Conrad Loomis & the Clothes Ray

Loomis was an old friend of mine. I kept in touch with him more or less regularly, but every few months he would vanish, so to speak. At first, I thought he would hide out when he hit the picket. He did do that a couple of times. He’d hit the number, get the cash, and then get away from everybody and spend it all. We used to tease him about this. And he hit a few times. But that’s because he’d spend so much money on that stuff. He might spend a hundred dollars a week trying to hit the picket. So when he did, he was still in the red, because he spent so much all the time.

Conrad was also a chemist—at least he was in college. But I thought he’d flunked out of chemistry. He said that didn’t stop him from learning the heavy stuff. He flunked the light stuff because it was boring. That sounded like an Esquire magazine article on Einstein, you know? So I just nodded, though I did think it was probably true, at least in Conrad’s head.

He had some chemistry-type jobs, paint factories, the mad Delaware Nazis who run DuPont. That kind of stuff. But eventually he would always get bounced for some reason. No, it wasn’t “some” reason. It was very specific. Conrad would always be trying to do his own thing during company time. You know that don’t get over. Neither did Conrad.

Well, he called me up one night about 2 in the morning and said he hated to disturb me, but he had something which could get us both rich if I came over immediately. If I didn’t come over immediately, then he would know that I wasn’t really serious and he would get somebody else.

See, that’s the kind of trick people put you in. It wasn’t the money, but I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t interested in Conrad’s ultimate concern. But damn, “It’s 2 o’clock, Conrad. Why didn’t you call me earlier?”

“I hadn’t finished. You coming or not?”

See, that’s the same kind of stuff people pull on you. “Coming or not? Damn, man. What about tomorrow?”

“Oh, I see. You jiving. That’s the trouble with Negroes. They ain’t serious about nothing.”

“Man, why you call me up in the middle of the f’n night with some tired shit like that? Please, Negro.”

“Hey, I just thought that you was serious. Shit, I even thought you was my friend. But—”

“OK, OK.” See, that’s the kind of stuff people pull. “OK, I’ll come over there. But just don’t be jiving yourself. Dig? Man call me up in the middle of the night. You think cause you up in the middle of the night, you serious?” But he’d already hung up the phone.

Now what I’m about to tell you has been in the papers, but in a very small type and then not the whole story. Actually, all these things are still going on, the whole garbage. Conrad had done something fantastic, but he didn’t really know how to handle it. He asked me for my opinion, and I gave it to him. I don’t know if I was right or wrong. Conrad disagreed with me and did what he wanted and got busted, or not really busted, but hunted, sort of. Like Salman Rushdie or somebody. But see, that don’t mean what I told him was correct either.

Conrad’s sitting in the middle of the floor when I come in his spot. He’s resting and the door of the joint was open. Yeh, he’s asleep in the middle of the floor and got this hair dryer (or that’s what it looked like to me) resting on his stomach, like he’d just fell out or something.

“Oh, this mammy-jammy drunk,” I was whispering to myself, when he opened his eyes one at a time. He immediately leaped up from the floor, jumping around me like Mick Jagger. At least that’s what I told him—we both hate Mick Jagger, the no-dancing, no-singing . . . .
“Hey, man. Don’t bring up no swine like Mick Jagger on me. I got something. Yes, indeed. And it’s perfect that you, my main man, should be on hand to dig it. We both gonna get entirely fantastically awesomely rich.”

“Yeh, yeh.” See, Conrad has made this statement to me a bunch of times before. What’s a bunch? Well, maybe fifty times in the last five years. One time we did get some chump change off a number, but we hadn’t made no money off his work. First, because he wouldn’t show nobody nothin’—he’d only make vague references to his “work.” For a lot of people, that became a joke. “Conrad’s work” became a synonym in our crowd for anything you didn’t know which was taking up somebody’s time.

“Oh, so now you gonna run out ‘your work’ for me, on the real side? Or is this just another coming attraction?”

“Look, man. You should be glad you’re intelligent. Ha ha ha.” He broke into that little whiny laugh of his, like radio static organized by mirth.

Is that abstract?

“What’s so funny?”

“Well, that’s it. Really, that’s it.”

“What’s it?”

“Intelligent! See, you’re intelligent. No shit. You’re a very intelligent brother. But see, I’m outtelligent.” He laughs, ditto as before.

“Outtelligent? Yeh, you seem that way to me. You make up that word?”

“Yeh, I made it up. But it existed always since it was in the world, scrambled up in the letters. Plus, I’m sure some other outtelligences dug themselves long before me.”

