Glory Days

Glory Days


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 The woman was passive and resisted, the man aggressive and insistent.

Therefore, to hear a woman express promise by discussion of

your equipment was a very new (and titillating) experience



Glory Days – Sahara Nights

 (I fell in love with a woman, smarter, richer, and a whole lot prettier than me.)

By Ben Schwartz


                            (voice over)                                                                       


Nor yesterdays do not count.   

A meal finished is a meal forgotten.

And all yesterday’s meals cannot satisfy

Today’s hunger.

So dreams of your conquests only aggravate

Your wound of loneliness,

And all your Glory Days

Cannot light one cold night

Nor memories of passion past

Warm your so single and chilly bed

Millions of sparkling stars mask the red and green wing lights of a 707 as it descends into Lagos Airport, Nigeria.                  

A Carmelite nun sitting across from me crossed herself as the 707 flaps bore down and the Captain’s voice announced, “Fasten your seat belts, place your seats in an upright position and be prepared to land at Lagos International Airport, Nigeria.”

The white-starched nun crossed herself again at the same moment the engines roared into reverse, and I was jerked forward as the wheels scorched onto the tarmac.  The plane slowed into its port.  A steward came down the aisle spraying insecticide from a can.  I looked out the window and saw several men pushing the gangplank towards the plane.

The terminal looked like a small Texas strip store, no more than fifty feet across, and thirty deep. Very brown, and dingy.  There was a bang on the exit, and the steward opened the hatch.

The two dozen passengers began to file out.  Although, this was my first airplane trip at the age of 28, I initiated what was to my lifelong tactic when flying.  Last on, last off.  So, I waited until the plane had emptied before I made for the door.  As I came down the steps I saw two men. The first was wearing British officers khakis replete with a swagger-stick.  The second was a burley, red faced, very sweaty  man wearing a blue suit with a regimental tie. (Being an American I had no idea of which regiment.)  Both men looked right over my head as if they were expecting someone else to vacate the plane.

I handed a porter my baggage tickets and he retrieved my bags and escorted me to the customs official, a very tall Nigerian in immaculate whites. “Have you anything to declare?”


“Thank you, welcome to Nigeria.” and as he handed me my passport, there was an announcement on the terminal loudspeaker.

“Paging Mr. Benjamin Schwartz. Please report to customs.”

“I guess that’s me”

I waved my passport, and the two men who had been at the bottom of the gangplank, looked at me from across the room.  There was incredulity on their faces. THIS is Benjamin Schwartz. 


This was the American who the Rockefellers were sending to build a $13,000,000 textile mill.  Has to be some mistake.  Why, he must have just started shaving.  

The Major-Adjutant reached me first, saluted with his swagger stick.

“Smith, here.  Mr. Schwartz, I presume.”

“That’s me”

“Welcome, to the white man’s grave.”

The big, red-faced guy, caught up with us.

“Mr. Schwartz, I’m James Aspinwall, secretary to the First Min’ster, stupid of us to have missed you.”

It was then I noticed that the custom official was standing at attention.

“Being short, I am often overlooked,” I said, “But not to worry, I’m still growing.”

Not getting the humor the secretary mumbled something about the Royal line also being short and motioned the porter to take my bags.

“We’ve put you up at Government Guest House, Charles, will be your attaché, I have put this car at your disposal, ” and he pointed to a Nigerian green Rolls Royce.

“After you freshen up we should like to introduce you to the shadow First Min’ster, Enaharo.”   

“Great ”        

“Is this your first visit to Africa?”    


And so began the greatest adventure of my life.

The streets of Lagos were festooned in green banners. To my yiddisha culp what looked like the Star of David was the national symbol of Nigeria.  Africa was in the midst of change—1960 was to see the British Union Jack dipped.  Nigeria’s flag of white, green, bearing The Star of David raised, as Independent Nigeria threw off the Colonial cloak. No more British governors, no more white paternalism, no more monopoly of the British West Africa Company, no more white pith helmets and swagger sticks.  No more, soon.

As we passed through Ikeja and over the bridge to Lagos I saw strong muscular men paddling dugout canoes and towing Ibeeche logs down the river, to be loaded into freighters and sent to Germany to be peeled into veneers for the pale yellow furniture Europeans prized.  The streets were jammed with people in brightly printed togas their heads wrapped in intricately folded cloth, the women carrying large bundles on their heads. The alternating singsong of a police siren pushed the oncoming traffic to the side and a jeep with a mounted machine gun preceded a Rolls Royce and another jeep with machine gun followed.  

