Noni Jones in Harlem #24: The Vineyard


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I was at the head of the table, facing two rows of four black couples. This was a random sampling of North Jerseys mocha creme de la creme and I’d known them all since childhood; a celebrity cosmetic surgeon, a retired banker, an international business man, mom and dad. We were at Deons, a black owned restaurant on Circuit and we were waiting forever for the main course. Too bad. A dressed down Jasmine Guy had just walked by with a small group, took a look at the packed house and decided to dine elsewhere. I got a little star struck at the sight Whitley Gilbert, my childhood idol. Too bad again. Vernon Jordan’s daughter was beside us, with a party of like ten. 
They were all looking back at me, intrigued about my new life. Now that I’d given up my television career to write, what did I do all day? I know. The answer is obvious, but not to some.
“So are you headed to law school now?” Aunt Natalie, mom’s best friend, was cross examining me. She was seated to my immediate left sounding more like a prosecutor than the surgeon she was.
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“You should. Columbia’s right down the street. You need to have a back up plan. I see you like nice things.” She was hinting at the Chopard on my wrist, which was a gift from Carter but that didn’t mean I couldn’t spoil myself. People have it twisted. Not all writers are starving artists. I mean some of us know how to write magnificently, and a few of us know how write what a lot of people want to read. I put myself in the latter group and I eat well.
Nonetheless, my sudden career shift and fly by night romance has taken aunt Nat by suprise. I was “Noni-she went to Yale”. She always introduced me as if ‘she-went-to-Yale’ was an unusually long hyphenated last name. By her standards I was supposed to complete the trifecta; get an ivy-league JD, marry some corporate man named Darius or Joshua, and then move into a fabulous suburban house.
But dating an older, divorced jazz musician with locks? This was so la vie boheme.
“So your mother tells me he’s married.”

“He was married. He’s divorced.”

“Divorced, but he has kids?”

“He has a daughter.” I needed a second round of drinks. And where the hell was the food? People don’t ask as so many questions when their mouths are busy chewing. I was giving our waiters the serious side-eye.
“How old is she?”
” Okay so he still practically has another family.”
“Damn Nat,” my dad shot back. “I like your style! You don’t even try to sugar coat it.” Laughter percolated but I didn’t find her round of questioning funny.
“I mean I’m saying! I know she’s in love but a woman has to think about the future.” She turned to me. “I know he makes money but what happens five years down the line when you figure he’s just been having a good time? I mean do you really think this man is going to get married again and is he even someone you should be marrying?”
“Noni, you’re thinking about marriage?!” a young-spirited Lynn chimed in.
“Umm…” I stumbled. I mean, I wasn’t, but I was. And how could I say that I wasn’t in front of my parents when according to mom, I’m living in sin. “Not any time soon.”
“Well… we’re proud of Noni,” mom said, always the diplomate, “But we still have to get used to fact that she’s living with him.” She said, raising her hands as if in defeat.
“Where is his place?” Aunt Natalie asked.
“Morningside Heights, the Palisades.”
“Oh, okay, so he’s balling.” I had to laugh at her attempt at hipness. “But Noni, I don’t want to see you heartbroken. You have too much going for you to invest time in a dead end relationship. And Noni, if he’s fifteen years older than you, do you really want to be taking care of your husband at 50?”
“I’ll sleep with one eye open, Aunt Nat. I promise.”
Already, on my first night back on the island, I’d been whisked back into the world where waist size, wallet size, and pedigree were magnified in importance. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t drank a little of the kool-aid too. In this world, it wasn’t just about money. Aunt Natalie had married into a Black elite family and her in-laws couldn’t stand her. But the fact they never came over for the Holidays was pretty irrelevant to her. What mattered was that she had a last name that meant something (to a select group of people) and a daughter with ‘good’  hair, being looked after Portuguese nanny.
 Before the topic of conversation had transitioned to me, we were discussing a Long Island family that came up for the summer. The husband is an orthopeadic surgeon and the wife stays at home. Their daughter graduated from a prestigious boarding school this year and didn’t get in to any Ivy-League Schools. Therefore, rather than send her to Georgetown (which her mother says is beneath her), they opted to keep her out of college for a year, have her do some more community service, and apply again. What?! Everyone at the table thought this extreme display of pretentiousness, was just that, a hot pretentious ass mess, except Aunt Natalie. But like I said, in this world, it isn’t about money. Money can’t buy your way into the Ivy Leage. It’s about elitism. It is the difference between the Atlanta Housewives and The Links. Laker Wives and Spel-House love.
And for the folks I know and love, elitism isn’t a flaw. It’s just force of habit.
I managed to escape dinner unscathed, but that food sho’ nuff took forever to come.
We head to a get-together after dinner at the Davis’. Their summer house was in a wooded section of Oak Bluffs. The husband is retired now, but he was VP of a fortune five hundred company in his day. A real corporate titan. I’m sitting in their front room, studying family portraits and nursing a “Michelle Obama-tini” when I realize their son was home. Langston Davis the third. My, my, my. This man has the distinguished air of a man bought up to think himself important and swag of a movie star. He entered the room wearing a polo shirt, khaki shorts, and loafers. His goatee was crisp, and his peanut skin was bronzed with the glaze of the sun. He had a little more girth than I remembered. I could tell that his hair line was receding a bit too, but he was still fine. He looked like money and he smelled like Ralph Lauren.
He caught me staring, but he’d been staring first. I placed my martini on the coaster beside me and stood up.
“Hey Langston. Nice to see you.”
“You look good girl.” My, his praise felt good. My ringlets had become lightly tossled in the salt-air. I was sporting a strapless pink Lili Pullitzer and matching Jack Rodgers sandals.  When I was skinny teen I dreamed of this man. He was the guy that girls like me were groomed to snag. But back in the day, I wasn’t his type. He always had a girlfriend, and despite the fact that his mother was bleautiful cocoa brown, they were always slender and the color of butter. I’d assumed these things about him, but from the way he was sizing me up, maybe I ‘d been wrong.
“So what you been up to? I know you have a book out.”
“How’d you know– oh Facebook.” I smiled. “Yes, actually knee deep in the second one. I feel like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“I know, I don’t come up here like I used to, and when I do I pretty much just chill here.”
” I stay pretty  low-key , myself. It’s not like when we were teens.”
“So you live in the city?”
“Uh huh.”
“Why haven’t you visited me? Me and my frat bros throw parties all the time.”
“You gotta send me a line next time you do. You still at JP?”
“No, I left at the begginning of the year. Started a hedge fund.”
I nearly lost my balance. “Wow! That’s amazing! Congratulations.” I knew automatically his daddy had provided the start up money, but it was clear Langston would grace the cover of Black Enterprise in the next five years.
“Thank you. So what are you getting into tomorrow? I’m around for one more day.”
I should have told him that I was picking my boyfriend up from the airport and spending the day with him and my folks, but I decided not to disclose that bit of info. I’d been taught well. I knew not to burn bridges before I jumped the broom. We exchanged numbers. Of course I didn’t answer when he called the next day, but I do plan to keep that option open. Too bad for my life.

