Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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You may wonder where the boys are. Well, New York City is where they're not. I don't know what the ratio is, but I think the city has always had much greater appeal for young women than young men. It's not that I wasn't interested, just the opposite; but I didn't meet many candidates.

Letters from New York City - August 1965


Harlem, and a convent

Our letters crossed, but I hope my coming home this weekend has met with approval. It sounds like a good weekend because I guess you won't be going up to the lake, though the thought of the reunion [my father's-side family reunion in a park 50 miles away] does not turn me on. Maybe I could take my suitcase with me there and get a bus back from Wilkes-Barre on your way home, since that is on the way. And I was thinking, Mother, maybe you could come back with me. Then you'd have bus company at least one way. If you'd like to, call me when you receive this, and then I can tell them at the desk so a bed would be in the room when we got back. If not, though I haven't called the bus station yet, I'll probably be calling you from Scranton around nine or ten Friday night.

Now it's Sunday night. This evening I played the piano for some singing entertainment at a shower for a girl who is going into a convent. Her sister and a lot of friends gave it for her in the 4th floor lounge. They had made a lot of plans, bought lots of food for a ham-and-turkey buffet dinner, invited and expected a large number of people, who didn't show, which was pretty much what I expected. It was a "shower of green" or something like that (money) because she has to pay for her habits, which sounds funny. She bought a lovely expensive white dress for the occasion which I guess she can't wear in the convent.

But I can see people not coming. I mean, they'd invited all the people in her office. But to go to a YWCA for a party that's a send-off to a convent, with "green" donations, and lasting from 4 to 8 p.m. And the songs they wanted to sing were such drippy-with-inspiration numbers as "I Believe", "You'll Never Walk Alone", "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", "No Man is an Island", etc. Not a really party thing.

Still, it was interesting. Meeting a candidate for a convent is interesting. If convents really are anything like "The Nun's Story" I can't see this girl lasting. She is Negro, by the way. I never thought there were many Catholic Negroes. But in the Y there seem to be quite a few.

Speaking of Negroes, yesterday afternoon, all alone, I decided to go see Harlem. I thought I'd just get on a #10 bus and go all the way up 8th Avenue to 159th and then back on it.

Scary much! By the top of Central Park I was wishing I hadn't come, but I didn't want to get out there. So I stayed on, and it got worse. Jungle is the word. A new apartment building in the middle of all these horrible old ones with its windows all broken by vandals. All these people sitting around on the sidewalks and stoops, litter, scrawls on the buildings, kids playing in the streets and throwing stones at each other and passing traffic.

Up there I was the only white person on the bus. And even if these people on the bus with you and those hordes of aimless-looking ones outside don't really resent you, you feel like they do, because it's like they'd have every right to.

It's such a mess! And in dirty store windows posters announcing that they knew where there were jobs, good jobs, come in and we'll find you one.

Really frightening. Really awful. [I still remember that ride. I was decked out in my usual NYC getup of dress and heels. At one point when I was sitting alone by a window, a black man got on and plunked down against me in an ostentatiously violent way; luckily he didn't stay on long. At 159th, when there were only a couple of people left on the bus, the driver said that everyone must get off. I asked if the bus wouldn't just be turning around but he said no. He pointed across the street and said to wait for a return bus there.]

Back from that excursion, I got on a subway and headed out to Queens, where I walked around Forest Hills, a nice city of apartment buildings and lots of baby carriages. This exhilarating feeling of being able to go so far and see so much, for only 15 cents!

I've been having second thoughts on the blue-and-green dress. I can't wear it. It's too short. It's all right, just barely, when I stand still. But when I walk it's up above my knees and stays there, because it hasn't much weight to keep it down. And it kills me because I like it so much, the colors that remind me of water or an iced drink or something, and the pattern which is so perfect. Also it kills me when I can't wear something you make because I think of all the work that went into it.

But I think this one is lost. The waist is also tight, partly because it's high by around 3/4 of an inch. Alas! I wanted it so much to be right. Still, the next one on the same pattern ought to be perfect. I'm going to try and get some material during my lunch hour Friday after being paid and will bring it home.

On the subject of material things—I would so much like to have the record player here. Now that I have money to spend on records, and I definitely see the point to records [my father didn't; "you can listen to the radio"], and there are three I'd like to get, and the public library, amazingly enough,even has current hits like "Fiddler on the Roof" to lend—I am anxious to be in the vicinity of a record player again. When you get a chance, Daddy [electrical engineer] , please take a look at the speaker and find out what makes it so muddy, all-of-a-piece, and irritating sounding. Maybe it just needs a new part.

