Litscope: Capricorn and Black Buck

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Now that we’re safely inside of 2021, I hope more of us are feeling optimistic. There’s no need for nail-biting since this month’s planets are much more tame than last. December’s total solar eclipse in Sagittarius, Grand Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Aquarius, and full moon in Cancer (at the tail end of the month) wore us out! January brings a new moon in Capricorn on the 13th as well as a Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius beginning on the 30th and ending on February 20th. As I’ve said before, back up your electronic devices, steer clear of signing contracts if possible, and double-check emails before you send them out. Retrograde is always a period of review, not action.

Late December ushered us into the sign of Capricorn, an earth sign symbolized by the stern goat with horns. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn and enjoys rules and regulations more than a school crossing guard does. While that may seem a bit boring to some, Capricorns don’t mind climbing that long ladder to the top. In fact, their steadfast determination will surely get them there. These ambitious individuals have no problem achieving their goals because they work steadily towards them. On the negative side, their practicality and laser focus can sometimes read to friends and loved ones as coldness. They can also be excessively stubborn. But if you’re going to let anyone manage your money, let it be a Capricorn. They have a knack for balancing budgets, investing in stocks, and all things having to do with stacking that cheddar. 

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Speaking of ambition and ladder-climbing, this month’s book, Black Buck, the gutsy debut novel by Mateo Askaripour, celebrates the spirit of Capricorns perfectly. In the author’s note before the book starts we meet the author, performing as the protagonist Buck, who says, “if I am successful in teaching you how to sell and fix the game, I ask that you buy another copy of my book and give it to the friend who needs it most.” Now if that isn’t cojones (Capricorn brazenness), I don’t know what is! As the main narrative begins, we find Darren working as a confident coffee master at Starbucks. One day, Darren is approached by Rhett Daniels, CEO of the mysterious start-up Sumwun, with a job opportunity he can’t pass up. Darren is definitely intrigued by the loads of money he could make as a salesperson at Sumwun, but there is more to it. Even at their very first meeting discussing the job, readers see an encouraging father-figure in Rhett that Darren has always yearned for (his own father is deceased).

From there, the book oscillates settings between a bustling and vibrant (mostly Black- and brown-populated) Bed-Stuy, where he lives, and a glitzy (mostly white) Manhattan, where he works. A tale of two cities, if you will. But the book’s core thrust is concerned with unadulterated ambition and the struggle between binaries—not only in the story itself and in the character of Darren, nicknamed Buck by his coworker/archnemesis Clyde, but there is also fierce moxie in the book’s attempts of dark comedy and satire. 

At Sumwun, Buck’s new workplace, readers will be immediately struck by all the names of conference rooms carrying the titles of sacred religious texts, aligned with the employees’ various religious beliefs. This is an obvious, over-the-top display of diversity. The rooms are the Qur’an, Bhagavad Gita, Torah, etc.—you catch the drift. On Buck’s first day, Clyde, who is white, pulls a “welcome” prank on Buck and sits him in a chair while white paint rains down from the ceiling. This prank could feel aggressive to people of color, but may also read as a lighthearted attempt in “team-building” to others. Here and elsewhere in the book, readers must straddle complicated feelings of both pain and comedy. But Buck persists with Capricorn doggedness to ascend, knowing he’s destined for big bucks at Sumwun.

Mateo Askaripour

As the plot moves along, Buck becomes Rhett’s right-hand man, but then decides to take all that he’s learned at the wild workplace of Sumwun—picture flying purple stress balls, employees on scooters, and someone carrying a piglet around the office—in order to train Black and brown youth in sales in a separate endeavor. He persuades his first initiates, Rose and Brian, to sell themselves as Juilliard dancers on a packed subway car. And this enterprising endeavor succeeds, despite its (and Buck’s) many challenges. In the midst of all this, Buck is dealing with a variety of family and friend issues and misses his Yemini girlfriend Soraya. Will Buck choose family over work (as the old Darren would) or correct the many wrongs he’s made along the way? You, reader, must read on to discover the answers.

This book is absolutely entertaining, and I bet a screen version of Black Buck is brewing in the near future. But my qualm is that it wants to be too many things: a satire, a dark comedy, a critique on how race operates in America, a celebration of blackness, a mini-love story. And some of the similes are too abrasive in their attempt to produce laughs: for example, “my nipples sharper than Michael Jackson’s nose,” or “my job was to… ensure that we spread faster than syphilis in the sixties.” Even so, Black Buck does accomplish what it promises to do at the start—teach readers how to sell—and it includes a much more salient point: As Buck says in one of the many side-notes peppered throughout the text, “Sales isn’t about talent, it’s about overcoming obstacles, beginning with yourself.” And damn if Buck/Darren isn’t a living example of this very motto.

This month’s tarot card for the collective is the Four of Swords from the Everyday Tarot Deck. The Four of Swords, in any deck, signals us to rest. Although many get nervous when they see this card, there’s no cause for alarm. In this card, the Three of Swords from the previous card hang above the soldier. Those worries haven’t disappeared, but there is a single white sword of hope below the soldier. It is symbolic of our soul at rest. There we can find solace from everyday anxieties. Considering all that we’ve been through as a country, this is a clear sign to me that we need to rest our minds. Perhaps we might take up meditation or go for a day-drive somewhere (masked and socially distant) serene where nature abounds. The new year has begun and it brings new opportunities; we can reimagine who and what we want to be as a country. But we can’t capitalize on these new ventures without a period of retreat and respite. 

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