“That’s  Madame Nzimaro, wife of JaJa Wachuko, the U.N. Ambassador.”

“Why, the armament?”

“She’s the richest person in Western Nigeria”:


“Yes, mammy-traders do the business in Nigeria; men, the politics.  She represents Standard Oil.”  

“How much production does Nigeria do?”

“There is no oil in Nigeria.

“Nor cotton,” I added with a wink.       

“Standard Oil and British Petroleum supply our oil needs.”

“And United Africa Corp. supplies you with cotton cloth.”

My reason for being in Nigeria was that for centuries Nigeria had produced vast quantities of the finest long-stapled Egyptian cotton which was exported to Lancashire, spun into gray goods shipped to Amsterdam, bleached and printed, and shipped back to Nigeria to be sold. Not one yard of printed cloth was produced in Nigeria. This phenomenon of British colonialism Gandhi pointed out in India and turned it into a political protest.  In Nigeria I was attempting an economic protest, which I hope would make my fortune. Had I been a little wiser I would have observed that the same phenomenon affected oil.

The same Madame Nzimaro who had sped past me, was to show me fields of gas burning off in Port Harcourt in the Eastern Region.  Ten years after independence Nigeria was to become the third largest producer of oil in the Western Bloc. British and American companies knew there was oil in Nigeria, but preferred to sell rather than develop.  Independence caught them unawares, and too soon.  Wars would be fought over this oil, and nations massacred, but this story comes a little later.

We arrived at an Iron Gate with a sign posted, “Members Only.”  We drove into a courtyard with a two-story building with verandas. We entered and I registered surrendering my passport to the clerk.

I was shown into the bar where a good-sized Nigerian turned to greet me.

“I’m Tony Enaharo, first we play, then we talk,” he said with a big smile.”What are you drinking?”

“Gin and Tonic”

Enaraho ignored the Brits. And they ordered separately on his far side. He shook my hand but did not let go, and gently pulled me over to a corner table. As we crossed the room he mumbled, “Ditch those bastards, take a shower and meet me back here in 15 minutes. Take your drink with you. If you want to succeed in Nigeria you must know The High Life.  I will teach you, I am the best dancer in Lagos, maybe all of Nigeria.”


“Like American jitterbug, only better.”

“Not quite what I was expecting,” I said.

“You’re in good hands,” said Smith, “we’ll contact you at 07 hours.”

I was shown to my suite by a houseboy. His face lit up when I handed him a $5 bill (a month’s wages).  I had never seen a bed covered by mosquito netting, and felt like I was in a Humphrey Bogart movie.  There was a sign in the bathroom warning not to brush my teeth with the water which I guessed meant not to drink it either. I finished by gin and tonic (no ice ), stripped, and took a lukewarm shower.  I dressed and returned downstairs to the lobby where Enaharo was waiting.

“This is Mary, and Betty,” Tony laughed. “Take your pick, they are both very gentle, and High Life Queens.”

Although, I did not think it possible, my face turned red and I began to stutter. 

I was the most Southern of boys, a Washingtonian.  I grew up in D.C. when Senators Bilbo of Mississippi and Rankin of Alabama were commissioners of Washington, D.C.  I went to segregated public schools, all theaters, hotels, parks, swimming pools, restaurants, department stores, and athletic competitions were segregated.  The only black woman I had ever touched was my mammy, Maud.  And she was seventy years old and smoked a corncob pipe and used snuff. And now I was being asked to double date with two young maids whose skin was the color of ripe black olives.

“Can’t choose?” said Enaharo finding great humor in my discomfiture, “We’ll share, like in a Chinese restaurant.”

If I had come face-to-face with two tigers and a mountain lion I could not of been more terrified. Terror not only rendered me speechless, it rendered me blind.  I was so scared I could not focus.

“Very pleased to meet you,” and I stuck out my hand towards blurred colors, and landed on Betty’s bare midriff. I wondered if there was a country-western song like, “Everybody’s laughing except me.”

“Dr. Betty is a professor of many things, but most particularly, The High Life,” said Tony with a wink.  “Let’s go.”

Betty took my arm , pressing it against her well-filled blouse. I pretended not to notice, what the boys at home would call a “cheap feel” but my arm grew rigid as I pretended nonchalance.  However, as other parts of my anatomy also grew rigid I quickly opened the car door as to mask my shame.

