The minstrel aspect lives.

Martin, covering a high school talent show. How this happened, he's not sure.

Four black boys (the uncomfortableness of that word combination--the having to be on guard not to say it, there's no equivalent of white boys falling rudely off the tongue) do a hokey sailor dance to a full, captive auditorium. Applause, many bows. Once off, they keep returning to stage, over and over, one of them in particular, to much applause.

Laughter. They do it, he does it, again and again. The wide-eye Jolson roll, whites showing. Broad pantomimes, silly-ass Buh-wheat grins. I jes cant stop dancing for the folks!

They eat it up, all colors, comfortable with each others' hilarity at the spectacle of the young men, who, when seen on the streets in low-riding automobiles are objects of sheer terror.

Martin surmises, watches himself surmise. (It's his job.) One: all is a facade. It's what they would like the white audience to think they're like. A multi-mirrored calculation: all those TV shows, those movies where we smile from ear to ear, it's all true, folks, 'at's what we's really like! while underneath lie plans for violent insurrection, rampant slaughter, then. . . rifling the bank vaults.

Or, Two: The young men, simply immature, think cartoonish, even if most of them should know better--not so much facade as a shallow option shallowly seized. Which is scary.

Or. Whatever fits the moment--any behavior is only one of a certain range of possible behaviors in reaction to certain stimuli. As long as it fits within that range. . .

Or--does it double back? Black, doing white doing black. Imitatations of imitations. And maybe past that again, and each extension taking us further down the spiral.

Hanging around backstage, actually taking the press pass out of his pocket, clipping it to a peripherally obvious spot on his belt. A little nervous, not sure how to say why.

It was a word they used several times that escaped him. Some sound in it. Cronk. But that wasn't it.

"Umm, how do you spell that?"

"Aw, Mr. Martin. You don't spell it. You says it!"

The point exactly. Innocent, actually, but he felt the capillaries filling around his earlobes, burning. He walked around for days afterword, imagining who might have heard him asking such a stupid thing. Audibly muttering. A bad sign.