The Color Midnight Madeby Andrew Winer
One of the most memorable characters in recent fiction, Conrad Clay is just beginning life. Yet all around him things are ending: His parents
This critically acclaimed debut is a modern Huckleberry Finn, a heartrending tale of wit and grace that charts the coming of age of a color-blind white boy struggling to find meaning in a world divided by poverty and race.
One of the most memorable characters in recent fiction, Conrad Clay is just beginning life. Yet all around him things are ending: His parents' marriage is crumbling, his father loses his job during the closing of the Alameda naval base, his family faces eviction from their house, and his beloved grandmother is dying.
As betrayal and poverty take their toll, Conrad's efforts to create a new family for himself lead us on a journey alternately hilarious and desolating. Filled with tenderness and a cast of unforgettable characters, The Color Midnight Made is at heart a profound portrait of America.
- Washington Square Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Washington Square Press Trade Pape
- Product dimensions:
- 0.65(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)
Read an Excerpt
They say I can't see colors. They're lying. I can see colors in people. Moms is yellow. Pops is camouflage. Our teacher Mr. Garabedian is tan like a weed. I got a color for everybody. Except me.
I told my best friend Loop he was silver and black, like the Oakland Raiders. Loop gave me a slug.
"I already black," he said.
So he went solo with silver.
It started when we had to get our eyes checked by Dr. Chow, Eye Master of the Universe. He was already waiting in the library when we sleazed in. Mr. Garabedian said we had to keep a tight line and walk in pairs. We were a centipede of backpacks.
Everyone talked loud but not me. I always go quiet in the yellow light of the old library. Those books are talking too much already.
Eye Master of the Universe sat near Biography, bald and wearing a white coat. He was testing us one at a time and taking forever. Loop pulled out of line to get a look.
"W'sup with this stupid test?" Loop said. "This is for squids. Only whiteboys get their eyes checked."
"I know," I said. "W'sup with that?"
Yeah, I was a whiteboy. Jack London Primary only had fourteen. But nobody, including Loop, thought of me as one. Loop said I musta been black in a past life, so it was cool I was hangin wid the bruthas in this one, since I had prior experience and did not be comin at it on the honky-ass tip.
So I was okay.
We were almost to the front of the line. My stomach went tight each time I looked at Eye Master. I had to pass his test in front of Loop and the other gritties, or else I'd look like a squid.
I lifted my eyes up to the library's high arched ceiling and took a deep breath. The hanging lamps glowed softly above me like twelve old suns, and the air tasted calm and quiet and as yellow as it looked. It tasted like books and breath. It smelled older than Earth.
It was our turn and Eye Master made me go first. You had to sit in the chair and cover one eye at a time and read a dumb chart on the wall. I had it all sewed up until from out of nowhere he flashed some cards at me. Each had a bunch of color dots smashed together like grapes. "Tell me the number you see," he said.
The first three cards were easy: Six, Eight, Zero. But the next few didn't have any numbers in them just colored dots. Behind me, Loop and Clarence and Douglas whispered "Seven!" and "Two!" and every goddamn number but I couldn't see anything.
Come on you dots, I said, You gotta have a number in there.
Eye Master said, "Are you sure, Conrad? Try it again."
I ran my tongue over my back teeth and gave it all my mentals but the dots weren't talking to me, except to say: Hi, dots ain't in right now but please leave a message, thanks, and yo mama!
Eye Master picked five special cards out of his stack and shuffled them. It was real important I try my best this time, he said. I squeezed my finger into a sticky gum wad under my chair, and he flashed me all five cards: "Anything? how about this? Anything? This? or this? or this?"
"Nope." "Nope." "Nope." "Nope." "Nope!"
He stuck the last card in my face and gave it a shake. "No? you don't see a number?"
Eye Master's mouth was a straight line.
"Come with me," he said, taking my arm and pulling me past everybody. Loop and the other gritties stepped back. I heard them whisper I was going blind.
In the librarian's office Eye Master closed the door and pulled the shades so the others couldn't see us. The office didn't have the good old smell of books like out in the library it smelled sharp and mean, like metal and new paint. The light was different too. It sprayed from a white fluorescent tube and ricocheted off the walls and X-rayed everything in the room. If I closed my eyes, I could see the skeleton of the chair and the desk and even of Eye Master, who sat there writing on a piece of paper.
"What's wrong?" I asked him.
With his other hand he pressed his bald head in one spot, leaving a white mark. "You're partly colorblind," he said.
"No I am not."
"Yes you are."
He was still writing. I looked down at his black shoes. "No I am not."
"You're red and green colorblind," he said. "You have trouble with purples, pinks, any hues that contain red or green."
He sounded pretty damn happy about that.
"But I can see colors. I can see red. I can see green too."
"Not the green everyone else is seeing. You see colors differently than other people. And you have difficulty telling red and green apart."
My throat felt dry as chalk. "I can see colors," I said.
He sighed and turned to me. "Look, the eye detects colors by having an equal balance of rods and cones, and you have less cones than a person who sees colors normally."
I didn't know what to say about that. Eye Master seemed to have an awful lot to write about my problem, and from what I could make out, the other gritties were right: I was headed for being blind. Today I couldn't see colors. Tomorrow I wouldn't be able to see things.
Pops had said fifth grade was gonna grease me.
Eye Master handed me the paper and smiled. "Give that to your parents."
Loop and Clarence and Douglas were waiting out in the library. The way they stared at me you'd have thought I was blind already. "W'sup?" "'Sup?" "'Sup?" they said.
I couldn't look at them. I was a squid.
I walked right out of the library and into the cold blue afternoon light and didn't stop until I reached the basketball courts where I pulled out Eye Master's note and pressed it against the metal post. It was written to The Parents of Conrad Clay and said I was not colorblind complete, but pretty damn close.
I stared at the note and swallowed three times. It didn't seem right that a piece of paper could change your whole life. But there it was.
I stuffed the note back in my Raiders jacket and ran all the way out to Naval Housing, where kids screamed and spidered over the monkey bars and a boy with mud on his cheeks pointed a space gun at me. I kept going out to Slime Canal, past the Ferry, and past a ship from China named Cho Yang. I watched a pigeon flap out of my way. I wanted to see things like everyone else did. If I practiced my colors enough maybe I'd see them right like a brutha. Don't worry now eyes, I said, We're gonna set you straight. We just gotta practice:
Yo pigey pidge! I said, You're gray.
I yelled at the ship from China, Yo Cho! You're white and red stainy! Get a new paint job please!
Hey you yellow weed, smash! Now you're juice! And what's hangin old black cracky tire?
I pulled out the note from Eye Master of the Universe again. Then I folded it into a spaceship, added a rock for the motor, and launched it into Slime Canal. I didn't wanna worry Moms and Pops with my discount eyes. They had enough trouble. Good-bye note, Peace! I said. Have fun at the bottom of Slime Canal. Plunk!
Now you are a sturgeon taco.
Copyright © 2002 by Andrew Winer
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Meet the Author
Andrew Winer received his M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of California at Irvine. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he now lives in Southern California with his wife, author Charmaine Craig. He is currently at work on a new novel. Visit www.andrewwiner.com.
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I thought this was a powerful book. I couldn't put it down!
This book was out-standing. At first it was slow moving and than Wham it took flight to the very end.