spitting on us, even threatening to kill us—and from what I could see, they were quite amused. They went about their business while we tried to impress them with our helicopters, airplanes, tanks, and our posturing, smelly asses, flexing muscles but really dying of the heat and exhaustion and aching feet and the hordes of mosquitoes which were so voracious that sometimes, if you listened carefully, the air sang with their shrieking wings.

The Numidians said nothing. After awhile, they didn’t even look our way; I guess they were thinking, “They all look alike to me”….

It was a real revelation. On T.V. they always seemed to be cheering at the sight of U.S. soldiers; we always saw swarms of them fighting, clawing each other savagely for food that these big-hearted, generous Americans had brought them. But the only thing I saw were these peasants just indifferently passing through—even with Marines stopping them, questioning them, searching them with hands raised. It was increasingly clear to me that we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing; it was also obvious that, even though no blood had been shed on our part, the Numidians had won the war. Just look at our outfit! Everybody hated each other—the honkies hated the niggers, who hated the spics, who hated both niggers and honkies, themselves included, but the Numidians?—They may have been frequently hungry, their homes non-existent, they may have been fighting each other and the ruthless Touraegs and Bedouin slave-runners and hash gangsters from the deserts, but they were working in one breath, in ways that we super-individualists couldn’t even do under pain of death. (Or, rather, they—I don’t even know what I mean when I say when I say “we,” because it wasn’t my war.)

The unit kept on listlessly marching through, till I could see the town for myself—or what was left of it, because the place was nothing more than a series of smoldering shells with their walls standing oddly erect, supported by seemingly nothing at all. Everything was gray and black, ashen earthenware—the colors of an air raid’s aftermath. The only things left to show that humans had lived here were a few pathetic shreds of clothing scattered about, along with some shards of pottery—but I didn’t look too hard. I didn’t want to see any more dead bodies. So we passed on to Ben-Ounif….

Ben-Ounif fascinated me. Not much had happened to this town, except that a bomb had landed in the local mosque and hadn’t exploded. The buildings looked odd, like enormous, bright-red beehives. Hemming this little molten town in was a huge, oblong, terra-cotta wall with about five or six openings at either end. Coming out of them, occasionally, were women, children and elders, in white turbans and long, flowing colorful robes loosely draped about their bodies. As I was passing idly up the road, I saw one of the peasants say something to another. That other peasant rushed back inside one of the odd-looking beehives for a few seconds and soon, very timidly, some of the fellaheen began gathering about the openings of the wall to watch us. Some climbed up on the wall, mostly children, who seemed to be making faces at us rather than cheering us on.

Had it not been for the pebbles some kids pitched at our procession, perhaps we would have never stopped. Perhaps: I don’t know. I understood that the guy leading our battalion, Lieutenant Malthusiano, was preoccupied with other things. He spent an inordinate amount of time inside his tank. And what with those strange groans that often came from it, one had to wonder about him. Not that the soldiers gave a damn. Most of them were already stoned out of their minds….

Meanwhile, the longer we paused, the more fellaheen (peasants) began gathering on the road.

Jugs of water balanced on their heads, clutching sticks, with bulging bellies and sealed lips and sullen stares, they faced our company. Their numbers quickly mushroomed. More people got up on the wall; they started nose-thumbing, just the way we Americans do. Once “Tank”—that’s what we called the lieutenant—saw the hold-up, he zipped up his pants and got out of the tank. He had very black curly hair that hadn’t been cut for weeks. He had a hooked nose, Dravidian mouth, thick eyebrows, and sunken eyes; olive-complexioned to begin with, his being in the sun so long made him look almost African. But, appearances notwithstanding, he spoke with a strange redneck drawl, didn’t like blacks, had a rebel flag tattooed to his left arm and an iron cross to his right—‘nuff said.

“Tank” insists he isn’t scared of all these hundreds of peasants. Of course not. War isn’t even on his mind. Case in point: every now and then, some graceful, lean, hard fellaha passes lazily through his field of vision, talking loudly in harsh, guttural, South Numidian dialect….“Tank” absentmindedly licks his lips.

“You know she wants it, they all do,” he barks, watching one girl’s arrogant buttocks mock him and the rest of us through a bright pink robe….“They’re whores, I can feel it. They’re not even Christians! Did y’all hear about it? No? Welllll….down here they don’t believe in all that hocus-pocus WE believe about not havin’ sex. Hell, no! This is a different world, folks….A different culture, so while we’re here we can do a little enjoyin’ of ourselves! Why not?

“You know something, boys,” he adds, louder, in his horrible New Orleans accent—he takes his hand off his crotch and turns to us….“You know something? With no men here, you’ll get so much pussy you’ll fuckin’ hate it. You’ll hate the shit. I ain’t lyin’, kid. Stick around. But in the meantime, stay on your goddamn guard, ‘cause these motherfuckers could hava lotta grenades up their fuckin’ robes.”

He sees another one pass, he starts to get hard. Unbeknownst to him, a banner, displayed by two young women gathered in the road and written in very crude French, read: “DON’T KIL NUMIDIAN PEPLE, WE LOV YU AMRICANS”. I didn’t know that until the funny-looking guy who’d spoken to me earlier mentioned it to somebody behind me. The other somebody sucked his teeth and laughed. “Shit,” “Tank” went on, he being what he was….“Who needs R & R with babes like this around? See….what I usually do is bribe ‘em. Yup. Throw ‘em a pair of Twinkies or something—they’ll eat fuckin’ anything….They’re likea buncha goddamn dogs. Then you ask for what you want—an’ you’ll get it. Trust me. Sometimes all you gotta do is hold your hand out….”

“Oh, Jesus,” snorted the funny-looking guy, “I don’t believe this.”

More and more villagers gathered up on the road. I noticed that they were actually sitting in front of the tanks, strategically placing their bodies in such a way that completely obstructed our movement. Sergeant Sanders popped his head out of his convoy and cursed. He could do nothing, because Malthusian was too busy trying to see what he could see through a small hole in the wall…. “Yeah? No, Sanders, don’t do anything yet, y’all keep cool, keep cool….”

