Thursday, March 15, 2018
In Honor Of Women's History Month- Lucy On The Edge Of The World
In Honor Of Women's History Month- Lucy On The Edge Of The World
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
People, ordinary night owls, strung out on bennie or cousin coke and coming the hours until day break and sun, hung-over sotted refugees from the now closed bars and cabarets filled with cheap liquors and quaffed beers, average sainted vagabond Saint Francis of Assisi dream wanderers of the Harvard Square night, the shiftless watch out for dark alleys when they stalk the benighted earth, the toothless homeless, coming into the all-night Hayes-Bickford seeking, like him, relief from their collective woes with a cup of weak-kneed coffee from the giant spouted tureen all aglow from the cloudburst above trailing off to the chipped paint ceiling which only those looking to some misbegotten heaven paid attention, and steamed, steamed carrots, potatoes, broccoli, celery, steamed everything, did not bother Lucy (the first name Lucy was all anybody ever found out about her name as far as he knew) sitting alone at her “reserved” table in the back of the cafeteria toward the well-abused rest rooms. Lucy Lilac (nicknamed by some ancient want-to-be fellow bard perhaps but like her surname the genesis undisclosed to him by the other regular tenants of the night when he asked around and so he called her by that moniker as well) spent her youthful (she was perhaps twenty-two, maybe twenty-three, had just finished college, he had heard, so that age seemed about right) middle of the nights just then hunched over a yellow legal notepad filling up its pages with her writings and occasionally she would speak some tidbit she had written out loud, not harmful offensive so you prayed for shut ears, a well-placed handkerchief in mouth, a metaphorical gun, loud like some of the drunks at a few of the tables, or some homeless wailing banshee cry, but just sing-song out loud.
Some of it was beautiful, and some of it was, well, doggerel, about par for the course with poets and other writers, But all of it, whatever he heard of it, was centered on her plight in the world as a woman torn, as a woman on the edge, the edge between two societies, between as one professor that he had asked about it later stated it, two cultural gradients if that term has any meaning, and maybe she had been, had been between those two cultural gradients, but let him try to reconstruct what it was all about, all about for Lucy Lilac night owl.
See he became so fascinated by where she was going with her muse in 1962 summer nights, about how she was going to resolve that battle between “cultural gradients” and about the gist of what she had to say to a callow world in those days that he turned up many a two in morning weekend morning to try to figure her dream out. He had more than a passing interest in this battle since he was also spooked by those same demons that she spoke of.
[Oh, by the way, Lucy Lilac, was drop-dead beautiful, with long black iron-pressed straight hair as was the style then after the folk singer Joan Baez, her sister Mimi and Judy Collins set the pace and the Square and college air was filled singed smells, alabaster white skin whether from her daylight hours of sleep or by genetic design was not clear, big red lips, which he did not remember whether was the style then or not, the bluest eyes of blue, always wearing dangling earrings and usually wearing some long dress so it was never really possible to determine her figure or her legs important pieces of knowledge to him, and not just to him, in those sex-obsessed days, but he would have said slender and probably nice legs too. Since neither her beauty, nor the idea of sex, at least pick-up sex, enter into this sketch that is all that needs to be pointed out. Except this, her beauty, along with that no-nonsense demeanor, was so apparent that it held him, and others too, off from anything other than an occasional distant forlorn smile. ]
What Lucy Lilac would speak of, like a lot of the young in those days, was her alienation from parents, society, just everything to keep it simple, but not just that. On that she had kindred spirits in abundance. She was also alienated from her race, her white race, her nine to five, go by the rules, we are in charge, trample on the rest of the world, especially the known black world, like lot of the young, him included, were in those days as well. Part of it was that you could not turn open a newspaper or turn on a radio or television without having the ugly stuff going down South in America (and sometimes stuff in the North too confronting you headlong). But part of it was an affinity with black culture (the gradient, okay), mainly through music and a certain style, a certain swagger in the face of a world filled with hostility. Cool, to use just one word.
Now this race thing, this white race thing of Lucy’s had nothing to do, he did not think, at least when she spoke never came through, with some kind of guilt by association with the rednecks and crackers down in places like Alabama and Mississippi goddams. It was more that given the deal going down in the world, the injustices, the not having had any say in what was going on, or being asked either made her feel like she was some Negro in some shack some place. Some mad priestess fellaheena scratching the good earth to make her mark. And as she expanded her ideas (and began to get a little be-bop flow as she spoke, a flow that he secretly kept time to), each night he got a better sense of what she was trying to say. (He later learned that she was, as he had been, very influenced by Norman Mailer’s essay in The Partisan Review The White Negro, a screed on what he called the white hipster, those who had parted company with their own culture and moved to the sexier, sassy cultural gradient.) And while they both were comfortably ensconced in the cozy Cambridge Hayes (well maybe not cozy but safe anyway) and had some very white skin to not have Mister James Crow worry about he began to see what she meant.
And Lucy Lilac really hit home when she spoke of how she had, to his surprise since she gave every indication of being some cast-off Mayfair swell’s progeny, minus that important race thing, been brought up under some tough circumstances down in New Jersey. She spoke about being from poor, very poor white folks somewhere around Toms River, her father out of work a lot worrying about the next paycheck and keeping him and his under some roof, her mother harried by taking care of five kids on two kids money, about being ostracized by the other better off kids, about seeking solace in listening to Bessie Smith, Billie, and a ton of other blues names that he recognized. And he too recognized fellahin kindred since his own North Adamsville existence seemed so similar ….
Yes, those nights he knit a secret and unknown bond with Lucy Lilac, Lucy who a few months later vanished from the Hayes-Bickford night, Lucy from the edge of the world, and wherever she wound he knew just what she meant by the white Negro hipster-dom she was seeking, and that maybe he was too…
And hence this Women’s History Month contribution.