Teaser 204: A Small Gathering for Icarus

We all started preparing to meet the actress and her husband early in the morning and we had lunch together before we left. I called the actress, this time on her phone, to advise we would probably reach her house around two. “That would be perfect,” she cooed. “You'll be able to flirt with me all afternoon and evening. I'll have to prepare myself mentally.”

“We'll have to be discreet. Pick our times appropriately.”


When we arrived and were ushered inside we were greeted by more than fifty people for this “small gathering.” When the actress and her husband were both before us welcoming us to their house, I had to make note of the disparity of the current situation. “I have been away from L.A. and this business so long, I have forgotten 'small gathering' means take a small number of people and multiply by twelve.”

The actress smiled. “Somehow word got around, Gregory.”

“Considering Tom hardly speaks to anyone, I wonder how 'word got around,'” I observed, noting her devious little smile. “Honestly, I almost had a heart attack when Tom answered his phone. I wasn't expecting it.”

“My phone ringing yesterday surprised me so much I forgot to ignore it.”

Jeremy was already there as I figured he would be. Occasionally the two of us would chat in the simple manner of staying in touch, so I learned he bought a house using the significant proceeds from the performance sales. Not really a house. It was an old factory building in the lower rent area of Los Angeles, which he had subsequently converted to a studio and residence, complete with restructuring catwalks above the floor as hallways and adding rooms in the upper lofts as the notion struck him. He was doing well and I had told him I'd like to see him before I leave for Africa.

“When are you leaving, Gregory?” Jeremy asked. “Next week?”

“Probably next Monday, week from today.”

“Good. I'll give you some time to get settled, then spring my surprise.”

“These surprises are mounting, Jeremy. I suppose you won't even give me a hint?”

“It wouldn't be a surprise!”

Jeff strolled in about an hour or two later and in his typical demeanor chatted briefly with whomever and loudly announced, “I came here to see Gregory, not that I'm slighting anyone else, but where is he?”

I had taken up residence in a lounge chair by the pool, constantly dismissing the idea everyone seemed to float about taking my clothes off and jumping into the pool. “There are minors at this party! Cumon!”

“There he is!” Jeff shouted when he reached the pool. “The only man who's more insane than I am and he would have to be to live in Africa!”

I rose from the lounge chair and hugged Jeff warmly. “I only consider myself equally insane, Jeff. You're selling yourself short.”

“The folks at the Faux affiliate keep asking me when they can expect a return appearance from you. They all miss you for some unfathomable reason.”

“I always neglect to bring my ear plugs. I can't appear anywhere on their network without ear plugs. It's the shouting, you know.”

“It's in their contract. Failure to hit three digits decibel level, you're fired!”

“I've been watching you on your web site, when I can't sleep.” Jeff laughed. “I've noticed you becoming more and more conventional, thus less and less insane. Are you wrestling with senility?”

Jeff laughed again. “Probably. I've been out of touch for so long I don't know what normal is any more.”

“I've only been told this, because I have no experience, but normal is overrated.”

“Yeah. You and me both.”

The gathering went on like this continually. At one point I strolled into the house to grab another Pacifico beer—they would never fail me—and the host and hostess were sitting in the living room with many others so I went to mingle. I wanted to bring up what I had learned from Will. The actress, probably sensing it since I wouldn't put it past her, asked, “Did you settle on the parcel, Gregory? Where are you with all of that? I really want to know.”

“My ambassador there, Kitana Farabé, I call her the ambassador. I also call her the little matchmaker but not when she can hear me,” I paused for those who laughed, “she and her parents formed our Mali organization and I am listed as an adviser. It was recommended by those in the government and was approved as the agent for purchase. We call it the Gossi Cooperative and we all agreed to purchase an old crumbled factory site near Gossi and completed the purchase and transfer Saturday, so that's done.” I waited for the congratulations to fade. “Kitana came up with the name for the site. We're calling it Jardin de la Paix, Garden of Peace.”

“That's beautiful, man,” Tom remarked. “Beautiful.” Jeff had wandered in and heard the last part and patted me on the back. I smiled up to him as he smiled back and sat in a chair to listen with the rest.

“They've already started moving stuff there. We have a whole list of things, electric generators, two, maybe three, portable water treatment items, miscellaneous lumber and construction materials, fencing material. We're discussing where to locate a clay firing facility for bricks and blocks for construction, tents and everything with them, portable kitchens and meal preparation equipment. A lot of this is donated or loaned by various aid organizations and the government. We're also negotiating for the loan of a bulldozer or two and the Farabés and other principals involved are working on the recruiting and logistics of getting everyone and everything there. Trucks, people. There's a lot going on and, really, I'm pretty much out of the loop until I get there next week...I've been saying for quite some time this is not my endeavor any more. I think what's already taking place right now is proof.”

“I can't believe how quickly this has all proceeded, Gregory,” the actress commented. “Based on what I've seen and heard about similar attempts from others over the years, that's usually what it takes, years, before anything actually gets started, gets accomplished. You're doing it in months.”

“It's not me, dear,” I responded. “If it was me, it would be years, years and years of planning, negotiating, putting logistics into place and finally executing. When it stopped being only me months ago, that's when it became something which could be accomplished. I've been telling anyone who will listen for some time now the major players in this type of endeavor must be African. My greatest fortune in all this is I managed to meet those major players who have become truly committed to seeing this through, to making it work and be successful. Very fortunate!”

