THERE’S A LITTLE HOTEL in New Orleans called Le Bout that is just outside of the Vieux Carré towards the Elysian Fields near St. Claude Avenue. It is just a stone’s throw from the river and is run by an old Haitian named Duvaier. The hotel has only seven rooms to let: three on each story plus one on the main floor. There is not much to distinguish this dwelling from scores of others whose balconies and intricate ironwork decorate their facades. It is an old establishment with a regular clientele that take up four of the seven rooms and enable Duvaier to pay his bills and not worry much about his three vacancies. The clientele are mostly old and dark skinned. Also, each had formerly been connected, in some way, with the entertainment circuit. Duvaier, himself, once owned part of a local club where several of his current tenants used to stop for an engagement.
There is a different pace of life at Le Bout that most visitors cannot understand. Breakfast is served at noon and Duvaier informally provides drinks at midnight in a small room just off the front desk. Between these exist rituals of living that cannot be hurried. Life proceeds at a low frequency, and each resident transmits his life pattern with a resolute determination.
One evening just before drinks, a tall, aging black man and a young, curly haired white boy walked into Le Bout. Though it had been many years between engagements, it did not take the manager long to recognize his visitor.
“Well, mon dieu, if it isn’t Rainbow Billy Beauchamp hisself,” roared the seventy-five year old hotelier and former entertainment entrepreneur as he slapped his hands on the high-gloss, dark mahogany reception desk (which also doubled as the bar at midnight).
“Step right up, my man, I haven’t seen that magic arm of yours in très longtemps.”
Rainbow rocked back on his heels and smiled. The tall, aging man in the brushed cotton pants stood erect and surveyed the lobby of the Hôtel Le Bout. A cigarette stuck straight out from his lips. “What you been up to, Rainbow? And who’s your friend here?” asked Duvaier motioning at Bo.
“This here’s my pro-ta-gee, Bo Mellan. He’s an as-p-i-r-ing pitcher.” The words were burlesqued by Rainbow’s dramatic delivery. Bo shied his bright blue eyes down and away, though there was no one else about.
‘’Bo? Like a little Rainbow, eh, mon ami? He must be a pitcher, aussi, yes? I always remember you tell us très fort, ‘I shall return with a pitcher,’ and he is it?”
Bo kept his eyes on the bare stone floor and the old embroidered rugs atop. Then he looked at the anteroom that hosted afternoon breakfast and midnight cocktails each day. Rainbow turned to his young companion and nodded. “A regular Douglas MacArthur I am; ‘cept I always planned it to be my kin, but Bo here is all I was able to drug up.”
Duvaier’s grin exploded into an enthusiastic laugh, a vestige of his early Haitian life. It was the laugh of a man far younger than his actual years. ‘’Yes, he’s a little light for a son. But for you, peut-être, he’s the light at the end of the rainbow?” Duvaier’s mirth redoubled at his verbal cleverness for which Haitians are famous. “Well, maybe you right about that. But you know a rainbow’s light means the storm’s a windin’ up.”
Duvaier slapped the desktop again over the continuation of the metaphor. Bo turned away and wandered to the anteroom to look inside. It was a respectable room with ceiling-high windows and a few pieces of sleek, dark furniture. Nothing was crowded. This left much of the room quite open. There was a blonde wood floor and an intricate Persian octagonal rug in the center that stood under a beautiful, though simple, cut-glass light fixture. Bo put his fingers gently upon the strips of lead that connected the panes of glass that made up the entry door. The room was dim despite the long windows. A reflected flickering came from the sparkling light of the square, black iron coach lights outside.
“Is it true, then, you are going back to base-se-ball?” asked Duvaier.
“That’s it,” said Beauchamp, now leaning on the opposite end of the front desk.
“On the old circuit? You are planning to––”
“Got to put together a team, of course. Get me some kids with talent and some showmanship. We’ll put it on the road for a couple of years to get seasoning and then, maybe, I’ll enter it in the Mexican League in the spring and in the Caribbean League in the winter. Be a real push, I think.”