Betty took my hand as she entered the back seat of the Jaguar, and then with a strong tug pulled me across her lap.  Tony slammed the door shut, got behind the wheel, reached over to open the door for Mary, and away we roared. Betty gave me a pat on the rump as I rolled back into the soft leather.

“What kind of name is Schwartz?” said Betty.

“Basically, Jewish.”

“Are you a Jew?”  

“Well, I’m a Jewish American. Like Jesus but instead of being born in Bethlehem I was born in Washington, D.C.

“I never met a Jew.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Is it cut off?”


“Your thing-a-ma-bob”


“Ummm, yes.”

“It was beyond my control, I was only a baby.”

“I love kiss-and-tell,” she leaned over and gave me the softest, sexiest kiss of my life.

My blood pressure rose so quickly that for a moment I blacked out.  My lovemaking conversations were rather limited to small blonds with big boobs and little brains (which included my wife.)  My sexual activity began before the advent of the “pill” when getting into a lady’s bloomers was as difficult as eating through a brick wall; not impossible but difficult.

The woman was passive and resisted, the man aggressive and insistent. Therefore, to hear a woman express promise by discussion of your equipment was a very new (and titillating) experience, and then sealing that promise with a mega-kiss that caused that part of my anatomy under discussion to reach a gem-like hardness was beyond all limits of my composure. I thought my best defense lay in changing the subject.

“Betty, are you a teacher?”

“If you will be my student?”

“Seriously, are you in college?”


“Tough Subject”

“If you are bored, every subject is tough. Making money is never boring”

“What college do you go to”

“The London School of Economics”

“In London?”

“It was, the last time I looked.”

“The London School of Economics?”

“The very same. Do you know any of my chums?  Jomo Kenyatta, Hastings Banda, Seke Toure Festus Ecoti Eboh, and of course, our host, Tony Enaharo.

“You know them?”

“The question was, ‘Do you know them?'”

In 1960 male chauvinist pigs had not yet been invented and the thought that a black man not to mention a black woman might aspire to something beyond fixing hominy grits and greens was mind boggling. So this rather proper, social pigeonholing was out of sync with the usual nosey pre-talk that goes on between two Western persons trying to peg each other’s class. Here, I was racing down a red-clay road from Lagos to Ibadan being turned on by a woman who fit none of the criteria I had always associated with my fantasies of arousal. I was confused. A woman was manipulating me.  Me, the classic manipulator of women.  She was younger, better educated, certainly more intelligent, and worldlier than I. 

“Why are you here?”

“For the same reason you are,” she said.

“I’m here for money, and adventure.”

“So am I, my lovely partner. Let’s make a whole lot of money together. Shall we shake on it like two American businessmen?  Or shall we kiss on it like the Italian Mafioso?

I have a partner, The Rockefeller Brothers.

They only have money.

And what do you have?

Everything, you need, and want.

“Well, my mother says that if you take a partner he must be richer than you, and smarter than you I’m richer than you, and, I daresay, a hell of a lot smarter. I am an economic geographer. With emphasis on West Africa.  I know where is the timber, gold, groundnuts, diamonds, titanium, bauxite, iron ore, cotton, and oil. And more importantly I know how to get it out.”

My mouth was open.

“I will be your partner in bed as well as the board-room.”

Can I think about it?

No! It’s a done deal. And she kissed me softly.

I instinctively turned and looked out into the African blackness as to see if anyone was watching this gross social mismatching.

That was to seal the deal, and this is just for fun.

She kissed me a second time, for a long time. I was engulfed in a flood of emotions, and all thoughts of forbidden fruits and proper conduct evaporated .

“You see how smart I am,” she said. “Money is intellectually important to you, but like most men and particularly ambitious men, your drive lies between your legs.”

At that moment Tony turned on the radio full blast and the music filled the compartment.

Passion made me rigid.

I could see the full moon over her shoulder, and her head and shoulders in silhouette. ” You see, what a great partner I will make? She took both my hands and held them just above my head and then began to twist our bodies together to the rhythm  of the music.

“The music goes round-and-round, from Africa to America, and back to Africa. Do you like to dance?”


Good, English men are sissies, they’re rotten dancers.”

She began dancing with her shoulders.  Her tunic was wrapped under her arms revealing vibrating shoulders, and the tips of her breasts beat gently against my chest.  All prejudices, attitudes, and white-boy barriers melted before the beauty and power of this African woman who could arouse like Marilyn Monroe, and talk like Winston Churchill.

