Scott Free is an on the road story about an African American aspiring filmmaker stuck, ironically, working the concession stand at an upscale New York City movie theatre, while also trying to negotiate his dead-end relationships. He hops a Greyhound Bus $99 Special, but en route to Hollywood lands in San Francisco where he becomes a professional toilet bowl cleaner, “Scotty Tissues,” and realizes that his life West resembles his life East as there’s really no escaping oneself.
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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
"Check da bird!"
And that's exactly what Aisha was doing to the customers, flippin em off, shootin em da bird! Instead of responding to their inconsiderate questions, she merely, and rather poignantly, referred them to the overhead menu board.
"Do you have Mike and Ike candy?"
"Check da bird!"
"Do you have Gummies?"
"Check da bird!"
"I'm sorry, but I don't see any Milk Duds in here?"
Check da bird already!
The way she said it was machine-like, but she could flip it right quick if you pissed her off. During those times, she directed you to the glass candy case rather than da bird!
"My dear, do you, by any chance, have Kit Kats? I simply won't be able to enjoy my movie without my Kit Kats."
"You see Kit Kats in dere, girl? Check it out!"
I spit laughter on that one, and Aisha joined me, chuckling to confirm that she knew how funny she was being. The gray-headed white woman — whose spectacles sat rather typically on the bridge of her nose — was certainly no girl. Combined with her affected aristocratic tone, the white woman was easy fodder for two smart-alecky, poor, and black concession-stand workers.
* * *
I never asked Aisha where she was from in India, or really anything about her background. Even now I'm only thinking of her as half of our comedy team. I balanced her brusqueness with my goofy humor: "Are you a large cappuccino?" (as I handed the customer his drink). "That's funny because you don't look like a large cappuccino!" That had em rollin in the aisles!
As soon as Aisha saw me arrive for my shift each morning, the first thing she'd say was, "Scott-T, come over here and let's giggle a little." She had lots of funny little phrasings like that, like the way she'd complain about a coworker, a slob named Norman whom we secretly called NormNasty," who lusted for her but was too intimidated, and generally too shy, to get around to asking her on a date.
"NormNasty's really chatting me up this morning."
By the way, NormNasty was hella-funny too, lazy. Whenever a customer requested something that had to be made, like a cappuccino, he'd inevitably respond with sputtering lips and then sigh all through the making of it.
Rounding out our day crew was Kimmy, who was black-American, like me, and jealous of my routine with Aisha. She tried hard to be funny with me too, but lacking a certain subtlety, she'd more directly offend the customer, which wasn't my style. I'm considering one regular moviegoer whom Aisha and I dubbed "LadyHawk" because of her hawkish nose, and while we usually acknowledged that with winks and smiles (and on occasion, barely audible squawks), Kimmy would squawk and flap her wings in the background while you waited on her: "Awk, awk!"
Kimmy wore slippers while she worked and once removed one to kapow! a cockroach in the middle of a transaction. Yeah, I guess we were all funny and terribly obnoxious too!
* * *
I'm thinking of this now because I'm trying to recall what I was doing in New York right before I left, and why I left in the first place. I mean, I was actually having a pretty good time. Granted, I was a near-thirty, overeducated usher at a movie theater, but it was a high-end independent, so I got to see the best independent and foreign films for free — and I'm sure that helped me in my aspiration to be a movie director. I watched Tous les Matins du Monde like fifty times! I even learned how to pronounce the title properly in French!
And yeah, granted, I was living at the Harlem Y, having lost my place after breaking up with the so-called "love of my life" (which we'll discuss later), but I was spending, during my final days in the city, a lot of time at my new girlfriend's apartment in Hoboken, Jersey.
* * *
Straight up, my girl Patti had a big booty. Mucho junko in her trunko! And she was damn near ghostly, what you call a strawberry blonde. And, oh snap! she possessed like the prettiest pink love canal — wide and wet too — covered with soft strawberry hairs. At home I called her "3P" for "PrettyPussPatti" and "Patti-Pow-Pow" for da trunko. Both names she resented, being somewhat feminist, and adult!
Oh, I almost forgot, she was studying lingerie design at FIT!
I met Patti while I was working my evening job as a security guard in the garment district. I threatened to kick this racist white boy's butt because he kept calling me "bro" every time he passed the security desk:
— "Wassup, bro?"
— "How's it hangin, bro?"
Of course, he was workin my nerves, so after about a week of it, as Patti was passing (I probably planned it that way, didn't I?), I said to the white boy, "Every time you call me 'bro,' I think you're tryin to call me nigger. You callin me a nigger?"
Before the big lug could stammer out his response, I finished him off by saying, "Because if you are, I'm gon whip yo ass!"
The funny thing was, the punk started whimpering, and Patti, a tough kid originally from Brooklyn, found the whole thing hysterical. I found out later that the dude was a delivery boy who sometimes made deliveries to her office and harassed her every time.
Patti (oh, Patti!) was reading Malcolm's autobiography at the time (why do we call this man Malcolm as if we know im?), and seeing my fire, she started callin me "Malcolm," which of course was ridiculous, and ironic for a variety of reasons, but I didn't really care because me and my man Malcolm were in there like swimwear!