“Outtelligent? What’s the difference between . . . Oh, I know. Intelligent deals with the in stuff. Outtelligent deals with the out stuff.”

“Exactly, I knew you’d understand.” He laughs again. “But see, just like that, understand? Most people can just understand. But I can over and understand at the same time.”

Conrad talked like this all the time. It was cool until you became hungry or wanted to dig another scene. And when that idea came to your mind, he’d say almost perfunctorily, See ya laterl And you’d split.

“OK, brother. Over, under, out instead of in, but what you get me here for? God knows I know you outtelligent and overstanding, but what’s up?”

“OK, now look at me.”

“I am looking at you. I been looking at you. So what?”

“What do I have on? Describe my clothes.”

Conrad was about five-feet-eight or -nine, but he’d sometimes add a few inches depending on who he was talking to. I remember he told some sister he was six feet tall and she said she believed him. I never believed she did though.

But how was he dressed? He was usually in a black sweater and black pants with a black whatever on top. He always looked like he was in something. Like some organized whatever. He never was, to my knowledge. But dig, he was not in the black outfit tonight. “What color is that stuff?”

He had on . . . I don’t know what he had on. It was the same kind of stuff, I guess. He still looked like he was in something. But the stuff was expensive-looking. It had a darkness to it. It was black, but had a blue sheen coming out from under it, like . . . I dunno. “What is that?”

“I designed all of this.” He wheeled around to let me see. He was sort of snorting inside that outtelligent laugh. “It’s out, ain’t it?”

“Yeh, it’s out. What is it?”

“My clothes. Mine.”

“Yeh, but what kind of cloth is it?” It did glow. I reached to touch it and felt a bizarre thing. I felt his skin. When I ran my hand up his arm it felt like he didn’t really have anything on, like it was his bare skin. “What in the hell kind of stuff is that? It feels like—”

“Like I don’t have anything on!” And this cracked him up. He kept wheeling around laughing. “Yeh, that’s it. That’s it. That’s an intelligent observation. But wait till I hip you. This is some outtelligent jammy, my man, very outtelligent.”

“Yeh, I can dig that.” It was strange. I touched it again. Like his skin, for real, like he had nothing on. “What is it, Conrad? Will you let me in on the stuff, since you brought me all the way over here?”

“I don’t have anything on!” He laughed some more. “You’re right, I don’t have anything on at all. And because of this, I don’t have to wash them. I don’t even have to change them if I don’t want to.” And he kept laughing.

“What are you talking about? You don’t have nothing on?” I felt again. That’s what it felt like. “Well, will you tell me what the hell you’re doing?”

That’s when he hoisted this little hair dryer-looking thing in my face. “See this? This is the Clothes Ray. I invented it. I made it up in my mind a long time ago, but it didn’t seem really important until a few months ago when I didn’t have nothing to wear.” Some more laughter.

“OK, OK.” He shoved the dryer in my hand. Actually, it looked like some kind of lantern. Like a stage light, a Fresnel or something. “So what’s this do?”

“I told you, it’s my Clothes Ray. You just turn it on, and bang-o.”

“Bang-o, what?”

“Bang-o. You get the kind of clothes you thinking about, whatever you can make up. You can’t wear no stuff people are already wearing—that’s just technology. This is deeper than that. You see, I can make clothes by altering the light, rearranging the light faster, slower, different wavelengths, angles, different kinds of motion to the rays.”

“Yeh?” I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Dig. Everything is, to some degree, a form of light. It’s matter in motion—you know that. But it is, in essence, different forms and degrees of illumination.”

“Yeh, yeh.” What was he saying?

“So I can rearrange the light, and by doing this, recreate it as anything else it has the fo’us to become. The focus has to be supplied by the creator, the designer.”

“Designer? You mean you make clothes out of light?”

“Now you coming.” He laughs. “Yeh, now you coming. Yeh, I can make clothes, any kind of clothes out of light, with my Clothes Ray here.”


“You wanna see? Take off your clothes—that’s the best way. I could put some duds on you over those sorry vines you got on, but naked is better, fits better.”

“No, I ain’t taking my off my clothes. Just do it.”

“OK, you gonna be hot and sweaty. But dig.”

Now he switched on this light. There was some kind of negligible hum, a flashing, and something sounding like voices coming from inside the thing. “What’s that?”

“Oh, that’s me speaking to the machine from inside it. I put a CD inside that activates the light transformation by sound. I can alter it if I change my basic design. What kind of clothes you want?”


“Yeh, but not something somebody already got.”

“Why not? That stuff you got on looks like something somebody else got.”

