Note from Anne: this essay is rewritten from its original version of April 29, 2008. The essay is complex, and I’ve tried to make the sequence easier to follow. The topics: my reading erotica in Manhattan’s Lolita bar in July 2007; my decades-old confrontation with the NYPD in Harlem; the impact of the incredible Judith Jamison and the Alvin Ailey ballet “Revelations” on my life, and my current reflections on finger-wagging, judgmental people, whoever they are. I don’t like rabble-rousers, and I’ve found the courage to say so.
Mine is only one of many psychological tales that are rumbling in the hearts and minds of older White Americans, who are cleansed by this moment in our culture. The road ahead remains long and complicated, but perhaps we can close one chapter in a terrible nightmare of a story in American history.
On Wednesday night, December 1, 2010 ‘Revelations’ will be 50 years old. I believe it’s messages are profoundly important today, but in a light that transcends race relations.
In writing these words, I don’t mean to minimize the challenges in America, still tied to race relations. I was reminded of that reality at the Fourth Wall Arts Salon Saturday evening in Philadelphia.
My regular readers know that I have come to Philadelphia, from New York, in search of a better understanding of the founding of America.
Writing from my loft, four blocks from Independence Hall, gives me a different perspective from my Wall Street high-rise view, overlooking New York Harbor. Not to worry. The Statue of Liberty was my friend in New York and she’s still with me here in Philadelphia.
Alvin Ailey Dance-Wade in the Water from “Revelations”
My Original Sins
When the statuesque Jamison strode onto Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” stage, holding her billowing parasol high overhead, she buried herself so deeply into my unconscious, that I will never let go of her. The downside of our relationship is that Judith takes unusual liberties with my life, appearing without notice, without an invite and on rare occasions … at a totally inopportune moment.
Jamison dropped by again this morning, applauding my months-ago decision to post Mahalia Jackson singing “The Battle of Jericho” on A of C.
I ignored her. (The videos are linked to YouTube and disabled for in website viewing. Just click on the picture.)
“Anne, tell me you’re still not upset with me about crashing your little Lolita party. I couldn’t resist. How long will this Siberia sentencing go on?”
“You were rude, Judith.”
“Seriously, Anne. I love ‘Friendly Skies’. It’s damn sexy writing, but I needed to check in on you today. You cannot read ‘Friendly Skies’ here on Anne of Carversville. Don’t think your readers will tolerate that, Anne. They don’t love you that much. Give them a little taste, maybe. The innocent parts. If I remember correctly, there was a lot of fanny pinching going on at Lolita Bar last July.”
July 8, 2007
Indeed, my hairdresser said her friend pinched her so hard, that she had bruises the next morning.
There was a hushed, voyeuristic current moving through the upstairs bar that night. “The blond is going to read erotica.” Yes that blond; the very grownup one … the one who should know better.
Reading quietly in a restaurant rehearsal the previous night, I did not see the three men at the bar stop talking, then turn in rapt attention to my words. It amazes me how we can hear the softest sounds when we want to listen.
Covering her mouth with mock horror, my writing teacher Elizabeth suggested: “I think you should buy fans for tomorrow evening. It’s going to be a scorcher.”
“Love that idea,” I laughed. “I’ll find some in Chinatown.”
They were lying in wait now in New York’s East Village … those innocent-looking Southern Lady, Chinese fans … counting down the minutes until I would rise from my seat in a new kind of artistic recital.
I had no piano, no fear of hitting a wrong note, no concerns about playing the same fugue three times in a row because I couldn’t remember the ending.
The Minnesota girl was a New York story now, making a different debut.
This night my only fears were whether or not my French-manicured hands would shake the papers; an understandable concern that my normally steady, calm voice would crack; and ambivalence that my discreet reputation would be tarnished forever.
Could reading “Friendly Skies” to a group of strangers rip irrevocably the mantle of elegant respectability from my strong, broad shoulders. In moments, there was no turning back.
Fire and Damnation
Handsome, strange men in well-tailored suits crowded the stairway in the Lolita Bar, blocking all access out of the room. Elizabeth passed out the fans, as I walked the long, narrow path in the dark. I was glad for a double shot of Johnny Walker Black to steady my nerves.
The first time is always the most difficult.
“What possesses you, Anne?” I wondered to myself, turning to smile at the audience. Are you on some kind of self-destructive nighmare course with yourself? Or liberation? Two sides of a very thin coin.
Fans fluttered as I prepared to read “Friendly Skies”.
In a common occurrence, I left the building — so to speak — transported to an entirely different place and time in my life. Everyone was watching me, but I was only partially available to the public.