“They got us completely blocked, lieutenant. Now what the fuck we gon’ do?”

“Lissen, motherfucker,” he casually snarled, still peeping….“I’M the one in charge of shit around here, so you just fuckin’—ouch—GODDAMMIT!!

And then this filthy beige covered jeep drives up towards us. The jeep stops. It’s Colonel Dachausky. We all salute the master when he opens his door, steps out and strides over to the scene, frowning, looking strangely befuddled. Tank is raving about the blood running from his eye. The whole left side of his face is red with blood; you can’t tell whether or not they really did poke his eye out, but the colonel…. “Lieutenant, what the hell’s all this?”

“I, I, uh, I dunno, sir—ouuuuuuuch!! I can’t see! My eye! My eye! Those nigger motherfuckers poked out my eye!—”

“This is crazy,” the colonel drooled, watching all of them in his haze….“Oh, I see what the hell’s the hold-up. You got all these goddamn gooks sitting every which way all over your mother-freakin’ convoys an’ tanks. Lieutenant, get the goddamn gooks off the tanks an’ let’s get movin’, shall we?”

“But I’m wounded! I’m wounded! I can’t—I don’t even know if I gotta eye anymore!” Tank cried.

“Well, you got one goddamn eye,” the Colonel snorted, coldly watching Tank cry bloody tears….“That’s good enough to keep. See, you’re gonna haveta use some damn diplomacy, lieutenant. Flex your brains….You know, if you have ‘em! Move ‘em with your bare hands! C’mon! What the hell’d they put you out here for, anyway?”

“Oh, God,” he sobbed….“Where’s a doctor when you need one? Medic! Medic! Medic!! I can’t see out my eye!!—”

Fuck your goddamn eye!” the Colonel suddenly screamed, up in his face—then snatched his face away and strode casually back to the jeep. He picked up his walkie-talkie and mumbled some shit I couldn’t hear, and then turned right around and sped back the other way clumsily through heaps of dirt, sand and battered road. Tank turned livid. He fumed, jerked his head around, as the blood dripped from his chin. He wiped it away, gagged, and strode over to Sanders in the convoy directly behind the Black Bastard and shrieked, “Fuck it! Fuck it! Let’s do it! Let’s kill these motherfuckers!” he shouts, trying to rile us up….“Fuck diplomacy!! Sanders, get ‘em ready—they’re gonna be fryin’ some gook ass tonight if I can help it. You see all these gooks blockin’ the road here? Run ‘em over! Kill ‘em! They’ve just insulted an American! How’d YOU like it if some goddamn nigger poked you in the eye with a stick? Huh?”

“I can’t even answer that,” the funny-looking guy snorted out loud in back of me; he sounded like a white beach bum, almost. “Hey, man,” he said, nudging me, “you think he heard what I said?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered, “what the hell are we supposed to be doing now, anyway?”

“You mean in this war?”

“No, just right now, with all these women and children out there. What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

“I have no fuckin’ idea, man,” he replied, shaking his head. “No idea.”

The both of us got down off the top of the “Black Bastard” and began to amble around as we talked. I finally learned his name: Marv Manchley, of Cincinnati. Like me, he was Private First Class, and, as it turned out, he despised the war. He admitted he only came into the service because he “needed the eggs”. He never cut his hair, and in fact was trying to make dreadlocks out of them. He wore rectangular-shaped spectacles perched at the end of his nose; he actually looked very much like a North Numidian with his Semitic features, except he was so brown-skinned. I joshed to him that if he kept on growing his hair like that, they would mistake him and have him killed. “Oh, no,” he snorted, “no way. I never take my uniform off, I just wouldn’t put myself in the position of being killed by these motherfuckers. That why you joined, too?”

“Me?”

“Yeah, ‘cause you don’t look like the Marine type at all,” he said. Tell me about it, I thought. “I kept on wondering why the fuck you were in this outfit if you couldn’t get along with anyone. But I’d watch it if I were you. Just about everybody here hates your fuckin’ guts, man.”

“Oh, I could tell,” I murmured, looking around at everybody standing about, waiting for their commanders to give them the signal to push the people away from the tanks. I mentioned something to Marv about it.  “I think we should go back,” he said, suddenly, “bad vibes, man.”

Then I asked, worried, “we’re not authorized to kill these people if it comes down to it, are we?”

“Oh, yeah, we are,” Marv blurted out, to my horror…. “Not that I’m doin’ it. I’m above that shit, man, that’s not me….”

“But what if they told you to?”

“I wouldn’t do it. I’d just push them, you know, to the side. But maybe they’ll give up an’ go home, looks like they’re tiring out—”

“But how can we just kill them?” I kept on asking, idiotically. “They’re not the rebels!”

“Well, they’re in the way,” Marv murmured, “that’s all I gotta say. But with that ‘Tank’ guy around, man—you know something’s gotta give. ‘Tank’ thinks he’s still in his fuckin’ New Orleans police uniform an’ shit. Or L.A.—wherever the fuck he was, I dunno. All I know is, you can expect just about anything from that motherfucker.”

“Even the kids?”

Sergeant Sanders saw us loitering about and angrily strode over towards us. I didn’t know what the fuck was his problem, for he began violently lunging out at me, screaming, “shut the fuck up, retard! Git your ass over here an’ line up with da restuf ‘em! C’mon! Get—” He pushes Marv roughly on the back. “You, too, hippie nigger! Get your goddamn asses in line or else!”

By this time, the scene was crazy. Marines would carefully remove the Arabs from underneath the tanks and shove them to the side of the road, but for every Arab they removed, another one quickly took his place. It happened, repeatedly, until Tank literally howled with rage. Major Lewison tried to reason with Tank….there was nothing else to be done, they had us swamped. Using “force” would send the wrong message to these people. But whatever Lewison thought about the effectiveness of non-violence, it most certainly wasn’t working for us. Whenever we got out the convoys to get them off the road, they would climb inside the vehicles and fuck around. One even swiped the keys to two jeeps; another expertly cut the wires to a humvee and rendered it worthless. Indeed, they were so obnoxious that I couldn’t be sure whom to hate or who to side with—they, or these asshole Marines….

