by E. Amado Williams
"The main characters in this manuscript are not a true reflection of Blacks."
Simon Dumont sat across from his editor, staring at the hefty middle-aged White man with thinning hair that he had combed in various directions in an attempt to cover his balding spot. Murphy Hammond shifted his girth in his seat, his heaving belly tipping the table enough to spill some water droplets from their glasses. He grunted while he tapped Simonís manuscript with his podgy fingers. Simon, a cocoa coloured young man with smooth skin and piercing eyes, arched his left eyebrow and stared at the editor with incredulity.
This restaurant, Le Meilleur Cuisine, became the spot for Simon and Murphy to discuss Simonís manuscript, a story about Black love that did not involve gratuitous mayhem and expected generalizations. The backdrop of the restaurant had a mellow effect. The tables and the chairs were mahogany, to offset the cream coloured tablecloths and tiled floors. Abstract African paintings with a Cubism flare, matching the decorum of the restaurant, hung on the mahogany walls. The clientele consisted of business executives, tourists with deep pockets, connoisseurs of French cuisine, and food critics who fancied on the food that was prepared by some of the best chefs in Chicago. Murphy loved the restaurant and wanted to impress Simon by selecting the eatery as the location for discussing the manuscript.
"Who is going to believe that a Black man is a president of his own software firm?"
"Why is a Black man being president of a software firm so far-fetched?" Simon asked in return.
"Letís face it, Simon, if it isnít a hair salon, barber shop, or a liquor store, Blacks arenít running the shop. I can digest the idea of a Black running a drug operation, but running a legitimate business is a joke." Murphy waved his hairy hand in the air like he was fanning away floating lint, but he was dismissing Simonís inquiry.
"I write what I am exposed to in my world and my world is not comprised of cowards, shuffling men, and women of easy virtue. I find it offensive to depict Blacks in any fashion other than having them in power."
"Well, no one will want to read your work if thatís the case," Murphy interjected angrily, scratching between his scrubbing thighs. "You even have the main character being married to a physician? A Black man who is the president of his own software firm being married to a Black woman who has her own private practice is as mythical as a unicorn. You are an excellent wordsmith, Simon. I give you that much, but you certainly donít tell a realistic story."
At this point of the conversation, the waitress came to the table to take lunch orders. With a fashionable short hair cut and a skin tone akin to gingerbread, she stood next to the table and courteously waited for Simon and Murphy to bring their conversation to a pause. Smiling and presenting a pleasant attitude, she began. "What would you gentlemen like today?"
"Simon, what would you recommend?" Murphy asked, noticing that most of the menu was not in English, thinking that Simon would be uncomfortable ordering. "Iíll let you make the decision."
The pages of the menu flipped a few times between Simonís fingers. He hemmed and hawed for a few seconds before he lowered the list of delicacies and placed it on the table. Charismatic and easy in deportment, he addressed the waitress in French.
"Nous aimerions ŗ commence avec les champignons bourrťs. J'aimerait le poisson avec riz et eau. Pour le monsieur, il aura le crow. S'il vous plaÓt apporter une bouteille de Zinfadel Blanc, aussi." Simon delighted in surprising Murphy. He had noticed the sly grin Murphy exuded and he extracted his virtual eraser to remove the smirk from his editorís chubby face.
"Est-ce qu'il y aura n'importe quoi autrement?" the waitress asked.
"Non, cela est tout. Merci."
The presentation unnerved Murphy. He wanted to smack Simon for rising to the occasion. He felt that Simon was showing off. Not only were the characters in Simonís manuscript unreal, but Simon was just as unbelievable. Murphy was always used to Whites being the well-educated, well-travelled, well-rounded individuals. He wanted to know exactly what Simon spoke to the waitress, but he did not want Simon to know that he did not understand. He hated Simon.
"You have so much promise in your writing, but you donít tell stories like those other Black authors," Murphy stated like he was preaching gospel.
"I have no desire to write like the Ďflavour of the monthí author. There is no way that I can create my own style or have my own voice if I copy some other authorís design."
"Design? See what I mean? Your colourful language and your urgent push to paint just positive images of Blacks are clichť. Itís false advertisement." Murphy gulped three swallows of water and unintentionally slammed his glass down on the table.
"There are enough writers already who write Ďbottom drawerí literature involving Black characters," Simon articulated boldly. "I am not passionate about adding my name to that list of literary artists."
