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Genius (Toole)

Excerpt from
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

By night he was plagued by dreams and by day by the impossible route that Mr. Clyde had given him. No one in the French Quarter, it seemed, was interested in hot dogs. So his take-home pay was getting smaller, and his mother, in turn, was getting surlier. When and how would this vicious cycle end?

He had read in the morning paper that a ladies´ art guild was having a hanging of its paintings in Pirate´s Alley. Imagining that the paintings would be offensive enough to interest him for a while, he pushed his wagon up onto the flagstones of the Alley toward the variety of artwork dangling from the iron pickets of the fence behind the Cathedral. On the prow of the wagon, in an attempt to attract business among the Quarterites, Ignatius taped a sheet of Big Chief paper on which he had printed in crayon: TWELVE INCHES (12) OF PARADISE. So far no one had responded to its message.

The Alley was filled with well-dressed ladies in large hats. Ignatius pointed the prow of the wagon into the throng and pushed forward. A woman read the Big Chief statement and screamed, summoning her companions to draw aside from the ghastly apparition that had appeared at their art show.

´Hot dogs, ladies?´ Ignatius asked pleasantly.

The ladies´ eyes studied the sign, the earring, the scarf, the cutlass, and pleaded for him to move along. Rain for their hanging would have been bad enough. But this.

´Hot dogs, hot dogs,´ Ignatius said a little angrily. ´Savories from the hygienic Paradise kitchens.´

He belched violently during the silence that followed. The ladies pretended to study the sky and the little garden behind the Cathedral.

Ignatius lumbered over to the picket fence, abandoning the hopeless cause espoused by the wagon, and viewed the oil paintings and pastels and watercolors strung there. Although the style of each varied in crudity, the subjects of the paintings were relatively similar: camellias floating in bowls of water, azaleas tortured into ambitious flower arrangements, magnolias that looked like white windmills. Ignatius scrutinized the offerings furiously for a while all by himself, for the ladies had stepped back from the fence and had formed what looked like a protective little grouping. The wagon, too, stood forlorn on the flagstones, several feet from the newest member of the art guild.

´Oh, my God!´ Ignatius bellowed after he had promenaded up and down along the fence. ´How dare you present such abortions to the public.´

´Please move along, sir,´ a bold lady said.

´Magnolias don´t look like that,´ Ignatius said, thrusting his cutlass at the offending pastel magnolia. ´You ladies need a course in botany. And perhaps geometry, too.´

´You don´t have to look at our work,´ an offended voice said from the group, the voice of the lady who had drown the magnolia in question.

´Yes, I do!´ Ignatius screamed. ´You ladies need a critic with some taste and decency. Good heavens! Which one of you did this camellia? Speak up. The water in this bowl looks like motor oil.´

´Let us alone,´ a shrill voice said.

´You women had better stop giving teas and brunches and settle down to the business of learning how to draw,´ Ignatius thundered. ´First, you must learn how to handle a brush. I would suggest that you all get together and paint someone´s house for a start.´

´Go away.´

´Had you ´artists´ had a part in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel, it would have ended up looking like a particularly vulgar train terminal,´ Ignatius snorted.

´We don´t intend to be insulted by a coarse vendor,´ a spokeswoman for the band of large hats said haughtily.

´I see!´ Ignatius screamed. ´So it is you people who slander the reputation of the hot dog vendor.´

´He´s mad.´

´He´s so common.´

´So coarse.´

´Don´t encourage him.´

´We don´t want you here,´ the spokeswoman said tartly and simply.

´I should imagine not!´ Ignatius was breathing heavily. ´Apparently you are afraid of someone who has some contact with reality, who can truthfully describe to you the offenses which you have committed to canvas.´

´Please leave,´ the spokeswoman ordered.

´I shall.´ Ignatius grabbed the handle of his cart and pushed off. ´You women should all be on your knees begging forgiveness for what I have seen here on this fence.´

´The city is certainly going down when that´s out on the streets,´ a woman said as Ignatius waddled off down the Alley.

Ignatius was surprised to feel a small rock bounce off the back of his head. Angrily, he shoved the wagon along the flagstones until he was near the end of the alley. There he parked the wagon in a little passageway so that it would be out of sight. His feet hurt, and while he was resting he didn´t want anyone to bother him by asking for a hot dog. Even though business couldn´t be worse, there were times when a person had to be true to himself and consider his welfare first. Much more of this vending and his feet would be bloody stumps.

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