Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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Living at Rosemary House was lovely and I'm sorry to have flouted the rules by ironing in my room. The temptation to do so was irresistable, since I didn't want to sew in the dark windowless basement, which was four flights down from my room, and after every few minutes of sewing I needed to press another seam. What's a girl to do?! Anyhow, they forgave me when I promised no further transgressions.

Letters from New York City - July 1967


The first week at Met Life

It sounds as though your Fourth was as unpredictable as it was here. Funny weather all the time. I went to Jones Beach again yesterday and it was perfect. Got sunburned again.

Remember on our way to Kansas we ran into a lot of dead fish in Lake Michigan, I think it was? Well, yesterday I read an article in TIME about it being the biggest year yet for dead alewives, which average 2" to 7" long. There is "a ribbon of dead alewives 50 feet wide along the shore, and they are piling up on the beaches faster than they can be hauled away." Ick! Hopefully they will be under control by the time you arrive.

It's good I didn't write you about my new job the first night, because it was a terrible first day. They had lost my papers, so I sat around in the Personnel office without even anything to read from 9:00 until 11:30. Then they had me go to lunch with two of the secretaries, who were very nice. Then at 1:00 I was taken over to the training class and had to interrupt it, ugh, I hate coming in late on things like that, with 15 people staring at you

The teacher of the class was a girl my age (the regular teacher was on vacation), and she was incredibly boring and repetitious, and kept saying things like "Please ask questions! Doesn't anyone have any questions? I'm so nervous I'm shaking. I hate it when people are all new and sit there with such unnatural attentiveness! Relax!". I don't know. I mean, she was very nice, but not easy to sit and respond to for six hours a day. Thank heaven she just taught the "Introductory Course", which ended Friday, and I have someone different for the "Metropolitan English Language Course", which begins tomorrow.

This is one thing that makes me slightly unhappy. Met Life uses neither Cobol nor Fortran, the usual computer languages. Instead, they use "Metropolitan English Language", a system thought up by one of their own employees. Which may somewhat limit my marketability should I want to change jobs. Though I imagine once you learn the basic idea, it's easy to learn any system.

Finally, after class ended that first day, I went back to Personnel, which had found my papers, and I was taken to where I would be working. Second slight unhappiness: most of the programmers work on the 9th floor. I was assigned to a group on the second floor. I would rather be in the main place! But am not yet clear on what the distinctions are. I'm on "Team 41", which works on health insurance. There are 7 men on it (including one trainee, who is in my class) and one older woman, and me. That first late Wednesday afternoon, when I was shown my desk and introduced, I was so tired and so stiff from trying to be attentive in that horrible class for three hours, everyone just seemed strange and hostile, and I felt funny being the only girl (the other woman wasn't there) and as if my being there would louse up their usual conversation. It was so different from being with a lot of girl secretaries!

But now I like it. Work starts at 8:40, and I sit at my desk, and then at 5 minutes to 9:00 Judy Steinberg, a trainee in another nearby team, and I go to class. Lunch 12 to 1. Class 1 to 4. Then back to sit at my desk till 4:25. The people on my "team" are very nice, mostly young.

I think I will like the work. But it's hard to tell yet, just sitting in class. This past week we learned to convert numbers to binary, octal, hexadecimal, and alphanumeric. But if I understand right, we won't actually be doing that, because the "compiler", whatever that is, does it for us. Thursday morning we had a tour of the computer section. Impressive. But they do look just like boxes, no lights blinking and parts moving. They just sit there and hum. The most interesting part was the console, a sort of typewriter where the operator sits. While the computer is working he can interject questions by typing them in (in red on the paper) and then the computer answers back in black.

The free lunches are pretty good. Friday we had shrimp creole on toast.

Last night Billie and I went to see the opera "Tosca" in Central Park. We got there at 6:30 to get a good spot (in Sheep Meadow) and had a delicatessen picnic.

I'm sitting out on the terrace.

Can't wait to get paid. We are paid weekly on Friday, but my first pay will be next Friday, did not get paid last week. Met Life gives you an envelope of money plus a statement, instead of a check. Isn't that odd? Judy, who's been there several weeks, got paid and says the $125 comes out $94-something after deductions.

Whatever August 3 is, it would be nice if you could come in, Mother. You said Aunt Jean's itinerary now includes Greece. Trouble there too.

