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Overview

Platitudes by Trey Ellis

Trey Ellis's uproariously funny debut novel Platitudes, first published in 1988, takes on conflicts within the African American literary community. Dewayne Wellington, a failing black experimental novelist, and Isshee Ayam, a radical feminist author, collaborate on Dewayne's latest sexist comedy. Alternately telling the story about the coming of age of Earle and Dorothy-two black middle-class teenagers, sex-starved in New York City-the battling writers sneak ever, and dangerously, closer to reconciling their literary disputes.

This edition of Platitudes also includes "The New Black Aesthetic," a groundbreaking essay by Ellis that appeared in the journal Callaloo.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555535865
Publisher: University Press of New England
Publication date: 10/02/2003
Series: Northeastern Library of Black Literature Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.52(d)

About the Author

Trey Ellis is a professional novelist and screenwriter. In addition to Platitudes, he has written the highly acclaimed novels Home Repairs and Right Here, Right Now, as well as several screenplays, including The Inkwell and The Tuskegee Airmen. He lives in Santa Monica, California. Bertram D. Ashe is Associate Professor of English at the College of Holy Cross. He lives in Worcester, Massachusetts. Richard Yarborough, editor of the Northeastern Library of Black Literature, is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt



PLATITUDES & "The New Black Aesthetic"




By Trey Ellis


Northeastern University Press



Copyright © 1988

Trey Ellis
All right reserved.



ISBN: 1-55553-586-0




Chapter One


The digital alarm clock rolls little 7, 0, and 0 cards, white
on black, over the 6, the 5, and the 9.

WAAAA-

Off. Waffle-colored fingers have crawled from under both the
regular and the fitted sheets, which have been detached from the
bed, twisting around his waist, between his legs. Earle's finger
has pressed the white clock button in to free it to poke farther
out. Light pours through the apartment window over the large
schefflera leaves; it filters past the P38 Mustang and the four-stage
Estes Saturn 5 rocket (one nose-diving, the other rising, but
both from monofilament fishing line lashed to the curtain rod,
and both stream red-dyed cotton-ball flames). Quivering shadows
dapple the room's far wall and Earle's collection of college pennants
and the large map of the world voodooed with redheaded pins through
the heart of every city Earle will visit on his sabbattical
from Caltech or M.I.T. or someplace like that. He peels
his face off the plastic mattress cover-a bumper sticker separating
from its backing.

Errrrrrrrr-rle, croons a too sweet voice from outside his door.
It's time to wake uhhhhhhhhhh-up.

Oh Kaaaaaaaaaaa-ay.

His penis now makes a small white tent of his underwear, so
Earle walks to his room's bathroom slowly, in place more than
forward. Through the plant, the plane, and the rocket there she
is, the wife in 10A, in the building's other wing, back already
from her early-morning aerobics. She begins her cool-down pre-shower
stretches; she sports a sport bra and Lycra knickers, a
yellow ponytail, a sweatband/chronometer. Earle runs to his bed,
pulls a small wooden wedge from under his mattress, runs to his
room's door, wedges it closed (Mom! One second, don't try and
force it. It must be swollen from the humidity. Yeah, swollen,
he would say if he had to). Behind the large leaves, with his free
hand, he tries to unscrew the toothpaste top, pinning it on the
sink for leverage, finally opens it, but with an inadvertent ooze
into his fingers. He licks off the gel, reaches, wets and puts his
toothbrush into his mouth, brushes. Since he is now naked, no
one can prove who is the Peeping, who the Tom.

Earle is soon spooning Cream of Wheat into his mouth in the
kitchenette.

While his mother reminds him his suit for the B'nai B'rith/
NAACP dance at the Copa this evening is back from the cleaners,
hanging on her closet hook, I'll tell you what she does not look
like:

She is neither fat (her breasts don't swell the lace top of the
apron she has never owned), nor has she any gold teeth. She
cannot sing, nor is she ever called "Mama" (though that is what
she calls her own mother). She does not, not work in public
relations and her two-handed backhand is not, not envied by her
peers.