Judith understands this about me, which is why we are friends.
Race and sex have defined me over the decades … and this artistic fusion seeks release. Feeling the air movement on my cheeks, my mind dialed back to my earliest days in New York … some 30 years before this Lolita moment.
My integrity was on the line that day, long before the man named Barack Obama made my dreams come true. For the record, I supported Hillary Clinton, believing Obama to lack enough experience to be president in these enormously challenging times. But psychologically and emotionally, I am thrilled that America has elected a black president.
Anne’s Demons Gather Together
In ways that are difficult to explain … because the artistic process is not linear … very related experiences and insights came together in my Lolita reading.
Huddling together in the front of the club, all my demons congealed, as the most outrageous words prepared to depart from mind to mouth to sound to hearing.
Perhaps calling up the Furies was Judith’s doing. Perhaps not.
She always means well, but on the rarest occasions, I question her motives. After all, she lives her own moments of ambivalence. Those who love us deeply can also be our saboteurs.
Rebuked unintentionally or not this night — perhaps a combo of both, I sat in the Lolita spotlight, determined to fight back for me … for Anne … and for us all who don’t walk in line with America’s morality police.
Long Ago, Another Arresting Moment
Putting me in the back seat of their police car, two white New York police officers told me that no respectable, white woman would find herself on 124th street and Lenox Avenue on a hot, Saturday, summer afternoon.
Stunned with disbelief, my roommate and I (both white girls) and her guy (black) were in big trouble with the NYPD for being … there … three people together on the same spot in Harlem. Diane, a med student, did volunteer work in Harlem, and I had gone to meet her.
Her boyfriend picked us up — yes in a black Cadillac — and we were on our way to the Apollo Theater to get concert tickets.
Hearing the hisses and catcalls of New York City’s finest weeks later, I couldn’t believe I was living in this moment in the country that I loved. The images on my young-girl TV screen were suddenly real, and I was living them.
Vowing to make my retribution case before a Manhattan Citizens “Court” calmly, I walked an intimidating gauntlet where the officers with scheduled compalint appearances that day, sat elevated off the floor, in shoeshine-like chairs.
Before I was finished with the proceeding, we had an unplanned recess in the hallways. The judge was shaken when I confronted him: “With all due respect sir, how the hell many years have you been out of Harlem that you have forgotten what folks live with every day up there?”
How could this happen in my America … that I was taken into police custody for walking on the street in New York, on a hot summer day! For suspected prostitution, no less!
I feel sorry now for those men … those guys sitting in high chairs, looking down at me and taunting me for pressing my case.
Most likely some became fathers, who lost their sons, at the World Trade Center gravesite, the place I call home today in 2008
Furious with them back then … over 30 years ago … I now light candles in my room, for the souls of their boys. I have a small altar here, to remind me of what happened on Sept. 11, our own Battle of Jericho.
We are all connected in profound ways.
Let the Public Friendly Skies Reading Begin, July 2007
This Lolita night, my fanning friends made me think of “Revelations”, my favorite ballet … as a metaphor for my most fundamental principles and concerns in life.
Hopefully, we all adopt at least one project in life. Mine was race relations, civil rights, women’s rights and an empowered sexuality.
“Revelations” always haunts me in its beauty and artistry. It has laid claim on my psyche for decades in multiple ways. I see the heroic struggle of slavery, incredible beauty. “Revelations” inspires me as no other art work.
Another image from the ballet is also embedded in my mind, a photo much more disruptive to my psyche.
I see the finger-wagging, Biblical fan-wavers. Between you and me, I am very ambivalent about those women, because I don’t think they have my best interests at heart. I am on their side, but truthfully, I’m not sure they want my kind in their coven.
Now that I think about Julius and Diane, they caused quite a lot of trouble in my life. I don’t remember which came first … the NYPD incident or having my hair yanked out. I was a brunette then … thankfully.
We were speeding off somewhere, on a Saturday afternoon, Diane, Julius who worked with her at the hospital, and me, sitting in the middle of the front seat, for no good reason.
Stopping for a light about two blocks away from our 21st street apartment, a black woman jumped in the back seat of the car, attacking me savagely … screaming every racial slur imaginable in my direction.
Her shouting was dispicable and all too familiar. Bad language has no roots in skin color.
It takes a lot to frighten me, but this woman was out for blood, as she pummelled me ferociously.
Screaming, I pushed Diane out of the car, only to have this deranged woman pull a knife on me, waving it insanely, as the crowd gathered on Seventh Ave.
