Cover image for Meteor in the madhouse
Meteor in the madhouse
Forrest, Leon.
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Publication Information:
Evanston : TriQuarterly Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 273 pages ; 24 cm
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X Adult Fiction Popular Materials-Urban Fiction

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In the wake of his watershed novel Divine Days, Leon Forest began an even more ambitious project, a collection of novellas that he hoped would be the culmination of his life's work and of the fictional world of Forest County, which he had created in his five earlier novels. Although slowed by devastating illness in 1997, Forrest's labor on his masterwork continued; while the novel assumed a focus tighter than he had originally intended, Forrest felt just before his untimely death that he had succeeded in bringing a unified vision to the manuscript of Meteor in the Madhouse. Meteor in the Madhouse is a novel made up of five interconnected novellas framed by an account of the last days in the life of journalist Joubert Antoine Jones, a character immortalized in Divine Days. The central relationship in the novel is that of Joubert and his adoptive kin and fellow writer Leonard Foster. A symbol of the struggle for freedom and equality, Leonard's search for truth -- leading him into political agitation, cultish religion, and eventual death from drug addiction -- immerses Joubert in feelings of guilt and frustration when he is unable to save his friend and mentor. As Joubert reflects on Leonard's death, he is both haunted and rejuvenated by the characters and episodes of their shared past. We meet the women in Joubert's life: foster mother Lucasta Jones, whose aesthetic and erotic potential goes unfulfilled; Lucasta's sister Gussie, irrepressible in her zest for life; and Jessie Ma Fay Battle Barker, known for her indomitable spirit and largesse. Joubert recalls his visits with Leonard and Leonard's further breakdown in the face of humorous memories from their youth: the behavior of theDeep Brown Study Eggheads who inhabited the wonderfully diverse rooming house near Joubert's alma mater; and the characters fre- quenting Fountain's House of the Dead -- a funeral home by day and a brothel by night. As Joubert and his relations tackle the forces of love, lust, alcohol, drugs, violence, and family, Joubert becomes the symbol of the soul's search for authenticity. With introductions by editors John G. Cawelti and Merle Drown, Meteor in the Madhouse emerges as Forrest's most vivid portrayal of the great diversity of urban African American life.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The world lost a radiant spirit and a brilliantly ebullient artist when Leon Forrest died in 1997, so it's a great boon to be granted this masterwork, the last book he brought to completion. A suite of five linked novellas set in the author's lively fictional universe, Forest County, a looking-glass image of Chicago's South Side, it has as its intrepid hero Joubert Antoine Jones, the protagonist of Forrest's magnificent Divine Days (1992). Now a successful playwright, Jones remains enthralled by the misadventures of his loved ones, especially his great-aunt Lucasta, the crazy poet Leonard Foster, and friends Step Bottomly and Hopkins Golightly. Jones recounts numerous wild stories of love and betrayal, art and politics, fantasy and eccentricity that are by turns hilarious and tragic, earthy and mystical, odd and heroic, all told in a cascade of gorgeously musical, life-embracing, soul-raising language. Marianne Forrest provides a key to her late husband's storytelling magic in her introduction: "I don't know of anyone who enjoyed the company of others more than Leon did." Indeed, it is his shrewd delight in the marvels and peculiarities of his fellow human beings that makes Forrest such an entrancing and compassionate writer. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Like 1999's publication of Juneteenth, this novel is a literary event: seminal African-America writer Leon Forrest (1937-1997) is not as well-known as Ralph Ellison, but during his lifetime he elicited high praise from such figures as Stanley Crouch and Toni Morrison. Forrest's masterwork, Divine Days, introduced the successful dramatist and professor Joubert Jones, who here narrates the five interconnected novellas riffs on his memories during the day of his death in November 1992. The characters all have roots in the south, in Forrest County, Miss., but have long gone north, to Forest County, Ill. (a stand-in for Chicago). The stories are held together thematically by Joubert's memory of Novembers past, such as one in 1972 when Marvella Gooseberry, a neighbor of his adoptive grandmother, Gram Gussie Jones, "flipped her wig" and threatened to shoot herself and others with a gun; the November he visited his friend and rival, Leonard Foster, in the state mental hospital; and the November day when his great-aunt Lucasta Jones was abandoned by her lover, Tucson. In the final novella, Joubert's fatal visit to Williemain's Barbershop, where he is killed in a drive-by shooting, is recounted. On the scaffolding of these memories and events, Forrest hangs a multitude of anecdotes and moments of almost musical verbal invention. The inspired comic moments include an extended piece recounting Joubert's escape from a cult group led by Foster in the Holiday Inn, a cab ride with a white amateur boxer and her black girlfriend, and the strange dental practices of his Gram Gussie Jones. While Forrest's talent is undeniable, readers may find themselves out of the loop, plot-wise; his editors have included a helpful appendix that summarizes the narrative. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One November 1972 Now that I had moved away from the home of my dear aunt Eloise (the celebrated columnist for the Forrest County Dispatch ) I had vigorously embarked on evolving an epic idea for a verse play, in the grand manner.     On March 1, 1966, I had moved into Mrs. Myrtle Titlebaum's teeming apartment building: home for wayward souls, foreign spirits, nearly domesticated university students, oddball artists, off-the-wall musicians, raggedy-ribboned writers; small-time has-beens, would-be politicians who claimed now to be nationalists; fellow travelers who sold grave plots by dawn's early light; obese lunatics with thin portfolios. There were eternal lovers with soggy armpits who were always setting up doomed love affairs (for their lovers) slated as springboards for their own career ambitions. There were high-minded Marxists predicting the imminent financial collapse of the United States, any day now , who despised the Jehovah's Witnesses (and their predictions), who in turn loathed the Roman Catholics in and out of the building under Mrs. Titlebaum's ownership.     There were several black nationalists awaiting the impending advent of an imperial African messiah, who could and would arrive upon the White House lawn (take over the Rose Garden) in a black, green, and red chariot (to match his cape) at high noon with a staff of angelic officers armed to the grinding of teeth, their rifles at the ready. There were several of their ilk who believed in a Jewish conspiracy. Despite the affable Mrs. Titlebaum's largess of spirit, they swore that this elderly Jewish woman "was a front for a huge, though mysterious cartel."     I observed at least three dropout Muslims, fiercely disillusioned with Elijah's direction of the Nation, and continuing their grief over the murder of Malcolm X; as if the assassination had occurred just yesterday, at the Audubon.     There was a steady flow of exchange students with "revolutionary agendas" for their return home (even as they had been away from "home" seven to ten years), where they planned to take over CIA-spawned governments.     Then there were those identity-crackled African Americans, searching in twelve different tormented-air circles for an ideal core soul source: intellectual babes of toyland, ever pulling after and pinching for elusive and high-bouncing balloons, which, when punctured, did actually explode an odorless gas, guaranteeing death to the reasoning portion of the brain, as these rhetoricians mongered on, sucking up large gasps of the heavily polluted air of their own creation. (I later came to give them titles, born out of their self-assumed designation.)     I had written a significant segment culled from Sugar-Groove's saga, initially in the form of a journal, and then converted the log into a complete play about this fabulous courtier, bon vivant, and spiritual uncle/father. In November 1968, the play was "performed" in a reader's-style theater at a playhouse on East Sixty-seventh Street. There had been about seventy-five people present at the "reading and rendering" of this play (with a working title of "How Can You Destroy What We Created?"). My aunt Eloise had sent out many invitations and to some degree the size of our audience was a response to her call. Normally the Playwright's Workshop drew only twenty people, in addition to the twelve of us enrolled in the course. Each month a play was presented in a reader's-style theater to the students and a public audience.     