Dachausky was hardly ever seen by any of us. Still, we already knew he was at the end of his rope. He really didn’t care anymore; it was as if he’d given up all hope of ever keeping this operation under wraps so the folks back home could think of this as being nothing, just a football game. He kept little round mirror shades over his eyes as he rode around in his jeep, making sure everything was in order, like the general manager of a restaurant dutifully inspecting his dishwashers and busboys. The sounds of occasional rockets and mortar in the distance didn’t faze this hardened veteran of the jungles of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and the Dominican Republic; his expertise in dealing with unruly Ay-rabs in Beirut was the prime reason why he was picked to oversee this operation. This time, Dachausky came back to say he’d summoned some “help”. The “help” hurriedly arrived in an outdated green U.S. Army jeep, a tall, gaping, sickly-looking, gangly Northerner who reputedly spoke six languages and worked for King Ahmed’s hated intelligence department. His brilliant off-white silk djellaba was unbearably bright in the harsh African mid-day sun. He cocked his maroon fez on properly and stumbled out of his jeep into the dust, a comical fool. Marv and I mocked him as he was handed a megaphone.

Huge explosions rocked the earth beneath our boots.

More reinforcements quickly arrived, in strange wide helicopters that flapped right down a few yards away from us, their propellers blowing sand and grit up into our faces and hair and eyes.  I thought they were coming to take us to Adjrar so we could stop all this stupid-ass marching and bear wrestling, but as it happened, dozens of khaki-clad, pith-helmeted and very well-strapped soldiers rolled off them. I was surprised to find that most of them were coal-black. Marv told me it was the brutal 9th Battalion. The 9th Battalion got themselves together and began to take their positions, while the peasants, immediately catching sight of the helicopters, grew even more obstinate and swelled their numbers to what seemed like a thousand or more. The sickly-looking Arab came forward and directly faced the bidonville. With a surprisingly firm, almost vicious voice, he pleaded for the villagers to remove themselves. The fellaheen merely jeered and threw stones….I sucked in my breath watching the verbal see-sawing between the sickly man and the village elders; the way they were arguing so, it appeared an explosion was imminent. But I was not familiar with the Arab-African temperament and their joy of having a great argument over nothing, for I was puzzled to see how quickly their tempers flared and died. And that was that.

The elders, adjusting their turbans and flinging their robes about their shoulders, got their people out of the road. The sickly man had done it. We al let out our war cries of relief and reassembled our unit. I was struggling back on top of the tank when I saw three jokers perched on the terra-cotta wall. One of them nudged the other, and picked up a rock and threw it at Tank’s helmet. Tank jerked around with that one wild eye; he bit his lip….

“Who threw that?” he hissed.

Corporal Jerome Gates pointed to the wall where the three jokers had once been but were now gone. Instead, Tank saw a ten-year-old boy who wasn’t on the wall. He roughly seized the boy’s arm while the other Numidians were dispersing. He gave the boy a loud slap in the face with an open palm. When one of the Arabs looked, another Arab looked, and soon all were watching when Tank pushed the boy back over the wall. They all thought he was crazy….

“They can talk if they like,” he panted, his face disfigured by the blood-soaked bandage….“‘Cause the first punk who throws another rock is fuckin’ fried meat.” Then he cuts his eye at the dispersing Numidians. Two more rocks shot out the breaches in the wall and knock him upside his head again. Marv and I were suddenly overtaken with wild, uncontrollable laughter. I clutched my stomach and fell to the ground, looking about to see if Sanders was looking….instead, I saw Tank with his head raised just far enough for him to bark:

“Okay, let ‘er rip.”

I didn’t think he was serious, but when I saw those guns suddenly being raised at the wall, I saw there was no stopping it. It sounded at first like millions of extremely loud, malfunctioning lawnmowers. The blast of guns was deafening; the stench of smoke and grit hit my nostrils; the air was filled with screams. One by one, their heads shattered in gobs of grey and pink and red; their arms, intestines, livers, kidneys, lungs spattered the wall like sludge from a sewer. My head felt like I’d been in a disco for six hours….And then I looked back, at the hands pulling the triggers, and how those hands didn’t twitch once; not a one hesitated to grind ‘em all down to shit. And then the dust cleared, and there they were, all over the ground, all over the walls, about a hundred of them, men, women and children, elderly, dead or dying.

It didn’t even take ten minutes.

*

            When it was all over, I stood guard to make sure Bedouin thieves didn’t swipe the bodies to sell them on the black market to French universities. All along I was completely flabbergasted. Did they really have to kill all of them? What was the point in all that? I thought I was dreaming, that maybe it was a horrible coda to the joke I shared with Marv. Until I began handling the corpses. One guy’s brains slid out of an eggshell of a head that had its face intact. I dropped the body, stumbled blindly over to the “black bastard” and heaved up what seemed like everything I had ever eaten. I couldn’t go through with this shit; I had to run off. This was just totally crazy….

Ben-Ounif was in ruins; it looked like a big pile of dried clay chunks. And within them were these few people, limping, bleeding, pulling themselves up from the wreckage to face “reality”—the machine guns. The Marines laughed, or cracked jokes, or vomited, turning over bodies, cutting off the left ear of dozens of shattered heads. Those men who were still alive were being herded onto military trucks; once a name was read off a roll by an Arab soldier, the “guilty” party moved, his hands tied with plastic like a garbage bag, across the killing fields, where the Arab assistants rudely pushed him in. The women and children were forced onto a bus—the refugee bus. They will go to Adjrar, where they will forget about their village, and live in the “real world” where, deep down in the filthy basements and fetid tent cities made of plastic and swimming with garbage and excrement, they will become animals—just like the rest of us.

Excerpt from “Nate,” Back House Books, 2006.

