The year was 1958 and I was in the seventh grade.
EJ was this interesting person’s name. My mother’d met EJ through a coworker, Lillian. She and mother were friends and Lillian lived on and off with EJ.
My mother’s way of introducing me to EJ typified her approach to people. She was a model of acceptance. More interested in a person’s essence than in how the world viewed them. And she couldn’t have cared less about what people thought about her association with EJ and the EJ’s of the world.
My mother and father were Gemini’s, who treated people as individuals. They had a light touch.
“I’m going to meet a woman who looks like a man,” I told my new friends Cheryl and Renee the only other black girls in the Queensview West Coop in Long Island City, where the first breezes of the integration movement landed us when we left Harlem.
Sitting with them in the playground, I’d hoped to impress them, but the statement brought only stares and silence. I was soon to learn that these girls had been raised in a protective bubble, and didn’t share my quest for adventurer.
We got up early that Saturday and Ma drove our ’54 white and powder blue Chevy towards a small town in New Jersey where EJ was a live-in caretaker. The family was not at home.
It was a large estate with a house furnished with modern Scandinavian furniture. EJ had her own room and bath just off the kitchen.
The first thing I noticed was that EJ was very handsome with pale white skin, blond hair and piercing blue-blue eyes. She had a slight swagger to her walk, rare in white men, (this was before Bill Clinton), that only heighten her mannish energy. She had a firm handshake.
“Jeanie, I’m glad to meet you. Lillian has told me so much about you.”
I liked her right off.
“So, you’re going to boarding school next year…
My favorite topic! I prattled on about my cousin the nun, and how I was thinking of entering religion, and how I was working on detachment as some saint or other had advised, so leaving home wouldn’t hurt, etc.
We went out to lunch and I noticed a few stares which by my age all black children have already become used to, and can easily categorize into hostile, (Where’d they come from?) interested, (Wonder who they are?) admiring, (I’ve always said some Negroes are fine citizens, just look at how they comport themselves), and plain curious (Oh! They have table manners!)
I noticed EJ handled these without a blink of the eye. So she felt relaxed around Ma and I. I liked her even more.
We went to a nearby lake where one of the family’s boats was anchored one of the hands took us out for a meander along the water and seemed none too sure about welcoming Negros onto his employer’s boat. He made himself friendly through, and asked me if I wanted to steer.
EJ struck a match with one hand. Now that was something I’d only seen men do! And when she lit her cigarette she frowned the way guys do.
An unusual person, a beautiful estate, horses and a boat-what a trip!
On the way home, Ma and I were all talk.
Ma: “You know how she met her—I’ll tell you. Lillian was doing volunteer work at the women’s jail. She met here there.
Me: “What was she in for?”
“She was a truck driver. One night at a truck stop another driver somehow found out that she was a woman. He called her names. They started fighting. She killed him.”
This was a heinous crime and a sin. Nonetheless, the idea of EJ’s standing up for herself carried an aura of allurement for me. I didn’t say anything to Ma, she found my psychological insights boring, but to myself I said, and figured that, all the anger EJ’d stored away, all the mean things people had said or done, all the jokes told in her presence, all the pointing and snickering must have come to a head. She went on boil and took a life. Not an act to be admired. Yet, if my conjecturing was right, I understood why.
Ma: “Lillian was her sponsor when she got out years later. She let EJ come live with her and they fell in love.”
Nothing more was said.
There was no “explaining” about their life style. No you should feel this way, or that way about it. There was no lecture about how I needed to behave.
What there was, was an open heart.
Some may criticize my mother’s judgment, but like I said she was a Gemini who approached life with a lighter touch than most.
Ready to provide clerical and whatever other support I could, I arrived in the city of Lagos, Nigeria’s capital, and took a connecting flight to Owerri, Imo State, about three hundred miles southeast of Lagos. I went there in July just before the outbreak of Ebola.
In the airport parking lot, I’m crestfallen when I don’t see my friend. I call her; no answer.
My mind, which has been biting at the bit to do its fear thing, chews through its bridle and sends me these thoughts: there is no American embassy in Owerri. I do not speak Ibo. I haveno Nigerian money. My nun friend is my only contact in the entire countryand she’s not answering her phone! Also, I’ve been up over twenty four hours. The heat, humidity and the fist fight between car drivers that I’ve witnessed outside Muhammad Mertola International Airport in Lagos, are taking a toll.
A cab driver reaches her on his cell, via his Nigerian carrier. My nun friend picks me up, her brother at the wheel, and her two nun assistants in the back. We head further into the city.
Looking out at a low slung, reddish brown building, I’m shocked. Conversation between the nun’s helpers and me stops. They scan my face interpreting my reaction.
That fear thing dances in my head, tapping out this thought: I’m an ocean away from home and this ain’t how convents in the States look.
On my left, a man sits on a bench weaving a basket. Further down, two men stare into space. Is this how they do it in Africa? The homeless, travelers on a budget, the crazed, all lumped in together?
“Am I staying here?”
“Yes,” the nun in charge says. She gets out of the car and leads us inside. “Let’s see how this is going to work.”