Aunt Eloise had been in attendance (though not Hickles, her husband). "I'll review your endeavor, Baby-Bear, but you'll get no once-over-go-lightly-cream-puffs from Auntie," she had said, winking those fiercely competitive gray eyes at her nephew and stepson. Eloise Hickles wrote a complete review of the play (a lengthy critique) as if it were to be published for the Dispatch . Her unpublished, though formally written review--actually mailed to me at the Avon--both hailed my potential and castigated "this playwright, concerning the very real structural defects of his play." Throughout her review she referred to me as "this man, Antoine Jones." She went on to proclaim: "Antoine Jones takes on and attempts to take over, then explore native grounds common to Richard Wright and William Faulkner. In many ways Antoine Jones goes beyond these two modern masters of the southern Agony. However, these writers were novelists not playwrights, and Antoine Jones has yet to master the craft of drama, which calls for a certain kind of immediate yet smoldering electricity between players and audience. He is most definitely a young playwright on the way up, still in the process of learning stagecraft-savvy, and surrendering to the demanding and selfish taskmistress of theatrical discipline." The critique was nine double-spaced pages. I read it twenty-one times. She never referred to me by my full name, Joubert Antoine Jones, in the review.     Another journalist in attendance for the public reading was Washburne Withers. I had been most anxious to hear the opinion of this reporter, who worked for Jacob A. Gooselaw's weekly newspaper, Spearhead . Gooselaw had been beseeching me to write for his paper ever since I returned from the army in February 1966. I was seriously contemplating how I might incorporate a few hours at Gooselaw's weekly Spearhead into my own fairly tight schedule. Gooselaw's paper was far more progressive than the Forrest County Dispatch . The second attraction was the possibility of working not only with that wily Marxist Gooselaw but with Washburne Withers. The talented Withers wrote straight news and some features for Spearhead on a part-time basis.     Withers had recently been hired as the first black reporter to write for one of the main downtown dailies. His first feature story had been published the week before the presentation of my play; the piece was on the local Legend Ma Fay Barker, a social activist originally from Kansas City, Kansas. It was a fine story about this woman, whom I had met through Aunt Eloise. Ma Fay Barker was very much aware of certain jazz movements and currents of the territorial jazz bands. She stayed on the periphery of the various movements and dealt with individuals in crisis. I admired Withers's controlled, thoughtful savvy, his burnished intelligence, and the devotion to his craft that shone through his probing news stories.     At the reception for my play, with a glass of white wine in my right hand and my manuscript in the left, I recalled turning away exactly at what the venomous Angel St. Clair poured into my left ear. She was one of twelve students in the Playwright's Workshop. Her play was being presented in January. She was proclaiming , just now, in a razor of a whisper: "I didn't come here, Joubert Antoine Jones, to hear nor preview any of your chauvinist shit. Not going to be conquered by you Bear hound-dog you, by no stretch of my imagination am I going to be diminished, as a very intelligent African woman, by this old wive's-down-home-nigger-woman honky bastard poison."     I moved away from the stalking black feminist's shock waves to the porches of my ear, in order now to drift over to where Withers had stood, at the other end of the room, but it was at this very moment that the ruggedly handsome, tall, medium-dark-brown-skinned reporter suddenly vanished out into the November rain, his bare head buried now beneath the hood of his raincoat, his shoulders huddled.     Then I observed the lean and mean Angel St. Clair stalk out of the reception on a pair of wicked high heels--the black leotards protecting those shapely legs of a stallion from the nasty November weather--as she whipped a lengthy, purple scarf about her shoulders.     