NEW YORK CITY, 1971
When I was just a little girl, my Daddy said to me,
“A man’s gonna come and love you some,
That’s your Daddy’s prophecy.”
But it keeps on a-worryin’ me,
Oh Lord, it keeps on a-worryin’ me.
I stood on the corner of 72nd and Columbus Avenue feeling like a human want ad. I had a copy of the Village Voice in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other. I was out of matches. And then I heard a voice behind me. “Looking for an apartment?”
I turned around. He was older than me and definitely not my type with his professional, straight look and short brown hair. But he had a sweet smile and his round, wire-rimmed glasses revealed soft blue eyes.
“How did you know?”
“I saw the paper. Do you need a place to make some calls? I live right up the street.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d gone with a stranger to his place, and the July heat of the city was getting to me.
We exchanged names on the way to his apartment. Marvin Silverman—lawyer, liberal, almost thirty and climbing. Linda Marks—hippie, singer, twenty-two and drifting.
“Far out, you have a nice place!” It was on the third floor of a classic brownstone very close to Central Park.
“Thanks. It’s small, but I like the neighborhood.”
I walked toward the bay windows in the living room where a telescope was mounted on a tripod. There were no curtains or blinds. I wondered what that was about, but didn’t want to ask.
“What’s that building across the street?”
“That’s the Dakota. A lot of famous people live there like John and Yoko.
“I love New York! I can’t wait to move here!”
“Where do you live? On the Island?”
“No way! I live in Jersey with my parents, but that’s only temporary.”
I fumbled in my bag for a cigarette and started to feel nervous.
He was pretending to be hipper than he really was. He probably got stoned on the weekend and came to work on Monday wearing a three-piece suit. It’s as if he climbed to thirty and didn’t know whether to lead those behind him or follow those in front. I was glad that I didn’t have an identity problem. I did have an apartment problem, though, and couldn’t get side-tracked by this weekend hippie.
Ten calls and five lewd propositions later, I was still without a place. I thanked Marvin for the use of his phone.
“Next time you’re in the city, give me a call. Maybe we can do something.”
“Sounds good, Marvin.” I knew what “do something” meant. I threw his business card in my bag, the purple woven one I’d bought from a street vendor in Berkeley the day I’d left California, and ran down the stairs to meet my friend. I hoped she’d had better luck than me finding a place.
I rushed to catch the Broadway uptown bus, and by the time I got off at 86th Street, Marvin Silverman had completely left my mind.
I was meeting Nina at Professors, a typical uptown neighborhood bar. People dressed down and the prices climbed up. Its inhabitants were considered native New Yorkers. That meant they’d lived in the city for at least one year, but not necessarily in the same apartment.
“Any luck?” I asked Nina. I knew what her answer would be by her tired look and the pile of cigarette butts in the ashtray. Even her curly red hair looked droopy.
We’d been friends since eighth grade and had managed to stay in touch throughout college.
We’d rebelled in different ways. Nina was very serious when it came to politics. She sometimes asked her friends, “Are you political?” If someone answered, “a little,” she would ask, “Can you be a little pregnant?”
Nina also had a fun side and we laughed a lot. Like the time we were hanging out in my bedroom at my parents’ house and my father knocked on the door. He walked in wearing my mother’s blue and green paisley tent dress. It was 1968, and bell bottoms were all the rage. “Do you see how silly you girls look wearing bell bottoms?” Dad asked with a straight face. “Just as silly as I look wearing a dress.” Nina and I were hysterical. In a couple of years Dad would change his mind about bell bottoms and the Vietnam War.
Three rounds of sodas and one heaping ashtray later, Nina and I headed out of the bar to Port Authority. Sitting on the downtown bus, I remembered meeting Marvin.
“I met a really nice guy today,” I informed Nina.
“Oh yeah?” she kidded me.
No really, he let me use his apartment to make phone calls.”
“I bet that’s not all you made.”
“You have a dirty mind! Look! He gave me his card and asked me to call him the next time I was in the city.” I started digging around in my bag. “I can’t find it!” I exclaimed hopelessly, looking up at Nina sitting by the window, skeptically arching her eyebrow at me. “Hey, wait! This is his street! Let’s get off the bus—let me run up and say hi.”
I recognized the brownstone and ran up the steps leaving Nina waiting on the sidewalk. Why was I even bothering? Was I flattered that an older man had shown interest in me?
When I rang the doorbell Marvin opened the door wearing a half-buttoned shirt and a confused look on his face.
“Gee Marv, I didn’t mean to bother you. It’s just that I lost your card and I was passing by and—”
“Yeah kid, that’s okay. I just can’t talk to you now. Give me your number. I’ll call you up sometime.”
I scribbled my number on the back of a matchbook and caught up with Nina who was already halfway down the block.
“I’ll probably never hear from him again. He wasn’t my type anyway, too straight,” I told her but I secretly wanted him to call.
It seemed like Nina and I were spending most of our time in Port Authority. It was the dirtiest gate to the city, a haven for every degenerate and vagabond. I took a deep breath and boarded the Suburban Transit bus back to the ’burbs.
I was twenty-two, had dropped out of college, moved to California, run out of money, and moved back home. I hated riding on any kind of public transportation. It was sort of a phobia. I had a lot of fears, like being stuck in an elevator—or worse, a subway. Sometimes I had trouble eating in restaurants. But nothing was going to stop me from living in the city. My one goal was to make it in the music business and New York was the place to be. I was taking my music seriously, practicing my songs every day on the French Provincial piano at my parents’ house that I’d unfortunately branded with a cigarette burn. Carole King, Laura Nyro and Carly Simon were my idols and I was determined to follow in their footsteps.