You mean my room isn’t booked yet?
We enter a dark but cool office. Sister and the clerk speak Ibo. I am register. Sister gets the key.
We walk through a large courtyard on the way to my room. As we walked, I somehow experience, from out of nowhere, a shift in my emotions.
Maybe I need to look for beauty to find beauty, I think.
Emerging from my negativity, I see green moss on stepping stones. Right under my feet! I stop to study it, like a two year old with his first set of crayons. So vibrant, so alive. Whatwould have happened if I'd stayed stuck on ugly?
The first room has a broken window. Sister wastes no time: “We will not accept this room.” She hands the key to the two assistants who scurry out and soon return with another key.
This room is clean, has mosquito netting over the bed, a private toilet, sink,and shower, a tiny fridge and screened windows.
Later,when the cold water doesn’t heat up even though I’ve pressed the heater button, I can deal with it.
When the food is plain, eggs and a spinach-like vegetable, it really is enough. I learn that I’m staying in a conference center that doubles as a shelter for working and unemployed homeless people, travelers on a budget, and people healing from mental illness. And I am okay with that. What a great use ofspace!
My trip to Owerri, was not only a mix of sights and sounds, but of emotional states, swinging me from high to low and occasionally , when I was present enough to still the swing, landing me in a place that was neither yes, nor no, but simply it-just-is.
What I discovered was that when I reach the state of it-just-is, then I notice the beauty that is all around me, waiting patiently for me to see it.
“Yes. There are men who like women who are old, women who are amputees, women who’ve been burned, women who have scars, women who have birth defects and on and on.”
Coming out of the club, Big E walked me to my car and we set a date for the coming week. He was a character and I have a penchant for characters.
Turns out he lives in a working class neighborhood not far from mine. I drove up to a two story apartment house sporting a good paint job; well swept walkways and trimmed shrubbery.
His apartment was decorated in shades of red. Dark red walls complemented gleaming hardwood floors. A ruby couch, with burgundy and black throw pillows, sat opposite a wall unit holding a high end sound system and a flat screen TV.
He offered me a drink. I sat on the couch and admired the glass coffee table, and under it an area rug with wine, black, and tan swirls. A tall ocean blue vase, tastefully filled with dried branches, was a nice corner accent.
I joined him in the kitchen, passing a small dining area with a black circular table and matching high back chairs.
“Who decorated,” I asked.
“I did,” he said. “I’m good with my hands and design.” Who would have thunk it?
“This all came from Living Spaces and it’s not that expensive.”
It looked like a corporate apartment; one expertly cleaned and kept in a state of readiness for the next visiting executive, or, as I later came to suspect, perhaps a John visiting for only an hour.
Drinks in hand, we entered his bedroom. Immaculate with hotel style king sized bed, a sparkling mirror, rug and curtains. His sound system piped in Sade’s Soldier of Love.
We occupied the next twenty minutes with sounds and positions, sharing a facsimile of sex. When small and dry, meets large and insistent…well…pass the ASTROGLIDE.
After, he asked if I’d mind if he smoked. He left the room and as he opened the front door to go outside I heard him pause, and I heard clicking noises. Hadn’t I seen some contraption over his front door, something that resembled a smoke detector, but perhaps was a camera? Would a sex tape emerge? One day, I may find out.
Back inside, E quickly got down to the real business of the afternoon. Making money.
“Now, if you do what I say, you’ll end up living somewhere in Beverly Hills.”
Here are some key lines you may hear when someone is thinking of using you for profit. And oh yeah, women traffic women too, so the pimp role isn’t exclusively male.
Listen to me. Do what I tell you.
It’s very important that you listen.
Take this seriously.
You’ve been wearing that hairstyle for some time. I want you to change it.
I want to transform you. I want to do a make-over on you.
I want to take you to a clothing shop I know.
Do you trust me?
Leave everything to me.
I have work to do with you.
Leave everything to me.
Call me every morning; we need to start creating memories together.
Do you trust me?
I want you to get used to me.
Do you trust me?
You’re going to come here and live with me.
Do you want to marry me?
I want to marry you.
It’s very important that you listen.
Get educated about trafficking: www.thecoveringhouse.org
Report a tip or get help-Trafficking Hot-Line: 888-373-7888
YWCA hot line: 1-877-Y-HELPS U or 1-877-943-5778
Jean Perry Writes
You know how I met Big E from the post before this one, titled: Girlfriend Susie Tells A Story in Ebonics. As promised, I’m dropping Girlfriend Susie’s voice and speaking in my own.
Of all the games Big E might have been trying to put over on me, I never imagined that walking the streets for profit would be one of them. I would later learn that there’s a market out there for women of all ages.
“You come under fetishes,” a woman who works in this area told me.
“You mean there’s a trafficking market for elderly women?” I asked.
Saturday night, one a.m., Inglewood, CA.
I catched the last parking space near the Vons and that birthday party place for kids who insist on pizza and they lazy parents go ‘long with ‘em, ‘stead of servin’ ice cream and cake and one paper cup crème soda in they own house with a take home of peanuts and colored mints in a napkin, which is what we did in my day.
