The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
A Second-Hand Account of the Rise and Fall
of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry
David J. Keffer
October 1, 2017
Throughout yesterday, Lee had remained angry. He was angry with Charlotte both for the weakness of her relapse and for conspiring with Oscar to trick him into signing the registry. Lee was angry with the visitor for continuing to plague him with his own flimsy and sinister conspiracy theories, in which random events were assigned meanings in order to construct some pervasive, existential threat. In his anger, Lee bought a case of twenty-four beers and proceeded to drink himself into oblivion. He offered some to Charlotte but she drank only one or two cans.
The day became a blur but, at about three o'clock on Sunday morning, Lee awoke. He was still drunk but the placating effect of the alcohol on his temper had largely dissipated. He stormed about the apartment until he felt he had to escape it. Once outside, he got in his truck, though he was in no condition to drive.
Lee was drawn to the long, straight street of Oscar's old neighborhood, where his troubles seemed to be centered. As he rolled past Omar's house, he leaned over and glared at the dark windows. His balance was off and his truck scraped against the side of the SUV parked on the curb. Lee put the truck in park but left the engine running. He examined briefly the crumpled metal along the length of the SUV. In his frustration, he grabbed an old brick out of the back of his pickup and smashed it into the windshield. He then returned to his truck and drove off as a light appeared in an upstairs window of the house.
written while listening to: The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra - Rejoicing with the Light (Black Saint, BSR 0071, 1983, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 2, 2017
It is difficult to maintain one's composure in the face of violence if one is not routinely exposed to it. So it was with Omar's parents. The time of the event suggested to the police that a drunk driver had likely sideswiped their car. However, the brick in the windshield could not be so innocently explained and upset them both tremendously.
In the course of their questioning, the police had asked if there was anyone who might bear a grudge against them.
Neither Omar's mother nor father had wanted to mention the existence of the registry, but they were unwilling to later be seen as having withheld pertinent information. Thus they had, in the early morning hours while Omar slept, admitted to the police officer the existence of the registry and the publicity it had gained when the Mr. Gardener's column was published.
The police are charged with maintaining peace and security for all residents. Still, the officer was unable to entirely conceal his opinion that it had been unwise of them, as newcomers, to create an organization, however noble in intent, that provoked the prevailing sentiments of the native citizens.
Omar's father not only clearly articulated this perspective to the police but completely shared it. "My son," he had said to the officer, "thinks in America there can be only justice." To this statement, the officer did not reply.
By Monday morning, Omar's mother drove him to school in a rental car, paid for by their insurance. The damaged SUV had already been towed to the body shop.
written while listening to: Paul Bley - Sonor (Soul Note, SN 1085, 1984, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 3, 2017
Nor is it easy to allow a crime to go unpunished. Omar could not ignore the fact that only four days before their vehicle had been vandalized, Oscar had brought two extraordinarily unsavory individuals to his house--a man tattooed to his neck and a woman, wasted by drug abuse. Although he did not yet have any evidence, Omar felt certain the two events were connected. Almost surely evidence could be found linking them. Little did Omar know that the paint of his mother's SUV was smeared along the side of the truck they had driven, though, given the overall state of the pick-up, it was unremarkable on its own. Furthermore, other, used bricks of the same kind as the one they had found lodged in the shattered windshield were scattered in the bed of Lee's truck. Indeed, a path was clear. It would be easy to identify them, for he had their signatures on the registry.
Omar could not perceive that this incident was a minor obstacle in the life of his parents, who were already in the process of returning to normalcy. Omar did not imagine the rather more significant impact of the actions he now contemplated on the lives of Lee and Charlotte. Surely, Lee would be arrested. Even if he avoided jail time, he would lose his job. Without employment, he would lose his apartment. Charlotte would return to the homeless shelter. What little stability they knew would rapidly deteriorate.
None of these considerations instilled in Omar the forbearance to withhold his suspicions from his parents. Instead, Omar's hesitation stemmed from the thought of Oscar, living some alternate existence in which he sought company through gathering to their cause convicted felons and drug addicts.
written while listening to: David Murray Octet - Murray's Steps (Black Saint, BSR 0065, 1983, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 4, 2017
Omar and Cybil met halfway between their houses; each had been walking to see the other. Meeting thus they simply continued their walk in the neighborhood. The afternoon was pleasant and autumn leaves were only beginning to accumulate on the lawns. When Cybil turned toward Omar, a breeze blew her hair across her face . He kicked up a stray leaf on the sidewalk as he confided his suspicions regarding the vandalism of his mother's vehicle to Cybil.
She did not explicitly admit that she had held a similar hunch but seemed unsurprised by his suggestion. "You don't have any proof," she said quietly.
"I bet we could find proof," Omar countered. "I'm sure Oscar knows where they live. If we could just see the truck..."
The pair walked in silence for a while, each contemplating their own thoughts. Omar broke the silence, asking, "What's the point of the Renegades if we don't stand up to this kind of hate?"
"You don't know," Cybil argued, "that it was because of the Registry or because your family's Muslim. It could have just been some stupid drunk with a brick."
Omar had no ready rebuttal. It was true that he was mired in uncertainty.
"Besides," Cybil added, "if everything you guess turned out to be true and Oscar's friends were responsible, is this what the Renegades are supposed to do?"
"Hold them accountable?" Omar asked in an incredulous tone.
Cybil was not able to clearly articulate to Omar the balance she was seeking between justice and mercy.
written while listening to: The Julius Hemphill Sextet - Fat Man And The Hard Blues (Black Saint, 120 115-2, 1991, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 5, 2017
Omar and Cybil found Agnes sitting in her backyard, wearing jeans and a light jacket, though by the afternoon the temperature had risen into the eighties. Only two cats, the familiar tortoiseshell and a newly arrived calico tabby, were keeping the conjurer company from the comfort of the shade. Agnes warmly greeted the children, who, declining her offer of a pot of hot tea, remained outside.
