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For the Love of Money, Page 1

Omar Tyree




  Also by Omar Tyree

  Diary of a Groupie

  Leslie

  Just Say No!

  Sweet St. Louis

  Single Mom

  A Do Right Man

  Flyy Girl

  Books by The Urban Griot

  College Boy

  For the Love of Money

  A Novel

  Omar Tyree

  SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS

  Rockefeller Center

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2000 by Omar Tyree

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  First Simon & Schuster paperback edition 2003

  SIMON & SCHUSTER PAPERBACKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales:

  1-800-456-6798 or [email protected]

  Designed by Deirdre C. Amthor

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition as follows:

  Tyree, Omar.

  For the love of money : a novel / Omar Tyree.

  p. cm.

  1. Afro-American women motion picture producers and directors—Fiction. 2. Afro-American women screenwriters—Fiction. 3. Afro-American actresses— Fiction. 4. Phila-delphia (Pa.)—Fiction. 5. Young women—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3570.Y59 F67 2000

  813’.54—dc21 00-037166

  ISBN 0-684-87291-9

  ISBN 978-0-6848-7-2926

  eISBN 978-0-7432-1-2076

  0-684-87292-7 (Pbk)

  For my family,

  friends,

  and all of the readers out there

  who praised

  and slandered me

  for Flyy Girl

  since 1993.

  Well... I’m back

  And I heard that you missed me.

  Truly yours,

  Tracy Ellison Grant

  Happily Ever After

  Is a fantasy

  that will not come true

  unless the pages of the book

  stop turning.

  But in real life

  the pages ALWAYS turn.

  So you get over it

  and you keep reading.

  Or

  you ignore the new pages,

  rip them out of the book even,

  and you throw them away.

  But then you become

  lost

  with no desire

  to be found.

  And in the wilderness

  you become a casualty

  of your own stubbornness

  instead of a survivor.

  Copyright © 2000 by Tracy Ellison Grant

  For the Love of Money

  April 2000

  I was nervous, and shifting my body weight from left to right while I stood in front of a packed auditorium at Germantown High School in Philadelphia. I hadn’t been back to G-Town since I graduated from the school in 1989. I made sure that I looked good that morning too. I was dressed in a tan Victoria’s Secret suit with brown leather Enzo shoes, skin-tone stockings, French manicured nails, newly plucked eyebrows, and my hair was wrapped shoulder length and flipped at the edges. I wore the seductive G perfume, and looked simply ravishing! However, this was Philadelphia, a city where they brought you back down to earth, especially high school students. So after I was introduced to them as Tracy Ellison Grant, a Germantown grad with a master’s degree in English from Hampton, a Philadelphia schoolteacher, a scriptwriter for several television shows, and finally the screenwriter, associate producer, and star of the Hollywood feature film Led Astray, I took the stage and was visibly nervous about what they would ask me about my life and my business. Since I was a new American star, my business was no longer mine.

  I took a deep breath and forced myself to step up to the microphone at the wooden podium. I looked out at five hundred students and faculty members. Like Tupac Shakur, all eyes were on me. I didn’t know where to begin.

  I said, “Wow! Germantown High School. It’s good to be back.”

  The microphone was loud and clear. The auditorium had been renovated with dark brown wooden chairs, and the floor was shiny and clean. For a second, I had flashbacks of Diana Ross in Mahogany. I could feel it. I was no longer with the people. I was somewhere up... there, and trying to get back down, but they were not helping me. All they did was stare at me in hushed silence, waiting for me to say something that would validate their preconceptions of stardom. I felt like a tightrope walker in the circus, fifty feet up in the air. My audience was filled with many who prayed for me to make it to the other side in style, while others jinxed me for a big, sloppy fall, so they could walk out and talk about me.

  I told you she ain’t shit! She ain’t no better than none of us!

  I told myself, You’re thinking too much, Tracy. Calm down and just... talk! You’re stronger than this. Much stronger! I just had to convince them that I was still cool like that, and down-to-earth. The stardom hadn’t changed me. Or did it?

  I held my head up high and said, “It’s been a long road for me.” I smiled and continued, “If you read Flyy Girl, then I guess you know half of it. But I went through a lot more to make it to where I am today, and a lot of people didn’t think that I could do it. A lot of people were jealous, and a lot of them are still jealous.

  “But I had some good friends and some good breaks along the way, and I just had to keep my head strong to make it,” I told them. “You have to set out to do what you want to do in order to become who you want to become, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

  “So I held on to my goals and kept moving forward.” I said, “I just had confidence in myself, and I had friends who supported me, as well as the haters who didn’t. And if you want to be successful in whatever it is you want to do in your life, then you can use mine as an example of how to go for it, by learning from all of my mistakes and taking from all of my strengths.”

  That was the gist of my short speech that morning before Stephanie Lletas, the veteran schoolteacher who had invited me back to Germantown High, stood up to address their questions to me. My short speech was just the tip of the iceberg.