“Magnifique, Monsieur Rainbow. I applaud you.” Duvaier clapped his hands together in slow motion rhythm. “It is not easy
to start up a team.” The Haitian drummed his fingers on the wood.
“Today, not so easy, but––ah––in the old days one could… . But there was a different climate then.” The hotelier looked toward the ceiling and shook his head. Then he took out his register and pretended to search for an empty room. He started to say, “Where will we put you?” when the door opened and in stepped three of the hotel’s four residents: Johnny Rae, Cadillac Joe Gentry and Dixie Lee Rose. The three men made a casual entrance when they stopped suddenly. Johnny Rae,
the former booking agent and sax player, stepped in front of his two comrades and straightened his arms out from his five foot three inch frame to form a barrier.
“I say, what do we have here?” mugged Johnny.
Rainbow laughed at the sight of little Johnny Rae restraining his two taller companions (especially Cadillac Joe, the former singer and comic who weighed at least two hundred and seventy pounds). ‘’This like old times at the R & B,” said Duvaier with a grin. Then the five of them converged in an instant and began getting the details of what life had brought to them since they had palled around in the forties.
As they talked, Bo opened the door to the anteroom and walked about by himself into the semi-darkened atmosphere. The reflected light lent an ethereal quality to the room. It was as if he were shut off from the world’s noises and troubles. It was his haven: a hidden refuge from impinging sights and sounds.
How quickly he had been whisked away from Milwaukee and Marshall High School where tomorrow, if he had been allowed
to stay, he would have been marching in the school’s graduation ceremony. But then there had been the upset: Rainbow and Willie. They had always been at each other’s throats as long as he had lived there––even before his mother had died and left him alone. There was never any question that he would go with Rainbow. It was just a little sooner than he had planned.
Then there were the passport problems in Chicago, and more and more Bo wondered who he was apart from those curving streets, high arching elm trees and sturdy red brick homes on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Now he stood in darkness. The closed door muffled the raucous voices in the other room. The low illumination within was just enough to see the dark outlines of everything about him, but not enough to make out any detail. Bo made his way to one of the large windows and looked at the quiet narrow street outside. Then there was light. In stepped a smartly dressed, elderly black male who carried an ebony cane with silver ferrule. In the center of his tie shown a diamond stickpin, and on his French cuffs, which slid out one and a half inches from his coat, were pearled cufflinks. Bo’s jaw dropped as he gazed at the total effect of this stunning man in his shining silk evening attire.
Title: Rainbow Curve
Author: Michael Boylan
Buy a ticket for a bus ride taking you from North to Central to South America and a boat ride to the Caribbean along with a traveling baseball team. Discover baseball in all its mythical allure: Rainbow Curve is a compelling tale about race, politics, corrupting power and one man’s courage to stand up against it.
An aging baseball player, his multi-cultural teammates, a domineering manager, and a South American drug lord—are all brought together in Rainbow Curve, a gripping novel that explores the international baseball scene. Moving from training camps in Sun City, Arizona, to Wrigley Field in Chicago, to a mountain citadel in Columbia, author Michael Boylan expertly draws connections between America’s favorite pastime, cultural power, and ethical choice.
-Linda Furgerson Selzer, Associate Professor of English/ Penn State University.
Michael Boylan writes like a true baseball fan. Rainbow Curve is a novel filled with more than 9 innings of history. From barnstorming and tales about the Negro Leagues to the Chicago Cubs, Boylan examines the life of players on and off the field. Bo Mellan, Rainbow Billy Beauchamp and Buddy Beal are just some of the characters who give this novel a high batting average. Baseball is not just a game about balls and strikes, it’s also about economics, race, youth and growing old. Rainbow Curve is a reminder of why we sing “God Bless America” at the ball park.
- E. Ethelbert Miller, Literary Activist and author of The 5th Inning.
Michael Boylan is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Marymount University. He is the author of 26 books and over 120 articles in Philosophy and Literature. Details can be found at michaelboylan.net.