And, whoa! Patti, (I'm spending a lot of time on Patti, right?), was like porno. She'd gobble you whole, (yup, you guessed it, no easy feat in regard to a Big Bobster like me!), and she blew you til your eyes rolled. I mean, til you couldn't stand it, til you just snatched her up and offered her as much passion and stamina as you had — her reward — whatever she wanted, however. You ate fur burger even if you didn't like it, and I hated it, but did it, like every time!
Patti! One time when we were doggy-style and diggin ourselves in the mirror, she noticed how much I was getting off on it and turned to me and said, "You like that big white butt, don't you?"
Patti was a sweetie, and she really loved me. And I loved her. I actually slept with Patti, and at that time in my life, I otherwise rarely slept. As Milan Kundera insists in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, making love and sleeping with a woman are "separate passions." To paraphrase, he says that a guy may want to "copulate" with a whole lot of women but "sleep" with only one, presumably the one he loves.
* * *
So what happened then? Oh, I know, I'm such crap! I was feeling superior to her, wasn't I? My crap education! (two useless master's degrees!), "wannabe" me! and who was I? A damned usher and security guard, director of, count it, ONE FAILED MOVIE, a lifelong chump who was made a real punk by a vindictive creep (love of my life, ugh!), and there I was feeling superior to awesome Patti because, what? She had a Brooklyn accent, designed lingerie, and thought my dumb ass was Malcolm X?
Oh, and did I mention that Patti was an aficionado of classical and jazz music? I mean, none of that "high art" (you should listen to me because it's good for you) nonsense. Patti was enraptured by Mozart's hella-weird "Requiem," and she turned me on to Mingus, whom I also thought was hella-weird, but Patti told me to think of his work, such as his "Haitian Fight Song," as a "Fuck you! not only to racism but all those god-awful jazz clichés."
* * *
I felt guilty about leaving the job. I got along well with everyone. Actually, I think I made it more enjoyable for them, including the boss, an old eccentric named Thoms, who made his money from a variety of undisclosed investments but spent the majority of his time at the theater, his disclosed passion. He took a special interest in me, and he clearly had plans for me — this, to the chagrin of the Caribbean theater manager, Roger, who competed with (non-competing) me for Thoms' affection.
Thoms was always chatting me up about the movies playing at the theater, which he knew I watched repeatedly. He took me aside, whether I was busy or not, to elicit my opinions. I impressed him by pointing out how Gerard Depardieu's desperate scratch at the door during the resolution of Tous les Matins du Mondewas "absolutely breathtaking," the most brilliant way for the remorseful music student to communicate to his obstinate teacher.
"Scotty, I always enjoy speaking with you. You just see things differently."
I took that as a compliment. I also flattered him, telling him how much I appreciated the way he ran his business, how warm and wonderful a working environment he created, and he was, like, "Terrific, Scotty, and you know you can have all the popcorn and soda you want."
White man! How bout a raise, nigga?!
* * *
I wrote Thoms and the crew an elaborate resignation/good-bye letter, going on and on about how "destiny was calling"— I was off to Hollywood — and how they were "great" and "special," and how it was the "most fun" that I'd ever had working. I didn't want to face them to say good-bye, and I was sure that Thoms would have tried to talk me out of quitting, maybe even offered me a managing position (poor dumbass Roger!), and perhaps I would have considered it.
Moreover, in some ridiculous vein of self-importance, I thought that maybe the concession crew would be less content at the job without me around, and I didn't want to upset them. I felt sorry for them, stuck in a dead-end job serving popcorn, sweeping the careless spills out of narrow theater aisles. I believed my silliness made it more bearable for them.
I decided to leave without saying anything to anyone. I would mail the letter from Patti's after I was outta there.
* * *
Roger, who seriously feared that I was after his job, was determined to give me hell on what turned out to be my last day there. Thoms had unwittingly set me up. Like a bad parent, he openly compared us, scolding Roger about how he could learn a thing or two from me in regard to his "people skills," and so after Thoms retreated into his office, Roger went on the attack.
"Where you from, boy?"
"One Thirty-Fifth and Eighth." (I decided to let the "boy" slide, thinking it cultural.)
He smiled after spitting out 'Harlem.'
"There's something about you Harlem Negroes," he said, shaking his head, lamenting our existence.
Roger kept me away from the concession stand all day, made me sweep out all five of the theaters alone (it was usually a job for three of us while the fourth manned the stand). He made me clean throughout the theater, picking up stray popcorn and such, and finally, he insisted that I give the bathrooms a "once-over." When I reminded him of the nightly cleaning service, he held that the toilets were "too soiled to wait."
I did the work dutifully, without providing him a glimpse of my annoyance, though I considered sticking his blockhead in a soiled toilet after he stood over me and told me, with a smirk, and in the most clichéd way, that I'd "missed a spot." In the end, I decided that he was too pitiful to be bothered with, and it was my last day — and to be honest, I didn't mind doing the actual work. I liked that kind of mindless, repetitious working because it allowed me to reflect. I was more annoyed at being punked by him, or by anyone, for that matter.