... should be here any minute. I told him we'd go to the zoo.

Yes, I do realize you are sixteen years old, smartypants, but
there's no law against sixteen-year-olds going to the zoo. You used
to love the zoo. Your father and I would leave you for just one
hot second and off you'd go to the monkey house, scratching your
armpit and jumping up and down. One time you ran off and
grabbed this balloon seller's bouquet of zoo balloons and were
already a foot or two off the ground before your father could pull
you back down, remember?

Oh, that must be Solomon. Be nice to Mr. Levitt even if you
decide not to go with us, okay, sweetie?

Darling, you look like a million bucks, you always look like a
million bucks, do you know that? In one of my buildings just the
other day I was saying to the super, a lazy worthless EssOhhBee
but he's been with me for years, I was saying, I know this woman
who looks like a million bucks, says Mr. Levitt, rotating the last
half of a cigar between thumb and forefinger before chomping
on it again in the side of his mouth. Hey, kid, how they hanging?

Answer him, Earle, answer Mr. Levitt.

After the zoo, we'll get a bite to eat at this four-star joint I
know in City Island, you wouldn't believe the crab cakes they
got up there, as big as basketballs, then who knows? maybe a
movie. My treat. What do you say?

Oh, let's just go on without him, Sol. When Earle gets in one
of his moods, I swear. He even skipped school yesterday. I just
don't know sometimes.

Solomon Levitt lays his briefcase flat on the dining-room table,
fingers the wheels of the combination lock, then thumbs outward
the triggers that free the latches to spring. Too bad, sport, but
here's a little present. Your ma told me you was into that electronics
stuff. He hands Earle a shrink-wrapped Heathkit U-Build-It
multi-tester. And here's ten bucks for the batteries or something.

When Earle's mother says, What do you say, Earle says, Thank
you, sir.

... and did I remind you to rinse your Cream of Wheat bowl,
says his mother, now downstairs, calling on the doorman's house
phone. You know how it gets glued to the bowl and spoon like
sandpaper if you don't do it right away, and the dishwasher only
bakes it in.... Promise me you'll get out of the house today.
It's lovely outside, not too hot yet, or muggy ...

The instructions for the multi-tester say it will take nineteen
hours for people seventeen years old and older to assemble. It is
now ten o'clock in the morning and I'm sure Earle's planning to
finish the kit long before tonight's nine o'clock dance.



Chapter Two


The taxi's quick lean to the stop lifts Earle off the seat as he stuffs
the folded dollars into the cab's money slot. She's got to come,
Earle says to himself, reaching and reaching again for the car-door
handle he only eventually finds.

Thumping interrupts Earle's words. A doorman holding a clipboard
caps the disco's entrance. A group of pretty, light-skinned
young black women and expensively dressed young white men
hurl their names at the man at the door. They walk into the
dark, into the beat. Earle speaks his name to the clipboard,
twice.

There she is, alone.

A hostess approaching in a short, red, starched dress and emotionproof
makeup sways between him and her. The hostess offers,
then distributes, tiny scrolls from a tray yoked around her neck
by a strap:

THE COPA

It makes their bodies throb.
The Beat, it thumps, the Beat.
Its pulse still makes them bob
Through melodies and sweating feet.

Reds criss and cross the blues,
They skim the crowds, these discs of light,
Finding mixed heads, yet they lose
The stuff beneath that height.

The strobe flash, hard flash.
Explode. Black. Room. In. The. Thump.
A simple thrust is seen a slash.
A sexy grind becomes a hump.

The chains drop from his throat
Like golden, frozen falls.
He undulates, appears to float,
His pants constrict his balls.

Her miniskirt is more a belt,
A narrow, leather thing.
It rubs her bone, will force a welt,
All just for a fling.

