How I Became Hettie Jones (excerpt)




Sisters, right? (fiction)

Selected Bibliography




Meet Hettie Cohen.  I’m sitting at an ancient rolltop desk that’s stuffed to its top compartments with manuscripts and envelopes and all the related litter of magazine production, and I have no idea that this will be with me for years after I’ve become Hettie Jones.

            Nearby, running half the length of a cluttered storefront office, is a six-foot-high row of wooden milk crates, housing old 78 rpm jazz records in crumbling paper sleeves.  Flakes of this yellow-brown stuff drift down and settle like snow on the dirty linoleum, and the smell of it masks the casual funk from a darker back room, where Richard (Dick) Hadlock, editor of the Record Changer, the magazine published here, sleeps whenever he’s not with his girlfriend.

            But he’s with her now—or somewhere—leaving me: Hettie Cohen, a small dark, twenty-two-year-old Jew from Laurelton, Queens, with a paperback book in my hand.  Kafka’s Amerika.  I’m the Subscription Manager and I’m about to interview an applicant for the job of Shipping Manager.  It’s March 1957 in Greenwich Village.  A haphazard pile of boxes, holding unsold issues, partly obscures the unwashed front (and only) window of the store.  From time to time I glance toward this pale daylight, up from Amerika, waiting.

            The applicant, arrived on a gust of sweet afternoon, turned out to be a young black man, no surprise.  It was he who was surprised.  “You’re reading Kafka!” he said happily.  He was small and wiry, and a widow’s peak that sharpened his close-cut hair, and a mustache and goatee to match.  Yet the rakishness of all these triangles was set back, made reticent, by a button-down shirt and Clark’s shoes.  A Brooks Brothers look.  I sat him down and we started to talk.  He was smart, and very direct, and for emphasis stabbed the air with this third—not index—finger, an affectation to notice, of course.  But his movements were easy, those of a man at home not only in skin but in muscle and bone.  And he led with his head.  What had started with Kafka just went on going.

            An hour later, when Dick arrived, we were still talking.  “Did you tell him abut the job?” Dick asked me.

            “The job?” I echoed, and blushed.  Left responsible and gone derelict.  No interview.  I see myself, now, as the heat invades my face, a hand up to my open, astonished mouth.  To the left is my subscription corner, the typewriter, unanswered mail. And on my right LeRoi Jones—square-jawed, pointy-browed, grinning at me shyly, and still, I think, a little surprised I’d had so much to say.


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