The new sophisticated lady, without silk stockings, and a jagged-edged razor for a tongue: the new armies of the night. Duke's lady no place to be somebody here. I thought of the Satin Doll, out of the not-too-far-removed past, which was the place where a clique of white gangsters in Forrest County frequented and picked up black women. No Negro males were allowed entry into this place, as audience. Only black musicians (males) were allowed onstage. Somewhat akin to the Cotton Club in New York, yet quite different. Black musicians--white audience. Ripped off Duke's title but the song goes on. Same old tune.     Not ever getting the quote from Blake exactly right, Angel St. Clair, as always, paraphrased in class: "The wrath of tigers is more useful than the horses of instruction," no matter the situation, or the setting. What had probably most pissed the Angel was the central dramatic story of my play.     Read aloud over three weekends in November at the Sixty-seventh Street Theater, my play "How Can You Destroy What We Created?" was culled out of a confrontation between Sugar-Groove and his white father when the lad of fourteen discovered pictures of his scantily clad mother, Sarah-Belle, stuck up in the Bible of his white father, Wilfred Bloodworth. Taken perhaps twenty years earlier, at some remote part of a beach, these photographs revealed Sarah-Belle to the youth's awakening eyes.     Sarah-Belle had died in childbirth. William Bloodworth (later known as Sugar-Groove) had only heard descriptions of his beautiful mother. Old man Bloodworth had come to despise the lad, because Sarah-Belle had elected to give her Negro baby's life dominion over Bloodworth's bodily passions, possession and power over her existence. Because of his mysterious tie to Sarah-Belle, Wilfred Bloodworth felt something for the son, akin to outrage and pity, filial tenderness and jealousy, racial arrogance, and also a measure of affection not previously gauged.     On this particular occasion, when the white man returned to his magnificent library, in Forrest County, he and the youth he sired by Sarah-Belle fought over the meaning of those photographs (as much mythic as real). Mainly each fought to own the photos (to actually repossess the woman in the photos as his very own, as if she would step out, life size, and reveal herself at any moment).     The enraged older man gets the better of the physical struggle and is about to crash a chair over his son's head, when suddenly they both became aware of a presence in the room. The window was elevated and the cracked library door flew open on this Mississippi night. Sarah-Belle's spirit was suddenly heard to faintly aggrieve, in a declarative spirit: "How can you destroy what we created?" The voice seems to have floated through the room under some sheer, nearly invisible veil. (Young Sugar-Groove of course had never heard this voice.) Both man and boy were charged and shocked by the presence of the voice. This confrontation came to a momentary close.     As the adult Sugar-Groove informed me in Williemain's Barbershop, his furor at Bloodworth remained alive. He revealed the dream of castration wherein he severely punished Bloodworth for what he believed to be the sexual exploitation of Sarah-Belle, on the very night of the battle with the man who sired him.     Raised as he was by his aunt and uncle, Sugar-Groove's overview of the relationship came to be more muted and complex with the flow of reflection carried down through the years with this obsessive memory. Eventually the play was given a major mounting, in Forest County; it forms one of the cornerstones of my reputation as a playwright. This play garnered several prizes and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The honors, the awards, the visiting professorships, all stem from this well-saluted and often-produced play. My most recent visit to the internet revealed that some twenty dissertations had analyzed aspects and scenes from this two-act play.     At this time, I had a second life's commandment, too, concerning the existence, care, and keeping of my eccentric kinsman Leonard Foster. * * * Now that I was back home, at the Avon, I finally got around to telephoning Shirley Polyneices. She immediately vaulted into the living torment and anguish that dwelling under the same roof with Leonard Foster meant. He had been leaving suicide notes in the basement, but now he was situated in the psychiatric ward of the University Hospital. Then she insisted on reading a long poem, word for word, that Leonard had recently written. I was instructed to take the poem down, word for word, in longhand. Shirley's voice was full of lament and torment.     "Joubert, you and I had two literature courses together, at Brighton High--in case you've forgotten--but I do remember how good you were at interpreting shit. So, apply your imagination to this crazy poem as written by this riddled-brain nigger of mine, and your crazy cousin.     "You, with your oddball self ain't crazy, you just daffy to get away without being committed by the skin of your Adam's apple. But then all the dead people ain't at Memphis Raven-Snow's Funeral Home. Still and all, you'll probably tell us--mainly me--more about your cousin, from your knowledge of him, direct from this poem. And certainly more than any of these white-boy psychiatrists here at this university, which is internationally known for its crackpots and crack-ups. Hell--far as they are concerned we are all a bunch of crazy niggers. I sure heard enough of that kind of shitty interpretation behind prison gates, down South, marching to try to free up this lousy country of ours, too. Leonard was arrested far more than I was. I got slammed away in the honky-hearted jailhouse. But Joubert, you with your daffy, crafty, and cunning ass can lay in the cut no doubt and conjure up some profound shit about layers going down in this sappy but sweet splib of mine."     Wound-licking in its monstrous, self-inflicted loves, then suddenly called away from its mission, it still slouches and mores with the mayhem-ecstasy, under its belly, astride its reverie nightmare-genius (pale-horse) in the bottom of a ship, whose destiny is Eternity ... to take me back through space in time to Mississippi ... to Forrest County ... take the blood of the lamb and strike upon the door posts and the lentils.... And when I see the blood, I'll pass you over and I'll take you in.... Must I go back to that, too? But oh, how can there be blood on my hands before I Arrive?     The monster-bloated spirit rebukes the God-willed mission and the innocent ship is moored in Disaster made wretched by the sea's brooding, Raging monster, smoking with avarice, industry, Bondage, Miscegenation, and torment.... Take this Swine from out of mine eyes.... Clothe me in my Right mind. Let the devil depart me ... afflicted With every jelly and suffering Known and Unknown Unto mankind and worthy only to the bodies of swine ... tumbling down to the sea ... in its hallowed be thy name talons.... Who knows not itself its face to the horrors of the wind, I ride out like the wind in the breath of those Hounds after the vixen transformed stag.... Lucasta Jones, hail woman full of denied grace, The Lord is with you.     Oh vamping vixen, in the shape of an hourglass with the face of a November leaf--pouring dread from her spider's web of a hair net; but he awakes on high and hard to find a haunting bloodstained cloak bas grown about his shoulders; a tarnished Crown, ingeniously fashioned of rusty, Bloodstained, blood-pounded nails, shells, beads, Scraps of iron (with a bulging round of paper in the band).... sits tentatively upon his swollen head. Wretched pair of whispering, wounded wings blossoming nails sits upon its side, primed for Golgotha's ride up the Stations. Primed to wakefulness, the driftwood bestial body (as if God Touched) now sacrifices only itself to whatever Spouts and smokes out there upon Creation's Shape changing sea's face: a prologue and a Reality too abhorred and awesome for Remembrance wakefulness, forgetfulness, nostalgia, or mere fear. Is there blood on my hands? How dare you! ... Keening, tumbling, turning, and tobogganing, In a feverish dance-swim, vaulting delirium, the bottomed-out of this tribulation; engulfed, Sanctimonious monster is bloody with slime-puke And the buds of an entangling, savage miracle. He is of the sea monster's body and soul. (But I found out too late.) Keening ... Eden's fruit foul in its haughty, Fly-shrouded breath; God's tears touch time. The color-shifting rainbow's wings; he is the Dangling requiem for Gomer, and the spirit Auctioned. (Oh the withering away of the Soul.) Yet too much for mere monster to devour, the Angled monster knows not of its catch.     "Well, give me two days, Shirley. But I promise to stop by the hospital tomorrow, after I leave my grandparents."     "Now you figure all that shit out. Leonard asks for you constantly, Joubert. Please don't fail me, nor especially your cousin."     