Serena had meandered into the living room, a few stood and moved around chairs so she could sit beside me. She wrapped her arm firmly around my forearm. “But you must never forget, Gregory, you are the outsider, and a white, non-Muslim outsider. Your very life will be at risk at all times. I don't want to be negative but you must not ignore the truth either.”

“What precautions are you taking, Gregory?” Jeff asked, wearing a deadly serious expression.

“It's still preliminary, Jeff, not because we're overlooking it, not at all. Everyone is nervous about having an armed contingent associated only with the site. It puts people on edge, trust me. What we have been doing is discussing with local factions to provide some type of security so it is perceived as a mere extension of existing security which now includes our site. That's what we're trying to accomplish initially and we're pretty close to reaching some agreements. The government has promised help in this regard and we will probably have some, certainly not many, but some who have chosen to work and live on the site with arms issued for their use. We do not want to make this choice overt or obvious, you know, to have people parade around on the site openly with lots of firepower readily visible. That's contrary, completely contrary, to what we're trying to accomplish. We call it Garden of Peace. It would be hypocritical to march men around on the site at all times with heavy weapons drawn and ready. It certainly wouldn't appear peaceful.”

Jeff shook his head mildly. “It is still a very dangerous part of the world, Gregory.”

“You know, Jeff, I remember the day you came to John's office to invite me to your house, your private residence, to spend some time with you and other folks, and you mentioned my appearance on TV, but what really got to me, was what you said before you left.”

Jeff smiled at the memory. “I was watching you on TV and your words and actions suddenly gave me a flash of insight. I was watching the modern-day Icarus, this man from nowhere who could soar on wings of wax without regard for the consequences. And I was left with the thought that you not only were willing to fly above us in such a flimsy mechanism but you knew how truly flimsy it was, yet you were willing to do it anyway. I told you that before I left.”

“You wouldn't truly expect the man who made incorrigible a household word to change, would you?” There were laughs, some forced I noted. “Look, I spent most of a lifetime in the shadows, inconspicuous, obscure, doing what I can but from where it was relatively safe. Last year, having risen to where I was, I suffered so much from accumulated self-doubt about my worth, at times I was a moment away from leaving all of you. One beautiful soul rescued me, followed by another, and another.” I turned to Serena who wore a disappointed expression. “You have rescued me, my love, and I haven't told you so this is my failure. Let me correct it now, for this year, from the moment I stepped into the limo at the airport, you have done nothing less than display to me your absolute devotion, because it is exactly that. Devotion! If it has been your aim all along, Serena, let me tell you I have recognized and appreciate it fully.”

I turned to my opposite side to engage Jeff. “This year, Jeff, the man soaring above on wings of wax is no longer ignored. Everyone sees me for who and what I am, because I refuse to slip back into the shadows, back into obscurity, even though I miss it. It was comfortable doing what I could from the sidelines, but the skeptics, the cynics, and those from the opposing side, those who stand to lose should I succeed, they're all goading me: put up or shut up. You know me well, Jeff. I won't shut up. It is a flimsy contraption I fly. Human beings weren't meant to fly, but it's all that's left. I'll risk it all, I'll give my life. It's my life, not yours, but even in failure, I will inspire others,” I glanced to the actress, “I will influence others,” and I watched her smile light up, “because it's time to put up. I'm all in. I call. Let's see what they've got...Especially, when I am surrounded by so many who truly are devoted to my vision. You inspire me.” I focused on the actress and her husband. “And you two! I know what you said to Will when he talked to you about his Africa Partnership. You asked him what he was considering funding and he told you he was going to try to help me and that was it! You committed a God-awful amount, both of you, from your own pockets. And you owe me? You're both deranged!”

Everyone laughed. Tom responded once it calmed down, “Look, Gregory, it's only money. I wish I could do more. I really want to do more.”

“Five million is not chump change, Tom!” I berated him. “You both have retirement looming, ya know!” There were more laughs. “Did you see my interview with Roland Hodges from BBC?”

Jeff laughed. “'Is it penises or peni? I prefer peni.' Who can forget?”

“Exactly!” I focused on the actress again. “I asked you, months ago, to give me a little attention, pay attention to what I do, so here's your opportunity. Kick back and watch what I do. Let me walk into the coliseum, into the den of lions. Let me risk everything and give you the time and the ability to gather yourselves for the next round. Their side's been winning for a long time with lies and half-truths. I'll expose their lies and half-truths. I'll take the risk. Be ready when it's your turn...All throughout history it's taken but one to risk everything to turn it back to the right way, but the one didn't face it alone, that one human being didn't walk into the den of lions without support. An example, David, who took on the giant, Goliath, one on one, and he's a goner. A slingshot against a man who could crush him with a hug!? Because if David misses with his rock, he's done! He didn't miss. I told you in Miami. 'There is no greater trait than to retain a humility knowing there is always something bigger than one's self.' And I told you where you could find it! Inside you! It's always been inside you. But it's all around you. It surrounds you. It's here, now. Let me show the way. I have something bigger surrounding me. I neither ignore nor do I in any way abuse my something bigger. Let me soar on my flimsy Icarus wings to glide back down and calmly announce, 'There's work to do.'”

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-FiveThe Journey Awaits” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com