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Excerpt: 'I Am Not Sidney Poitier'

I didn't want to believe, nor could I imagine, that Ted was manipulating the crosshairs of the planchette to make the Ouija Board answer my questions in a particular way, but it was the only viable explanation. To my sad question "Will I be stuck in Atlanta forever?" the board said, "Could be." To my panicked "Am I crazy," it was similarly noncommittal, saying, "Perhaps." And finally to my offhanded question, "Was I really in utero for twenty-four months?" it was irritatingly and aggravatingly more definite, giving the response "Without a doubt."

Ted and I were sitting on the edges of lounge chairs by the pool. Jane was steadily swimming laps, her large feet and long legs propelling her slinky red-bikinied body.

"You know where the name of the Ouija Board comes from, Nu'ott?" Ted asked. "It's from the French and German words for yes. Could just have easily been called the non-nein. Of course that's just one theory. There are probably many. I find it simply strange that the skin they pack sausages in is edible. Edgar Cayce thought they were dangerous."


"No, Ouija Boards. Why would Edgar Cayce care about sausages? Maybe he did. He was a weird dude. And sausages are everywhere." Ted looked at his bare feet at the end of his chinos. "Let me ask it a question. Why can't the Democrats come up with decent slogans?"

"I think that might be a long answer," I said.

"My point exactly. Republicans run around chanting 'America, love it or leave it' and 'Freedom isn't free.' "

"The board can't handle that," I said.

"We ought to market a better one. Pigs are really smart, you know."

I hadn't said it, but I'm certain Ted knew it. I felt like a failure. I had set out on my own and had come back with my pathetic tail between my legs. Actually, I was more than a little bit lucky to have come back with a tail at all, much less one unbothered by my unseemly Peckerwood County–work-farm brethren. Failure might have been too strong a term only because I hadn't had any real goals when I set out. That finally was my awakening, my revelation from that brief and both eye-opening and eye-closing experience, that I, sadly, had no direction in life, and my new mission became to discover some mission.

"You could go to college," Ted said.

I shrugged. "I'm a high school dropout."

"With scads of money, my friend, with scads of money."

That was true, and I knew just what he meant, which in itself might have been evidence enough that I didn't need a university. However, at last, I was large enough in stature to not be pushed around physically, and suddenly I wanted, for whatever reasons, to be near people my own age, most especially women. Even as I thought it I knew I was being naïve. People had never treated me well, and I had no reason to expect they would change just because I was bigger.

"Definitely," Ted said. "College would be great for you. A time for searching and growth, for exposure to new and uninteresting subjects. I think that they should be called tax cells instead of brackets."

From I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett. Copyright © 2009 by Percival Everett. Published by Graywolf Press. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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Percival Everett