-Bill DePopulaire


Inside the club, Earle's pupils expand with the ripples in the
punch, responding to the beat on the punchbowl. A Jewish mother
with a silk flower on her bosom and a heavy smile scoops fluid
into Earle's two glasses and onto his hand. In this light the drink
is black but tastes red. A black woman mans the hors d'oeuvres
table.

There she is again, dancing with some girls. The crazy lights
darken her hair. Another black young man nears Janey Rosebloom
to the beat, groin first. She turns to him to the beat. They dance
at each other.

The bathroom is warm and clean and empty and quiet. Earle
turns the handle that turns the bolt into the hole in the stall door,
shakes the stall door, wipes the seat with a pillow of tissue, and
sits. The stall wall is patterned with jagged Magic Marker ink
(see table 2.1), some of it still wet and thick-smelling. Yet even
this doesn't help, so Earle exhales noisily, screws shut his eyes,
wrenches tufts of hair, grits his teeth, and stamps his feet.

TABLE 2.1
Samples of Bathroom Graffiti

The color of chocolate and also of shit.
Vidi, Vici, Veni
Janey Rosebloom is Hot to Trot and I know it for a
fact, Jack.


The men's room attendant, a wizened soul whose ebony skin
is cracked and creased like some ancient Nubian riverbed that
long ago suckled a thriving metropolis, nods toward an empty
stall and the better-dressed high-school boys scamper to line up
in front of it.

Earle now stands at the sink, along with nerd after herd, pressing
forehead zits from the left and from the right.

Did you see Mary/Naomi/Laraine?/She's so incredibly beautiful,
even better than her sister, but I was such a stu-nod saying,
Hi, Darryl, this is Ramona-I mean you're Ramona, I'm Darryl!
I could've just died right there/Heather pressed her leg into mine
for a good minute and a half, she's got to want it/I just said to
the pharmacist, They're for Mike, my big brother. You fill them
up with water and throw them off the roof, right?

Earle tries to strut from the bathroom. Seeing Deborah adjusting
herself so near, Earle stops and turns. Hey foxy baby
would you care to dance, he mouths to himself.

T minus ten seconds and counting.

Earle brushes off his lapel lint.

Earle growls, revving up the vocal cords to prevent voice cracking.

T minus five.

Earle swishes a mouthful of air in his mouth to kill the anaerobic
halitosis microbes.

Earle swishes his hands over his head to press down any uneven
nuts of hair.

Hey, baby, I could not help but notice you are alone here. May
I suggest we too start our own party? I've got some wicked weed
with me, says Jamil in gold chains and tight pants. Deborah
smiles, pulls him away.

Earle lifts a toast point and tilts it toward the dance floor-the
only light in the room. He seems to be guessing the pâté's
true color by its red, blue, and strobe-light forms. Shawna tells
him he is about to eat pâté de foie gras, goose liver. They make it
by strapping large wooden funnels to geese throats and then force-feeding
them until they vomit, then force-feeding them the vomit.
Earle asks her to dance. She says she would rather eat goose liver.
Earle gags and gags again, grips her shoulder.

The pâté on the toast at first sticks to his nose, then the bread
dangles and falls facedown to the floor. Leaving, Shawna rubs
the remaining smudges of wet gray from her fingers onto the wall,
her legs chopping through the slits up the back and front of her
dress, calling, Bouncer. Bouncer.

The nerds see Shawna, see Earle; joyously they shovel their
hands into the pile of liver and the nearby tub of California Onion
Dip.



Chapter Three


Well, Earle's story so far has degenerated pretty quickly, now
hasn't it? If you ask me it's got "No Sale" written all over it. But
girls, women? Now black women sell, according to a friend of
mine who works in publishing.



Chapter Four


From St. Rita's School for Girls, the young women flood, then
dribble out the imposing and ornate gothic gates.