I still had Langston on my mind the next morning when I woke up. His preppy affection had gotten under my skin. It was a different kind of lust. Not the lust that makes your nipples hard, but the kind that sedates you with images of Michelle and Barack. Aren’t all of us BAP’s trying to find our Barack.

I got back in the right groove as soon as I picked up Carter.  He entered the car smelling of Russian leather and oudh. I got
high. Nothing beats a fine chocolate man with locks dripping down his back.
Nothing. We went back to the Pequot, a bed and breakfast about a block away
from the Inkwell. We had plans to walk up the street and meet my parent and their friends at the Inkwell, but Carter was tired.  He’d just finished a two-night gig in Madrid. We
showered together, I made love to him, and let him rest.
I don’t know why I ever doubted Carter. He’s a social chameleon. He’s bohemian at
heart, deep into his art and his people, not really down for titles and name
dropping, but he can hob-nob with the best of them. I love that about him.
We arrived at the Inkwell around four, just before the breeze picked up and the
sand ants started biting. It was the same crew as dinner the first night plus
two other couples I didn’t recognize. Everybody was sprawled on a make-
shift  camp site of beach towels,
umbrellas and chairs.  Someone had a stereo
playing smooth jazz and there was a cooler with some mixed drinks. That’s how
you do a beach day.
If anybody disliked Carter, they hid it well. Too well. As he made his rounds,
shaking hands, repeating names,  they
greeted him with porcelain smiles and spirited introductions. Wayne Shorter’s
saxophone could be heard playing “Milky Way” . That got dad and Carter talking
about Weather Report and engrossed in jazz dialogue. I could tell the women
were all privately turned on by the site of his bare sculpted chest and
sprawling locks. Carter was the type of man they denied themselves and I knew that
at that moment they were craving his guilty pleasure.

After a while we broke free and waded in the water. At first we just got our feet
wet, holding hands and kicking loose sea weed. I let Carter lead me further
out, even though that New England water was  cold, it felt good against my skin. The water came to my chest when we stopped. We faced each other, holding hands, stealing the moment from everyone else on the beach.

His locks were wet, dazzling beads of water were rolling down his chest,
over his dark nipples, down the dip of his back. His eyes put my soul in
bondage. He slayed me. Made me forget abou t the world around me. He pulled me
into him and kissed me, his lips tasting like spearmint and salt water. I
closed my eyes and relaxed, the rhythm of the water lapping against my body
matched that of his tongue. I knew we were being watched and whispers were
being passed but I didn’t care.
My choices in love and career made me happy. I realized that I don’t want to live
by the book. I want to write it. 


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