Omar informed her that this mother's car had been vandalized; it was the first she had heard of it, as she was not subscribed to the neighborhood email distribution list. (In fact, she had no email account at all.) He also explained that he had suspects in mind and then proceeded to tell the full story behind Oscar's introduction of Lee and Charlotte to the registry.
Omar found Agnes to be overly sympathetic. "We should have known from the moment that Oscar tried to get the barbarian to join the Renegades that we couldn't trust his judgment."
Cybil and Omar exchanged uncomfortable glances. This was not the direction they had expected the conversation to take. Agnes continued, extolling the virtues of minding one's own business and avoiding controversy, in a vein that was not wholly aligned with the purpose of the registry.
"You should go immediately to the police," Agnes urged Omar. She would have offered for him to use her landline telephone, except the thought of police officers visiting her house made her nervous. "Call as soon as you get home."
Omar and Cybil did return to his house, though they were uncertain of their next course of action. Intending to find the full names of the latest two additions to the registry, Omar discovered the folder to be missing.
written while listening to: Dave Douglas - Parallel Worlds (Soul Note, 121226-2, 1993, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 6, 2017
Although St. Jerome had centuries ago sworn off pagan literature, he had taken recently to reading treatises on quantum mechanics, which fell somewhere between philosophy and science and for which one had to voluntarily stretch one's imagination in order to perceive as a testament to the glorious mysteries of the divine.
In the Many-Worlds-Interpretation of quantum mechanics, every possible outcome of every event existed in its own universe. From this point of view, it was immaterial whether Lee was punished in this world for hurling a brick through the windshield of Omar's mother's automobile. In some universe, he had already been punished. In others, the punishment yet awaited him. There seemed, when one considered the infinite possibilities, altogether too much punishment for his academic tastes.
The saint tried to convey to Omar just how unrealistic it was to expect that justice should be dispensed always in the particular universe in which he dwelt. It was much more reasonable to distribute elements of justice more uniformly across a broad swath of universes. Of course, from a probabilistic point of view, there was one infinitely unlucky fellow who was always faced with injustice.
"Make the best of your good fortune, however limited it may be," St. Jerome advised our Omar, "lest the suffering of your less fortunate brothers have been in vain."
Alas, this counsel could not be delivered to the boy, who was enmeshed in a frantic torrent of worry over the disappearance of the registry.
written while listening to: Max Roach featuring Anthony Braxton - Birth and Rebirth (Black Saint, BSR 0024, 1978, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 7, 2017
On Saturday, despite his best attempts to hide it, Omar's anxiety was clear to his mother.
"What is bothering you?" she asked him, when he disturbed her in her office for a third time that morning.
He eyed the stack of papers on the desk next to her laptop, wondering if the registry had been inadvertently collected.
His mother misinterpreted his curiosity. "I'm just spot-checking the T.A.'s grading on the midterm exam." She observed that this explanation did not placate Omar in the least. She set aside the test in her hand and waited patiently for Omar to confess that he had lost the registry.
"How long has it been missing?" she asked, thinking that Omar had simply misplaced it.
"I don't know," Omar replied. "I looked for it on Thursday and couldn't find it. It could have been gone longer."
The absence of the registry abruptly alarmed Omar's mother. This week had begun with the vandalism of her vehicle and the residual tension caused by that act had by no means eased from her mind. In her mind she instantly drew a correlation between the two events. The possibility that someone bearing them ill will had secretly entered the house and taken from Omar's room the registry set her on edge.
Omar's father was spending half the day at his laboratory on campus. He and two graduate students were in the middle of calibrating a calorimeter when the phone vibrated in his pocket. He answered only on the third consecutive call. "What is it?" he asked irritably.
"The registry has been stolen!" she exclaimed.
"Don't be crazy," her husband replied. "I put it in the safe with the passports and other documents so Omar can't get us into anymore trouble."
written while listening to: Andrew Cyrille & Maono - Metamusicians' Stomp (Black Saint, BSR 0025, 1978, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 8, 2017
Omar pleaded with his father to return the registry to him but he would not, saying, "Against my better judgment, I allowed you to get into this mess. I am putting an end to it now." He had not softened his position at all, though he had ordered Omar not to make such a fuss. "Your precious documents are in safe place."
Next Omar took his case to his mother. Although she might have been expected to be sympathetic, she said tersely, "Don't get me involved. This is between you and your father."
"How does taking those papers from me even help anything?" Omar asked as his mother departed her room. She did not return to provide an answer.
The next most reasonable advocate was the Imam, who had been partially responsible for convincing his parents to allow Omar to form the Renegades. "I'm going to see the Imam!" Omar shouted in the empty room. If his parents heard him, they did not respond. Perhaps, they counted on the distance of the mosque or on Omar's lack of determination.
On Sunday evening, Omar shared his lament with Cybil.
"Well, the next step is obvious," she said to him.
Omar looked at her blankly.
"If you're serious about going to the mosque, we need the barbarian." She crossed her arms as if the matter was settled. "He's been there before on behalf of the Renegades."
written while listening to: Steve Lacy - Only Monk (Soul Note, SN 1160, 1987, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 9, 2017
Contacting the barbarian was easier said than done. Omar hadn't seen him since just after Oscar had moved. Neither he nor Cybil knew his address, though they had a general idea of his neighborhood. Both remembered that the barbarian had worked at a fast food restaurant over the summer; he could still be working there during the school year. They judged the restaurant too far to visit on foot. Cybil owned a bicycle but did not make frequent use of it. They considered asking Agnes, who often served as both conjurer of cats and chauffeur of the Renegades, but after their most recent conversation with her, they elected to seek another alternative.
