A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine
bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like
turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips
protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank
into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the
shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's
supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people
waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying
the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the
outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be
properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of
anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and
geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one's soul.
Ignatius himself was dressed comfortably and sensibly. The hunting cap
prevented head colds. The voluminous tweed trousers were durable and
permitted unusually free locomotion. Their pleats and nooks contained
pockets of warm, stale air that soothed Ignatius. The plaid flannel
shirt made a jacket unnecessary while the muffler guarded exposed Reilly
skin between earflap and collar. The outfit was acceptable by any
theological and geometrical standards, however abstruse, and suggested a
rich inner life.
Shifting from one hip to the other in his lumbering, elephantine
fashion, Ignatius sent waves of flesh rippling beneath the tweed and
flannel, waves that broke upon buttons and seams. Thus rearranged, he
contemplated the long while that he had been waiting for his mother.
Principally he considered the discomfort he was beginning to feel. It
seemed as if his whole being was ready to burst from his swollen suede
desert boots, and, as if to verify this, Ignatius turned his singular
eyes toward his feet. The feet did indeed look swollen. He was prepared
to offer the sight of those bulging boots to his mother as evidence of
her thoughtlessness. Looking up, he saw the sun beginning to descend
over the Mississippi at the foot of Canal Street. The Holmes clock said
almost five. Already he was polishing a few carefully worded accusations
designed to reduce his mother to repentance or, at least, confusion. He
often had to keep her in her place.
She had driven him downtown in the old Plymouth, and while she was at
the doctor's seeing about her arthritis, Ignatius had bought some sheet
music at Werlein's for his trumpet and a new string for his lute. Then
he had wandered into the Penny Arcade on Royal Street to see whether any
new games had been installed. He had been disappointed to find the
miniature mechanical baseball game gone. Perhaps it was only being
repaired. The last time that he had played it the batter would not work
and, after some argument, the management had returned his nickel, even
though the Penny Arcade people had been base enough to suggest that
Ignatius had himself broken the baseball machine by kicking it.
Concentrating upon the fate of the miniature base-ball machine, Ignatius
detached his being from the physical reality of Canal Street and the
people around him and therefore did not notice the two eyes that were
hungrily watching him from behind one of D. H. Holmes' pillars, two sad
eyes shining with hope and desire.
Was it possible to repair the machine in New Orleans? Probably so.
However, it might have to be sent to someplace like Milwaukee or Chicago
or some other city whose name Ignatius associated with efficient repair
shops and permanently smoking factories. Ignatius hoped that the
baseball game was being carefully handled in shipment, that none of its
little players was being chipped or maimed by brutal railroad employees
determined to ruin the railroad forever with damage claims from
shippers, railroad employees who would subsequently go on strike and
destroy the Illinois Central.
As Ignatius was considering the delight which the little baseball game
afforded humanity, the two sad and covetous eyes moved toward him
through the crowd like torpedoes zeroing in on a great woolly tanker.
The policeman plucked at Ignatius' bag of sheet music.
"You got any identification, mister?" the policeman asked in a voice
that hoped that Ignatius was officially unidentified.
"What?" Ignatius looked down upon the badge on the blue cap. "Who are
"Let me see your driver's license."
"I don't drive. Will you kindly go away? I am waiting for my mother."
"What's this hanging out your bag?"
"What do you think it is, stupid? It's a string for my lute."
"What's that?" The policeman drew back a little. "Are you local?"
"Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is
a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?" Ignatius bellowed over
the crowd in front of the store. "This city is famous for its gamblers,
prostitutes, exhibitionists, Antichrists, alcoholics, sodomites, drug
addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs,
and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you
have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you,
but don't make the mistake of bothering me."
The policeman grabbed Ignatius by the arm and was struck on his cap with
the sheet music. The dangling lute string whipped him on the ear.
"Hey," the policeman said.
"Take that!" Ignatius cried, noticing that a circle of interested
shoppers was beginning to form.
Inside D. H. Holmes, Mrs. Reilly was in the bakery department pressing
her maternal breast against a glass case of macaroons. With one of her
fingers, chafed from many years of scrubbing her son's mammoth, yellowed
drawers, she tapped on the glass case to attract the saleslady.