American Book Award-winner “NATE” Being Reissued in November, 2017–on Kindle

From Ishmael Reed: “I enjoyed reading NATE so much that I read scenes to anyone within hearing distance. P. Lewis is an original talent whose English cuts through a lot of contemporary BS like a butcher knife. His characters don’t give a flying F- whether you feel for them or not. It’s important that a powerful novel such as this surfaces at a time when the black lit. scene is being smothered by a lot of dumb frivolous chick-lit and down low scribbling. Anybody want to know where the kick-behind black male literary tradition of Himes, Wright, John A. Williams went? It’s alive and well in Berlin.”  

From Darryl Dickson-Carr: “A brutally funny novel satirizing diverse subjects from American military misadventures, African-American cultural politics, to the chaos of contemporary American life. Like the protagonists of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the eponymous hero, Nathan James Morris, is a classic picaro, a naive everyman and would-be artist whose foolhardiness shows us more about American life and the human condition than would seem possible in one novel.”

 

My second novel, Nate, won an American Book Award in 2006. A lot of people have been asking about this novel and how they can get their hands on it. I’m putting out an e-book of it in November, and the following year a CreateSpace version will be available on Amazon. (That’s the best I can do right now.)

Also keep an eye out for my third novel, Berlin Asylum, in the Spring of 2018. The both of them will certainly raise eyebrows. 

So for a little taste of the novel which rubbed black middle class sensibilities the wrong way, read below…

_____________________________

Chapter Thirteen

Imagine yourself entering Robeson Hall, early in the morning, hungry, exhausted, unwashed, your brain inundated by everyone’s wild screams. Look into their faces as you pass: there’s your story. They make you reach for your revolver. The coeds are everywhere, with plenty of time on their hands and nothing to do except sit on the stairs or slump against the walls and around the soda machine or filling up the lounges and the bathrooms, eating, drinking, playing their radios; they look so charming and luscious, like JET centerfolds—you’d love to have them dangling from the end of your dick—until they open their mouths, roll their eyes, and look at you. They BREATHE hostility and contempt. It oozes like sweat from every pore of their over pampered skins.

They look even more brutal than the 34th Vandal’s worst MP’s. They look ever more mercenary, more cold-blooded, more hostile, and often, they even strike you with terror. I listen to them speak; it sounds so affected, so childish, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Absolutely superficial. But they seem contented enough with life—so whenever I see one of those cute, cuddly coeds coming up my way as I pass through the lobby to see my name on the Dean’s List—after licking asses and not getting my due for it—I deliberately let the door fly into their face. Some of them are scared of me; others resolutely hostile, though I haven’t been attacked—not yet. “Dirty black-ass motherfucker!” one cute coed clucked when I hurled the door in her face.

I shrugged. Why bother with manners if it doesn’t help?

I’ve got fifteen minutes; no assignment is due in Professor Spade’s class, so I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time here. I hadn’t been doing any homework for a week, anyway, I couldn’t concentrate. I could always do my artwork in the studios, but I had to be careful lest one of the students broke in and stole my work and fixed his or her name to it—something that happened all the time. And Leopold Spade—I finally admitted to myself, with some deliberation, that I genuinely hated him. He is one of the few people I’ve ever truly despised. I didn’t want to admit this at first; I wanted to accept his arrogance for something other than just crude hostility. Besides, I had heard from so many people that Spade really admired my work and “had nothing but praise for it”, so I couldn’t figure out why he was being so cool and nonchalant. But I was still young; I had a lot to learn about C.S.U. art instructors.

Designers, without exception, are assholes, sociopaths, egomaniacs and insufferable windbags. And there is no design teacher without a record-book full of failures and withdrawals and these sudden, strange disappearances (“incompletes”) so common amongst Coon State art students. Whenever Spade shows up in class or up the hall, every one of the freshmen groans in disgust as he whistles his self-satisfied, dreaded ass off.  Worse still, he shakes down every cunt in the classroom. At the end of each class (like at the end of his dick) all the girls hover around him like mosquitoes, chirping and cooing lasciviously: they being women, he can pass them with an “A” if he can fuck them. That’s how he shakes them down, the bastard. But he occupies an enviable and almost eminent position in the local art community. He’s gracious, so I’m told; he’s helped many a career, he’s so fucking concerned about “his people”, a man of the streets, a block boy bathing in a tub of champagne. All of which doesn’t explain why he refuses to give me an “A” or “B”, no matter how much time and effort I put into all the work I dish out to him.

Fortunately, there was a godsend seated at the far end of the classroom. I remembered her face very well—her chestnut-colored hair, long sexy legs, almond eyes, puckering lips, slender build did not escape my memory. It was Maya Arschloch. The one Marcus disdained because he said she had a “svelte” ass. At first, I was highly suspicious—I thought she was some agent sent by the consulate to have me jugged. But when I broke the ice with her I found she knew nothing of my desertion. Solid, I thought. The girl had quit the goddamn consulate two days after I called up sick.

“I was wondering why you never came back,” she said, sipping a soda through a straw. “Hell, I decided to take off myself. The nerve of you guys working there, talking all that trash about us! Especially you, Nathan.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you,” she said, “Because you’re so much better than the scum who worked there!”

“Safiya and Khalida were scum, too, you know,” I insisted.

“Yeah, but MARCUS?! I mean—damn! He was impossible. And such a fucking racist, it was incredible. He was always looking through my things—I don’t know why, unless he was looking for nude pictures or some shit. Oh, my God, Nathan,—look.”

“Where?”

I followed her finger to the man seated two rows away from us, three seats from the wall in back; his bespectacled face was filled with bruises, his hair uncut, his sport coat scuffed. “That’s onea my old boyfriends,” she told me— “you think all that stuff about him is true?”

“What stuff?”

“Didn’t you hear the rumor that he’s a male whore, and he supposedly sucks people off for forty dollars a pop? That’s—Sellers! Guy Sellers!” She gasps…. “Oh my God!”