After school on Monday, Cybil's mother had overdue books to return to the library. She had intended to return them over the weekend but, as happens, other errands had taken precedence. The fine would be nominal. Cybil joined her and they picked up Omar on the way.
At the library, Cybil and Omar found Amanita. They hadn't spoken in well over a month.
"How goes it with the Renegades?" the librarian asked the children cheerfully.
Omar proceeded to relate recent events, including Oscar's questionable recruits to the registry, the vandalism of his mother's car and his father's confiscation of the registry. The librarian listened attentively.
"So," Cybil said, continuing where Omar had left off, "we're going to the Imam to get the registry back, but we're thinking we should get Lamar to come with us to the mosque."
Amanita suspected that what Omar and Cybil required of the barbarian was his courage. "Interesting," she said, not yet realizing that she had a role to play in the unfolding plan.
"Do you think you can help us find the barbarian in the next day or two? We have an idea of a couple places to look first."
"Oh," said the librarian, "I'm sorry to disappoint you but I'm working late every night this week."
written while listening to: Oliver Lake Quartet - Clevont Fitzhubert (A Good Friend Of Mine) (Black Saint, BSR 0054, 1981, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 10, 2017
"The war on coal is over," Rufus explained to Amanita, "so says, the stooge of the petroleum industry that Douchebag J. Troglodyte put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency."
Amanita had just stepped in the door after getting off work late. She allowed Rufus to blow off his steam, knowing that, if this process of decompression did not take place, it would fester through the rest of the night.
"The war on a habitable planet has officially begun." Rufus described to Amanita the announcement that the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which regulated carbon emissions would be repealed.* "That someone could do something so obviously self-destructive in order to fulfill a campaign promise to obliterate the environmental legacy of our first black president is a kind of unprecedented racism."
Amanita frowned sympathetically.
Rufus continued in an incredulous tone. "With old racism, there was a particular group of people that racists worked to subjugate. With the new racism, our douchebag president doesn't care who suffers, black and white and everyone else, so long as the white nationalists in his base can construe an element of racism in the act."
When Rufus had calmed down, Amanita chanced to mention to him her disappointment that she had been unable to help Cybil and Omar.
Still indignant, Rufus declared, "I too am a member of the Renegades. I'll drive them around tomorrow." He insisted that Amanita call Cybil that very moment, though it was late, so as to let her know to expect him at five-thirty tomorrow.
*"E.P.A. Announces Repeal of Major Obama-Era Carbon Emissions Rule", Lisa Friedman and Brad Plumer, New York Times, October 9, 2017
full text: New York Times.
written while listening to: Rova - John Coltrane's Ascension (Black Saint, 120180-2, 1996, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 11, 2017
Rufus pulled up in front of Cybil's house in his hatchback, a modest vehicle in fairly good condition though unwashed. Cybil's mother stepped out with the two children to get a better feeling of the man to whom she was entrusting her daughter. Although Cybil had vouched for him as a signatory of the registry, his untucked shirt and grungy jeans did not reassure her mother.
"You're Amanita's husband?" asked the mother.
"No, we're not married," Rufus replied.
With that, they were off, despite the mother's reservations. Cybil rode in the passenger seat and Omar squeezed into the back.
In only a few minutes, they arrived at their best guess as to where the barbarian could be found. At a quarter to six, the parking lot remained nearly full with dinner patrons. In the rear of the lot, seemingly unconcerned with the rush of business, the barbarian tossed a garbage bag into the dumpster with a certain lackadaisical flair. He then spun the garbage can, mounted on tiny wheels, and watched it grind to an inglorious halt on the asphalt. Before he could return inside, Cybil dashed from the car and caught his attention.
In the odor of grease and rotten food emanating from the dumpster, Omar and Rufus joined them. Omar started by asking if the barbarian had seen Oscar recently.
"I stopped by his new place once but, you know, his mother's not too keen on me."
Omar then hurriedly explained events, from the recruits whom Oscar had brought to his home, to the brick in the windshield, to the confiscated registry. "We're going to see if the Imam will help us convince my father to give the registry back," he concluded.
"For that," Cybil said, "we're going to the mosque."
A return to the mosque piqued the barbarian's interest. "Sure, why not?" he said, though they had not yet asked him to accompany them. "I'm off tomorrow."
Omar looked to Rufus, who readily agreed, "Tomorrow it is."
written while listening to: David Murray Trio - The Hill (Black Saint, 120110-1, 1988, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 12, 2017
On Thursday evening, the Imam sat in the small library that also served as a classroom for local children. He had been expecting a man to come and service the air conditioner in the mosque, for the temperatures had risen into the eighties again and several members of his congregation had complained of the heat. The appointment had been set hours earlier and he had assumed, since it was now past five, that the man would not come. When he heard a car stop in the parking lot, he set down his book and hurried out. There, trying to hide his disappointment, he found an unexpected crew. Omar he recognized immediately. As the boy introduced him to his three companions, the Imam greeted each in kind. The Imam did not remember the barbarian at first, but when reminded, exclaimed, "Oh, yes! Welcome back."
The Imam ushered them inside, out of the sun, though it was only slightly cooler. When Rufus asked if it was kosher if a non-Muslim entered a mosque, the Imam smiled and said, "Of course, but not in the prayer room."
When they were seated around a table, Omar explained to the Imam their purpose in seeking his aid. He listened carefully then, when Omar was apparently finished and the others had added those details they felt over-looked but important, he asked several questions.
"Why do you need the names on the registry?"
Omar looked with consternation on the Imam. "I told you. I think the last two people who signed it threw a brick through my mom's windshield."