Totally clueless as to what was happening, I watched as Julius and two other onlookers restrained this madwoman. It’s considered politically incorrect to tell this tale in detail, but the events true. The woman would have killed me or certainly scarred my beautiful face for life.
Julius knew her; she was the ex. And she assumed — erroneously — that I was the new girl.
Processing the events around me, I felt strongly that neither Diane or I deserved to die for our sins … whatever they were exactly. All I knew was that I was shaken to the core, trying to move racist cops out of Harlem one moment and dragged into psycho-emotional insanity by a knife-wielding black woman the next … or vice versa.
I learned then to be careful where I sit in the car, on the bus … even in airplanes. It’s a calculated decision and carries an inherent amount of risk, as people found out on Sept. 11, 2001.
Tonight was different. The spotlight was mine and no one was going to arrest me. The only person who could arrest me was myself.
I Heard My Own Voice Speaking at Lolita
Our collision of body, mind, and spirit was a near-future event. For now, we existed in separate spaces, different generations, leading independent lives. We are at the top of our game and Blackberry dependent. An addendum … we are both horny as hell by nature.
The club was very still now, except for the fans sashaying back and forth, sending a cooling breeze over my face.
You, a handsome, sexy, mid-30s Wall Street superstar, waited impatiently for a 39-story ride down to your regular driver, parked in a community of limos. Destination: JFK. Preoccupied with your guy-friendly stash of 20-year-old naked bimbettes, you ignored the majestic view of New York’s harbor and the mighty but unglamorous woman who rules it.
In reality, you two are alike. Her steely, unyielding arm is as steady as your own, never flexing under pressure, even when your heart is beating wildly in adrenalin overload. You wear confidence like a second skin.
Scrolling over your calendar, you smiled imperceptibly, your intense, resolute eyes fixated on a rare 16-hour chasm of nothingness drifting on the small screen. Meeting me was nowhere on your agenda, and you relished the prospect of scarce downtime.
The ‘Revelations’ Ladies Appear at Lolita
At this moment, Jamison appeared in a transformed rustle of bustles, church pews and fans. I’ve seen this group of ladies six times in my life and their message is always clear to me. Big trouble ahead if I don’t stay in line.
My brain disconnected visually from my mouth, as Revelations dancers replaced the Lolita crowd, sitting on benches left and right in front of me. My racy words were heard in the club, but my brain functioned on high alert, fight or flight mode.
“You are my friend, Judith” I protested. “Why are you here? This is my night, and I don’t trust you. You are bringing in the self-righteous Gospel crowd, and this is not their kind of place. Go away.”
My psyche struggled for control, as it did before the African American judge in that Harlem courtroom.
I did pause before our glorious afternoon view, from a quieter vantage point, perched high over the meandering green, flower-studded path, running north to the marina.
If your location is left brain, then mine is right. In an act of unrelenting will, I’ve convinced myself that I face Portofino, not Jersey City. Go ahead and smile; I have no problem that my preference for rose-colored glasses amuses you. Quite simply, I fancy looking at life through my own, soft-focus camera lens.
Except when it comes to business. In matters of international commerce, my entrepreneurial talents are legendary, my creative, sixth sense unusually profitable. Any opponent who underestimates my own left-brain capacity, merely because I lead with my right, typically loses his poker chips.
Instead, I drifted in a bed of luscious peaches and burnished golds, sinking naked into six, impeccably-dressed, goose-down pillows, surrendering to the beauty of my movie-set spectacular view.
(Photo only, dance follows ‘Sinner Man’ in above video. It’s these fan ladies who appeared to me at Lolita, facing me and replacing the friendly crowd listening to my reading)
Judith would not leave Lolita, and I couldn’t find my teacher Elizabeth anywhere in the darkness. I wanted the handsome men in Hugo Boss suits, not this black diva and her yellow-dresses dancers, balancing on church pews, their left wrists wildly waving fans.
Sudddenly, the fans were a terrible mistake!
Just four feet away, the Revelations dancers scolded me, punctuating the night with their index fingers. The church-goers’s message was clear: for shame, Anne, for shame.
My voice mouthed “Friendly Skies”, while my brain retreated to the 1970s New York courtroom.
“Ms. Enke, this was a terrible mistake. The Court apologizes to you. The City of New York apologizes to you. The Police Commissioner apologizes to you. What do you want?”
Facing my accusers, my voice was calm: “Sir, I just want them out of Harlem. They cannot protect the people of Harlem, given their views. Send them to a different neighborhood in New York, preferably a white neighborhood. That’s all I want.”
The court document came a week later. Inspite of the police union rules, I prevailed. Surprised, I read that the court also penalized the officers’ pay.