"Oh, Miss Inez," Mrs. Reilly called in that accent that occurs south of
New Jersey only in New Orleans, that Hoboken near the Gulf of Mexico.
"Over here, babe."
"Hey, how you making?" Miss Inez asked. "How you feeling, darling?"
"Not so hot," Mrs. Reilly answered truthfully.
"Ain't that a shame." Miss Inez leaned over the glass case and forgot
about her cakes. "I don't feel so hot myself. It's my feet."
"Lord, I wisht I was that lucky. I got arthuritis in my elbow."
"Aw, no!" Miss Inez said with genuine sympathy. "My poor old poppa's got
that. We make him go set himself in a hot tub fulla berling water."
"My boy's floating around in our tub all day long. I can't hardly get in
my own bathroom no more."
"I thought he was married, precious."
"Ignatius? Eh, la la," Mrs. Reilly said sadly. "Sweetheart, you wanna
gimme two dozen of them fancy mix?"
"But I thought you told me he was married," Miss Inez said while she was
putting the cakes in a box.
"He ain't even got him a prospect. The little girlfriend he had flew the
"Well, he's got time."
"I guess so," Mrs. Reilly said disinterestedly. "Look, you wanna gimme
half a dozen wine cakes, too? Ignatius gets nasty if we run outta cake."
"Your boy likes his cake, huh?"
"Oh, Lord, my elbow's killing me," Mrs. Reilly answered.
In the center of the crowd that had formed before the department store
the hunting cap, the green radius of the circle of people, was bobbing
"I shall contact the mayor," Ignatius was shouting.
"Let the boy alone," a voice said from the crowd.
"Go get the strippers on Bourbon Street," an old man added. "He's a good
boy. He's waiting for his momma."
"Thank you," Ignatius said haughtily. "I hope that all of you will bear
witness to this outrage."
"You come with me," the policeman said to Ignatius with waning
self-confidence. The crowd was turning into something of a mob, and
there was no traffic patrolman in sight. "We're going to the precinct."
"A good boy can't even wait for his momma by D. H. Holmes." It was the
old man again. "I'm telling you, the city was never like this. It's the
"Are you calling me a communiss?" the policeman asked the old man while
he tried to avoid the lashing of the lute string. "I'll take you in,
too. You better watch out who you calling a communiss."
"You can't arress me," the old man cried. "I'm a member of the Golden
Age Club sponsored by the New Orleans Recreation Department."
"Let that old man alone, you dirty cop," a woman screamed. "He's prolly
"I am," the old man said. "I got six granchirren all studying with the
sisters. Smart, too."
Over the heads of the people Ignatius saw his mother walking slowly out
of the lobby of the department store carrying the bakery products as if
they were boxes of cement.
"Mother!" he called. "Not a moment too soon. I've been seized."
Pushing through the people, Mrs. Reilly said, "Ignatius! What's going on
here? What you done now? Hey, take your hands off my boy."
"I'm not touching him, lady," the policeman said. "Is this here your
Mrs. Reilly snatched the whizzing lute string from Ignatius.
"Of course I'm her child," Ignatius said. "Can't you see her affection
"She loves her boy," the old man said.
"What you trying to do my poor child?" Mrs. Reilly asked the policeman.
Ignatius patted his mother's hennaed hair with one of his huge paws.
"You got plenty business picking on poor chirren with all the kind of
people they got running in this town. Waiting for his momma and they try
to arrest him."
"This is clearly a case for the Civil Liberties Union," Ignatius
observed, squeezing his mother's drooping shoulder with the paw. "We
must contact Myrna Minkoff, my lost love. She knows about those things."
"It's the communiss," the old man interrupted.
"How old is he?" the policeman asked Mrs. Reilly.
"I am thirty," Ignatius said condescendingly.
"You got a job?"
"Ignatius hasta help me at home," Mrs. Reilly said. Her initial courage
was failing a little, and she began to twist the lute string with the
cord on the cake boxes. "I got terrible arthuritis."
"I dust a bit," Ignatius told the policeman. "In addition, I am at the
moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain
begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese
"Ignatius makes delicious cheese dips," Mrs. Reilly said.