The Imam frowned. "You have a list of the names of hundreds of good people who have allied themselves with us in a stand against tyranny and the best purpose that you can think to use it for is vengeance?" His expression softened. "When you can think of a better use for the registry, I will help you retrieve it."
written while listening to: World Saxophone Quartet - Moving Right Along (Black Saint, 120127-2, 1994, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 13, 2017
To be clear no one interpreted the magnanimity of the Imam as a success. On the following day, Omar still lamented to Cybil their failure at the mosque. While they sat in the living room commiserating, Cybil's mother brought them homemade cookies and lemonade, which only moderately cheered them up.
She listened as Omar asked her daughter, "What is a good use for the registry?"
Cybil shrugged. "Maybe we are supposed to do something more dramatic."
"It's just a list of names," Omar replied.
Cybil looked up at her mother who had remained in the room and was observing them absent-mindedly. "What do you think, mom?"
"What do I think about what?"
"What should we do with the registry?"
Cybil's mother thought for a moment then smiled brightly. "When I put together a list of names, it's usually because I'm throwing a party."
"Right," laughed Omar. "We'll throw a party for everyone on the registry."
He had intended the remark to be facetious and was, therefore, taken aback when Cybil shouted, "Omar, that's brilliant!" She hopped a few steps over and squeezed him in a bear hug.
written while listening to: Sun Ra Arkestra - Mayan Temples (Black Saint, 120121-2, 1990, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 14, 2017
The planning of the party took on its own importance. Cybil and Omar entertained various names for the event. Cybil suggested, "The Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
As if entranced by the sounds of the otherwise ordinary words strung together in a sequence that seemed to him majestic, Omar repeated the name aloud several times. "The Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry." He imagined dancing with Cybil beneath a chandelier. She wore a pale blue gown and he a tuxedo. "We'll need a band," he told her.
Cybil was hunched over her notebook. Upon hearing Omar's remark, she looked up and replied, "Of course we'll need a band," as if nothing could have been more obvious.
Omar beamed. A gala! A band! "We'll have tables filled with treats."
"What kind?" Cybil asked, ready to jot down specifics.
Omar's eyes went glassy. "Baklava," he said, "the triangular ones with walnuts." He watched Cybil write it down. When she looked back up at him, he added, after a dramatic, deliberative pause, "And the rolled baklava with pistachios." Omar was filled with such a pleasure it was as if he were savoring the sugary treats at that very moment.
Shaking him from his reverie, Cybil asked, "How are we going to pay for all this?" She instantly regretted her question for the expression of bliss that had illuminated Omar's face faded as he considered the practical reality of arranging such an affair. Perhaps, a moment of doubt flashed across his face as he wondered if the gala would ever come to pass. Cybil quickly answered her own question. "I've got it! Of course! We'll find a sponsor!"
"A host of sponsors. Who wouldn't want to be associated with an event as stately and distinguished as what we've got in mind?"
Omar sighed in contented delight.
written while listening to: Cecil Taylor Segments II (Orchestra of Two Continents) - Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) (Soul Note, SN 1089, 1985, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 15, 2017
On Sunday afternoon Cybil briefly met Omar at his house to discuss what progress they could expect to make this week with respect to the planning of their gala. She joined him out on the front porch. "We need to get more people involved," she said.
"We can go visit Agnes," Omar suggested.
Cybil nodded perfunctorily. "That's fine. We'll invite Agnes and we can let her know about the gala as soon as you as we want but, really, she doesn't like to leave her house that much. We need people who are going to go out and talk to potential sponsors and rent a hall and hire a band and do all the things that need to be done. I don't think that's Agnes."
Omar nodded in agreement.
"Besides, we don't even have the guest list yet." Cybil looked at her watch. "Did you tell your parents about the party?"
Omar reluctantly admitted that he had not found the courage to broach the subject with his parents, who, he suspected, would not receive the news favorably.
"Then we've got to go see the Imam again," Cybil concluded. "He said that he'd get the registry back when we had a good use for it." She stood up, contemplating all of the tasks before her. Together, they seemed an immense undertaking. What calmed her was the knowledge that people threw parties all the time. She had an accomplished resource in her mother. "I'll call Amanita," she said. "We'll see what night Rufus can take us to the mosque." Another thought struck her and she asked, "Do we need to bring Lamar this time?" Of course, that entailed finding him again.
Omar considered the question. The presence of the barbarian seemed unnecessary. For a moment, he wondered why they had ever needed the barbarian. The thought seemed both a sign of progress and a warning against forgetting the sequence of events that had transpired to allow them to get to this point.
written while listening to: Henry Threadgill - Song out of my Trees (Black Saint, 120154-2, 1994, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 16, 2017
Their plans were thwarted when Cybil called Amanita, only to discover that Rufus would be working late all week; the university was installing a new mail server. As a result, he could not drive them to the mosque. Cybil and Omar at least received some positive reinforcement from Amanita, who agreed that a gala seemed like a splendid idea. "Of course, Rufus and I will attend. Put me on the planning committee. I know a great band who'll play for cheap."
Cybil and Omar parted ways in the evening. Lying in bed that night, Cybil wondered how they might meet the Imam again. It suddenly dawned on her that their meeting need not be face to face. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand and searched on the internet for local mosques. There was only one in the city. She called the number on the website immediately. The mosque was closed but a recorded voice with the familiar accent of the Imam asked her to leave a message.
"This is Cybil, Omar's friend. We've found a good need for the registry. We're going to host a gala. All the members of the registry will be invited. But we can't send out invitations until we get their names. We need you to help us convince Omar's father to return the registry to him. Thanks!" She left her number in case the Imam wanted more information.