Zipping back mentally into the Lolita Bar where I belonged now, I fought valiantly for control of my moment.
Anyone who thinks he understands a woman by examining the titles in her bedroom would be wrong about me. Perusing both bookcases, you would think that all I care about is sex, orchids, erotic photography and Paris. Not so. There are so many literary volumes in my country house, that the garage is now a library.
Rich with 15 minutes to kill before the porter came for my luggage, I rearranged a few of the most offending titles on the bookshelves, stacking them now in assorted shades of non-threatening, front-facing, creamy page bottoms.
Thank god Theresa’s mother doesn’t speak English. I know that my life intrigues her, because she always laughs and shakes her head, standing at the ironing board, calling me one sexy mami.
Undaunted, my voice grew louder now, and the ladies in yellow dresses fainted in the evening heat, replaced by fan-waving writing friends and supporters.
I smiled in triumph, as Judith and her Furies prepared to leave the club for good. “Anne, you are totally misunderstanding my motives tonight. We must talk.”
“Forget it, Judith. I’m seriously pissed with you.” Let me finish ‘Friendly Skies’. Go away.”
My voice continued strong, measured, and sensual, as the most incredible words rolled off my tongue … sexy, articulate, vulgar, enticing … very bad words.
The room was mine, as the Biblical finger waggers flew away into the night.
Applause then. Men, women … no one was angry with me. I had done it, standing up to the Furies … my own and yours, too. The night became a divine occasion … my second baptism. Now the only question concerned the next chapter of my life. Would I become a different woman or remain the same ‘ol rowdy, crazy, always challenging corporate gal.
Pre Inaugural Forgiveness
Judith has returned once more.
“Seriously, Anne,” Judith said to me this morning. “Unfreeze your heart, girl. This is not like you.”
Jamison’s right, of course. I can’t stay mad indefinitely.
“Just tell me what that Lolita fiasco of yours was about, Judith.”
“It was nothing more than a little test, Anne. I’m merely trying to ascertain how far you’ve come in your life. You completely misunderstood my motives.”
“Are you sure, Judith?” I asked, my dear friend, the icon of triumph, power and elegance in my life. “Because, I’m not. I think you need to take your own sabbatical for a little inner thinking. You still needed to be in control of me in my ‘Friendly Skies’ reading, defining the rules of our relationship.”
“I would like to think that we’re more in a state of balance with each other, Judith. My conscience is clear these days, and I’ve put my demons to rest. You tried to stir them up. I’m done with guilt, Judith. Haven’t you been reading my Journal for almost two years? “
“Sexual guilt, religious guilt, racial guilt. It’s over. I’m exhausted by it, Judith. And I have set myself free. Guilt kills people. Rather than stand up for what’s right, we cloak our acts of naked aggression under the mantle of morality and God’s will. It’s horrible what people do to each other, waving the Bible in support of their actions.”
My Poetic Vision & Hopes for America’s Future
Sometimes I’m frustrated that my life journey has been so twisted. Then, I think of all the incredible stops I’ve enjoyed along the way, the unbelievably rich experiences I’ve had with strangers all over the world.
Today I accept who I am, a woman who has traveled far and wide, but is also very close to her roots and original self. I struggled hard to reclaim that little girl inside me … the unsinful woman trying to lead a good, meaningful life.
By now, you know that my mother is an obsesssive neatnik. But her madness has its redeeming virtue.
Do you know why I like hardwood floors and dislike carpet? You can get at the grit with greater ease.
I keep a cleaning broom closeby at all times now. Isn’t it a great moment when you bring all the dust together in the center of the room in a nice tidy pile, and then you throw it all away.
I love that feeling.
Even better, is the feeling I have for finger-waggers. Tsk … tsk … tsk, yourself.
I prefer living up here in the clouds of lower Manhattan, where I can see straight and the water taxis inspire me. The silence away from the rabble-rousing, irreverent, judgmental forray is darn inspiring … but I also know when it’s time to get down from my pedestal, especially for a good cause.
Somewhere in these pages, I wrote that I used to cry when I heard “America the Beautiful”.
My poor mother; I was such a winesappy child.
I think it’s time to get out the songbook again, although my vocal chords are very rusty. There’s no aria in my future but perhaps a rendition of … an appropriate song for America’s moment.
I will reflect on our options over the weekend. And don’t worry … I promise not to sing. Plus … it wouldn’t surprise me if Judith will be in Washington for the festivities. I must call her … although she’ll correctly challenge my motives.
There are no tickets coming my way, and if one did … well, I would give it to you … for putting up with me and all my digital-therapy ramblings.