Smokey Row

(A Civil War story they would never tell)

Nashville, Tennessee, 1860, close to the river resided a district know as Smokey Row, consisting of a four block long, two block wide, where the industry of prostitution thrived-overall, eight full blocks of homes and houses of ill repute. Had you asked the Marshals of Nashville at the time for the federal census of these business women, they would have told you they counted over two-hundred, listed in such an occupation, but surely there were more, the unlisted list, mostly white but nearly a dozen of mulatto women were on the list, a great number were illiterate, close to two-dozen widowed. The youngest in her early teens, the oldest near sixty. Among the many, a dozen were from Kentucky, Alabama, Ireland and Canada, the rest from Tennessee. Most used, or went by common names.

On North Front Street, there was a great mansion, nearly thirty people lived in the house, among the prostitutes were several children and one black man in his early twenties, Tom Dimple. And the War Between the States began. Forth Sumter was hit, shelled. In 1863, Brigadier General R. S. Granger command in Nashville, tried to ship the vile women out of the city by steamboat, but to no avail, they all crept back into the city in even bigger numbers.

One hot evening Tom Dimple, in Nashville sat on top of the roof of this great mansion on Front Street, where he worked as a janitor, looked over the tops of the town’s roofs; the chimneys towering into the sky. After it got dark, and the street lights went on, the soldiers started coming as usual to the house of ill repute, by this time there were nearly as many bare-faced black prostitutes that they paraded the streets as freely as the whites, even to the public squares, by day and night. The newspapers complained of this, and the commanders of the troops complained about the Negresses, but with the war going on, the sex need of the soldiers allowed the influx of black females into this sinful business, if only to relieve the workload on the white females.

Folks could hear Tom Dimple aching in pain on the rooftop, and at times on the balcony, and this evening was no different, this evening he was on the roof with the cool and fresh breeze in the hot night, again in pain. Moreover, those who knew him had a joke about him: that he was the best friend to the black women at the house they ever had (and perhaps a few of the white women) being simply a janitor. And called him with whispers, Enema Dimple, and not to his face-because of his restlessness in having intercourse with those women there, three to four times a day, but for having constipation more often than not. Because he got so cramped up, he had to hold tight onto the toilet seat each and every time, if not for burning sensations in his penis, then for rectum release, that one time he got so cramped up, bloating, spasms, and cramping, peristalsis, he was put on crutches. Moreover, it came in due time, he became more a patient than a janitor at the house, but they all liked Tom nonetheless.

Therefore, there he sat this one evening on top of the roof, a skillful janitor and one sexually addicted, and skillful young man in the art of interaction.

Before he went back down to his room this evening, it was dim and quiet on that roof, and he was in much pain, so much so he wanted to jump off the roof-commit suicide, although he knew the women would not understand, and being grateful to the house establishment he felt this was not the thing to do-and perhaps he’d postpone it: his spine hurt and so did his penis, and he had not had a bowel movement in seventeen days, nor a check up by a doctor ever, and so he prayed with pious ignorance: “Oh Jesus,” he cried “if only you would hear me, I’d mend my ways this very day, help me through this hard time, take all this pain away-please, oh please, please, I beg you, I’ll be a new kind of young man, just heal me. I’ll do anything you ask, I’ll leave this house of repute, and be a good boy like my momma told me to be, and go to church every Sunday” and, Lo and behold -just like that, in a clap of an eye, everything was back to normality. His pain reduced to nothingness, his penis back in good operating order. As a result, at that very moment, he had to rush off the roof and take a great dump in the bathroom, and his spine was back in good shape, like iron. After all this, he went to bed to have a good and pain free night’s sleep. The following morning, when he sat down and had breakfast with everyone, he didn’t say a word of his promise. And simply went back to work as normal, matter-of-fact, he went back to doing whatever he was doing before, with even more enthusiasm and gusto.

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