As Cybil set down the phone and lay her head on the pillow, she had trouble returning to sleep. She felt exhilarated, as if all of the logistical obstacles that would be faced in the arranging of such an event would fall as easily as dominos. For her, the gala took on an aura of inevitability. That a sense of impending, inescapable destiny should be the source of comfort to some and terror to others was just the way of the multifarious world.
written while listening to: Muhal Richard Abrams - Song for All (Black Saint, 120161-2, 1997, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 17, 2017
The Imam and his wife showed up unannounced at Omar's home, shortly after dinner. The sun had set and their two forms appeared still as ghosts, one garbed in white, the other in a darker fabric, out in the autumn chill.
Of course, Omar's parents invited them inside, though not without misgivings. The Imam's wife paired off with Omar's mother, who honestly would have preferred to hear the men's business rather than to exchange pleasantries. Omar for his part made himself scarce. He had been alerted by Cybil to the message she had left at the mosque.
In the study, the Imam sat in a plush, upholstered wooden chair on the opposite side of the desk. Omar's father waited for the other to speak.
"I have come," said the Imam, "on behalf of your son and the other members of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry to ask that you return to them the registry, which you have held safe, so that they might put it to a noble use."
"What use?" asked the father suspiciously.
The Imam then realized that Omar had not discussed the gala with his father and that it fell to him to do so. It bothered him not in the least; in his profession, he often had occasion to deliver difficult news. He explained that there would be a celebration of the registry, uniting Muslims and those of other faiths. He himself intended to go, though he had not yet been invited.
Omar's father then took the opportunity to recount the vandalism of his wife's vehicle. Although he did not have a specific suspect in mind (as did his son), he nevertheless allowed for the likely possibility that it was a result of the registry.
When the father had finished, the Iman folded his hands on his lap and recited, "But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs."*
*The Holy Quran, XLII:43, translated by Yusuf Ali, 1934, full text: Internet Sacred Text Archive.
written while listening to: Paul Bley, Furio Di Castri & Tony Oxley - Chaos (Soul Note, 121285-2, 1998, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 18, 2017
The registry reappeared in Omar's room at the precise location from which it had disappeared two weeks earlier. The son did not witness the return of the folder, nor did any words pass between father and son on the subject.
One can speculate as to the reason behind this lack of communication. Perhaps, the father felt that the bringing of the Imam into what had been, from a certain point of view, a family matter between father and son, was an underhanded trick. As such, the father's silence could have had at its source a simple explanation: resentment.
One can also conjure other, more elaborate explanations. Perhaps language failed to capture the panoply of sometimes conflicting emotions that each felt toward the other. It is entirely possible that the fault lay not with an abstract concept such as language but with the limitations of an organ within a wholly biological organism, the brain for example. Perhaps the neural networks within the brains of the father and the sun continued to process events in real time and had not yet had sufficient opportunity to assimilate all of the variegated data into what might be an appropriate gesture or response. On second thought, this explanation seems not all that far-fetched.
Let us imagine something further afield. In the continuous spectrum of universes in which all possible events transpire, we happen to be settled in one that can be described, at best, as fair to middling, unexceptional amongst the infinite number of parallel paths. Here, fathers and their sons experience both instances of solidarity and isolation. One need not overly pity this pair over a transient disagreement. Such sentiments should instead be reserved for other father-son relationships for which reconciliation remains an infinitesimal possibility or, worse yet, a lost opportunity.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton with the Northwest Creative Orchestra - Eugene (1989) (Black Saint, 120137-2, 1991, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 19, 2017
Omar brought the folder to Cybil's house after school on Thursday to show her the physical evidence; the registry had been returned. At that point they were confronted by the inescapable fact that many of the names were not accompanied by any contact information. Readers who had chosen to respond to Mr. Gardener's column via email could be invited via the address from which the email had been sent. Mr. Gardener had saved the envelopes of those who had written by mail to him, so there were some return addresses as well. The large group that had signed outside Mr. Gardener's church could, presumably, be contacted as one, via a sign on a bulletin board at the church or through flyers passed out after a service. Still, there were numerous names that they had no idea how to contact.
Faced with this problem, Cybil reminded Omar that Amanita had volunteered to sit on the gala planning committee. Thus the conversation turned to the composition of this committee. "We need help," Cybil said, "but we shouldn't have too many planners or we won't get anything done."
In the end the pair decided to include, in addition to Amanita, Agnes, so that they would have one more local person whom they could contact easily, and Mr. Gardener, who provided an essential connection to many of the signees.
Of course, the elephant in the room was the absence of Oscar, in whom they had lost trust. If they put him on the planning committee then he might very well insist on inviting Lee and Charlotte. However, leaving him off the planning committee left their stomachs unsettled. They were unable to resolve this dilemma to their satisfaction. They tabled it until all five proposed members of the planning committee could meet and provide their individual thoughts on the matter.
written while listening to: Jimmy Lyons & Andrew Cyrille - Something in Return (Black Saint, 120125-1, 1988, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 20, 2017
Of the five members of the gala planning committee, only Amanita worked, so her schedule dictated when they would meet. Cybil stopped by Agnes' house and informed her in a matter-of-fact way that they needed her help to plan a party. "Since you were such a wonderful hostess of the first Renegades party, we knew we couldn't plan this second, bigger one without you." Agnes likely would have agreed without the flattery but it didn't hurt.
On the night before, Omar had contacted Mr. Gardener via the email address listed at the paper. By the next morning, he had a reply with a telephone number. After school on Friday, Omar called the columnist on Cybil's cell phone. Mr. Gardener thought the gala a wonderful idea and expressed his willingness to participate in the planning. He inquired as to whom else they had already gotten involved. He seemed pleased that the gothic librarian and their shut-in neighbor, both of whom he had previously met, were on the planning committee but he had an additional suggestion. "We should include the Imam."
"Uh..." Omar hesitated because he feared that his father would interpret further interaction with the Imam in the wrong way.
Mr. Gardener sensed Omar's reluctance, though he could only guess at its origin. "I'll tell you what," he said. "How about I set up a meeting with the Imam and you all can join us?"