I was conquered, and I surrendered, lock, stock, and barrel.

The music stopped, and Betty sat back in the seat and took my hand.

I could see Tony watching us in the rear-view mirror.

“How you like The High Life, Benny?” and he laughed in a high-pitched squeal.

He understood what I suddenly understood.

Americans are Romantics, or why would we come to the Third World when nothing but opportunities await us in the U.S. With their handkerchiefs in their cuffs and tightly rolled brollies the English tossed off Shelly and Byron on us colonials. Washington, Lafayette, Hamilton, all Romantics. Risking their honor and their sacred fortunes for ideas like liberty and democracy.  But the English, they are hard-bitten realists.  They did  nothing in Africa or England, for that matter but exploit the people.  They were cruel and rapacious beyond belief. Ask the Irish, or the Indians.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Betty.”

“We’ll see in the morning, partner,” said Betty with a twinkle.

“Do you welcome all American business-men like this?

“Only, if they’re young and handsome.”

It was becoming clear that Betty did not belong to the Cult of The Virgins.

Tony’s companion turned and leaned toward us.

You, Betty, and her boss will make a great team.”

“Your boss?” I asked Betty.

“Yes, Mary Nzimaro.  She is my mother.”

Chapter II:  Bad Ibadan

The clear starry sky of West Africa stretched from horizon to horizon. Tony and our “dates” had arrived in Ibadan, the capital of the Western Region of Nigeria, proud of its university and its Western culture. The nightclub was a four-floor walkup.  We were greeted at the open terrace by the proprietor, silky and dark.

“I am Nicolas, your maitre’ de, welcome to The Club, Coq D’Or.”  

Tony patted Nicolas on the shoulder and said, “Nick is from Lebanon as are almost all the club owners in Nigeria.  We call the Lebanese, The Jews of Africa.  They own everything.”

“Tony, you flatter me,” and Nicolas escorted us to a small table at the far end of a very busy bar.

I was seated facing down the bar. There were perhaps thirty bar stools, and on each one was a beautiful young woman. They were of every color and hue.  But they were all beautiful.  There were redheaded Irish types, and green-eyed Eurasians, beefy, full-bodied English ladies, and thin Spanish types; and charcoal skinned mannequin types.  Each was accompanied by an elderly man in immaculate tux, and all were pursuing a quiet but intense conversation.

I turned to Tony, “Is it common for older men to marry younger women in Nigeria?”

Tony’s eyes shone, and a huge smile crossed his face. “It is very uncommon. Mums ’58, bring four bottles, please.”

I looked again at the expensive dresses, jewelry, coiffeurs, and it slowly began to dawn on me that these were, perhaps, not wives, but something quite different.

Betty saw my face redden. “It’s an old English tradition. When English men want to party, they never bring their wives.  Henry the Eighth started the whole thing. Not to mention Darwin. Got to spread the wild oats Oats are a kind of seed, right?”

“You mean these women are prostitutes?”

“Depends whether you’re selling or buying. Or, as my father used to say, it just depends on whose ox is getting gored.”


” I think that anybody who buys or sells sex is a prostitute. But that might include all of us in one way or another. Why do men want money, and success, if not to capture as many women as they can handle.”


” You don’t have this kind of thing in New York?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never seen it.”

“I would be much surprised if you didn’t have this kind of thing on the moon.”

“You mean all these woman are . . . mistresses??”

“Self-righteousness begins with naiveté. The word is ‘whores’, my darling,

“I guess so, but I never witnessed anything like this.”

“Well, after all, your America is a Puritan country.”

“Isn’t this little bit of England a Puritan country?”

“Africa is a big bit, that bar is a little bit of England. Of course England is not Puritan, it’s a Victorian country, which is to say, it’s completely licentious, discreet, but wildly licentious. Take a look at Edward, The Prince of Wales, what a whoremaster he was. . . . Time to dance.”

She took me by the hand and tugged me onto the dance floor where a six-piece band was belting out a strange, very rhythmic, jazzy music.

She pulled me close and whispered, ” First lesson, you don’t dance on your toes, you dance flat-footed. One-two, one-two, one-two . . . come, my American baby . . . move it.”