When I finally arrived at "check da bird!" a big smile captured my face. That made Aisha smile too, since I hadn't been smiling as I worked even though she had been encouraging me with "thumbs up" from the distant concession stand.
"That Roger, he's a real stinker, man. I offered to do some of the work — we all did, even the nasty white boy, but he said you should do it, that you like working alone. The stinker called you a 'loner.'"
"No biggie," I said, "but thanks anyway."
NormNasty and Kimmy eventually joined Aisha and me in what would be our final clowning of the customers together. At first, they all seemed tentative, standoffish, maybe embarrassed for me — maybe afraid they'd get a dose from Roger if they appeared to be on my side.
I feel so lucky that in my last hour, the customers were forced to repeatedly check "da bird," endure furiously propelling lips, and Kimmy even said to one, "Don't just stand there like you're stupid, order something!" She turned directly to me after saying that, dying with laughter!
As I headed toward the door, Thoms trotted over and asked me to accompany him to a private showing of a French new-wave film that he was considering for the theater. I told him that I would be happy to attend, and even though I had no intention of showing up, I was pleased at the opportunity to offer him genuine thanks.
* * *
You like that big white butt, don't you?
I arrived at Patti's place and found her in the kitchen preparing our farewell dinner — chicken frying noisily and, ew! funky collards greens (had she assumed?). She was wearing cutoffs that barely cut off a third of that big butt and certainly any blood that might try to circulate through there — and it was propped up on leopard-spotted, high-heeled slippers that she'd designed in class.
As she used a miniature pitchfork to prod the seriously frying chicken, I hugged her (really out of the sheer joy of seeing her) cautiously about the shoulders, afraid to subject her to third-degree burns, but in my awkward, careful position, I brushed against her bottom. A moment later, I slipped my hand in between her thighs and discovered her wetness. (Why do I think of Patti as always being wet? My fantasy?) She smiled and casually turned off the fires, and after imposing upon me a playful whiff of the greens, she proposed that we eat later.
"I can always finish this later."
* * *
And so later we had to deal with my leaving:
Patti casually stopped, pressed down my sprung jimmie with her hand, and asked me with her most mischievous smile if I was, indeed, "Still leaving?"
"It's a funny time to ask."
"You know, if we were married, I'd do this every day."
She released me and went back at it.
(Following her gurgled responses, on that one she gagged with laughter.)
"Yes, darling," and then she went at it more intensely, showing off even. No hands!
Patti wanted to marry me? She was going to blow me for KWANZAA?(For which principle, Kujichagulia?)
"I mean, I don't know what's going to happen out there. I mean, I could be back in a week."
She was quiet in response to that, and you could feel the tension between us. It was time for me to invite her.
"I'll write as soon as I'm settled."
Patti stretched out on the bed and lay heavily on her stomach. After a still moment, she allowed herself to enjoy the massage I gave her.
"Too bad I can't go with you. But I got too much going on here — school, work. You expect me to trade Hoboken for Hollywood?"
Good old Patti. As I hugged and kissed her, and then used my thumb to trap one escaped tear, she ran thick fingers over my face and eyes, searching for something within me. I couldn't bear it, so I slid down and sucked her for even longer than she'd sucked me and joked that I, too, would do it every day if we were married. I'd thought to make a joke about "Saint Patti's Day," but it was too obvious, and Patti really didn't like to consider our relationship in racial terms.CHAPTER 2
HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD, ALMOST
I didn't realize how exhausted I was until I collapsed on the bus. I must have slept for two whole days because when I woke up, I was in a place I'd never heard of, "Effingham, Illinois," which was about halfway on the four-day ride to destination Hollywood. It was not a restful sleep, however, as my ex, the Queen of Vindictiveness (let's call her "Queen V" from this point on), dominated my dreams, even the waking ones — and not even my fresh and overall good memories of big-booty Patti could thwart them.
I was an idiot with Queen V, and she was pissed because she got stuck with an idiot, and she never passed up an opportunity to remind me that I was an idiot, and that she was stuck.
My idiocy was relentless, and it took various guises. Indeed, I've since confessed to a psychotherapist that my life is a "series of humiliations, the latter usually topping the former, and certainly there are many more to come."
It started with my dad, who was also an idiot, and who split when I was two. He had heard somehow, maybe via my blabbermouth Aunt Dean, that I had been accepted to Philly's most prestigious boys' high school. He chose my first day there to reunite with me after his twelve-year hiatus.
Twelve years — not one correspondence, not one birthday card, nothing but angry retorts from my mom, "How should I know where that nigger is?" and my dad turned up at my uppity new school staggering drunk!
Because my last name is Snow, Scott Douglass Snow, I sat in the last row of most of my classes. In my English class, I was sandwiched between Simon and Wojnarowski, two of the whitest white dudes you could imagine.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Scott Free"
Copyright © 2019 Nkosi Ife Bandele.
Excerpted by permission of Crimson Cloak Publishing.
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.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK,
CHAPTER 2: HOBOKEN TO HOLLYWOOD, ALMOST,
CHAPTER 3: DOWN AND OUT IN SAN FRAN,
CHAPTER 4: ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ALSO BY NKOSI IFE BANDELE,