THE BEARD SCRATCHERS
You would think theyd be used to me by now. I mean,
dont they know that after fourteen hundred years the charade
of blackness is over? That we blacks, the once eternally hip,
the people who were as right now as Greenwich Mean Time,
are, as of today, as yesterday as stone tools, the velocipede, and
the paper straw all rolled into one? The Negro is now officially
human. Everyone, even the British, says so. It doesnt matter
whether anyone truly believes it; we are as mediocre and mundane
as the rest of the species. The restless souls of our dead are
now free to be who they really are underneath that modern
primitive patina. Josephine Baker can take the bone out of her
nose, her knock-kneed skeleton back to its original allotment of
206. The lovelorn ghost of Langston Hughes can set down his
Montblanc fountain pen (a gift) and open his mouth wide. Not
to recite his rhyming populist verse, but to lick and suck some
Harlem rapscallions prodigious member and practice what is,
after all, the real oral tradition.The revolutionaries among us can
lay down the guns. The war is over. It doesnt matter who won,
take your roscoe, the Saturday night special, the nine, the guns
you once waved fuck-a-white-man drunkenly in front of the
kids, take those guns and encase them in glass so that they lie
passively on the red felt next to the blunderbuss and Portuguese
arquebus and Minuteman musket. The battle cry of even the
bravest among us is no longer Ill see you in hell! but Ill see
you in court. So if youre still upset with history, get a lawyer on
the phone and try to collect workmens comp for slavery. Blackness
is passé and I for one couldnt be happier, because now Im
free to go to the tanning salon if I want to, and I want to.
I hand the receptionist the coupon. On the front is a glossy aerial photo of a Caribbean coastline. She flips it over and her eyes drop suspiciously from my face to the back of the card, which reads, electric beach tanning salon. buy 10 light baths, get 1 free. Underneath the promotion, in two rows of five, are ten pfennig-sized circles; and rubber-stamped in each circle is a blazing red-ink sun wearing a toothy smile and sunglasses. Today is the glorious day I redeem my free suntan. But somehow this woman, who has personally stamped at least seven of the ten smiling suns, is reluctant to assign me a tanning room. Usually she stamps my card and under her breath whispers, Malibu, Waikiki, or Ibiza, and I go about my business.
A look of bemused familiarity creeps across her face. A look that says, Maybe Ive seen you somewhere before. Didnt you rape me last Tuesday? Arent you my sons tap dance teacher?
Finally. She pencils my name into the appointment book. I point to the sunscreen in the display case behind her.
Coppertone, I say.
A tube of Tropical Blend skims over the countertop like a miniature torpedo. The sun protection factor is two. Not strong enough. If the receptionists white vanilla frosting lip gloss has an SPF of three, my natural complexion is at least a six. I return fire and send the lotion back. Zu Schwach. Ich brauche etwas Stärkeres, I say, asking for something stronger.
Maybe mammals should be classified by their sun protection factors. Married SPF3 female, 35, seeks nonsmoking, spontaneous SPF4 or lighter for discreet affair. SPF7 Rhino Faces Extinction. Im the Head SPF50 in Charge. It was the SPF2ness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myselfI must, else all these chapters might be for naught.
Excerpted from Slumberland by Paul Beatty Copyright © 2006 by Paul Beatty. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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