I swear I felt my hair stand on end when she said that. But, thanks to Christ, that was NOT Guy Sellers—the man just looked very similar, that’s all. He was medium-to-dark, like Guy was; his eyes were full and round like his but, thankfully, they were grey. Never minding this strange Guy impersonator, however: some voice just outside the classroom provoked an even greater feeling of dread: Professor Spade. Guy, after all, was just a bad memory; this motherfucker was real. And he never looked more ominous when he strode into the classroom.

We all quickly fell silent.

Spade was a dark-skinned, balding man who wore round mirror shades. He had an angular face with a thick nose and a smug, tight mouth. He looked like a fucking murderer. I bade hello to him, just to say something, maybe to get on whatever good side I still thought he possessed….but Spade said not a word. He drew up his shades, took them off, and then briefly landed his eyes on me.

He stood there looking at me in a very unpleasant way. It was a strange look of disdain, the kind of look I once found in the eyes of some hateful corporal. Whatever the hell was eating him up, I knew I had nothing to do with it.

“Someone’s been smoking in here,” he said, coldly. “Was it you, Mister Lomax?”

“No,” spits the battered-faced nerd from the rear in a muffled, weak, self-conscious voice.

“Excuse me, I asked you a question, so I’d like for you to answer it, please,” he then snorts, pompously.

“I said  NO,”  Mister Lomax snorts in anger, “I didn’t smoke in here. I don’t smoke, sir. You know I don’t!”

“No, Mister Lomax, I DON’T know that you don’t smoke, thank you—for your information. You know,” he adds, icily, “you should learn to show me some respect when you walk in here next time.”

Spade takes out his stool and sits on his bony ass while Mr. Lomax looks at him perplexedly. Today the bastard is in a strange rage, and he himself admits to it. He pompously sniffs the air, and looks at me again. Uh oh. I know what he’s going to do, what he’s going to say. I’ve heard it for the past year already.

“So, Mister Morris,” he continues, laying his things out on the table, “it seems you finally decided to come to class again and take this course for a third time?”

“Yeah,” I said, “I need to. That’s the only reason why.”

“You WHAT?!” he suddenly spat, jerking his head up so vehemently it frightened even me. “Well, I….I said—”

“You said you needed credits, is that right? That’s what I THOUGHT I heard you say! Is that right?”

Everyone was looking at him and I, scratching their heads….

“Yes, I said that,” I stammered, looking into his hard eyes, “I….need them to pass. To graduate.”

The students, Maya included, found my mumbling and fumbling very funny. Spade took his goddamn eyes off me for once, and scanned the class with them. “You must be joking,” he suddenly said. “Hand in your assignment, Mister Morris. I want to see what you’ve done that makes you think you’re so damn tough.”

I looked askance at him. “I didn’t say—”

“Hand in your assignment, Mister Morris,” he snapped. “NOW.”

I dug it out of my bag and made it over to his table, almost feeling as if I hadn’t really left the military. Spade looked at it, over and over, up and down; Maya was sulking in a corner flashing nervous grins; Mister Lomax was looking up at the ceiling, and then at me—he put his finger to his head and “fired.” I know, my eyes tell him, you don’t have to tell me a thing.

“Morris,” Spade shot, “tell me, what’s so damn great about this thing? This stinks!”

He hurls it on the table.

“This is slop, Nathaniel Morris. SLOP. What makes you think you can say what you said an’ just—you know….”

“Say about what?”

“You know what I mean, Mister Morris,” he shot back.

“I think you’re nuts,” I mumbled out loud.

Spade looked up at me once again. “I know I didn’t hear Mr. Morris say what I thought because if he did, he’s not going to find being in this class a very pleasant experience at allllllll.” He cocks his head. “Let me clarify myself, Mister Morris. You—I find you very disrespectful to all the people in this art department. VERY disrespectful.”

“You told Lomax the same thing,” I grumbled.

“I’m not talking about Carl, sir, I’m talking about YOU.”

“But what the hell did I do?”

Spade took a deep breath, shook his head, and sat down. He flopped some papers down on his table; he looked over them for a long time. I couldn’t figure out what his damn problem was myself. “Morris, this is a D-minus,” he snaps, tacking a sheet of paper onto my assignment—the one I’d slaved on all night, the one I had swimming in my head for so long I couldn’t remember. Then all the other students were told to turn theirs in. I was aghast to note that theirs was shit compared to what I’d done.

“Morris,” he begins, as the students stack up their shit in front of him, “Mister Morris. Lissen to me. One month has already passed in this class, and your grades right now are so bad, I don’t even know why you are even bothering to hang around. I doubt very seriously if you can accumulate enough A’s to pass this course with a ‘D’. Maybe, if you would stop clowning around, get serious, an’ show me work comparable to what I’ve seen you do, then, maybe, we’ll see about you getting passing grades. I want to see you in this class. I am NOT going to let you slide, mister—”

“I did my work just like anyone else in here, I don’t know why YOU’RE pissed, unless you personally dislike the damn thing. Or,” I said, jerking my brow up at him, “maybe it’s something else.”

“Oh? Like—”

“I don’t know,” I snorted, “I just think you have a problem with me being in your class. But that’s tough. I gotta right to take this class like anyone else.”

“You know, you really didn’t have to come to class, you coulda stayed home—”

“But I chose to! What the hell’s the matter with that, anyway?”

“Nate, you listen, and listen hard. Do you REALLY want to learn something from us, or do you just want to disturb us again?”

“Disturb—?”

“Yes! Disturb. You disturb this class by coming in late, that’s disturbing as hell, Nate.”

“I wasn’t late this time.”

“Listen, man. Don’t you even care if you graduate or not? What’s the reason for all the clowning around? The bad assignments? What?”

“I’ve been doing my very best,” I insisted.

“I asked you a question,” he shot back—“What is the reason for it?”

“But you come in late, and others do, too! Why single me out?”

“Me?” Spade spat, pointing arrogantly to himself, eyebrows raised, half-smiling. “What about me? I’m not talking about ME, Mister Nate. I’M talking about YOU.  What is it now? Too much fun? Alcohol? Drugs?….Sex? Don’t tell me….it’s the sex, isn’t it?”