When I was a teen-ager, men who liked to dance were considered slightly left of queer.  No he- blooded, white, Protestant liked to dance. Niggers, spics, wops, and (of course) hebes danced.  Real Americans, never. Well, I liked to dance, so I used to think I must have sissy-genes in my DNA. Nonetheless, not only did I like to dance, I liked to dance with girls. I reasoned that I couldn’t be totally queer. Pressing a soft fifteen-year old lassie to my body was an indescribable pleasure.

Forty years later after reading Homer’s tales of “The Heroes” dancing before battle while reciting Poetry, and knowing The Vikings loved dancing, singing, and poetry (“The Sagas”) almost as much as they loved fighting; while Elizabethans celebrated their defeat of The Spanish Armada by singing, dancing, and composing poetry (The Age of Shakespeare). Brave Indian warriors danced, Abe Lincoln danced, Andrew Jackson danced (he organized the first cotillion in Nashville) and invited the two most notorious Madams in all Tennessee. Cossacks dance; the Greek army dances. Israeli armored divisions dance; and so it gradually became clear.  Real men dance, sissies don’t.  So that evening in Africa when my blood was many degrees hotter than it is now, and in a culture of dancers, I abandoned my puritanical restraints, and danced my ass-off.

I had bought my tux at Roger-Peet and being young and gauche I bought a red cummerbund.

Although the temperature was close to ninety and the humidity 100%, nobody took off their jackets.

Soon my face matched my cummerbund, and my tux looked like I had gone swimming in it. Nonetheless, protocol demanded that the jacket stay on, but survival persevered over de rigueur and heroically I whipped off my tie.  Ah, relief.

She shakes like jelly on a plate.  The band was playing an Africanized version of “My Sister Kate” . . . nobody shimmies like my Sister Kate. The band sang in the same tempo and inflection as an old 78 rpm record, kind of like a speeded up high-pitched Rudy Vallee record.  And through my salted eyes all I could see was the most alluring black raspberry jelly shaking out an unmistakable message to every molecule of testosterone in my body.

I grabbed Betty and danced close so as to hide my rigid embarrassment.  However, although my protruding embarrassment was now somewhat concealed from spectators in the room, it now became flamboyantly patent to Betty.

“Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me.” said Betty placing her hand on her hip a la Mae West. And then she gave me the coup de grace. “Let’s change partners,” and she rolled out of my arms, tapped Tony on the shoulder, took Mary by hand and led her into my arms.

Now I was exposed to two women, and my cummerbund grew pale in comparison to my face.  I arched my self over, so as to be less conspicuous but Mary did this little maneuver of coming up behind me, wrapping her arms around my chest, and dancing with my back to her front. I could have swore that there was a spotlight on me, but as a matter of fact the club was pitch dark, and even if someone was looking, there was indeed little that they could see of my black tux.

When I was in college we used to debate the difference between “Eternity” and “Infinity.” That night in The Coq D’Or I had the definitive answer to that debate.  Eternity is the time between my embarrassment and the time the band took a break.  “Infinity” is the gulf between my home in Riverdale, America and Ibadan, Nigeria.

I sank into seat, and poured myself a glass of champagne.  Betty sat down next to me, and reached under the table.  I dropped the glass, and sputtered champagne all over my $100. pleated shirtfront. Oh, God, she had taken my love life in her hand.

She kissed me on the neck, and said, “Take it easy, darling. Is there anything more fun?”

I had never been groped.  I was the GROPER, not the GROPEE. I was under great stress. I liked it.

I hated it. 

I loved it.

I was repulsed by it. 

The message went on.  I tried nonchalance.  It didn’t work. Finally, I cried something like, “Oh, my God.” Had a three minute orgasm and slid under the table.

*   *   *


By Ben Schwartz        

An impossible number on my birthday


Is an impossible number.

Impossible to divide by 1/2

Or even 1/3

How much was wasted

Of those years?

I had no map

Of the billions who passed before me

Or after me

Who could advise me

As to how to spend my time?

My chips were antied up


Game after game

And old an impossibility

Vitality was eternal

and the future infinite

I felt cheated

Every step of the way

Only luck save me.

There were women enough

and money enough

I could never figure it out

It was not easy

I was never at peace

I was never at calm

I was always hungry

I was always angry

I was always alert

I was smart

And I was lucky

But sixty-five caught me by surprise

I mention it every day

I say it with bewilderment

Sixty Five

posted 13 February 2005

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 22 May 2009 




Home  Transitional Writings on Africa

Related files: Letters on Africa from Ben Schwartz    Glory Days – Sahara Nights  Notes to a Diabetic

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