Cybil, who had been listening in, pulled the phone from Omar when he failed to immediately respond. "Hey, Mr. Gardener, this is Cybil. That'd be great!"
So it was settled. In truth, Omar's reservations did little to temper Cybil's ebullient enthusiasm.
written while listening to: John Lindberg Ensemble - Bounce (Black Saint, 120192-2, 1997, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 21, 2017
The Imam wanted to meet quickly so as to maintain the momentum for the gala. They met at Agnes' house, each filing through the narrow gap between the parked car and the house. In the backyard, they passed beneath the inspection of no less than four cats then entered through the back door.
Before Mr. Gardener arrived with the Imam, Agnes confided to Omar and Cybil that she had never had a Muslim enter her home. Omar looked at her with a mixture of confusion and amusement. "I'm a Muslim," he reminded her. A look of realization dawned on the old woman's face, while Omar silently wondered just what kind of organization Agnes thought the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry was.
The quintet arranged themselves around the coffee table, Agnes in her recliner, the Imam and Mr. Gardener on the sofa, and the two children on wooden chairs pulled from the dining table. Omar and Cybil described their plans for the gala, including food and music. The Imam clapped his hands in delight and assured Omar that women in his congregation could prepare, in the kitchens of their homes, the most savory varieties of baklava. However, he asked not to be on the planning committee. "Consider me an external consultant."
An unexpected outcome of the meeting emerged when Mr. Gardener asked why Oscar wasn't part of the planning committee. "He is one of the inaugural members of the Renegades."
At that point, Omar confessed that they had intentionally excluded Oscar because he had brought questionable individuals to sign the registry.
At this news, the expressions of both the Imam and Mr. Gardener fell. The holy man allowed the columnist to explain to the children that any gala they were part of would be, by its nature, inclusive and welcoming. They would not participate in an exclusionary event. To emphasize this point, the Imam rose to his feet and promised to invite Oscar to participate in the planning himself.
written while listening to: The Jimmy Giuffre 4 - Quasar (Soul Note, SN 1108, 1985, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 22, 2017
The Imam visited Oscar's apartment on Sunday afternoon. He walked past Jacky's open door framing the Confederate flag without pausing. Two floors up, Oscar's mother answered the door. They had not previously met. The Imam looked the part of a Muslim holy man. By his appearance, then, Oscar's mother guessed rightly that the stranger had come to meet Oscar on business of the Renegades. "He's not here," she told him after brief introductions, in which they remained standing in the doorway. "He's out biking somewhere."
The Imam explained that Omar and Cybil were hosting a party and they had sent him to invite Oscar to join in the planning. Oscar's mother promised to relay the message.
Much else went unsaid.
As the Imam made to leave, Oscar's mother did add, "You should come back and tell him yourself." When the Imam fixed her with a quizzical look, she explained, "He doesn't listen to me."
The Imam opened his hands as if nothing could be more natural. "It is the way of boys to ignore the wisdom of their mothers."
His words drew a smile from Oscar's mother. "I'm afraid that you give me too much credit. I don't have any special wisdom."
"Of course," the Imam nonchalantly agreed, "except that which you have imparted to your son that he should see the good in everyone."
written while listening to: Andrew Hill Trio - Strange Serenade (Soul Note, SN 1013, 1980, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 23, 2017
Oscar's mother had not forgotten that it was her son who had, circuitously, led the junkie to Zepha's apartment where she had overdosed. The consequences of that incident had not yet been fully resolved.
The police officers who had responded to Zepha's 9-1-1 call had taken him to the station. Zepha was under strict orders from his sister not to leave the apartment complex while she was at work. Therefore, he was greatly agitated by this turn of events. As a matter of routine, the police had contacted the state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) and reported the incident. One cannot blame them for following this course of action; clearly something appeared to be wrong when a junkie overdosed in the bathroom while Zepha was left home alone.
When Zepha had called Jody from the station, she had left work immediately to retrieve him. The police had allowed him to go home with her, but the paperwork for a DIDD investigation was filed, despite Jody's insistence that she was providing good care for her brother. He was clean, well-fed and happy. This incident with the junkie was an unforeseen circumstance. Jody assured them that she would not allow it to happen again. Still, departmental policy had to be followed.
Because the DIDD agency was underfunded, a case worker had yet to arrive for the interview with Zepha and Jody, in order to make a determination as to whether Zepha was living in an environment where he was subject to abuse, neglect or exploitation, the three legal criteria by which he might be removed from Jody's care. In the interim, Oscar was forbidden from visiting or even speaking to Zepha. No one, especially Zepha, was happy with this arrangement. He routinely asked Jody when the case worker would come so that he could see Oscar again. Oscar's mother too noticed a downward turn in the mood of her son, deprived of the buoyancy of Zepha's optimistic outlook.
written while listening to: Lee Konitz Quartet - Ideal Scene (Soul Note, SN 1119, 1986, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 24, 2017
After school on Tuesday, Oscar returned home to find the Imam waiting for him at the door to his apartment. He was not entirely surprised since his mother had informed him of the Imam's visit two days earlier.
"You are a hard man to find," said the Imam, who had also tried unsuccessfully yesterday to catch Oscar at home.
Oscar shrugged. He was embarrassed; this was the first time he had seen the Imam since fainting in the parking lot of the mosque.
The Imam proceeded to describe the upcoming gala and the need for a planning committee. When asked who was already on the committee, the Imam listed the five current members.
We must now shift to Oscar's point of view. The great spell he had yet to cast required elements from all eight schools of magic. It became clear to him at this moment that the planning committee would serve as the council from which this spell was cast. Already, the committee contained a representative of transmutation, divination, conjuration, necromancy and enchantment. With his own presence, Oscar would bring abjuration. Only evocation and illusion remained. Oscar explained to the Imam that he would join the planning committee with great pleasure and that he had two fellow renegades whom he would like to join with him.