"That way of thinking will be the demise of your writing career. Why donít you write like Casey Spellman? He tells such vivid stories about Black men beating Black women. Fists of Anger hitóno pun intendedóthe best seller list the second week of publication and Anger Mismanagement could be opted for a major literary award." Simon shook his head disapprovingly at the suggestion. "Well, what about Tyrone Biggs? He is a best seller with his books about irresponsible fathers in the Black community. Mammaís Baby, Fatherís Maybe stayed on the best seller list for three months. And we canít forget about Karen Simkins. She does an excellent job portraying Black women as being no good without a Black man. To drive the point home, she never introduces a good Black man into her stories. A Hollywood producer just bought her book, Big Empty Bed After Two Leave, for just under two million dollars." Simon shook his head more, disappointing and disgusting Murphy. "You could rival Charles Vecey if you put forth the effort. Now that is an author who takes you right into the homes, churches, and backyards of Blacks. You should read his books, Iz All Guud and Anything For My Jones, about drug usage and sexual deviance in the Black collective. Itís a classic representation of the Black community. Those books sell big, my boy, even though that popular, mouthy radio hostess doesnít promote them."
"Yes, those books do an outstanding job of pandering to a lowest common denominator." Simon noticed a puzzling look on Murphyís face and he decided to answer the question that Murphy asked with his expression. "By lowest common denominator, I mean a small mind."
Once the food and beverage arrived at the table, Simon smoothly placed his napkin in his lap and held his head down to have a brief moment of grace. When he opened his eyes and raised his head, he noticed Murphy attacking his plate of poultry, loaded baked potato, and vegetables with such an aggressive agenda that he was an embarrassment. All while Simon forked tender fish, rice, and vegetables into his mouth, Murphy snorted and talked with his mouth full of chewed mush; some crumbs flew from his mouth, others secured spots in the corner of his lips.
"I am not going to promote a story about Blacks owning their own businesses or coming from families with both parents being married. I donít know why you wonít write about Blacks in the inner cities, those coming from broken families."
"Sorry, I will not dumb-down my characters to appease an audience that wants to read picture books or something in compliance with media stereotyping. If my grammar is incorrect, I will change that. I will graciously remove anything that is redundant. Typos are another item I will address without incident, but as a literary sculptor I refuse to design anything that isnít perfect in form."
"Okay, fine," Murphy shouted rudely, interrupting Simonís thought, detesting Simonís eccentric way of talking. "Write your positive psycho trash. You can still devote quite a bit to the struggles of the average Black, not your Black super heroes. What about overcoming drug addiction, alcoholism, and stuff like sexual molestation? Your characters are so morally correct that they are transparent."
"It seems that all of those authors you listed earlier have already produced some jewels of literature in the fashion that fetches your interest."
The spots from Murphyís greasy fingers grew in numbers on Simonís manuscript. Between moments of downplaying the manuscript, Murphy often tilted in his seat, the audible sound of him breaking wind following his shifting around. Simon cringed. Conversation continued along the vine of Murphy trying to force Simon to compromise his way of telling stories. Simon, a man of high scruples, did not succumb to Murphyís dizzy intellectual depths.
"Bwaaarrrf!" Murphy belched, attracting stares and causing whispering from other tables. "You will rewrite this whole story if you want me to get you published."
"Would you care for anything else, perhaps some coffee?" the waitress asked, addressing Murphy first when she returned on her customary round.
"No," he responded just before pounding his chest with his fist, producing a muted burp.
"And you, Mr. Dumont, would you like something else?"
"No, Vivian, just bring me the bill, please," Simon replied with his usual, charming smile.
"My, arenít we chummy with the restaurant staff," Murphy commented after the waitress departed. He downed the remainder of his wine and loosened his fat tie that came midway his belly. "First you show off your French with her, and now youíre addressing each other by first name. Did you two grow up in the inner city together?"
"No, we met here."
"Well, never let it be said that all Blacks donít know each other," Murphy proclaimed, brushing loose crumbs off his high-set belly. "The food here is excellent, my boy. You should come here more often. The man who owns this restaurant must be a real ace to have such a business."
"Yes, I am quite proud of this eatery," Simon added with a vainglorious smirk as he crossed his fingers in a lattice and rested his hands on the end of the table. "I own this restaurant."
A coughing fit ensued. Murphy rapped his meaty chest, jiggling what was more like breasts instead of solid pectorals. He glared at a smiling Simon bitterly and he despised him with each cough as Simon wore an expression of delight. After the coughing subsided, Murphy sat with his head down, his eyes glued to the manuscript marked with red ink, barbecue sauce, butter, and bread crumbs. He didnít have anything to say, but Simon had one question in mind.
"So, how did you like your crow?"