Remember, you may not always get what you pay for, but you will definitely pay for what you get.

Reminded me of the suppressed life of the ‘decent’ folk in the lower classes… aka my growing up years


Billy Eckstine sang,

‘Our little dream castle with everything gone
Is lonely and silent, the shades are all drawn
My heart is heavy as I gaze upon
A cottage for sale.’


My brother, who had been my ally, my first friend, had left home and closed himself to me. We had found safety in numbers when we were young, but adulthood had severed the bonds and we drifted apart over deep and dangerous seas, unanchored.

That’s just such beautiful writing. I’ve also always wished I had such a brother or a sister. Not sure which is worse—not ever having such a relationship, or losing one you had.


Although I loved in a large city, in truth I lived in a small town within that city’s preserves.


‘Why do you dislike people?’
‘I didn’t say I disliked people. Not to like people isn’t the same as to dislike them.’
He sounded profound and I needed time to mull over that idea.


A bizarre sensation pervades a relationship of pretense. No truth seems true. A simple morning’s greeting and response appear loaded with innuendo and fraught with implications.
‘How are you?’ Does he/she really care?
‘Fine.’ I’m not really. I’m miserable, but I’ll never tell you.
Each nicety becomes more sterile and each withdrawal more permanent.

She may as well have been writing about my relationships.


‘All I want to say is what the old folks say, “If you don’t know, ask.” But, don’t let anybody make you do something you don’t think is right. Your mother already raised you. Stay steady. And if that makes somebody mad, they can scratch their mad place and get glad.’

We laughed together. Our friendship was possible because Ivonne was wise without glitter, while I, too often, glittered without wisdom.


Oh, the holiness of always being the injured party. The historically oppressed can find not only sanctity but safety in the state of victimisation. When access to a better life has been denied often enough, and successfully enough, one can use the rejection as an excuse to cease all efforts. After all, one reckons, ‘they’ don’t want me, ‘they’ accept their own mediocrity and refuse my best, ‘they’ don’t deserve me. And, finally, I am better, kinder, truer than ‘they’, even if I behave badly and act shamefully. And if I do nothing, I have every right to my idleness, for, after all, haven’t I tried?


‘They remind me of Hemingway and Gertrud Stein and the group that lived in France, you know?’

Because she had not read the books I had read, the names I mentioned did not bring to her visions of the Left Bank and Montmartre. She made no connections with a gay time when America’s good white writers sat in places like the Deux Magots dreaming up a literature which would enthrall the world for decades.

I must admit I didn’t know much of them either. I’m beginning to… Hemingway is among my favourite authors at the moment, and his Fiesta one of my favourite books of this year.


Clyde had become a talker. He talked to me, to the family, to strangers and had long, involved conversations with himself. His discourses ranged over the subjects of his life.
He had become a voracious reader, consuming books whole at nearly one sitting, then reliving the plot in his conversations. He read science fiction (he loved Ray Bradbury) and western pulp, his Sunday School lessons, Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poems and animal stories and explained to all who would listen that he, Red Ryder and Fluke were going to ride their horses to the moon and talk to God, who was an old black man who played the guitar.

I miss my inner little Clyde too.


That was what she wanted to hear, all she wanted to know. Vivian Baxter could and would deal with grand schemes and large plots, but please, pray God, spare her the details.


During our short relationship, I had projected an air of independence, kindly but assured, and I could not scream at him or race down the flimsy walkway to clutch his retreating back.


Negroes had survived centuries of inhuman treatment and retained their humanity by hoping for the best from their pale-skinned oppressors but at the same time being prepared for the worst.


Yanko slapped his forehead and said, ‘Ah, yes. Now I know what we must do. We must all plan to go abroad and civilise Europe. We must get a large ship and sail down the Thames and cultivate Britain first because they need it most. Then we cross the Channel and bring culture to France. Cyril, you shall be the first mate because you have by nature and training the mechanical mind. Mitch, you shall be boatswain because of your “Samson strength”; Maya, you shall be the cantante, sitting in the prow singing us to victory. Victor, you shall be second mate because your talent is to organise. Annette, you shall be our figurehead, for your beauty will stun the commoners and enchant the aristocracy. I shall be captain and do absolutely nothing. Allons, enfants!


I called Barry and said, ‘I’m off tonight. You may say I’m ill.’
‘Are you ill?’
‘You may say so.’ And hung up.

I had matured into using a ploy of not quite telling the truth but not quite telling a lie. I experienced no guilt at all and it was clear that the appearance of innocence lay mostly in a complexity of implication.


Whenever I was embarrassed or felt muself endangered, I relied on my body’s training to deliver me. Grandmother Henderson and Grandmother Baxter had drilled my brother and me in the posture of ‘Shoulders back, head up, look the future in the eye,’ and years of dance classes had compounded the education. I turned and walked to the wings like Cleopatra walking to the throne room (meanwhile clasping the asp in her bodice).

One of my favourite passages. Also, great teaching on holding posture.


Backstage a few of the hopeful contenders tapped their hands together or snapped their fingers when they saw me.
They grinned saucy compliments to me, probably as much for my own sassiness in standing up and talking back as for what they heard of my second song.


I hadn’t been in Europe long enough to know that Europeans often made as clear a distinction between black and white Americans as did the most confirmed Southern bigot. Th difference, I was to discover, was the more often than not, blacks were liked, whereas white Americans were not.


Suddenly he saw me and almost leaped out of his ninety-year-old antiquity. He screamed and turned as quickly as he could to escape, but the old woman caught his sleeve, and with words I couldn’t understand, began to berate him for his ignorance and chide him for being rude.

She guided him to the sofa and made him sit on one side of me while she sat on the other.
‘Go bring food and drink.’
Again I went through the ritual. When the old man saw I could both eat and drink and I could speak some Serbo-Croatian, he not only decided I was human, he declared me a Yugoslav. Just a very dark one.
‘What is your name?’
‘A good name.’
‘Who is your father?’
‘Bailey Johnson.’
‘What a strange name for a Croatian. But I am sure I know him. Who is his father?’
‘William Johnson.’
‘Vilyon? Vilyon? What does he do? I know everybody. I am ninety-three years old. Now tell me, was the Vilyon from Split or the one from Dubrovnik? Tell me.’

No one could convince the man that I belonged to a different race and country.
As we headed for the door he said, ‘Tell Vilyon you have met me. Tell him to come after Christmas. We will talk of the old times.’


He said, ‘They are opera singers. I wouldn’t try to tell them. But you’—again he grinned—’you are nearly Greek’—he took my hand and kissed it—’you have my sympathy. Goodbye. Rememeber.’

Sympathy? He thought having married a Greek made me deserving of his compassion? Strange.

Imagine her shock if she married (and divorced) an Indian, and then visited India.

These last few chapters also reminded me how similar cultures are in these old places. Wide webs of relationships built and remembered over generations.