learning, music biz, self-acceptance

The Bumpy Road to New York

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I left the house while it was still dark, telling my half-asleep mother that I was headed “to the library” when she asked where I was going.  After hoofing it 2 miles to the Hartford train station, I bought a ticket and just… went! At 14, I was too afraid to explore much of anywhere once I got to Grand Central Station, but I DID make it across 42nd Street it to the Library, so I hadn’t been exactly lying.

Train to NYC! New York, New Haven & Hartford

I think my folks understood – they’d always had a yen for New York – the theaters, the museums, the glamour – New York had it all!  There honestly wasn’t any other place to be as far as they were concerned – witness that they both retired to Manhattan in their 50s and breathed their lasts there 20+/- years later.

So as soon as I’d graduated, that’s where I needed to go. I didn’t have a job lined up or money in the bank, so I temped for Kelly Girl that summer and saved my sheckels while calling and sending out resumes and cover letters to every company listed under “Music” in the NY Yellow Pages. At the end of the summer, finally a job offer appeared: librarian at E.B. Marks Music on West 50th Street, a company that published some of my teacher Hale Smith’s compositions. I’m pretty sure he put in a good word for me and I was SO grateful to finally have a MUSIC JOB in NEW YORK!

I got the idea of living in an office from my dad, who had camped out in a friend’s NY office while trying to break in to TV sketch writing a decade earlier. I think he may have lasted 10 days before he threw in the towel and returned to Hartford; he said he’d gotten lonely and missed us too much, but I always suspected that when the Big Apple didn’t greet him with open arms, he became discouraged and felt too old to be couch surfing and taking Marine baths in the sink instead of showering at home.

Dad had always advocated living within walking distance of one’s employment, so when I was offered the job in August of 1972, I figured that the small 2-room office on the 11th floor of the Ed Sullivan Building on 53rd and Broadway would be perfect! It was only $110/month, in a 24-hour building, so I could come and go whenever I wanted. The ladies’ room was across the hall, so I planned to join the YWCA 3 blocks south on 8th Ave and get in a daily swim (so virtuous!) before showering and strolling over to my job, thereby expediting both exercise AND personal hygiene!

And so the family helped move me and my earthly possessions (2 suitcases of clothes and a trunk full of music scores, LPs and stereo equipment) into my new office-home. Some voiced concern over the fact there was no kitchen, bath or furniture, but I had a hotpot, I’d packed a pillow and envisioned no problem sleeping on the carpeted floor, so… no worries!

The first few days were pretty uneventful. So what if the doorman looked at me a little strangely as I exited the building just as everyone else was entering each morning?!  It was Autumn In New York!! I was a bit lonely, I didn’t have a phone and since my salary was only $100/week ($77.50 after taxes!), entertainment and dining options were extremely limited. But I had my hotpot and my stereo and the commute to work was sure easy!

1697Bway

My good friends Peter and Cathy were getting married on Labor Day, so I dressed and got ready to take the train up to Stratford that morning, only to find that I’d been LOCKED IN! I hadn’t anticipated that this being a national holiday, my 24-hour building was closed and I could not get out!  I panicked until I managed to locate a janitor to unlock the door and fortunately, he was there when I returned late that night. But I began to feel a little less confident in my choice of housing.

After a few days, the daily swims became less frequent – not just because I wasn’t that interested in swimming, but… I began to feel a bit too vulnerable stripping down every day in front of strange women, some of whom seemed a bit overly interested in my body!? –  wouldn’t a Marine bath do for today? (and tomorrow, maybe?  and even the next day?)  So much for my athletic exploits at the Y!

Every day the walls of my office-home moved in a little closer; each weeknight the cleaning lady would unlock and open my office door, waking me in the wee hours to empty the trash — it always surprised us both. And the sideward glances from the doorman were getting more pronounced every morning.

After subsisting on instant cocoa, fruit and sandwiches for a week, I knew I needed to find a real apartment with a real bed, a real bathroom and a real kitchen with a refrigerator and stove – even if that meant dealing with roommates and having to take the subway. I asked around at work and was told about some affordable places in the East Village which turned out to be so rugged on the outside, I never rang the doorbell to even see the inside!  Then I applied to a real estate company that didn’t have any places I could afford but who wound up wanting to sublet my office in the Ed Sullivan Building.

So after 2 weeks of office-living, I moved for a week to a cheap hotel on West 112th Street where I had my first encounter with cockroaches. Then, knowing of my plight, Hale Smith’s wonderful wife Juanita put me in touch with a woman she worked with at the U.N. who needed a roommate for her Riverside Drive apartment at 125th Street. While  I could no longer walk to work, it was SO nice to have an actual BED to sleep in, not just a pillow on the floor!

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Riverside Drive at 125th Street – thank you, Juanita!!  🙂

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