JUST RELEASED IN TIME FOR EARTH DAY, 2024

An Excerpt from “Mother Fracking Earth Day”

The latest “Holidazed” novel by Gregg SAPP

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Professor Roscoe Alolo chewed the piece of cherry pie over and over, reluctant to swallow. This was the last bite and he continued masticating until the flavor was drained and the pulpy mass left in his mouth was more phlegm-like than fruit-like. Still, it made his mouth happy.

Roscoe had gained fifty pounds in the last year. His libertine dietary regimen included a piece of pie with every meal, topped with whipped cream for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and chocolate mousse mixed with Irish crème for dinner. In between and before bed, he often munched on pie crust cookies.

Class started in fifteen minutes. The prospect of having no pie to return to after class saddened and irritated him. In that case, woe to his students should they do anything to upset him further, so, on their behalf, Roscoe decided to skip class. Fortunately, he’d had the foresight to write it into the syllabus for his course in “Utopian Dystopias” that if he was ever five minutes late for class, they should take advantage of it as “library day,” which sounded better than simply admitting he didn’t feel like teaching sometimes. It was insulting yet reassuring that nobody ever complained if he didn’t show up.

Besides, he had more important things on his mind. That evening, he’d consented to be interviewed by one of his former writing students, Mazie Tuttle, who was working on an assignment for the C’bus Clarion. He hated interviews — he always said stuff he regretted, which invariably became the only parts people remembered. But he somewhat trusted Mazie to get it right. Two summers ago, she’d worked as a walker for his dog, Shabazz. Also, Mazie was an above average writer, which qualified her as far superior to most of his students. The Clarion wasn’t exactly the New York Times, but it was a rare source for progressive journalism in the increasingly red state of Ohio, so he reasoned it was worth his time answering her questions.

Not long ago, nobody even knew he was still alive, much less wanted to interview him. Returning to literary relevance after forty years felt like becoming a virgin again. Back in the 1970s, when he was an angry young radical, he wrote fiction that castigated the self-righteous excesses of the controlling Caucasian elite in American society. Symbolically, the villains in his celebrated novels were often plutocrats who loved pies so much they couldn’t stop eating them, which, in the end, proved their undoing in the form of assorted pie-induced maladies, including diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, or getting pied in the face. Critics interpreted their self-destructive appetites to be Alolo’s incisive commentary on the unquenchable appetites of capitalism.

The underlying truth was that, like his villains, he too possessed an assertive sweet tooth. When he was a young, up-and-coming novelist he channeled those urges into his writing, so when he slaughtered sacred cows and destroyed cherished institutions, he was just working up an appetite. Behind closed doors, Roscoe ignited his artistic passions by placing a piece of pie, cake, or pastry on a plate next to his typewriter, then denying himself a taste until he’d written his daily quota. Critics who marveled at the incendiary rage conveyed by his prose thought it came from the depths of his conviction, but it was mostly inspired by cravings for dessert.

Now that he was an old man, even his political enemies pardoned his eccentricities, sometimes with begrudging affection. His old nemesis, Christopher Buckle from the National Review, recently wrote, “Alolo was just crazy enough to be ahead of his time.”

To get to that point, though, he had to die first. Not literally, of course, but in the eyes of the literati he was long since dead, gone, buried, and forgotten. Alolo’s brand of radical satire, which perfectly expressed the mood of the late ’60s and early ’70s, fell out of favor in the Reagan era when greed and racism once again became fashionable. Thus, it had been forty years since his last novel, Head in Search of a Brain, which critics lambasted as “vacuous,” “maladroit,” and, most cutting of all, “inconsequential.” The harsh rejection pained him so much that he retreated from the public eye — although it felt more like he’d been pushed. During the long interim, he eked out a meager living as a vagabond lecturer, most recently and currently at Antaeus College in Golden Springs, Ohio.

Then, long after he’d given up any hope of mattering again, with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, a new generation of activists discovered his work. During that miraculous summer of 2021, during which Roscoe turned seventy-three years old, he was suddenly hot again. His novels were rediscovered and republished, to great acclaim. Whereas before he’d been over the hill, he was now hailed as a wise elder of the progressive movement. He cobbled together a bunch of old essays, wrote a new piece on the cause du jour, climate change, hastily published the collection under a provocative title, and voila, he was back on the bestseller lists. His publisher promised him a national book tour, and he had hopes of landing an endowed professorship at Dartmouth.