Poor little Leonard Foster, for though I loved him, I also loathed his innocence. But why didn't I tell him earlier since none of them would tell him, for so long a time, so that when it did come down upon him it snapped something deep within, something deep and fragile, as a branch caught up in an electrical storm. Broken bones blasted before he decided to burn all bridges and start anew, deep down in the Southland. Trying to free his people, in search of his own people. Something else, too, had taken possession of Leonard's soul, a literary magazine.     Leonard's name for this "quarterly" was The Dark Tower . I had never cared for the name of the magazine. However, Leonard insisted upon the title and he was bankrolling the enterprise.     Another intertwining branch connecting Leonard and me was a shared memory behind the meaning of a mysterious funeral we had attended as lads, at Fountain's House of the Dead Funeral Home. Nearly every time we talked at length, each of us ended up re-creating his own special memory of the original event, adding to and subtracting from it as we went along. Probably more than anything else, we debated over what was the true identity of the funeralized man who was never eulogized. There were no programs made available to describe his life, nor were there biographical sketches made known to the public. Years later I came to refer to this man (with the influence of the Muslims so prevalent in Forest County) as Mr. Double X, the mystery man. In fact, I remained uncertain as to the identity, even the gender, of this person.     Why had Granny Gram Gussie and Grandpa Forester insisted that we bear witness by attending this funeral, this odd spectacle, with them? And yet over the years, they, each in his or her own way, had let slip bits of information on the man or woman inside the handsome bronzed casket. Not strange enough? Then what of the following factor: there were no grieving relatives there to send this personage on their way? The organist did play "The Death of a Princess" over and over again, in a most eerie tone, as I remembered it. And this led me to think that the person on the inside was female, but all of the references my grandparents made to the gender of the dead body implied that it was a male inside this casket, which was not adorned with flowers on the outside. Apparently the "house" organist did not know the song from memory since he kept a close reference to the sheet music before him. How could anyone know that this was the song requested? Who had placed the request? Had a relative of the deceased fled a petition that this song be played, at the last minute? Besides the four of us, there were a few outsiders--five or six? Leonard and I usually ended up arguing over the body count of the living presence at the funeral. Lucasta Jones arrived late. However, it was the mysterious man who sat in the second row all through the service whose presence really shook us up.     Since the events were so vivid in my memory, I had thought on several occasions of trying to write a play about what had happened, or didn't happen, at "the funeral"; however, I was thrown for a loop, because what in fact had happened? Would this qualify for the theater of the absurd? Talk about waiting for Godot! Where was the garbage can?     Leonard always felt that I was too lavish in my storytelling ("too flowery" was his phraseology, and particularly about this saga). Yet I thought now that this would be exactly the story I would bring up in my recall, in order to sweep Leonard out of his deadly doldrums. Well, I could try anyway. I'd stay away from the Freedom Movement days, because, after all, he had Shirley for those shared and shell-shocking memories. The war stories from the battlefront would only bring on more mental pain.     All of this would fit into a routine of our dialogues over the years. Leonard was always telling people how I was forever and a day setting him up and using the materials from our conversations as the seeds for play conflicts. My ambitions to be a playwright are certainly not beyond this manipulation. If it were not this kind of thinking, would we, after all, have the Socratic dialogues in our possession?     Before I drove to the hospital that late morning, I headed out south.     Now I was moving ahead in Aunt Eloise's old green 1963 Lincoln Continental, on my way to grandmother's house.     But I could also sense some impending chaos, mainly because of the enormous barking of a dog's voice beyond relief (which, as it turned out, was Marvella's brutal-voiced canine). A forest of children was scattered about as I started to tool down the block where Granny Gram Gussie lived, and some of them greeted my old car with rocks, or pebbles, then darted off to the sides of the adjacent buildings.     