The Imam hid a frown; it was just as the others had feared. Oscar would invite someone they deemed disreputable. Uncertain how to react, he stalled for time, saying, "I would like to extend the invitation to your two friends in person."
His suggestion gave Oscar pause, but eventually the boy, desperate to bring the council together, conceded. "The first one is named Zepha," said Oscar, "and, unfortunately, I am banned from seeing him."
"Let me see if it is within my power to help you,' said the Imam.
written while listening to: Steve Lacy Octet - Vespers (Soul Note, 121260-2, 1993, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 25, 2017
Since Omar did not own a cell phone, the Imam had reported to Cybil that it would take him a little longer than anticipated to secure Oscar's participation in the planning committee. He did not share any further details, only that he was making progress. Cybil notified all the other members of the committee that their next meeting would proceed without Oscar. They agreed to gather Thursday night at the downtown library. Amanita had to work but she assured them that she could take a fifteen minute break to join them, maybe longer if it was a slow night.
Omar felt a guilty relief that Oscar would not be there. Had he revealed his thoughts to Cybil, he would have found that she shared them. However, neither said anything. They were not equipped to broach the delicate subject of how Oscar's move to an economically disadvantaged neighborhood had, rather indirectly to be sure, engendered in them the desire to avoid him. As if in response to this cooling of relations, the temperature plunged, dropping overnight into the thirties. Cybil's mother wondered aloud if she needed to bring her plants inside.
In any case, Oscar was not invited to the second meeting of the gala planning committee, in which the date and location of the event were to be decided.
written while listening to: Borah Bergman & Oliver Lake - A New Organization (Black Saint, 121322-2, 1999, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 26, 2017
As the first real cold spell gripped the city, many library patrons chose to remain in the warmth of their homes. Only the homeless were more likely to seek shelter in the library with the arrival of autumn. Since they did not avail themselves of the services rendered at Amanita's reference desk, she found plenty of time to sit with the other members of the gala planning committee.
The meeting ostensibly was to decide the date and location of the party. However, Amanita thought the scheduling should hinge on the availability of the band that she envisioned playing at the gala. Mr. Gardener eyed the piercings on her face, her lavender hair, the excessive (to his tastes) make-up and the black leather boots. Although her demeanor in the library contradicted the brashness of her appearance, the columnist feared that the local band she sought to install would not be well-received by many of the attendees. He tried to venture this opinion delicately. "What kind of band are they?"
"They are a non-idiomatic septet improvising on themes of post-existential fantasy."
"Is that like goth-rock?" Cybil asked.
"It's nothing like goth-rock," Amanita replied, trying not to sound too disdainful.
"I was thinking of jazz," said Mr. Gardener. "Everyone can dance to jazz."
Mr. Gardener's words convinced Omar, who maintained a splendid vision of dancing with Cybil at the gala. In the end, they voted. Cybil sided with Amanita while Omar seconded Mr. Gardener's suggestion.
The deciding vote was therefore left to Agnes. She was under the misapprehension that the "post" in post-existential meant "after" and the "existential" meant "existence". Coupled with the rumor that Amanita practiced necromancy, Agnes mistakenly assumed that her band would perform works from beyond the grave. As for herself, she was of an age where she already felt too closely her mortality. By this route, she voted for jazz. As for the original purpose of the meeting, it remained unsettled.
written while listening to: David Murray - Interboogieology (Black Saint, BSR 0018, 1978, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 27, 2017
Of the spirits who chose to make their services available to Oscar, St. Jerome was simultaneously the most affable and the most taciturn. The saint encouraged in the youth the exploration of the mind but remonstrated with him against the folly of his excesses, in particular Oscar's tendency to seek guidance from many sources, be they unsanctioned texts or individuals living unorthodox lifestyles.
Yet, Oscar consulted the saint for he sought to assemble a spell worthy of the joint effort of the eight schools. "I don't have a name for it yet."
The incorporeal and, at best, translucent saint shared an unambiguous frown. "To what effect would this spell be put?"
Oscar sat otherwise alone in his bedroom on Friday evening. Had he chosen to follow the example of St. Jerome and pursue a hermitage in the desert, he would have been no more alone. He periodically heard the sounds of his mother moving about the apartment or an abrupt peal from the television.
Oscar repeated the saint's query. "To what effect would the spell be put? Haven't I told you? The only effect! Amelioration of the world through transformation of the individual, not just one at a time but many at once!"
"That spell has already been written," said St. Jerome.
A confused look passed across Oscar's face.
"The casting of that spell by Christ is recorded in the Gospels."
Thus chastened, Oscar returned to reality. "Then not that grand," he replied. "A smaller spell, but with much the same intent."
The hours of the night passed. Oscar searched through his grimoires. He heard his mother go to bed. Sometime during the night, St. Jerome asked, "Have you thought of a name?"
"I suppose it will have to be called the Inaugural Gala of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
written while listening to: George Lewis & Douglas Ewart - Jila - Save ! Mon. - The Imaginary Suite (Black Saint, BSR 0026, 1979, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 28, 2017
Because the Imam did not approve of the practice of men meeting individually with women to whom they were not married, regardless of their virtue or intentions, he brought his wife with him when he made his case on Oscar's behalf to Jody.
As for Jody, spending a portion of her Saturday with a Muslim holy man and his wife was about as far from her plans as she could have imagined. Still, Zepha answered the door when the Imam knocked and Jody listened quietly as he introduced himself and his wife and their relationship to the only mosque in town. She was already thinking of where she had left her purse, because she thought the robed and bearded man was going to ask for a donation for a party they were hosting. As the Iman continued his round-about narrative, she began to perceive a connection to Oscar. Her astonishment that the boy had enlisted this unlikely champion to plead his case was surpassed by the request with which the Imam eventually concluded. "I have come as a conciliatory emissary. Oscar would like the opportunity to present his deepest apologies in person. He greatly desires a mending of your relationship, for you have signed his registry and before him lies a labor for which he requires your assistance."
