Playing music in dive bars in central Maine is forcing me to refresh many of the young-woman skills I thought I'd never have to use again. For instance, I have to relearn how to pretend not to see the icky guy who spends a good portion of the night slitting his eyes at me and making come-hither gestures with his hands and his chin. At the same time I've got to negotiate a situation with two other guys who make a point of sitting way too close to me but just out out of eye range so that in order to keep track of what they're up to, I have to occasionally glance over my shoulder to discover that there they are, waiting to force me to make eye contact with them. I'm a 49-year-old woman in non-sexy clothes, and these days my man armor is mostly down, so this purposeful and aggressive manipulation of my comfort level is weird and unnerving. At the same time, however, I'm putting on a show, which requires me to be personable and engaged with my audience--a delightful task when, say, that audience includes a 25-year-old happy kid with a Budweiser who clearly loves the blues, thinks the violin is a cool addition to a Leadbelly song, and rushes over after the song to high-five me.
I feel that now's the moment I ought to launch into a jeremiad about rampant sexual aggression-- the nastiness of men who clearly enjoy making women nervous and uncomfortable while also labeling them as a bitch when they try to ignore that aggression. Maybe I would if I'd gotten more sleep. But the night was not all bad, not even mostly bad. Our band played well together. The sound in that room is stellar, for some mysterious reason. The happy blues-loving kid with the Budweiser was an antidote for the neanderthals. I enjoy the jitters of performance and the lovely improvisational accidents of ensemble playing. I enjoy getting paid for playing music.
But a black man cannot walk down a street and ever believe he is safe. And a woman cannot walk into a dive bar in central Maine and ever believe she is safe.