Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why I Started Chasing Bad Girls, #10 (Victoria Woodhull)

I have sworn never to marry again, and Dave doesn’t believe in marriage.

Still, he proposes to me, reasoning that we love each other and want to be together, and the only way we can live in the same country is if we’re married.

I say no. I’ve been studying Victoria Woodhull, notorious in the Victorian era for her free love views, and she helps me remember what slavery marriage can be.

For two months Dave keeps proposing, every time we talk during our tearful trans-Atlantic phone conversations, and I keep saying no, lecturing him on what slavery marriage can be, quoting Victoria: “I am a Free Lover! I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love every day if I please! And with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere!”

Noting that Victoria was a clairvoyant with a close personal relationship to the powers of the air, I also go looking for answers with a visit to a gypsy fortuneteller on Rush Street. The woman gives me the once-over--I'm fortyish, with no wedding ring—-and she charges me for a ten-dollar palm reading.

“You have a difficult time with men," she says.

“Oh, that is so true,” I say. "That is so true,” and I start to weep.

“You have good luck from God,” she says, “but bad luck from people. You need someone to pray for you, someone who knows the right prayers. I can do it for you weekly for six months, fifty dollars each visit.”

I get out of there as fast as I can, and Dave snorts derisively when I phone him up and tell him about the gypsy.

“She wanted you to pay her to pray? What, you don’t have any family who can pray for you? Why don’t you pay her to go to church for you? And then when you die, you’ll go to heaven because you paid her,” he says. “You have to decide for yourself whether you want to marry me.”

So. I tell Dave yes, I do want to marry him, because I love him (similarly, Victoria said yes to an Englishman after saying she was against marriage), and as I say yes I wonder what the hell I’m doing.

We apply for Dave’s fiancĂ© visa, he packs up his worldly possessions, flies to Chicago, and within five days of his arrival we marry. Our marriage is surprisingly convincing and our friends and family say we make a cute couple.

Bella even says that Dave and I look alike. We’re both short, we wear glasses, we hold hands on the bus and shop at the dollar store. After sleeping in other people’s beds for so long, it’s fantastic to finally be together and play house in a home of our own.

You could say that my story ends here, because I have found love and happiness. And yet, I’m still drawn to the Bad Girls Project. It doesn’t feel finished to me. Now that I have the basics, I want to achieve the big stuff, like higher spirituality, creative meaning and more money. I go back to studying the life of Victoria Woodhull in the hopes of learning some important lessons I can apply to my own life.

A suffragette psychic and a former prostitute, Victoria in 1870 ran for US President on a platform of vegetarianism, labor reform, spiritualism, liberal divorce laws, legalized prostitution and free love. She was a kook, basically, a kook with a strong belief in herself, and she never held back on speaking her mind, to the point where she was thrown into jail on obscenity charges.

Victoria was all about mastery of self. She saw that New York was a city on the make, full of people striving for fame and riches, and shortly after arriving there in 1868, she and her sister Tennessee Celeste took a carriage ride to the Washington Place mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the wealthiest man in America, where they presented their calling cards and announced that they were lady miracle-healers newly arrived in New York. Taken by the young ladies’ good looks, and in accordance with his policy of allowing any spiritualist to cross his threshold, he welcomed the sisters into his home and became a classic sugar daddy to the girls.

Tennessee, a juicy sensualist, practiced the magnetic-healing arts on him, laying her hands all over his body and manipulating his prostate. He doted on her enema-administering ways, and in short order Tennie became Vanderbilt’s mistress. As for Vickie, she began to commune regularly with the spirit of Vanderbilt’s dead mother, who gave him stock advice and also told him to give Vickie the $7,500 she needed to start up the Woodhull, Claflin & Co. brokerage house on Wall Street.

Hmm, interesting. I can see a lesson for me in this: for a kooky free spirit, Victoria did very well for herself. She took risks, not always sure of their outcome, and was always reinventing herself.

And so when a Wall Street investment bank comes knocking on my door, offering me an editorial job in New York City with a Wall Street-size annual bonus package and all relocation costs fully paid by the company, I consult with the unseen powers of the air and Dave, and accept the position.

Cornelius Vanderbilt was Vickie’s Gilded Age sugar daddy, and J.P. Morgan is mine in this modern age of multinational corporate capitalism.


Shura said...

I love the photo.

Anonymous said...

Joyce, I keep thinking I have something to say about this foto of you and Dave, but I can't remember what it is. Astonishing. But I think that really is the proper way to eat a NY style pizza.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking it's that famous pizza joint over in Dumbo, the one with the line of eager pizza eaters out front just up the street from the music barge. (It is reputed to be "the best pizza in New York," but I don't know about that.)

It doesn't matter which pizza joint the photo was taken in, but I like to think of you having asked someone to take that wacko photo of you guys in that place, mostly on account of the fact that my own wacky pizza photo was taken there with Aikiko, an 'interesting' Japanese woman I was hanging around with. The photos are strikingly similar and I had it around here somewhere but haven't seen it lately so I hope I can find it to share with you.

Apart from that, I like your blog. You write engagingly about interesting historical people - spirited women, etc. It is really a very nice blog. I like blogs but I find blogging very difficult to do and I admire anyone who manages to carry it off in good style. Your writing holds my attention.

I too worked on Wall Street. It started out as a kind of anthropological investigation of corporate life, but then I settled into a little cube in a Steelcase honeycomb and decided to be miserable there for several years. My motto was a quotation from Bartleby. You probably know the one:

"I would prefer not to."

When I moved into a new cube I always wrote that on the whiteboard and never erased it, even if I was stuck in that cube for years. I made a large number of enemies there and very few friends. I couldn't stand the culture finally and left. Now I fix things.

I'm going to bed.

Anonymous said...

I work at a drug rehab and you(Joyce) look like a beautiful woman I work with. Thank you for sharing this marvelous blog and the best of luck to you and Dave. Bad girls rock!

Joyce Hanson said...

Thanks, Addiction. Dave's and my 6th anniversary comes up this month, so it's working! It really helps that we enjoy each other's company so much. I can't imagine not having him in my life.

And why didn't I see the comment from the Wall Streeter stuck in a cube until now? Great post! And yes, I do know that Bartleby preferred not to. I've met people who remind me of Bartleby, including myself sometimes.