There was indeed a stand-off taking place, between the police and some woman whose outline I could make out on the top floor (I thought I recognized her immediately), threatening to blow out her brains with the gun she moved back and forth into and out of her mouth. My God, I howled, it was indeed Marvella, the crazed poet, who headed up a singing group (composed of lesbians) at one time.     As I came into the front-door vestibule of the building where my grandparents lived, I recognized three attendants from Memphis Raven-Snow's Funeral Home moving a sheet-covered corpse to the elevated rear door of the mortuary's pickup Caddy for deceased bodies, five buildings down to the left of where Forester and Gussie Jones lived.     Marvella--dressed in a red, green, and black wraparound African headpiece and a bright blue dress (as far as I could see) continued to curse out the power structure and their ancestry, with particular stress upon the cop's lack of a biological tree. Granny Gram Gussie ushered me in nimbly, as if she was prepared now to impart some great family secret. I got my notebook out and took general notes as they spoke. Also, I turned on my tape recorder. GUSSIE JONES: Yeah, Brother-Bear, that's her all right (your old girlfriend, I guess, leastwise your aunt Eloise thinks so) high up there on the third floor. And high on God knows what. Screaming, hollering, and threatening to kill off half the block, say nothing of what she's prime to do to herself. FORESTER JONES: When Marvella don't have that gun loaded into her mouth, like she's reared to make book on threats, if sane people don't surrender up to her foolishness craziness. And not be harmed by her death (now ain't that a killer)--and with the trigger pressed with her own fingertips, gun in her mouth.... Sure asking a lot of pity out of people. GUSSIE JONES: Baby-Bear, you better call your aunt down at the paper to find out what she want reported on .... While you in the field, as they say! JOUBERT JONES: I'll do that right away.     How did Aunt Eloise know that I was coming--? Oh, that's right, she knew the four days of the month I set aside to visit with my grandparents. In fact, knowing Aunt Eloise, she probably had those days marked down somewhere. But what was this about Marvella being an old girlfriend, offered by Aunt Eloise and picked up by Granny Gram Gussie? I came up front to hear what was going down. This was wild, like a carnival. GUSSIE JONES: Why, this very morning, Joubert, Marvella just crept her old heavy sweeping broom up to our very step. Trying to beautify the whole street, she proclaimed, like she was one of these saleswomen on television. Had the nerve to come all up in my face, with the bad news for five dollars, like she was egging for old man Grimm's grieving widow woman. This here was tax for a block drive, all right, since the city wasn't giving the kind of service we need. Alderman never to be found until a week before the election, when you might see a precinct captain, if you lucky, if you catch policy. Cops so glad somebody doing something halfway dishonest, and her cleaning up, too. They cleaning up, too, from the drug dealers, so this makes their business area look so much better over in those lots across the way ... and old runaway houses now used as drug centers but not for cleaning people up; but for funeralizing addicts' mainline. JOUBERT JONES: Of course you didn't give her any of your money! GUSSIE JONES: Course not. That's my money that Forester worked hard for (and spending change to play my little policy gig). FORESTER JONES: Better-never-ever. That's the kind of distortion tax the Blackstones try to take from good citizens, who owns businesses paying off. Marvella's bootlegging into that kind of money. GUSSIE JONES: Showed up with good faith and five singles come tumbling out of her pockets. Marvella talking about she wants the neighbors to put up five dollars for the month, or whatever they can "cough up" for her services and flowers for "this wonderful dead man who up and died, late last night." A special bouquet of flowers for the grieving widow of Fletcher Grimm. So we "getting a sweetheart deal for chipping in," and her street-sweeping only come to two dollars and fifty cents. (Probably going send along some packs of dandelions, tied up with raggedy shoestrings.) FORESTER JONES: President Nixon would like that. Must be some of those cocoa-leaf flowers