WILL SUCCESS SPOIL JAMES EVANS?
James gets caught in a surprise blizzard and is interviewed by a local weatherman, Gordon Howard, in that evening’s newscast. James asks: How’d you get a job like this? Is this all you do? Gordon tells him about school and his lifelong interest in science and writing. “Is this show business?” James asks. “Are you rich?” Gordon laughs: “Its just a job, man. Only thing is my office is on television.” James gets excited about being on TV, but more interested in the life of a man– a black man!– who lives on television. He watches the newscast that night, but even as the family bounces off the walls with pride, James mostly thinks about working downtown in fancy offices and appearing just as smooth and cool on TV as Gordon. James imagines driving to work in a huge new Cadillac, thinking of champagne bottles popping and spraying in celebration of him. He moves to the big city! The stores! The people! The admiration from everywhere, everyone knowing your name! James sees a store window mannequin and sees himself in that suit! James gets so happy, he runs out into the middle of the intersection, singing, laughing and throws his fedora high as he can into the air. A cop walks up behind him and immediately tickets him. “Man, this my fantasy.” James says. How you just gon’ walk up and ticket me in my own dream?” James wakes up on the couch, cussing.
NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND
Michael gets suspended from school for fighting. This surprises Florida who immediately grounds him. But one day, while running an errand to the store for his mother he runs into the boys who fought him. They all congratulate him for surviving initiation into their gang. They award him with a jacket. But when Florida finds it hidden in the closet, she tells James who sets a trap for the gang members in hopes of springing Michael from their influence. Once he gets the boys together in an alley behind the building, he takes off his belt and proceeds who whip every child’s ass within reach. Afterwards, Michael is free but all the gang members become followers and devotees of James.
CANVAS THE AREA
JJ begins a series of paintings based on his dreams, all involving his dad. In one, his father toils away on a fishing vessel in Alaska, mountainous waves of water hang over the ship in aggressive, looming shadows. In another, he paints his father as a slave, breaking free of his indignities. JJ attempts to hide his art from his father in the basement of the apartment building. But Ned the Wino finds JJ’s stash of paintings and using skills picked up way back in college, creates stencil versions of JJ’s work against various public buildings and brick walls. Slowly, Ned grows a reputation for being a great, undiscovered street artist that the media nick-names Nedsy. JJ gets angry after discovering his work has been stolen. James likes the images, not seeing himself in them at all.
PART 1: Thelma applies for a job at a local retirement home. One of the residents, Mr. Shirley, promptly falls in love with Thelma. He promises her the moon and half the stars in the sky. “The other half,” he says “I’ll lower down once I get to heaven.” But when Mr Shirley unexpectedly dies one night, Thelma grows more mad than mournful suspecting something fishy with the death of Mr Shirley and several other former residents. PART 2: Inspired by both women’s intuition and Perry Mason reruns, Thelma discovers a night janitor has been poisoning residents at the hospital, including beloved Mr. Shirley. Thelma gets complimentary media coverage and recognition from the police for solving the case as the suspect has been getting away with murders like this for years. All the attention does little to assuage Thelma’s sadness, though. She attends services for Mr. Shirley and begins to weep uncontrollably his burial when, mid-service, it begins to snow.
ONE WEEK, FOUR ENGAGEMENTS, FOUR FIRINGS
James gets laid off from his job as a foreman on a construction site after it was revealed to be corrupt with mob ties. Thelma’s study partner in class asks Thelma to marry, despite them both knowing he’s gay–he just can’t win over his very conservative, very stubborn and religious parents. James loses his job as a security officer when the original white officer returns to work after an extended illness. Thelma gets an uncomfortable marriage proposal from her professor who stops class to confess his love. James gets fired from his cashier job at a hardware store because he’s overqualified (Read: Black) Thelma complains to the department head about her professors actions and he spontaneously gets down on his knees and tearfully proposes marriage, telling her how unhappy he’s been after four years with his current wife. James applies for work at the Unemployment Office and is told without irony they’re not hiring. Thelma dumps her problems on a bus driver who threatens to leave his wife for her right then. Once Thelma gets home, she falls into the arms of her father. They both weep a little before James turns on his sho-nuff blues records. The two dance like they did when Thelma was a toddler and then eat ice cream in the kitchen.
DRINKS ON THE HOUSE
Willona doesn’t need a date to go have a drink at Peppers, the old Blues Club, though she rarely has to pay for a drink anyway. She’ll be hit on and sent shots or martini’s for her trouble. One martini arrives and she nearly chokes after recognizing Alderman Davis as her admirer. “Juanita,” he says. “Let’s be friends. I’m your alderman. We should work together in the community.” She pushes the drink back to him. “Look, Eggbert. If you can’t remember my name, you have no right asking me for nothing. Take your shot and go shoot it. You need this drink more than I do.” But as they talk, and they talk quite a while, Willona realizes they have a lot in common. Willona says: “You’re a double dealing, good for nothing, dishonest, sellout, crackhead, oreo, wannabe pimp with no morals, no style, no hair, and not one honest bone in your body. But you’re funny. One more martini I might call you cute.” “How about I offer you a ride home?” Alderman Davis says. “Honey,” Willona says, “I’d rather cut my own throat in a kennel full of unfed wolves.” “Maybe next time, Wilma.” He says.
SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES
Florida hears word that her former employer, Maude Findlay, is new resident in a senior care hospital and she visits her for the day. “Get me a audiobook of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. I’m beginning to understand oppression.” Maude says. The two women share stories of their children, and for Maude, her grandchildren. Maude brags about her years of cosmetic surgery. “And I’ve outlived my doctor,” she says. “Florida, for you, Black is beautiful. But me? I gotta pay for tune-ups like a vintage car.” Maude reaches into her nightstand. “Here– give Michael and JJ some joints. They gave me medical cannabis since I’m allergic to codeine.” Maude feels expansive and confesses to Florida all her life’s mistakes. Her affairs, her failures as a mother and wife. The two share painful memories, but its a positive visit. As Florida leaves, a nurse meets her at the door. “Its Mrs. Findlay,” the Nurse says. “She just… expired.” “Oh,” Florida says. “I’ll send up a quick prayer at the bus stop. Wherever she’s going they gonna need it.”
Everyone in the Evans household is pretty sure Thelma’s new Tinder date isn’t real and she’s victim to a catfishing scheme. When Michael tracks the digital footprint of his sisters prospective boyfriend he discovers its not some dude at all, but rather a Windows 98 computer in Nigeria that became self aware and realized it was lonely. When the robot mails her a three prong adapter as a wedding ring, she calls off his email request for marriage. The robot promptly complains she’s human-normative and robo-phobic bigot and “not all that anyway.” The robot hacks into Con Edison’s power grid and shuts off electricity at the Evans apartment. Then it powers itself down and refuses to reboot.
JJ applies for an art grant from the state, but every year the grant is awarded to White performance artists. So JJ takes his girlfriend, Crystal, to the Civic Center where they crash a gala fundraising dinner for the Art Institute of Chicago. Backstage JJ slathers himself with dark blue body paint. Crystal: bright red. The two run into the dining hall from opposite ends and crash into each another. They begin to make out and clear place settings and glasses off the nearest table, mount it and begin wrestling and pretending to have sex. Before security can reach them, JJ stands on the table, buck naked, and lifts up the tablecloth to show the entire room. The cloth resembles an abstract inkblot test in blue and red. JJ shouts one word: DY-NO-MITE and the room bursts into Bravos and gives him a standing ovation. Police arrive and decide against arresting the couple to keep the paint from staining their seat covers. The grant goes to a white artist anyway, a distant grandson of John Audubon for his abstract paintings of birds. JJ will grow to hate birds and find paint in his ears for years.
LET LOVE IN
After James funeral, Willona tries to console Florida, be a better friend and more available. She brings a bottle of whiskey over to the house and they drink and talk. They realize how much they’ve been through together, the quality of their friendship. They begin to kiss and furiously undress one another– just as James walks in the front door in huge snow gear. “What the hell are ya’ll doing,” He says. “No wonder nobody picked me up from the airport!” Florida says: “James, we thought you were dead!” James says: “I got laid off from the pipeline in Alaska.” Willona takes a .38 out of her purse and shoots James. “Sorry, Florida. I love too hard. Its why I’m divorced.” “Damn, Damn, Damn,” Florida says.
“Everytime you come in to fix one thing, three more things end up broke,” James finally tells Bookman. “You are multi-talented in incompetence. I’m fighting and struggling to find a job out here and here you are with a job you can’t even do. How’d you get to be superintendent of this building anyway?” Bookman says: “Violet owns this building, Mr. Evans. Her father, you know.” James frowns. Then Bookman says: “Look, I know I’m no good. But this isn’t my passion. In truth, I’m an entertainer.” James says: “Get outta here.” “I sing.” Bookman says. “I dance. I do impressions. I go to a open mic talent show every week and usually come in first or second place.” James says: “You got plenty of jokes, at least.” Bookman asks: “Who’s your favorite singer?” James smiles. “My man Smokey Robinson!” Bookman takes a couple of steps back and offers an impression of Don Cornelius introducing Robinson on the Soul Train stage, nailing Don’s inflection and movement. Then, Bookman slips into a flawless impression of Smokey Robinson singing Tears of a Clown. James could almost swear Bookman’s eyes changed color. “What you think, Mr Evans?” Bookman asks. “Not bad, Bookman.” James sniffs. “Now can you do an impression of Smokey Robinson fixing my toilet?”
BLACK POWER COMPELS YOU
J.J. brings home a new girlfriend for the family to meet. But no one is prepared for her being White in blond dredlocks and speaking sloppy rap slang. Florida not only believes something is wrong with the girl, she’s figured it out. The poor girl is possessed by the devil! Florida calls in a favor from Reverend Carl asking him to perform an exorcism. The family ties the girl to a chair in the kitchen and they begin a prayer ceremony. The house is under siege for hours. Finally, everything becomes quiet and the house feels as peace. Reverend Carl reports: “Its over. This house is clean, although there’s a slight scent of chit’lins in the air.” But over in the corner of the kitchen, there now sits a small, weird looking creature. Wild hair and eyes. Reverend Carl says: “Demon, I cast you out!” James takes off his belt for back up. JJ opens the front door. The weird creature walks out. Florida dampens a towel and wipes the formerly possessed girl’s distressed, sweaty face. Once the girl realizes she’s surrounded by black people in the ghetto, she starts screaming. From out of nowhere the apartment fills with dozens of police officers who arrest the Reverend and the entire Evans family. They leave the girl home alone in the Evans house. She goes through the fridge finding ox tail soup and heats herself up some dinner.