For your reading enjoyment, find the second installment of “Harlem’s Awakening”…This is the “True Hollywood Story” (as it were) behind the love affair between Joe and Harlem that plays out in the cabaret, “Harlem’s Night”.
Corner of Debauchery.....Chapter 2
Her black-velvet heels clicked along the sidewalk with speed one would use to hurriedly catch a glimpse of a gruesome dead person hanging from an automobile window before the ambulance people covered him with a sheet. She knew this combination of panic, fear and excitement all too well; it coursed through her veins daily and often caused her to walk much too quickly. She decided to slow down; she had just passed nosy Mrs. Jones, the widow of 147th street, who seemed to live on her front stoop rather than inside her home. Harlem realized that her breathy “Good Evenin’” would become food for Mrs. Jones’ table of gossip tomorrow morning. She could just hear Mrs. Jones and the gaggle of women who gathered daily on her stoop…“That gal was rushin’ off somewhere like her life depended on it”… “Up to no good since her mother died.”
Her mother had died of a rare case of tuberculosis last November. The disease came in like a hurricane. Its’ unsuspecting raindrops swelled into a beast that raged with reckless abandon as it ravaged her mother’s petite frame. And when it left quietly, it took her mother with it. Harlem briskly tightened her lace gloves about her fingers. It hadn’t been quite yet a year since the taking and the mere thought of her mother caused her to cry and she would not allow any tears to ruin her barely-dry mascara. She fell back into the rhythm of her heels as she passed Lenox Avenue. One more block east and another south, and she’d be at the Cornett Lounge.
The Lounge anchored a corner of what Mrs. Jones and her congregation would call debauchery. Several doors down, a liquor store welcomed thirsty consumers with a bright orange neon sign. Its customers and those who preyed on them (namely numbers runners and call girls – one of whom Harlem knew from grammar school but chose at this moment to not recognize) littered the sidewalk. Next to the liquor store, Charlie’s Fried Chicken kept stomachs full late into the night. Harlem had gone there herself with Joe one night after one of his sets. She found nothing wrong with the block and it’s prejudicially labeled “debauchery”. In fact, she welcomed its contained chaos.
Harlem paused to carefully dab the sheer layer of perspiration that danced just above her red ruby lip and beneath her nose. She should have taken the bus. Next time, she promised herself. She inhaled, taking in the faint scent of chicken grease, and pushed through the heavy door. (The Cornett wasn’t classy enough for a door man.) Inside, she was immediately enveloped in warm darkness and a wave of sound. Had she been high on opium, say, she’d swear she could actually see jazz-induced music notes and intact words from a smattering of unsophisticated male-female conversation floating through the wisps of tobacco smoke. She closed her eyes, inhaled once again and allowed herself to become one with all that swirled around her. This could be her heaven.
She bought a loose Camel from the passing “Cigar? Cigarette?” girl who looked like she’d seen better days. She turned and a thrill chill ran through her as she spotted Joe on stage, his head bowed as in prayer, his fingers hard at work on his Bass…she moved, sauntered really, to her favorite spot at the bar which allowed her a centered view of handsome Joe. Her swaying hips caught the attention of several men; one tipped his hat in appreciation. She thanked him politely with a faint smile and coyly shifted her attention back to Joe as she eased onto her cushioned bar stool. She removed her gloves. Unbuttoned her jacket. Smoothed her skirt. Just as she turned to get a light from Scotty, the not-so-handsome-but-very-charming-bartender, she heard, “Harrrrlm. Harrrlm Evans!” It was Harold, her friend Cora’s boyfriend. Never did she hate the sound of her own name more than when it got hurled through the garbled gates of hell known as Harold Crossgrove’s mouth.
(c)2007 Pen and Peppur LLC