Shabazz woke from an eight-hour nap and started barking frantically. “What’s the matter?” Roscoe asked, and then he heard footsteps in the hallway leading from the foyer into the parlor. He hoped it wasn’t one of his students, coming to ambush him with inane questions about their last assignment.

“Is somebody there?” Roscoe called.

Nobody answered. Roscoe went to investigate. In the parlor, there was a pie box in the center of his desk. How considerate, he thought, somebody had left him a pie. When he opened the lid, he was delighted to find a gorgeous lemon pie, with mountains of meringue on top. He pressed his nose into it for a sniff.

At once, a hand land landed hard on the back of his head and pushed him face-first into the pie. With meringue clogging his nostrils, he breathed through his mouth. His face began to feel numb, and it was all he could do to close his eyes before passing out….

…Mazie appreciated that Rufus, her boyfriend, had accompanied her on the drive to Antaeus College in Golden Springs, Ohio. She was already nervous about interviewing Roscoe Alolo, and, alone, she’d have gotten messed up in her thoughts. Rufus helped her focus.

As they approached Golden Springs, Rufus asked, “Do you want to go over your interview strategy for Professor Alolo one more time?”

“Let me see,” she said, flipping through screens on her phone until she found the file she’d prepared. “Okay. I’ll start with flattering questions about his literary resume, like how he started out a research assistant for James Baldwin and speechwriter for Jesse Jackson.”

“Yo, he loves to drop names. Don’t forget to mention Maya Angelou. Ask him about her ‘influence’ on him and see if you can get him to admit to being her boy-toy back in the early ’70s.”

“Then I’ll work toward the present with some more softball questions, like ‘You wrote Head in Search of a Brain in 1984, and after almost forty years it is back on Amazon’s bestseller list. What do you think about that book resonates with today’s readers?’”

“Yo, that’s a good one. Feed his vanity. You know he likes to talk about himself. But don’t let him go off on a tangent or you’ll never get him back.”

“I can’t shy from controversy, though. I thought I’d quote him from that book, where he wrote ‘peacemakers do not inherit the earth; they go extinct,’ and ask what, exactly, he meant by that?”

Rufus tapped his fingers on the steering wheel as he followed her line of thinking. “He’ll like that.”

“And, finally, I’ll bring the interview into the present and his latest book, The Deep Green Nig…”

“No, don’t you dare say it!” Rufus instinctively hit the brakes. “He’ll chew you up and spit you back out. Refer to it as ‘your new book,’ or if you must, use ‘n-word.’ But you’re too white to speak that word out loud.”

Mazie removed the book from her pack and pointed, “But it is right there in the book’s title.”

“It’s there on a dare. Don’t take it. That word don’t belong to you.”

“But you can say it?”

“I’m black, ain’t I?”

“If you ask me, he’s just being gratuitously provocative.”

“Well, duh. That’s part of his schtick.”

Mazie grunted a nonverbal curse. She looked out the window and saw the “Welcome to Golden Springs, Home of Antaeus College” sign, with its three-tiered rock fountain and a rainbow flag waving above it. A crew of workers in tie-dye overalls were planting zinnias, marigolds, peonies, and petunias in flower beds around the sign; they waved — one woman held a joint in her hand, as if she was offering to pass it to them as they drove by. Debussy’s “Syrinx” played from a Bluetooth speaker in their wheelbarrow. Hanging from a squirrel bridge across Serenity Street was a banner that read, “Golden Springs Community Services sponsors the Tenth Annual Gaia Parade, Earth Day 2023.”

“Gaia Parade?” Mazie asked.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it,” Rufus replied. “It’s a big deal here. “Could be fun.”

“Sounds Fruit Loopy to me.”

“That’s the Coon Creek in you speaking.”

Mazie chuckled. “I don’t deny it. I’m a little bit redneck.”

“Not red, exactly. More like medium rosé, with a splash of honeydew.”

