Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Before moving to New York I'd already scoped out the Laura Spelman YWCA as the most convenient place to live, on 8th Avenue at about 51st Street (840 8th Avenue). Eventually I did get a place there but it was only after some difficulties with the managers, Mrs. Ramey and Miss Kuusisto, difficulties that were mostly my own fault. On a trip back to New York a few years ago I went to see if the Spelman was still there. The building is, but it's now a home for the elderly.

Letters from New York City - May 1965

Mon. eve.

Reporting what's played on WABC-FM

I was down at Macy's tonight and got Barb a birthday card and wrote to her. That store!—it is too much. I needed laundry detergent and a skirt hanger and shoe polish for the new shoes, and of course Macy's had them all, but the drudgery of hunting them up. However, it's the nearest store [to the Webster Apartments].

I also got a pattern for the yellow knit (waited half an hour in a line to pay for it). It's a McCall's, I couldn't find anything in Vogue, and I guess I could have just sent you the number, but if the Globe no longer carries it, it might be inconvenient for you to get it anyway. If you have enough material, please include the sleeves. I'll send it this week.

At work, things are looking up. Today Renee Magelaner, the oldest girl (she's been there five years; Maxine Brown, one) divided up the shows and gave Pat and me each certain ones to handle. Pat and I are doing all the radio shows; Maxine and Renee will do all the TV. My shows are: The Ed Jordan Show, Allan Jefferys in the Land of Music, Man About Music, and all the FM shows. Pat has several shows plus all the rock 'n' roll. We're happy about that; she prefers the R&R and I prefer the FM shows. I don't think you get any of the shows I'm working on (I don't know what or if there is an ABC radio station around Scranton). Anyway, work is getting better. And I really like all three girls. Pat and I went downtown during lunch hour today so I could cash the Penn State check and we ate at a Schrafft's.

I really need clothes. I'm going to pick out some fabric and send it if you'll make me some shifty-types. And the snood, which I forgot to mention last time, is great. Though of course I prefer bare-headedness on all occasions, it is what I wear from now on on rainy mornings. That type of head cover is about the best protection you can get, and not very crushing on the hair. The weather has been marvelous here lately and actually I wish it wasn't, because I feel deficient in cool clothes.

I'll get my first paycheck Friday morning! Probably thirty free dollars, at least, to be disposed of, I mean sixty, for the two weeks. Pat says we should expect around sixty-seven dollars per week after deductions.

I still haven't really gotten to know anyone here [at the Webster]. Wednesday night the eighth floor has reserved several tables in the dining hall so we can go down as a group and get acquainted, sign-up on a voluntary basis. I signed and hope everyone else does too. (Each floor has a "hostess"; it was arranged by her).

I got the NY Times yesterday. Whatever they add to the city edition, like two sections of classifieds, it weighs an added ton here. The real estate and want ads are fascinating, and there are reams of them in the Sunday paper.

Good night.

Thurs. eve.

Being a zombie in New York

Sunday at the fair [the World's Fair] was a lovely change and of course it was wonderful seeing you. I was in bed at 11:30 that night and then up at seven Monday morning to begin another week. These work weeks are so unbelievably long. I enjoy the work, location, hours, people, everything—but it asks so little. In the interview and in the job itself, I have not yet had a bad moment, a feeling of inadequacy, fear, nervous tension, nothing—and is it ever boring! There is no struggle at all.

I'm glad you like the Maja perfume, Mother. I thought it smelled warm and exotic. And I'm surprised and sorry to hear about Mr. Miller. It's kind of unbelievable, so sudden and so young.

Monday evening I went up to the Y and talked to Miss Kuusisto. She said they had filled the vacancies she'd mentioned to me a week ago when I didn't call, but that "since they had offered me a room, she supposed they would have to keep their word", and to send in my application and $10.00 deposit again. I did, on Tuesday, and she said she would call me, but hasn't yet. I've decided I won't go in there unless I can get a room under thirty dollars a week, or at least a promise of a change to one very soon. I think, as a transient, I was in a $34/week room.

I really do want to get out of here. 34th Street just isn't my cup of tea. Tuesday night a man came up to me and I thought he was asking for directions, he was mumbling something, so I turned around and listened to him, the big mistake. He became more coherent and I heard the hard-luck tale of a "down-and-out Cherokee Indian, off his reservation, new in town", and could I (a "nice white lady") give him a dime for a cup of coffee. I was afraid he might do something if I didn't, so I gave him a quarter (he turned discreetly and humbly away as I fished it out) and then left the scene quickly. "New York is a cold town", to quote a Fifth Avenue doorman, Pat, and others, and it's certainly necessary. I practice being a zombie on the subway too, though the rides are high points of my day. A subway feels more like a roller coaster than any other common means of transportation.

Pat and I ate in Central Park this week, and also across the street in the ABC production building. They have the most complete and varied vending machines there I've seen anywhere, everything from fresh fruit salad to shrimp salad sandwiches. There are couches over there and an always-on TV (tuned to ABC).

Good night.

Tues. eve.

I want to go back to the YWCA

Yesterday was beautiful here, bright and sunny. I will really miss Grammy [my grandmother]. She was like something that should be protected, because her characteristics are rarer in this generation, like a girl in a Louisa Mae Alcott book. She was so loveable.

I'll have to buy a dictionary. Loveable or lovable? It must be loveable, now that I see them written down.

I wasted my whole lunch hour today trying to track down Scopus [apparently a camera shop]. I took the Seventh Avenue downtown to Times Square, then the shuttle over to Grand Central. I walked up Park Avenue and found myself between 245 and 277 with no number in between (Scopus is 257). So I asked a man where it was (Park Avenue is lined with sharp-looking businessmen). After a minute of looking around, he asked if it could possibly be Park Avenue South. So I checked and it was. He said that was on the other side of 42nd Street. So I assumed Park Avenue South started at 42nd Street. I went down there and it doesn't. A woman told me it was "way down" and I'd have to take a bus. By this time my lunch hour was nearly over and I gave up and came back, got something at the vending machines across the street, and ate hurriedly in the office. Park Avenue South is not on my map; I'll have to call Scopus and ask them where they are.

Two of the radio show directors came over yesterday to "look over", as Maxine said later, the new recruits. One of them, Jack Kweit of "Man About Music", I had written a memo to that morning, asking for back programs starting in February. There were about 30; Renee had been hounding him about them for months. I gave him a carbon of it while he was there and this morning, unbelievably, they all arrived. I feel triumphant.

You asked what I do with my free time; I wish I had enough of it to worry about. In this entire place [Webster Apartments], 398 girls, there are three washing machines. And, being all working girls, we all can only wash evenings and weekends. And the machines are on the 3rd, 7th, and 11th floors so that it's wearing to go up and down monitoring all three; you just sit around and wait for one. A load of white and load of dark and my evening was gone. Tonight I decided to let out the right side seam of the green straight skirt I bought; I did, and it's still too tight.

And now it's ten thirty and I'm dead as usual. Payday is coming. If I had started working before April 1st I'd have two weeks vacation this summer, my choice of dates May through October. Such luck!

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