Should such an emissary have approached one of us in the comfort of our own home, we would have found it just as impossible to refuse him as did Jody. Although it required great self-control, Jody did not even share with the Imam her anxiety regarding the pending interview with the DIDD caseworker, where Zepha's fate would be resolved.
As the married couple left, the Imam's wife asked him in their native tongue if he had known beforehand that Zepha had Trisomy 21.
"No," admitted the Imam, "Oscar didn't mention it."
"Strange," she said.
"Perhaps," said the Imam, picturing the boy, "he doesn't think of him in that way."
written while listening to: Billy Harper - Black Saint (Black Saint, BSR 0001, 1975, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 29, 2017
Oscar's mother insisted that she accompany him on his return to Zepha's apartment. Jody was waiting for them at the door and welcomed them inside. Zepha and Oscar exchanged a hug. Oscar apologized for Charlotte overdosing in their bathroom, which seemed to both his mother and Jody like a strange thing to say. "I'm sure she won't do it again," he added. Oscar had yet to make that request of her, since he had been banned for the past month from seeing not only Zepha but Charlotte as well.
Zepha seemed to make nothing of the moment. He began by asking Oscar what he had eaten for lunch.
"Tacos," Zepha repeated meaningfully to his older sister, while pointing at Oscar.
Jody nodded. "We'll see."
Thus was the reconciliation accomplished. Oscar and Zepha made their way to the kitchen table where Oscar requested his help with planning the gala. Zepha readily agreed. He waved to get Jody's attention and informed her, "We're having a party."
To the side, Oscar's mother apologized again to Jody. She asked when the meeting with the DIDD caseworker was scheduled. "I'll help in any way I can. I could write a letter, explaining how this happened." Even as she said these words, she wasn't sure that she herself understood how Charlotte had ended up here on her own.
Jody shook her head. "When the state takes someone like Zepha away from a family, it's not from a situation like this." Her eyes scanned the clean, orderly apartment. "The minute the caseworker steps in the door, she'll see he is not being exploited or neglected. I'm not too worried. It's just that, there's always a chance that something screwy happens or the caseworker's having a bad day...I don't know." She took a deep breath. "It's a good thing that we have this process. If others like Zepha were found with a drug-user, they might really be in danger. It's important that the state check."
written while listening to: Mark Dresser - Force Green (Soul Note, 121273-2, 1995, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
October 30, 2017
On Monday after school, Oscar had his first moments alone with Zepha since Charlotte's unfortunate visit. He took the opportunity to explain to Zepha why his presence on the gala planning committee was essential. Once they had moved indoors to escape the chill, Oscar turned off the television so as to have Zepha's undivided attention. He surveyed his fellow spellcaster. Zepha's scraggly beard seemed longer than usual, very much in keeping with his wizardly persona.
"You see," Oscar explained, "the spell requires a caster from each school of magic. You are a student in the school of Evocation. Okay?"
Zepha nodded dutifully. He already knew all this. He instinctively cast lesser arcane ionization to reassure Oscar.
Sensing the magical aura fill the space between them, Oscar grew excited just imagining the potential of the spell to come. "It's going to be amazing," he told Zepha. "Everyone will see what I have been working so hard to make happen."
"What's that?" Zepha asked innocently.
"Oh, yeah," Zepha replied, though he privately had forgotten what the word meant.
"There's one more thing that I've got to warn you about," Oscar whispered conspiratorially, despite the fact that they were alone in the apartment.
Zepha leaned forward.
"We need an illusionist and you may not like who I've got in mind."
written while listening to: Don Pullen, Chico Freeman, Fred Hopkins & Bobby Battle - Warriors (Black Saint, BSR 0019, 1978, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
October 31, 2017
Cybil had insisted that Omar get a costume for his first Halloween in the neighborhood. "Every house," Cybil had explained, "will have candy for trick-or-treaters." Like an old hand teaching a greenhorn a trick of the trade, Cybil had added, "You'll have to come with me and I'll show you where the best houses are."
The sun set at a quarter to seven and Cybil arrived on Omar's porch shortly thereafter. Already, parents were out, escorting younger children or carrying toddlers from door to door. Candles placed within jack-o-lanterns flickered on porches. Styrofoam tombstones and plastic bones littered the front yards.
Cybil had arrived by herself, leaving her parents to distribute candy at her house, where Jellybean, much to his chagrin, was dressed in an oversized skunk costume, a white stripe running from head to tail. Omar emerged as a rather conventional vampire. His face had been painted white, a trail of red leaking from the corner of his lips. He had a black cape and a mouthful of plastic fangs.
Much to Cybil's surprise she found that Omar's mother had chosen to don a costume, as many parents in the neighborhood did. By chance both she and Cybil were dressed as witches, each with a round, black, pointed hat. Cybil complimented her on the scabby wart stuck to the end of her nose. She laughed and complimented Cybil's black and white tights into which cats had been knit. Omar's mother said nothing of the comparatively short skirt that completed Cybil's costume, though she herself wore a more traditional ankle-length gown.
As a trio, they marched from door to door, the younger two filling pillowcases and the older drawing guffaws from her neighbors. For an evening, all thoughts of the news of the day--the first indictments of the president's campaign officials--were forgotten. Neither was the gala mentioned nor was a word said regarding Oscar's conspicuous absence.
written while listening to: The Clarinet Summit - Southern Bells (Black Saint, BSR 0107, 1987, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
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