Have you heard anything about Dawn Lewis [a girl from my home town] and her reaction to the Webster? I'd like to know if she found it as cold as I did. Spelman, for all that it seems to lack the facilities of the Webster, and it does, is so much more friendly. You can't not meet people. People talk around here.

Your week at the lake sounded busy enough. It's nice Bill and Judy came. I don't really understand about his job. What is second shift? Refers to hours, or that he would be the first to be laid off?

I think about Christopher often. My little brother, whom I have such high hopes for, is going through his formative years without my influence. When I have my own private pad (I plan to be making good money when I've mastered shorthand & typing), you will come for a long weekend, Chris, and I will introduce you to the world.

I can almost taste some nice cold Minute Maid orange juice and will follow my physical need down to the 6th floor vending machine. Till Friday.

Wed. night

Meeting people on the bus to PA

It was a very nice weekend and I was painfully sunburned only on my knees. The bus got back here at 10:30. A girl sat next to me on the bus, introduced herself as Nancy Clark, said our fathers know each other, that she lives across the street from the Dalton Methodist, and that we'd visited them. I don't remember her or anything about it but we talked all the way down. She's working for a detergent trade magazine, has been here a year, but now is trying to get a job in Scranton, wants to go home. At present she's staying at the Morgan Hall Y.

And Joan Bergman [from my high school class] was on the bus. Mills Teachers College, which she attends, is on lower Fifth Avenue. This summer she's working for an FM radio station. She and some other girls, including Karen Samuel [ditto] have sublet a Riverside Drive apartment for the summer. Karen (Vassar) is working for Harper & Rowe this summer.

Mother, on that dress, I was thinking, sleeve length can make or break it. Make them nearly an inch longer than the sleeves of my navy blue ivy league shirt, which is at home.

Eiko and I went to see "Nightlife" Monday night. It was very interesting. The studio audience is small and you can see everything that's going on. We were in the second row. Signs flash on when you're supposed to applaud, and the audience practices shouts beforehand to warm up. Nightlife is moving out to California the first week in September, so the opportunities to see it, now that I've discovered such great free entertainment, are limited. But I got two tickets for next Wednesday night, the 25th, and if you'll be here that evening, Mother, we can go see it. Doors open at 5:45, close at 6:10.

Barb says she'll go out to Coney Island with me Saturday and I hope she makes it. She works till midnight Friday night and has to be at work again at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Last night there was another concert in Central Park which I missed because I had books due at the library. I really could have gone but it seemed like too much. Next Tuesday night is the last one and I must go; it features Aaron Copland.

Kathy went swimming at Far Rockaway last weekend, taking the subway out. She says the water was clean and very good, and it wasn't too crowded.

Pat and I tried a new restaurant today called "The Camp" which just opened across the street from the main block of ABC buildings. It had good food and reasonable prices, but there were flies. Flies can just kill a place.

There is no cheap decent place to eat! Oh, for a company cafeteria.

I haven't had a chance to look around for dress trim yet. I think the stores are open tomorrow night.

Barb, Ann, and I are leaving in a few minutes to go see the movie "Darling".

See you soon.

Thurs. night

My mother comes to visit

It was very lonely coming into this room tonight, Mother, with it still damp and gloomy out, and your bed still there but with none of your things around, and thinking of you in the bus, going away. And your familiar handwriting on the desk. I was tearfully homesick. Several people have told me they never would have come here alone, not knowing anyone and so far from their family. It doesn't sound very gutsy, but I'm glad I love NYC, because I don't want to go any farther away, except for visits. More and more I appreciate your break from your family; that was a real wrench. [My mother left a Kansas farm to go to business school in Chicago, and then on to NYC where she met my father.] And I certainly wouldn't want to be in Carol's shoes now. [Carol is Peace Corps bound.] It's strengthening to know that your 'rocks' aren't too far away (crazy metaphor, probably). It's enough to know that there is someone somewhere, but much better to be able to see and touch and reassure yourself of it.