  “For those of you who have questions, we have two microphones set up in both aisles. We’ll need you all to stand in single-file lines,” she addressed them. The students all called her Mrs. Let. Mrs. Let was all business even when I was a student there, and before me. She dressed sharp every day, knew her stuff, and didn’t take no stuff! I admired her. I couldn’t stomach being a schoolteacher in Philadelphia for two years, let alone teach for twenty. She even offered to pay me a honorarium, but I told her to keep it. I wasn’t so big that I couldn’t speak at my old high school without a fee.

  The lines behind the microphones backed up with mostly girls, then the questions began:

  A tall girl grinned in her jeans and short-sleeved pink shirt. She was as nervous as I was.

  “In your book Flyy Girl, you were waiting for Victor Hinson to get out of jail at the end, and I just wanted to know what ever happened between you two.”

  I smiled. Everyone who read my book wanted an answer to that question.

  I said, “By the time he got out of jail, he had legally changed his name, fou
nd himself a new woman, married her and had children. And I had to get over it.”

  They were all in shock, or at least the students who had read my book. No microphone was needed.

  “He up and dropped you just like that?” another girl shouted toward the stage. A few boys in the background began to snicker. I guess that a lot of the young studs considered it a norm for a man to play a woman.

  The sisters, however, were outraged and hanging on my every word. If only I could film the pain in their faces and record their collective moan. They really wanted their love story to remain a reality, but life was not that simple. Especially in the nineties with so many failed relationships. Hopefully, the new millennium would bring brighter days for black love.

  “He had his reasons,” I told them. I really didn’t want to get into it. There had been many nights of pain regarding that chocolate-coated man named Victor, but the sweetness had faded away. I had to move on from him. I even wrote a poem about it: “When the Sweet Turns Sour.”

  After I answered the Victor Hinson question, it seemed like half of the line reclaimed their seats. I wished that I could create some beautiful love fantasy to offer them instead, but I couldn’t. Fantasies were for Hollywood.

  The next question came from a short girl wearing glasses.

  “Do you still write your poetry?”

  “Yes I do,” I answered. “I used to perform a lot of my poetry right here in Philadelphia before I moved out to Los Angeles.”

  “Are you thinking about publishing any of it?” she asked. She looked like an aspiring poet herself, studious and introspective.

  “Yes I am. So keep your eyes open for it in the future,” I told her. “I just don’t know what I want to call it yet. I thought about calling it Griot Sistah, but I haven’t decided on it,” I added with a smile.

  The first guy in line asked me, “How hard was it to break into Hollywood?” He even had a tape recorder in his hand.

  I grinned at him. “Why, are you planning to be the next Spike Lee or Robert Townsend?” He looked like a do-it-yourselfer, too strong-willed to wait. Hollywood would make you wait until you couldn’t stand it anymore, but everyone wanted to be lucky, “Lucky Like Me,” another one of my many poems. Poetry was what kept me sane, during my insane years of dreaming about fame and fortune.

  The young brother said, “Yeah, I want to make movies one day,” and cracked a smile. He was being modest. You had to be modest in a predominately black high school in Philadelphia. They forced you to be modest: the snickering, the eye-rolling, and the doubting. It was what made me so nervous about returning that morning, and so hard headed when I was a teenager. To hell with the crowd! I’m going to be me! This young guy was smarter than that, and his modesty protected him from the wolves.

  I said, “It can be hard to make it in Hollywood if you’re not prepared for it. Very hard. But that’s with anything that you do. You have to learn as much as you can, always ask questions, and keep your dream alive until you make it,” I advised him. “Some people get their break early, some people get their break late. And I was just fortunate because I never stopped working.”

  Another guy was ready to ask me a question, and he could not even stand at the microphone without acting silly. I could tell that he wasn’t about anything before he even opened his mouth. He had that slick-ass, I-know-it-all look, the kind of guy I learned to curse out in a heartbeat.

  “In your movie Led Astray, when you were naked, was that your body, or was that a body double?”

  That was just the kind of question those immature guys were waiting for. A roar of laughter launched through the entire auditorium while the teachers shouted and scrambled to maintain order. The girls hissed at the boys for acting stupid, just like I would have done, but that only added to the noise. Mrs. Let motioned to have the student removed from the auditorium, but I stopped her.

  “No, he has a legitimate question,” I responded. “I’ll answer him.” First I had to wait for everyone to settle back down.

  I composed myself and asked, “Has anyone seen Spike Lee’s movie Girl 6?” A few hands went up, but far less than I expected. Philadelphia teenagers were mostly too damned cool to raise their hands unless you spoke to an advanced class, or at an advanced school. Some students needed extra motivation for everything.

  “Well, in the movie Girl 6, the main character was repetitively asked to take her clothes off, and she wouldn’t do it, and so she didn’t get the role. But the moral of the story was that there are many immature and oversexed men who run Hollywood, who have never grown up. And actresses end up having to cater to that immaturity,” I said. “Just like with these rap videos; they just have to see some ass and some tit, even though it’s not in the song. So I’m glad that he asked me that question, because now I can tell everybody here that men need to grow the hell up!