Marvella hiding her reefer and coke behind. Why, that gal knowed old man Fletcher Grimm 'bout well as she knowed Jack the Ripper. GUSSIE JONES: Man ain't hardly de-nounced dead yet. Joubert, you see Memphis Raven-Snow's workers taking Grimm's body out, just as you was ringing the bell? I almost thought it was them looking for Grimm's body, not you (also 'nouncing yourself not as grandson but reporter). You going off so many directions, wonder you can keep up with yourself, and your head spinning off your neck. Marvella gone off, went off, too, about eleven o'clock. Broom in one hand, dog on a leash (if that's got true hold of him) in the other one. Nerve stirred up in her backbone--cancel out her skull bone--to believe she could do any spin on the pigeon drop on us, over here. She ain't living in Hyde Park. Here your Grandpa and I been living in Forest County too long to forget to remember. I believe to my soul Marvella got a grudgeful heart; she mindless to a windstorm. FORESTER JONES: Lawd, listen to that dog ever roar. He shameless and smart, too. (Like his mistress.) Sounds like we drifted over to the lions' part of the zoo. Yeah, Joubert, like your grandma say, nerve of Marvella trying to work up a drowsy-eyed pigeon drop on us old settlers, like we was scrubs, just off the train this week, with yesterday's news of jobs for Negroes inside our grips from the Forest County Dispatch , up out the ole country--Forrest County, Mississippi. Then, of-a-sudden, Marvella flipping her wig. Just snapped off at the nape. GUSSIE JONES: Like green beans. I said to Marvella, plain and simple: "Look, I ain't got nothing in this house what belongs to you. Now I do have some mustards, string beans, and my emerald-colored green hat I wore to Easter services; and you can't have none of it."     Now down the street, as if in a caravan, came ABC and WGN, with CBS trailing far behind. Kids were leaping about trying to run after the television trucks, in awe and glory. FORESTER JONES: I tell you, Joubert, that gal's ripe with rascality. Courting destruction and death.     I continued my efforts to jot down a few observations gleaned from the intelligence of their words. But this really sounded like a feature story to me. TV cameramen, reporters, nearly all white, were out on the street immediately and started a long process of milling around, talking with the cops and the growing throng of kids and adults; some from the print media wrote in their notepads from these interviews. JOUBERT JONES: Have you noticed? Granny Gram Gussie? Grandpa Forester? Have you seen any pattern or way she acts regularly? Or, I should say irregularly acts. FORESTER JONES: Yeah, acts-out irregular. Been living over in her Great-mother's building for the last three months and each day stirs up a new mess of scorched potatoes meant to be scalloped. GUSSIE JONES: Forester, don't serve nothing on my grandson's plate he can't put in the newspapers under his very own name and get hisself carried off from the job, as writing for crazy folks, like Marvella going for crazy. She playing crazy, not going crazy. FORESTER JONES: That great ole gun Marvella keep poking in her mouth don't look too much like a play gun to me. Must think she's got a turtle's lease on life, and a shell to duck inside, 'case the gun goes off. GUSSIE JONES: Tell it true, Marvella not crazy. She's mentally. 'Spectable people can't play crazy; keep up their reputation. Marvella could get away with anything--till she moved around here. We got people over here chuck her mess of scorched and mashed potatoes out. Know they scorched without calling city hall. She's just plain mentally. Sure 'nough ain't crazy. Play crazy like those actors do in some of Joubert's plays. JOUBERT JONES: Sometimes I think my actors were already crazy and then just learned to play crazy once they are on the stage, in order to keep some parts of their sanity, on the outside world! (Continues...) Copyright © 2001 Leon Forrest. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Marianne ForrestJohn G. CaweltiMerle DrownJohn G. CaweltiMerle Drown
Forewordp. ix
Editors' Introduction
Thoughts on Meteor in the Madhousep. xiii
Leon Forrest's Final Journeyp. xix
Meteor in the Madhouse
Lucasta Jones, in Solitude: Lives Left in Her Wakep. 3
Live! At Fountain's House of the Deadp. 73
All Floundering Oratorio of Soulsp. 101
To the Magical Memory of Rainp. 131
By Dawn's Early Light: The Meteor in the Madhousep. 177
Editors' Appendix
The World of Forest Countyp. 257
Genealogies in Meteor in the Madhousep. 273