Coming from anybody else, such a corny remark would’ve made Mazie groan. She appreciated how Rufus was the perfect foil for her cynicism. That deserved a kiss on the check, which Mazie provided, along with a playful thigh squeeze.

On this early spring day, the Antaeus College campus swirled with the sights, sounds and fragrances of nature’s fecundity. Yellow forsythia branches burst from shrubs hedging the commons. Baby ducklings swam behind their mama duck, and frogs croaked a Satchmo chorus around the pond. Undergraduates cavorted in the greening lawns, tossing Frisbees, playing Hacky Sack, and making out under the trees. A professor conducted class outside, barefoot, on the student union patio. And of course, this being the famously progressive Antaeus College, there were booths set up on the commons, where students could stop and talk to somebody about a variety of social causes, from universal health care to transgender bathroom rights, and pick up complimentary condoms for their time.

Rufus parked outside the alumni house where Roscoe Alolo resided. Around campus, folks had taken to calling it “Alolo’s lair.” Technically, he’d been obligated to move out when his visiting professorship ended two years prior, but he claimed squatter’s rights, and he’d become such a revered local celebrity that college administration dared not challenge him. Upon publication of his latest book, the title of which hardly anybody on campus was permitted to speak, the board of trustees extended his residency indefinitely.

As soon as Mazie closed the car door, the professor’s dog, Shabazz, appeared in the house’s window and started barking excitedly.

“He caught your scent,” Rufus said.

During the summer when she’d attended Alolo’s writing workshop, Mazie was hired to walk Shabazz twice daily. Sometimes, though, she walked him four or five times, especially after Rufus, who was also a workshop student, started walking along with them. It helped to have somebody, other than the dog, who’d listen to her secrets and empathize with her troubles.

“At least he’s glad to see me,” Mazie countered.

Rufus said, “Remember, Mazie. Professor Alolo turned down other interviews. But he accepted your request. I heard D’Nisha Glint asked to meet with him but got rejected.”

“D’Nisha Glint is a made-for-TV bimbo.”

“True, that. But turning her down just shows how much he respects you.”

“I wish I could believe that.”

Rufus stepped in front of her, blocking her before she could take another step. “Have mercy, Mazie. Listen to me. Alolo does respect you, if for no other reason than you make him look good. You’re the star pupil of that literary workshop two summers ago. You were nominated for a C’bussie Scribe Award for your exposé about Black Friday at Wow Mart. You’re worthy, Babe.”

Mazie bounced her head in a halfway affirmative nod. “Thanks for saying so.”

By the time they reached the porch, Shabazz was yelping and scratching at the door from the inside. Mazie knocked, but other than Shabazz barking, there was no answer. Mazie tried to open the door; it was locked.

“The professor insisted that we be on time. I have a bad feeling about this,” she said to Rufus.

“I think this situation justifies breaking in,” he said. “Growing up in the hood, I picked up certain useful skills. Watch this.”

Rufus took out a library card, slipped it into the door jamb and wiggled it, then turned the doorknob.

“I’m not sure that I like that you can do that,” Mazie said.

“Only for emergencies, Babe.”

Mazie cracked the door and called in, “Professor Alolo?”

Shabazz pushed through the door the rest of the way. Mazie braced herself, but instead of mauling her with affection, the dog nudged its head into her crotch, barked, then led her through the parlor, into the next room, his master’s office.

“What gives?” Rufus asked Shabazz.

Shabazz stood with his front paws on the corner of the desk. A chair was displaced. On the top of the desk, centered on a fabric placemat, was a lemon meringue pie. The meringue bore the unmistakable imprint of Roscoe Alolo’s face, from his bullish jowls to his distended nostrils to the spikes of his Afro — it could be nobody else. It was as if he’d tried to render a plaster cast of himself in the meringue.

“This is weird, even for Alolo,” Mazie said.

“It’s more than weird,” Rufus elaborated. He pointed at a piece of paper sticking out beneath the pie box. On the sheet, in all capital letters that had been cut and pasted, was the phrase, DIG BABY DIG. “This looks criminal.”

The “Holidazed” series by Gregg SAPP, from Evolved Publishing

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Gregg Sapp is author of the Johnny Appleseed novel, "Fresh News Straight from Heaven" and the Holidazed satires, the latest being "Mother Fracking Earth Day."