I try to keep from hurling something into his face—a bottle on the floor, a thick piece of wood, a stray tire-iron, a balled-up piece of paper. I feel his hatred building up in my bones like poisonous phosphates. The guy starts getting red underneath his ebony tint; my stomach tightens. Every week it’s the same old dreary shit. Spade glares at me one more time and then snarls “get out”. Just like that. “Mister Nathaniel Morris,” he says, “please leave this classroom immediately, and come see me after class.”

“I didn’t do anything,” I protested.

“Now,” he snapped.

Joe and Jacky Cooke appear just as I’m making it out the gate, past the entrance where the cars come in. Two of my “good friends,” whom I’ve known for about a year. One of them trim and smartly casual, the other a big, fat, tall behemoth dressed in shabby T-shirt and jeans. Of course, Jacky is the monster, the toughie, who was so hurt by Coon State’s rejection of him that he went mad, grabbed his soprano sax—and bopped his music instructor in the head with it. Joe, on the other hand, is just a nice guy who amuses himself observing my social gaucherie. Remember him? He was the schmuck I encountered a couple years ago when I was living in Adams-Morgan. Along with him comes Carl Lomax, bemoaning his own plight at C.S.U. and pathetic as usual. Joe calls out to me while I’m down on Georgia Avenue, and, as is the custom, I snub Carl and face Joe. Carl angrily walks away.

I’m sorry, but that’s just the way things are. I have a bad enough reputation as it is without Carl buzzing around me like a fruit-fly.

“Hey, Nate,” Joe says, once he approaches, “Where you headed?”

“Nowhere special,” I say, still angry, still hearing Spade’s sneers in my head. “I guess I’ll go to a museum or something.”

Jacky frowned. “A museum?” He raised his brows. “Oh, I get it! Wanna talk to somea those artsy-fartsy honeys up in there, huh?”

“It wasn’t even on my mind,” I said. And that was no lie. “Actually, I got hooked up with this one girl in class, she’s pretty hot.”

“I don’t believe that shit,” Jacky shot. “Really?” Joe added, right about the same time. “Joe, man, he’s just sayin’ that shit to impress his friends! Ar-hargh-har-ar! You can’t talk to these snotty-ass hoes up here, ‘cause all they want is either some fuckin’ pimp or a white dude—either which, they certainly don’t want you, Nate!”

“That’s not true, I knew this girl from Numidia, from way back,” I explained. “Her name’s Maya Arschloch.”

“That’s a helluva name,” Jacky said, “sounds like German for asshole! Nate, you sure she’s okay? ‘Cause I’m tellin’ you, I’ve been up here before all y’all. I was in this motherfucker twelve years ago. Back inna goddamn seventies! Man, that was nothing but total sell-out time! Every motherfucker wanted to be a goddamn pimp, a fuckin’ hustler—I mean, it was fucked up! The decade before they were all into that ‘black is beautiful’ shit—then, they just freaked out!”

“Tell me about it,” I snorted, “look what became of them.”

My words were complimented by the sudden appearance of three happy, merry, huckle-bucking students, dressed in loud “COON STATE” T-shirts and cut-off jeans and gold chains, yelling and screaming like lunatics; following right behind them were a group of enormous negroes with their hair shaved to the shape of Greek lettering, making funny noises right out of Monty Python, their feet ensconced in Adidas sneakers, running two and fro from the gateway entrance to the steps of the School of Business in repetitious patterns only seen in the mentally autistic. “Oh, shit,” I snorted, “the goddamn Greeks.”

The three of us continued down Georgia Avenue, until we passed the rows of rotting brownstones and store-front churches, the beer joints and crumbling sidewalks, the stripped-down cars, the post offices and cathedrals with grilled windows….We popped up in Chinatown, still talking. Chinatown looked more or less the same—the main difference being the lettering was Chinese, and that the windows didn’t have grills in them. Right around the corner from us—we were on H Street—I saw this obscenely bloated figure in pink tights and a black T-shirt pushing a baby carriage; I was aghast to see that the bloated thing had the face of Rhonda Randolph. Even more outrageous was the fact that it was smiling! “Damn, that’s a goddamn gorilla right there,” Jacky huffed, with a chuckle…. “That bitch is so fat, she can’t even make it through the fuckin’ door.” He squints his eyes at her face. He sees what Joe sees, what I saw before any of them. They turn and look at me. “Oh, my Lord,” exclaimed Joe…. “Nate??”

“What?” Jacky cracked, his mouth widening into a shitty grin. I bit my lip. “Yes, I know, I know.”

“It’s your girlfriend!” Joe giggled, and then broke out laughing. Jacky wasn’t laughing, however; his eyes said something else. “Hell, I’d fuck her,” he admits, shrugging. Joe laughs even harder, though the shit is really directed at me, as he makes clear when he leans on me when I got my back turned, trying to make sure Orca doesn’t see. “Yeah! I mean—she may be fat, but it’s the good fat, yo! She’s hugely but evenly distributed! Hell, African dudes like their bitches fat, so I guess I’m more in tune to the Motherland than you niggers are! Ar-har-har-argh!”

“Hell,” I snorted, watching that huge rear-end swish disgustingly away, “she IS a motherland all unto herself.”

“You know, it’s really fucked up, how the sisters at Coon State be doggin’ a nigger, yo,” Joe begins, as we make it onto 9th; thank God Orca goes down the escalator of the Gallery Place metro. “I mean….there’s this one bitch I heard about, right. She’s up there now. She’s such a freak. I mean, she’s such a big freak, Vanessa del Rio don’t have nothin’ on her, okay? Light-skinned bitch. She’s got this answering machine, an’ all these niggers kept callin’ her ass up, one after the other. ‘Cause she had this message on it where the girl was actually rubbin’ the phone up against her pussy an’ sayin’ some wild shit, lickin’ the phone an’ stuff. She looks almost white.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jacky says, cutting his eye at me jocosely, “I remember. I think I recall. Melvin told me about that bitch when she used to work overseas! She got those long, sexy dancers’ legs, like a, a ice skater. Yeah, she’s fine! Got that luscious skin, that svelte ass….”