Their kilts short, their socks tall, their loafers brown, their
blouses yellow or white, from way up here they always look like
little candies, delicate balls of assorted deliciousness. In one group
of four, walking arm in arm in (etc.), the prettiest is dark brown
and semisweet-Dorothy and friends in The Wizard of Oz. At
the corner, from deep inside their jumbo athletic jacket sleeves
that tunnel well after their fingertips, packs of cigarettes appear
and are passed around. Ponytails are freed and shaken tangled.
Dorothy lays her Barron's Guide to the PSAT on the sidewalk
before her, bending over but knees ever locked. Her friends also
bend and stretch, press the sidewalk with their palms; pull up
legs extending to pointed feet high above their heads. Obviously
they are dancers.

When the limousine arrives, they quickly snap their cigarettes
onto West Ninetieth Street. And though it is now out of sight, I
see the long car stopping on Ninety-sixth, where Dorothy pecks
her affluent friends, steps out, then down the subway stairs, and
into a filthy uptown train.



Chapter Five


Out of the subway stairway she rises, and rises well. Her bottom
doesn't swing too much to be vulgar, just enough to provoke.
Her skirt (that skirt! I can't imagine what was going through the
mind of the nun who designed that plaid ultra-mini as the uniform
for all Catholic girls ... Now let me see, one more stitch and yes!
Lovely! Mother Superior will be so proud of me. Why, it will almost
even cover their little derrieres. Now, surely the dear, sweet, precious
young things will be certain of going to Heaven. For as Augustine
teaches us, "No girl shall find that pie-in-the-sky without exposing a
whole lot of thigh."
) is unique this afternoon on Lenox Avenue.
Harlem.

Girl, you better get your black ass out that street and in behind
my register like you got good sense, says Dorothy's mother, Darcelle.
She will be one of those fundamentalist, tough-as-nails black
women who, underneath, are pussycats.

Moms, have I ever let you down, says Dorothy.

Behind the yellowed Formica counter, Dorothy crouches a bit,
steps into the orange rayon jumper, and rises, an employee.

Darcelle sucks her teeth as she opens the thick Plexiglas cash-register
stall and releases a woman under a hairnet. She says to
her daughter, locking her inside the booth, And I want to see you
studying them books in between customers. I'll have my eye on
you, girl.

Thank you, sir, but no, I don't get off work until very late,
Dorothy explains to a police officer through the circle of bored
holes at her mouth level in the booth. My mother needs me here
and I have to study every night. She eyes him as she plucks from
him his bill, spikes it on the spindle tip that is so sharp it twinkles
when the light hits right.

I didn't think that birthday party would ever leave, Darcelle
says to Dorothy. You finish all your homework? 'Cause I don't
have to be explaining the consequences if you didn't. Come on
out the box and get yourself something to eat. We got some ribs
still. They turned out good.

Yes, Mama, says Dorothy, folding closed the PSAT study
guide on Part IV, Antonyms. Darcelle unlocks the booth door,
and the mother and the daughter grab the long, iron, hooked
poles leaning on the dining room's far corner and, outside, hook
the heavy steel shades' ends, unroll them over the windows noisily.
The narrow metal gate over just the restaurant door Dorothy
closes only half down. Her mother, then herself, stoop back under
the steel. Dorothy, inside, locks the front door behind them,
leaves the key in the lock.

Mommy. Do you think I could head back downtown now?
Julie's having some kids over and ...
Continues...




Excerpted from PLATITUDES & "The New Black Aesthetic"
by Trey Ellis
Copyright © 1988 by Trey Ellis.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Clarence Major

"This novel takes off like love at first sight. In its wonderfully comic atmosphere, it is smart and sassy, sensitive and intelligent. The author understands and cherishes his literary ancestors, and manages, at the same time, to be absolutely himself-in his own voice and of his generation."

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

"A stunning first novel. Blending the genres of the epistolary and satire, Ellis has produced a novel at once socially engaged and artistically fresh, hilariously funny and intellectually compelling. His is a major talent and this is a wonderful read."

Henry Louis Gates

"A stunning first novel. Blending the genres of the epistolary and satire, Ellis has produced a novel at once socially engaged and artistically fresh, hilariously funny and intellectually compelling. His is a major talent and this is a wonderful read."
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

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