  “Why does the woman have to get butt naked and raw just for you to like the damn movie?”

  The crowd went wild behind my frank explanation. I turned and had to apologize to Mrs. Let for my candor. She waved it off and told me to keep going. However, it wasn’t as if all of the girls in the audience agreed with me. When the crowd settled down, a girl wearing a Muslim head wrap begged to differ. She stepped to the microphone and said, “I’m saying though, you could have told them no. We have to learn to respect ourselves like that. We can’t just tell guys to grow up and mature if we’re still gonna shake our behinds and whatnot in front of the camera, and be the hoochie mommas in the videos and movies. We have to start saying no to that!”

  “THAT’S RIGHT! TELL HER!” a number of the guys shouted in her support.

  I couldn’t really argue with the sister, but I was embarrassed and my ego made me argue my point anyway.

  “You know what? The irony is that if we don’t get in the film at all, and someone else does the role who may not necessarily care about voicing their concerns, then we never get to change anything. So we have to learn to transform the imagery into something more than just naked sex.”

  I guess my argument sounded weak because the Muslim girl jumped all over it.

  She frowned, shook her head, and said, “No! You change the imagery by walking off of the stage and not doing it.” She walked away from the microphone and left me steaming.

  I said, “That was the same argument we had in the thirties and forties about playing maids and Aunt Jemimas. But you know what? We were maids and Aunt Jemimas in real life, and we didn’t make a tenth of what they did portraying one in a movie. So don’t just focus on the image, try to change the reality. That’s what real art is supposed to inspire us to do: change our realities.”

  That ruined the entire event for me. I was on the defensive for the rest of the lecture. There were a few questions about my friends Raheema and Mercedes, which they had read about, and I gave them half-assed answers without much feeling. I was a damn wreck. All of my doubts that morning were consuming me.

  I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Germantown High School that morning. I felt so damned small! A mouse hole was too big for me. I knew better before I ever agreed to do the sex scenes in the movie, and it was my original screenplay. Artists have to be brave and stand up for their work. Maybe I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was. Was I still the too-fast Tracy of my younger years, chasing Hollywood fame for my own personal high and fortunes? Or was I really the artist that I claimed to be, with something original to offer to the people? I was still confused about that. Was I doing it for the love of the art, or for the high of the money?

  When the lecture was finally over, after signing autographs, Mrs. Let walked me out the door and tried her best to console me. “We all have our crosses to bear, young sister. The more you try to do, the heavier your cross becomes. That’s why so many people decide to do so little, but that doesn’t change the size of your cross. God will find ways to test you anyway.”

  Ain’t it the truth, I thought to myself. I thanked Mrs. Let for having me and thought about how ha
rd I fought to get to the big screen. I wondered if it was all worth it. I walked off by myself to climb into my rental car and slip away before anyone else could notice me.

  $ $ $

  My mother told me how much my young cousin Vanessa admired me. She was a sophomore at Engineering & Science High School in North Philadelphia, where my brother Jason graduated a year earlier. She had read my book Flyy Girl six times and memorized it. She was my first cousin Patricia’s oldest daughter. Trish and I had never been close, going all the way back to my sixth birthday party, but can you believe she named her first daughter Vanessa Tracy Smith? The girl even had the nerve to look like me, subtract my light eyes. Vanessa had brown eyes so dark they looked black. She was a shade or two lighter than me, with dyed light hair to accentuate her allure. The family had all been telling her for years how much she favored me. I was flattered and looking forward to seeing Vanessa again, but the visit to my old high school had dulled my excitement a bit. I was no longer in a good mood. To make matters worse, since North Philadelphia was not exactly my cup of tea, I got lost trying to find E&S High School and ended up running late.

  When I arrived, Vanessa was still waiting for me out on the front steps of the school with two friends in tow, just like I would have been. I smiled and wondered how long she would have made her friends wait had I run even later.

  “Oh my God!” one of her friends shouted. The other girl was more reserved, but they were both ready with their notepads and pens in hand for my autograph. I signed them immediately and told them to stay smart.

  Vanessa played it cool. She cracked a smile and asked me if I had gotten lost again. I had told her previously that I could not find E&S to save my life, even when my brother was there.

  “Well, I’ll see y’all in school tomorrow,” Vanessa told her two friends. They looked like your typical girl power clique, all pretty and knowing it. They were various shades of brown like a box of chocolates, but they were nowhere near as flyy as my crew would have been back in the eighties. They were just... plain. The nineties generation was more flyy in attitude, and were much more reserved about it, like in a secretly snobbish sort of way. In the eighties, we were flyy physically, mentally, and with our attitudes. We were all out in the open with it, wearing all of our gold, designer glasses, silk shirts, Gucci gear, expensive coats, and plenty of fancy hairdos. We rubbed it all in people’s faces: I’m flyy, and you’re not! Which of course resulted in many of us getting flat-out robbed by the jealous haters.