If I save $35 a week for 26 weeks, or till around Christmas, I'll have $910. Really, I feel more and more like getting my own place.

Friday night there was folk dancing, square and round, in Washington Square. Diane and I went and watched.

My fingernails are all actually a decent length. Maybe without typing they will stay that way.

Mabel, the cook, is just above me in the kitchen laughing. She is always laughing, and you can hear her all the way up on the fourth floor. We can wear housecoats here for breakfast, that's another good thing.

It's almost time for dinner, 1:15.

Wed. night

Computer programming is fun

It's 8:30 and you are probably just about there now [Kansas, where my mother grew up], if I have the number of days figured right. Did you stop again in Garnet? And the stop at the Chanute pool just before arrival the last time was great, too. Today was hot here, but you will be in that lovely dry heat that's so much nicer than New York heat.

Last weekend here was exasperating. It rained off and on both days, no beach time at all. Saturday night Billie & I went to the Albert French Restaurant here in the Village and had lobster in their sidewalk-café part. they give their diners a free bus tour of the Village which we went on, a half-hour tour in a regular-sized mauve-painted bus, but though the restaurant was well filled, we were the only ones ready for the 7:10 tour and had the bus all to ourselves. Felt very conspicuous, like the people on the streets were observing us more than we them, being the only two people in this big mauve bus with "Albert French Restaurant" on the sides. But it was a good tour.

Last night we went to a concert by the N.Y. Philharmonic in Sheep Meadow, Central Park. It was a perfect night for it and there were 60,000 people there. But it's a big area and we didn't try to get too close to the shell, and were not crowded. Brought pillows this time, along with the blanket. Mayor Lindsay was there, first time I've heard him talk in person. He is very likeable.

Every day I like my job more. I love it! Sitting there listening to the rules being explained, it is too easy to fall asleep, but every time we're given a program to do, it's fascinating. Each one is more complicated. But it is just like making a maze, except more fun because there are more possibilities, and the time flies while we work on them. The thing I love is connectors, do you know what I mean, Dad? After you get the whole flowchart written, and of course it usually needs connectors anyway, it's fun to go back over it and see how much you can pare it down to the bone by throwing in more.

This Friday, after working only 2 1/2 weeks, I will have $105 in the bank. Chase Manhattan.

Saturday I got material for another dress and cut it out. Brown linen, in the same pattern as that black dress I made last time I was home, with the bands around the neck, sleeves, and hem in white linen.

I was looking at your letter with the clippings, Mother, and you know Peggy Hunt married Tom Sweet? He is quite a bit older than her, graduated from high school in '58. Well, that only makes him 27 now. From what I saw of him around school, I think he and Peggy will be good together.

Today I called up the ABC Music Dept. for the first time since I left the company in January. Renee is engaged to be married in November, which is wonderful, but Jean is still in the hospital. She's been there for a year now [depression]. They have a permanent replacement for her, a man who used to work at BMI (ASCAP's rival organization). I wonder what will happen to Jean. She must be in her early forties now. She is so pretty, and so nice, really charming. Remember, her mother died while I was there and then she was living alone with the three cats (Willie, Me-Too, and Eloise). I also wonder who is taking care of those cats.

Gee, I've owed Carol a letter for months, and your saying her family hasn't heard anything recently makes me really feel like I better settle down and write. The lumberjack she directed to me has not appeared yet, hope he does.

Take a lot of pictures, for once I will very much want to see them next time I come home. It would be so nice to have spent the last two hot humid days rolling along the Skyline Drive, one of the places I liked best.

Back to my book, "Elegance" by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. At last it was in the library. Remember you were saving an excerpt from it that was printed in a magazine, Mother? It's very interesting.


Met Life "Home Office News"

[Met Life put out a company newspaper, one issue of which I kept. This one has articles on personnel changes, a talent show, a 'ditty bag' drive, more computerization, registration for LOMA classes (Life Office Management Association certifications), safe driving, a salute to the Business Economics team, a two-page spread with lots of photos entitled "Rosaria's first week at Metropolitan", classified ads, employee anniversaries, and the weekly menu. Below is the menu for Monday, August 28:]

Chicken noodle soup; beef & peppers, boiled potato, sliced carrots, combination sandwich: canadian bacon, Swiss gruyere, pickle stix, cottage cheese, shredded lettuce, apple cup cake, mint chocolate chip ice cream.