After fifteen minutes' diligent search I found all three remembrances. Thank you muchly; this was going to be a tightish two weeks. And also thank you for the slip and the soap and the entertainment, and most of all for coming. I was looking forward to it and loved having you. I hope you didn't walk around so much that just the thought of another visit will make you feel tired. Maybe around Christmas shopping time you'll come again. Most likely I'll still be here.

Today at the office was unmarked by any special event. They're still moving music into the building, boxes and boxes of it, and had the front door propped open all day for the movers. It was so damp and cold! I wore my trenchcoat half the time.

I'm looking forward to the shorthand course. I'm glad I waited out the summer before plunging into anything. Now I'm really sure that this is what I want to do.

What did you think of the Sandpiper? Agree with Judith Crist?

The trains I'm interested in taking leave here at 7:30 Friday evening and leave Scranton at 3:20 Monday afternoon. If it won't work out, I'll take the bus. See you again soon.

Tues. night

Clueless tour guides

I've decided to take the bus home Friday evening and will call sometime after ten. I haven't received a letter from you yet, but think I will try the train some other weekend. Ann is getting a bus ticket for me.

Those two! (Ann & Barb.) Today they were notified, due to the resignation of a regular tour guide, that they will each guide a three-day bus tour of Washington D.C. Barb's is this weekend, Ann's is next. Neither has ever been to Washington D.C. They will bluff their way through, they hope.

Kathy leaves the Y tomorrow. She just made the 3-month minimum.

Tomorrow I'm going over to the Mary Byers school to register and pay for the first month.

Last night, out of the blue, I got a phone call from a boy I knew at Penn State. He was just in NYC with his family for the fair; he had been going to find work here this year, but got a fellowship to get his master's in theater at Penn State, so will stay another year. But then he's coming here to crash television.

Shall see you Friday.

Sat. eve.

Soon the shorthand class will start

Your letter came this morning. My excuse for not writing sooner is that I was out of envelopes, which I got today at Macys, along with a large chunk of my paycheck's-worth of lingerie. I also bought a pretty flower arrangement in a pot. I was going to get some sprays of flowers and make my own, but there were so many it was confusing, and the made-up ones looked so perfect. The one I got is pink carnations and little sweet-william size pink flowers and sprays of purple and green ferns. It really looks nice on the night table. Then I got two prints which are now on the wall, one a Matisse and the other a Gauguin. Now I'm thinking of getting material and making new drapes like the ones in my room [at home] and maybe a new bedspread.

Last weekend was really nice. I thought the travel end of it would probably be a nightmare, but I got back here Monday night in just under three hours. Labor day night! I wish we could have talked more, Mother. I'll be home again in October. Barb Fogarty will probably arrive next week sometime. I haven't told her yet that I'm pretty sure I want to stay where I am. Maybe I'll be swayed when I go apartment hunting with them, which I'd like to do anyway. Here, I pay $32.50 a week now. Which is over $130 a month, and I could surely do better in an apartment. But I love my own room and bath, without the lonesomeness I'd have if I ever got my own studio apartment.

Tuesday night there was a get-acquainted party in the lounge and I met a lot of new girls. Which is nice, because Kathy left a couple of weeks ago and Barb and Ann are leaving Wednesday. The Yale College Choir is coming next Monday night and I'm signed up to be a hostess for it.

I'll be watching the mail for the dress. It's perfect for work and I know I'll wear it a lot.

The shorthand course starts tomorrow night. I am so looking forward to it. Maybe it's partly the old nostalgia for school, any kind of school.

I'm glad the Newton Ransom school seems okay. [brother Chris is now attending it.] Riding school buses is fun, except for the extra time it takes. And if at any age kids deserve to be shut up with only themselves, it is the eighth grade. What a horrible age, as I remember it! Right now I am happier than I've ever been in my life. The sweet taste of freedom, and responsibility. College was hell compared to this. I used to think I was pretty free in college, but it was nothing like this.

Ann and I had dinner tonight at the sidewalk cafe right next to the Metropole, which we passed, Mother, remember the crowd congregated outside and the girls dancing on the counter? Candid Camera should get a bead on that spot; people come along there and stop transfixed.

Haven't written to Carol yet either; will tonight. Ann just came in with all the magazines she's accumulated over the summer and doesn't want to take back. They are distracting me.

Eiko and I and maybe Barb are going bike riding in Central Park tomorrow morning. Last night Vani and I went swimming in the pool on the top floor. It's really nice and the view is spectacular.

I guess I better get going on a line or two to Carol now.

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