“Yeh, but it ain’t. Look at this, brother. Shit, you don’t know what you talking about.”

The form of the clothes—what looked like a simple sweater, shirt, and pants—did look common, but they had that glow I talked about. Like it was made of television.

“OK, I want a leather coat like no leather coat nobody ever had.”

“OK, you want an unleather coat. Dig.”

He adjusted the “dryer,” turned some dials, and my whole body lit up on the outside like a neon sign. And gradually, and not a long time either, I sort of grew a coat around me. It felt like it had the body of leather— the feel—but it was much lighter and I could not really feel a weight to it at all. There was a kind of warmth to it, like when you touch a bulb, but not that hot. But it was something that was on.

“Is this real, or just some kind of illusion?”

“Well, everything is real that exists. But at the same time, since it’s in constant motion, turning and twisting, rising and changing, there is a quality of illusion to it. But now, the clothes are not illusory. They exist, except they’re made—”

“Of light! Yeh.”

Conrad started to laugh and dig his handiwork on me, hopping around to check the coat out. It was a leather-looking coat, but you knew at once it wasn’t leather. It was lit up from the inside and fit perfectly, or would have if I had taken off my other clothes.

“Aha, now you want to know everything. Yeh, I dig now.”

“Yeh, I want to know everything, but the first thing I want to know is—”

“What I’m gonna do with it?”

“Yeh, what you gonna do with it?” The idea of making clothes for people in some kind of place was obvious. The wealth that could be made—that was also pretty obvious. But there was a monkey in this, a chimpanzee crawling around us shouting stupid things, things that were nevertheless true. A signifying cross-dialogue of us to ourselves, without speaking. Except, “You know, Conrad, everybody ain’t gonna be thrilled with this.”

“What you mean, won’t be thrilled with it?”

“You ever see a picture called The Man in the White Suit?”

“Of course. Well, I never saw it, but I read what it was about. Actually, that’s what gave me the idea. But that was a long time ago.”

“Well, if you had seen the flick, you know that the people who make clothes tried to kill Alec Guinness. They tried to steal his invention, because like yours, it would put them out of business.”

“Oh yeh. I read that. You see Mamet’s The Water Engine?”

“You a Mamet fan?”

“Oh, man. It was on television. But it was OK, shit. That told me what you talking about.”

“How you mean?”

“Well, in the Mamet thing, a guy invented an engine that ran on water and they killed him and took it.”

They way he said all this should have given me confidence—that he did know what he was getting into—but somehow it didn’t, because he seemed to think that he could not be stopped by mere intelligence, since he was “outtelligent.” And that sent a cool razor up my back. I didn’t think of any foul play or anything, but . . .

“How they gonna bother me? I told you—”

“I know, you outtelligent. But dig, Mr. Out T., is you bulletproof?”

Conrad laughed and cut it off quick like a shot. “Shit, I can be. That ain’t no big thing. I could figure that shit out in a hot minute.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Conrad! Rich people, Upper East Side. They won’t let you up there, even if they didn’t know the shit you putting down. And if some of those people find out, especially here in New York—the Garment District, remember?—then your ass will really be up against it.”

He was listening, but like how you listen to somebody out of politeness who really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

“Yeh, you don’t believe me. But what about finding some sympathetic organization or country—a Third World country? Best would be a Socialist country like Cuba, North Korea, or even China, despite that the clown running it used to wear a dunce hat.”

“What? No, nobody else. Me and you. We’ll do it for a couple of years, then vanish. That’s all. Move around the world, make billions. Watch.”

“It’s a great invention, brother. But listen to me, these whatnots will not let you make no billions. They against they own folks other than them making billions. Don’t you know that? It ain’t really about race—it’s about money.”

“Yeh, I know that. That’s why I know we can get over. Money talks.”

“Yeh, money kills too. For money.”

“Ah . . .” He waved me off.
“Yeh, remember that brother who was supposed to be the richest Blood in the world? Smith? He supposed to have died suddenly of an aneurism. But then they tried to put out that he got cancer from a cellular phone. They had set fire to his house a few months before. The guy that owned the orange juice company. I don’t believe none of that stuff. In fact, I called his daughter and asked her what she thought, and she got pissed off and slammed down the phone.”

“I ain’t him.”

“He ain’t him neither, no more.”

This set Conrad to laughing. “You gonna help me or not?”

“OK, OK. But we got to move cautiously on this, brother. Not that I don’t want to make the big bucks, but I know, and I thought that you did too.”

“Know what?”

“I thought you knew where you were, who you were dealing with.”