"That's very nice of him," the old man said. "Most boys are out running
around all the time."
"Why don't you shut up?" the policeman said to the old man.
"Ignatius," Mrs. Reilly asked in a trembling voice, "what you done,
"Actually, Mother, I believe that it was he who started everything."
Ignatius pointed to the old man with his bag of sheet music. "I was
simply standing about, waiting for you, praying that the news from the
doctor would be encouraging."
"Get that old man outta here," Mrs. Reilly said to the policeman. "He's
making trouble. It's a shame they got people like him walking the
"The police are all communiss," the old man said.
"Didn't I say for you to shut up?" the policeman said angrily.
"I fall on my knees every night to thank my God we got protection," Mrs.
Reilly told the crowd. "We'd all be dead without the police. We'd all be
laying in our beds with our throats cut open from ear to ear."
"That's the truth, girl," some woman answered from the crowd.
"Say a rosary for the police force." Mrs. Reilly was now addressing her
remarks to the crowd. Ignatius caressed her shoulder wildly, whispering
encouragement. "Would you say a rosary for a communiss?"
"No!" several voices answered fervently. Someone pushed the old man.
"It's true, lady," the old man cried. "He tried to arrest your boy. Just
like in Russia. They're all communiss."
"Come on," the policeman said to the old man. He grabbed him roughly by
the back of the coat.
"Oh, my God!" Ignatius said, watching the wan little policeman try to
control the old man. "Now my nerves are totally frayed."
"Help!" the old man appealed to the crowd. "It's a takeover. It's a
violation of the Constitution!"
"He's crazy, Ignatius," Mrs. Reilly said. "We better get outta here,
baby." She turned to the crowd. "Run, folks. He might kill us all.
Personally, I think maybe he's the communiss."
"You don't have to overdo it, Mother," Ignatius said as they pushed
through the dispersing crowd and started walking rapidly down Canal
Street. He looked back and saw the old man and the bantam policeman
grappling beneath the department store clock. "Will you please slow down
a bit? I think I'm having a heart murmur."
"Oh, shut up. How you think I feel? I shouldn't haveta be running like
this at my age."
"The heart is important at any age, I'm afraid."
"They's nothing wrong with your heart."
"There will be if we don't go a little slower." The tweed trousers
billowed around Ignatius' gargantuan rump as he rolled forward. "Do you
have my lute string?"
Mrs. Reilly pulled him around the corner onto Bourbon Street, and they
started walking down into the French Quarter.
"How come that policeman was after you, boy?"
"I shall never know. But he will probably be coming after us in a few
moments, as soon as he has subdued that aged fascist."
"You think so?" Mrs. Reilly asked nervously.
"I would imagine so. He seemed determined to arrest me. He must have
some sort of quota or something. I seriously doubt that he will permit
me to elude him so easily."
"Wouldn't that be awful! You'd be all over the papers, Ignatius. The
disgrace! You musta done something while you was waiting for me,
Ignatius. I know you, boy."
"If anyone was ever minding his business, it was I," Ignatius breathed.
"Please. We must stop. I think I'm going to have a hemorrhage."
"Okay." Mrs. Reilly looked at her son's reddening face and realized that
he would very happily collapse at her feet just to prove his point. He
had done it before. The last time that she had forced him to accompany
her to mass on Sunday he had collapsed twice on the way to the church
and had collapsed once again during the sermon about sloth, reeling out
of the pew and creating an embarrassing disturbance. "Let's go in here
and sit down."
She pushed him through the door of the Night of Joy bar with one of the
cake boxes. In the darkness that smelled of bourbon and cigarette butts
they climbed onto two stools. While Mrs. Reilly arranged her cake boxes
on the bar, Ignatius spread his expansive nostrils and said, "My God,
Mother, it smells awful. My stomach is beginning to churn."
"You wanna go back on the street? You want that policeman to take you
Ignatius did not answer; he was sniffing loudly and making faces. A
bartender, who had been observing the two, asked quizzically from the
"I shall have a coffee," Ignatius said grandly. "Chicory coffee with
"Only instant," the bartender said.
Excerpted from "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. Copyright © 1994 by John Kennedy Toole. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.