“She’s the one Luc’s in love with,” Joe says, cutting his eye at me. “The stupid-ass fool!” Jacky replies. “She’s like the fuckin’ mirage you see inna desert. That’s all she is! A goddamn flirt! You think you gonna get something but you don’t get shit from her! Goddamn dickteasin’ bitch! She be whippin’ her long dark hair around, flashin’ them sexy cat eyes—she ain’t nothin’ but dirt. She ain’t but nineteen an’ she’s already had five abortions, slept with about a thousand niggers, Melvin told me he’s got this film of her with eight guys shootin’ sperm into her mouth, big ol’ fat juicy gobs, too, not that small shit, you know, these ol’ tiny-ass droplets—I mean, BLISSSSSSSHHHHHH!! Shit looked like she got doused with wall-paper paste….Damn!”

“The nastiest, sluttiest, whore-ass high-yellow bitch of the class of 1992,” Joe said, mordantly. And then he turned and faced me, and said: “Does that sound like somebody you know?”

“Well….”

In my silence the void was filled with raucous laughter, with Joe laying it on thick for effects. No big surprise: his whole face seems like it’s been constructed just for that purpose—to laugh in other people’s faces. “An’ to think he’s been to bed with Orca an’ shit—bitch is so goddamn fat that when a nigger fucks her, the motherfucker sinks right in! Takes him a whole week to find his way out that bitches’ pussy!”

“Man, Nate,” Jacky laughed, “I thought you had some good taste in women.”

“She’s my ex-girlfriend,” I snorted, angrily. Then, for some strange reason, Orca reappears, through the Metro’s elevator. Joe and Jacky are in stitches watching her huge thighs wobble around; I move away from them. They follow, sheepishly giggling. “Okay, man, we got you. FORMER girlfriend.”

“I’m serious!” I furiously whispered, in vain. Jacky nods. “Okay, man. Gotcha.”

“I mean, we don’t even know each other anymore,” I continued.

“Yeah, man, we get the point already!” Joe snorted, still laughing. “Former girlfriend. FORMER GIRLFRIEND. Shit, that’s what they all say.”

They are still laughing when we enter the clothing store further down on 11th Street, North West. I didn’t care to go in to the goddamn place, since I usually picked up something cheap at a flea market. And I know that THIS IS A STICK UP! doesn’t have the kinds of things that I like to wear; their stuff is too hip, too self-conscious. “Look around, man,” Joe says, once we’re into the men’s section, the sounds of Public Enemy pounding over the intercom. “All this,” I snorted, “just to lay these stupid cunts on campus. They won’t give a shit! I’ve been through this whole thing before!”

“Nate,” Joe says, as I pick up a black long-sleeved shirt with red poker-dots, “you may be a veteran of a nasty war, but there are other wars to be fought. Keep your head up, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

Joe moves away from me, over towards Jacky, who’s checking out a new pair of Elleese tennis shoes. Yesterday it was Fila; the day before that Gucci; the day after tomorrow it will be Timberlands….and these silly names will be the only reasons why guys like us will die in these streets.  Nearby, two beefy security officers, one a fat black woman, the other a jaunty-looking white guy with a mustache, are watching me discreetly but carefully; a sales representative, dressed smartly and casually in jeans and olive sport coat, Asian with unusually round eyes and slick, trimmed, oily hair, a face full of acne and thick, pink lips, a white name tag reading “DOUG” stuck on his coat, starts hovering over me when I’m looking at a double-breasted suit. The sales rep says, “Need any help?”

“No,” I say, “I’m just fine.”

I put the suit back down on the rack, and then pick up another one, a single-breasted jacket with one button only. “No, that’s not you,” says “Doug” the retailer, who pulls out something strange— “this is. Yeah.”

He holds it up to me as I face the mirror. The thing is triple-breasted, with buttons running up and down the bright blue fabric like black cockroaches. “Now, that’s bumpin’, that’s cool. You a Coon State student?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I figured you were,” he said.

I go into the fitting room and try it on. The pants are too tight, and they haven’t even been cuffed. The shoes are too stiff, too shiny, like they’ve been made out of plastic; besides, I don’t like the combination of red and black. And the jacket is a four button-holed monstrosity. Only a lunatic would pay three hundred and forty dollars for this trash. Of course, I don’t say that to “Doug’s” face when I give it back to him, and simply take the black poker-dotted shirt for twenty dollars.

Joe and Jacky are in the women’s section talking to a coed from Howard University. I am just leaving the cash register, ready to walk out the door when “GREG”, the other sales rep, black and medium-complected, narrow-featured and Latin-looking, calls out, while striding towards me:  “Oh, sir?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you mind putting that shirt back where you found it?”

“You mean this? I just bought it,” I said.

“No,” he says, grinning forcibly, suddenly tugging on the one I’m wearing. “I mean this. Please take that off right this instant and give it back to us.” Very strange how he has suddenly become so rude.

“Oh, no, this is my shirt,” I say, watching his face—it isn’t moved once. “I’ve had this shirt for a year.”

The security’s ears are pricked up: the fat black female one wobbles over, eyes popping, fingers itchy to pull out that pistol she’s got in her black leather holster. “Don’t start that shit with us,” I hear her snarl. I froze: my mind rambled back to Pointe-Blanche, to Adjrar, to Camp Jejune, to Freedom College, and all the past humiliations I had ever suffered at the hands of authority figures.  “Take it off.”

“But this shirt is mine!” I exclaimed, and then wheeled to Jacky and Joe, who were still in the women’s section, still talking to the Howard U. coed. I tried to wave them over—but, lo and behold, I found them acting like they didn’t know me. Neither one of them said a goddamn word when I asked them had they seen me with my shirt on. The female security officer tugged on the sleeve of my shirt…. “I’m sorry, boy,” she barked, while the other one came closer, chewing gum, eyes set dead on me, “but you gon’ have to show a receipt if you claim that shirt’s yours!”