[Met Life's multiple dining rooms were hierarchical, the largest-by-far being a regular cafeteria for the lowliest workers, where I started out. By the time I left the company I'd gotten a promotion that entitled me to dine in one that had tablecloths. Probably the most executive level was like a posh restaurant.]

Wed. night

Learning computer languages

Can't believe it's August. Summers are so short.

It's funny to think that Carol was here in New York last week. You feel like you ought to have a premonition that they're near, not still in Africa. Frightening as such emergency measures are, especially to her family, it sounds as if she is getting very good care. [Carol was rushed to New York from her Peace Corps job in Liberia for emergency medical treatment.] They must be so glad to see her! And just about right at the halfway mark of her service. I'll call you probably between 12 and 1 on Friday, Mother, to see if she'll still be home this weekend. Otherwise, I think I'll wait till Labor Day.

If I don't come home, maybe I could see Carol when she comes back to New York for the plane. How can she be eager to go back? I'd think, after a whole year away, that homesickness would set in when she got back to old familiar faces and places.

While it occurs to me, my phone numbers are:

Rosemary House:   (212) OR 5-9530
Metropolitan Life:   (212) 578-5978

The last two weeks at work have been murder. The first two were spent learning English Language, which is how you originally write programs at Met Life, a language that is very untechnical. Cathy Reed, who taught it, was a very good teacher.

Last week and this one we have been learning Argus Language from David Something-or-other, who I absolutely can't stand. He's awful, in several ways. Besides not liking him, this material is much harder. When a program is translated by the compiler from English Language into Argus and then run in the computer, it can still have bugs. And when you are given it back to correct, you have to correct it in patches of Argus, the machine language, which is quite technical.

Next week we actually start working, supposedly. In our sections. The guy who sits behind me in mine says we'll be pretty useless at first (That's obvious to me right now—there's been so much to learn it's really a jumble). But I think this work really suits me and that I'll be happy in my little group.

Friday night Billie and I went to Coq au Vin again and had a really elegant dinner. Menu:

Roast Duckling Bigarade (in orange sauce)
fraises au vin (fresh strawberries in wine)

Shlurp. French cooking is my favorite lately. Afterward we went to see Hayley Mills in "The Family Way", which is a good movie.

I'm so tired tonight, was late getting in last night after going to hear the Philharmonic in the Park. Can't think straight. Goodnight.

Mon. night

Eviction from Rosemary House?

[Okay, there I was living on the fourth floor of Rosemary House and using my sewing machine in my room. If you're a sewer, you know how it's necessary to iron one seam before proceeding on to the next. The ironing boards and irons were in the basement, but I had my own iron and tiny ironing board in our room. One day I was ironing a seam when the room door suddenly opened and the housemother stood there with a guest she was showing around. I was immediately threatened with eviction, as it was a fire hazard to iron anywhere but the basement.]

Well, I'm still here. Last Tuesday night there was a note in my box to see Mrs. Byrnes after dinner. She is Mrs. Mannis' replacement, Mrs. Mannis left day before yesterday, retiring, and also (surprise announcement at a goodbye dinner for her Thursday night), remarrying.

Mrs. Byrnes is very nice. She said they had discussed it, and if I would promise never to iron in my room again, I could stay. So everything is happy again, and I like Mrs. Byrnes; this place has a lighter atmosphere, for me anyway, since Mrs. Mannis left.

Your trip sounds like it was a big success. That was a very informative letter. A couple of places are pleasantly familiar, especially the Mammoth Cave hotel, and also you mentioned Shoney's restaurant, which I remember we went to the other time, nearly missing it because we thought it would be spelled "Shawnee".

I called Jean twice the night she was supposed to be in the Taft, but they had no reservation for her, nor had she checked in. So that meeting didn't work out. But I did see Carol Monday night, and it was a funny feeling to watch her plane take off. We didn't have much time to talk, no time to talk alone. I didn't understand till after she'd left that the present at home was from her to me. I thought before that it was something you were considering having the Harmons bring to me, but didn't because you thought I might not see them. Didn't understand at all!

It was fascinating at Kennedy Airport, my first time there. So big and busy. Planes taking off and taking off, one huge jet right after another, just time for one to get a little altitude before the next one roars off. Carol is certainly well traveled. Think of all the long plane trips she's had, beginning with being a foreign exchange student.

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