I’m by myself, doing homework for a self- improvement course. My assignment is to go to a club, talk to a man, and observe how I handle myself. By the time I pass the ice cream store and the beauty shop my knees are wobblin’. At the club’s heavy wooden door, I’m kinda’ scared but in I go. How many my girlfriends (we all over sixty) be out and about, at this hour?
Goodgod! Plenty old ladies out! I scan the tables across from the bar. They wearing floral print dresses with sleeves, short or capped, but sleeves nonetheless.
I have on a sleeveless black sheath. Some of them women eye my arms like they mad I go to the gym, but hasn’t YouTube made exercising available to all, and for free?
Bronze colored kitten heels with metallic glitter, a Michael Kors purse and feathered boa complete my attire.
Ma: “Jean, you’re going to meet a very interesting person this weekend.”
Me: “I am?”
“Yes. She’s a woman, and Jean, she looks exactly like a man.”
“Yes. She wears men’s clothes, men’s shoes and she has a men’s haircut.”
“Wow! I can’t wait.”
I remember when they laughed at the possibility of a President Barack Obama.
In my classroom doing paperwork, I suddenly remembered that then Senator Barack Obama would be making a personal appearance at Rancho LaCienega Park, not far from the Leimert Park Elementary School where I taught. I’d almost forgotten. I dashed to my car.
I drove west on King through a physical though invisible energy that seemed to signal the birth of something new, something different.
I passed police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance parked on Rodeo Road opposite the park.
The parking lot of the then Albertson’s, now Superior Supermarket, was jammed. I called Jesus for a parking spot. Sure enough, as I turned into one aisle, a driver was just backing out.
Heading towards the ladies room, ‘cause that’s where you learn what kinda’ crowd you dealin’ with, I smile at everybody, regardless of what I think of ‘em. After checking my front top and bottom teeth, for the food remains that lately like to squeeze themselves in there, I reapply my MAC Film Noir lipstick and dab Michael Kors Dame on top. Like Mama June ustah say in Honey Boo Boo, ‘I look good!’
Angling my way through the couples on the dance floor, grooving to the live trio and the singer, I snag the last seat at the bar and order me a seven up—with a lemon twist. My feet are twitchin’ and that wood dance floor is callin’ my name. I sip my soda and exchange real names with the girl next to me.
Three songs go by and ain’t a man asked me nothin! I’m thinkin’ bout dancin’ by myself when up jumps a church girl, they so intuitive, and she’s solo dancin’ to beat the band.
The very next song I jump up, waving my boa, shaking what I got, and I completely forget that I’m alone! Next thing I know, I see a pair of black patent leather shoes dancing in time to my metallics. I got me a partner!
We keep rhythm with each other fine and when the set ends he walks me back to my chair, says ‘thank you’, but nothin’ else. I sip my drink when BAM from out of nowhere is more of what I had in mind. Well, actually in the back of my mind where I hope don’t nobody see.
He’s hard bodied, and bald; with a five o clock shadow revealing a scarred complexion that only heighten his gangster good looks.
“Are you with somebody?”
“Is there some man at home waitn’ on you?”
“I can’t believe you’re here alone.”
Lordy! I shoulda’ known right then I was bein’ set up but I bathed and showered in his attention—it’d been so long. Observe myself while talking to a man. Humph! That was long gone, like a sheet of homework balled up in a school desk.
To be continued… and in Standard English.
Once I parked the first person I saw was a security guard talking to customer exiting the store. I walked by him and like any good writer I listened in.
“What’s going on,” the guy asked him. “Who are all these people?”
“They goin to see that niggah think he gon be president,” the guard answered.
From Jean’s Desk: The Big Ticket- Trump and Carson 2/3
I smiled to myself. Little did he know. Joining the thong of blacks, whites, Asians and Latinos we trooped out of the lot, turned left, and walked down Rodeo Road a few yards to the park entrance.
Street entrepreneurs were doing a brisk business with Obama for President and Change! tee-shirts.
The diverse crowd shared one major ingredient that, I believe, must be present to go forward. They were happy. There was a tangible happiness running through the people who didn’t have much in common then, but would in the coming months, once organizers: Barack Obama, David Plouffe and David Axelrod the latter two strategists for the Obama campaigns, got their training program into gear.
We all know both Hillary and Bernie have a machine that can drive to Pennsylvania Avenue.
But if some strategist can figure out how to tell Trump and Carson’s stories, and put those into easily understood soundbites such a ticket may become plausible.
You don’t need to see to believe. More and more of my friends are telling me that they are thinking of voting the man, not the party, at the next presidential election. They know they will take heat but they want to do something different.
From Jean’s Desk: The Big Ticket- Trump and Carson 3/3
Following photos are from commands entered into Google.
No photos credited so seem to be in the public domain
Sources are: www.yelp Rancho La Cienega Park
[Rancho Cienega Park - Los Angeles, CA, United States]
Photos Senator Barack Obama in Rancho Cienega Park in Los Angeles
Photos Donald Trump and Ben Carson