“I bought it a year ago,” I said, my breathing starting to speed up apace. “Why would I have it? Those guys over there, they’re my friends, they saw me with this shirt….”

All along, the burly white guy with the moustache kept nodding, chewing, nodding, nodding, chewing, chewing, and then going, “uh, huh, uh-huh, uh-huh, sure it is. Sure, pal. We believe you.”

“Take off that goddamn shirt, nigger!” the fat black bitch rasped.

I started arguing with them, thinking, this is the last straw, I’m not going to take this crap. But everyone else in the store, save for the personnel, was indifferent, even though I observed the cashiers laughing and joking with some customers about the absurd scene. Then the big white guy seizes me roughly by the arm. “C’mon, c’mon, let’s go, kid,” he snorts, hurtling me through the doorway of the room reserved for “employees only”.

C’mon, Nate, I thought, wake up. Stop dreaming, you can’t fight the world all your life. Give them the shirt, and walk out of the building, back to campus, back to school, and get your degree. Maybe they will let you off easy. You know they are right after all—even if they are wrong. What are you going to do about it, motherfucker?

The door closes on a room filled with unopened boxes, scattered tables full of invoice papers, trash cans filled with discarded Dixie cups and soda cans and potato chip bags and empty boxes of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a water cooler, a soda machine, and two bright, dangling bare bulbs. They say, after they lock the door, “Take your pants down.” I refused to take them down. So the two guards held me as “Doug” reached for my pants. I smashed my knee up in his face and the two guards wrestled me to the ground; I punched the honky in his face with my left but the black bitch quickly pointed her gun between my eyes. Then “Doug” ripped my pants off, zipper and all. “Greg” filched out my wallet; the honky took the wallet, went directly for the ID’s, pulling each and every card out, VISA, Master Card, etc., etc. “Is your name Nathan James Morris, or is this some shit you made up?” he spits. “Yes,” I say, “it’s my real name.” “Well, is it!?!” “YES,” I shot back, observing “Greg” put on rubber gloves, and “Doug” filching my remaining cash out of my wallet and sniggering. “Fuckin’ sonofabitch,” “Greg” giggles, while he sticks his hand up my ass and starts probing around in my asshole for what he thinks he can find….Unfortunately, by the time the cops come, it’s all over, the damage has been done, my pants have been buttoned back up. Five police officers stream in through the door and, without a word, point their finger outside, towards the waiting patrol car. I stroll through the doorframe feeling one of the security officers kicking my sore ass. Joe and Jacky have long since left. People stop and stare at me; the old Korean owner of a nearby hat shop puts down his broom and, his wife coming out, starts pointing, jabbering stuff in Korean; both their slit eyes carefully follow my clumsy steps from the STICK UP!’s doorway to the patrol car. The mastiff in back of me keeps barking down my ear, giving me a head-splitting headache by the time we get to the precinct station.

The precinct is an olive-green walled hell-hole alive with the endless ringing of greasy telephones, the ruffling of papers, and swarms of dick-headed cops of every race(though mostly black men)and their equally repulsive victims: hookers, drunks, armed robbers, gang-bangers, pushers, etc. By now, after a year in this goddamn city, it comes as no surprise to me that nearly all of them are young black men. The man behind the desk, a patrician-looking fatherly guy with gray speckling his neatly combed kinky hair, keeps asking me a whole bunch of insulting questions, one after the other. My only line of defense, unfortunately, is to tell the truth. “Uh, huh,” he merely snaps, after everything I tell him. I give him Joe Washington and Jacky Cooke as witnesses, provide their phone numbers and campus addresses—all of which comes in the end to nothing. They take me into the booking room for “attempted petty theft”. They flung a sign around my neck, snapped some horrible pictures of me, had me roughly fingerprinted, then led down dark, stale corridors to—the Drunk Tank.

Why the hell were they arresting me for public drunkenness?

I go inside the place, and there are about fifteen mothers in there, all black, and all male. Eight of them are huge brutes, eyeing me very, very carefully as I’m shoved inside. The other six are non-descript-looking, dirty fellows clad in dirty jeans, torn overcoats, soiled pants, some wearing only underwear; one guy masturbates in a lone corner while talking loudly to himself. The whole place smells of piss and rotten blood. The fifteenth guy stood out above all, because he was dressed in drag. He had on a shiny black wig with black fishnet stockings, red plastic earrings, a tight pink mini-skirt obviously padded around the hips, breasts and ass to give him the semblance of woman ness. Had not this figure stunk so bad of alcohol and unwashed ass, I would have never guessed—though the prickle of beard should have told me so. And, above all, the eyes: they were too green, with that coldness that one sees only in snakes.

“Hey, man,” he says, when he sees me, “what’s happening? Whad’chu do to get in here?”

After my shock wore off, I only said, “whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t what YOU were doing!”

“Man, it was just a ruse,” Guy insisted, stumbling around drunkenly, “it’s not like I was selling myself.” He then began a spiel about how he worked with some other guy in a fake prostitution scheme: Guy, dressed up like a woman, would lure suckers into a trap in a dark alley, pull open their pants, go through the motions….when the other guy, unbeknownst to the sucker, would bash him in the head. It sounded very believable, but I couldn’t be so sure after noting that the front of Guy’s dress was encrusted with flecks of what looked like dried wallpaper paste. Myself, I said nothing, wanting to believe it was all a bad dream.

“You got twenty dollars, man?”

“No, I—the security officers took my money,” I stuttered.

“Where was this at?”

“THIS IS A STICK UP!, you know, that place,” I said. Guy laughed. “Man, I don’t believe that shit,” he snorted.

Hell, I thought, I don’t believe you, either. What the hell happened to all your money?

Late that night I managed to place a call directly to my dormitory at Hillcrest Heights. But it was four days before Lucius followed up on his promise to get me out. Guy, on the other hand, stayed behind. I watched the look of despair on his face as I left the Drunk Tank, thinking to myself, it’s the fitting end for a stinker.