My mother, a junior high social studies teacher, described my life as “the Perils of Pauline.” My father, a self-made business man, just thought I was lazy. Both were relieved I hadn’t found an apartment in the city. They were waiting for the day when I would wake up and come to my senses. They told the relatives that I was finding myself and wondered when they had lost me.
They’d told me many times that I was a follower and that my friends were the reason I’d dropped out of college, wore bell bottoms, smoked cigarettes, and wanted to live in the city with no cross-ventilation in the middle of July.
“Linda, telephone!” I heard my mother shout the next evening. She put her hand over the receiver and whispered, “It’s a boy.”
“Linda, this is Marvin. You know, we met on the corner of 72nd Street?”
“You really did call! I thought you were just giving me the brush.”
“I wouldn’t do that—I’m a lawyer, remember? We always keep our word. What are you doing Friday night? You want to go to dinner and a movie?”
“Are you asking me on a date?”
“No. I don’t go on them anymore. I’m being spontaneous.”
“Far out, Marvin! I’ll be there.”
He was my first older man and I was ready for him! I’d always been drawn to stories like My Fair Lady, Pygmalion and Gigi, where older, more worldly men influenced younger, naïve women and then they fell in love.
Getting ready to go to Marvin’s, I looked in the mirror and ran my fingers through my hair. Nearly black, contrasting sharply with my light, freckled skin, it was long and wavy in winter, but frizzy in summer. I’d given up trying to straighten it and just let it go à la Janis Joplin. I’d read that she ironed her hair on an ironing board. Since I rarely ironed my clothes, I decided that wasn’t an option.
It was liberating not to worry about my hair, and so was not wearing a bra. Liberated women everywhere were giving them up and burning them. Besides, I was thin enough to get away with it. The Indian print tops I wore with my jeans looked fine without one. I felt perky, sexy and hip.
I checked myself out in the mirror. My lips were small and I never bothered with lipstick. I picked up my eyeliner, the one makeup I always used, and underlined my hazel-green eyes with black pencil on the lower lids. One of my college boyfriends had described my eyes as sideways exclamation points. Of course, he was stoned at the time.
“This is the first apartment in New York that hasn’t given me claustrophobia,” I announced, sitting on the couch at Marvin’s. The kitchen was small, but the living room was large with high ceilings and two bay windows. I hadn’t seen the bedroom yet. The telescope was still pointed towards the undraped windows. I had to ask.
“What’s with the telescope, Marv? Are you into astronomy?”
“You might say I’m into sociology. I like to check out the people in the apartments across the street. Everyone does it in New York.”
“Oh. So you let them study you, too? There’s no drapes on your windows.”
“Sometimes. It doesn’t matter. No one knows who I am.”
I tried to hide my nervousness. I was in a strange man’s apartment in the middle of a strange city. I reminded myself it was nothing compared to all the hitchhiking I’d done in California a couple of years ago, back when the Manson murderers were still on the loose.
“I really should be a good boy tonight, Linda.”
“What do you mean, Marv? I thought you were a man.”
“I should take you out to dinner and to a movie.” And then he kissed me.
What happened next was every girl’s fantasy from the first time she practices kissing her favorite movie star’s face in her pillow. The faces change and the movie stars become rock stars and radicals. But the plot is the same and every Gothic novel describes the hero and heroine’s all-consuming passion.
The speed of our attraction felt like two magnets rushing without question to be one. Of course, in Gothic novels, it always took at least half an hour to get your clothes off, thanks to laced corsets and rows and rows of buttons. But it was 1971 and women went braless, men wore no jockey shorts under their jeans, and clothes were meant to be thrown on the floor.
“Oh, Marvin!” I screamed and Marvin exploded in a fit of laughter. We were positioned like two trapeze artists getting ready for the final jump. The bed was not very high but the risk of falling was tremendous.
“Why did you start laughing? I was almost there!” I couldn’t decide if I was hurt or angry.
“That voice! It was so loud it startled me.”
“I told you I was a singer. And I always bring my voice to bed with me.”
But this was no time for talking. We both remounted our imaginary trapezes, took a few low rides, and started pumping.
I could hardly wait to tell my friends all about it. “Nina, it was the best! And he couldn’t believe I’d been celibate for four whole months! I think it did something to his male ego. He’s definitely not my type, but he’s got money and he wants to show me around the city—if we ever get out of bed!”
We were hanging out at our friend Stevie’s college apartment in New Brunswick. Stevie wasn’t her real name, Marilyn was. I never asked her why she picked Stevie for a nickname instead of Mary, but there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about her. Like why she called her latest painting “Early Morning Blues Sculpture.” I never could figure out why she had stopped seeing her cute astrologer boyfriend, the one who told me that I had divine discontent, to be with a married, forty-something professor. Maybe she liked the challenge, or maybe she’d just listened to too much Janis Joplin. With her platinum blonde Marilyn Monroe haircut and blue-violet eyes, she certainly didn’t have any problem attracting men.
I stopped to take a gulp of coffee. This wasn’t the first time I’d sat at Stevie’s old Formica kitchen table swapping stories about the night before. Instead of housewives trading recipes, we were independent women sharing our sex lives. Women our age all over the country were holding their own roundtable discussions. The men we slept with would have blushed if they knew how thoroughly we scrutinized their sex techniques, no pubic hair left unturned.
After a couple of months, our “morning after” coffee klatches started to influence the “night before.” Nina confessed that the last time she’d had sex with her boyfriend she thought she’d heard the sound of coffee percolating. At first, she thought Louie, an ex-acid rock guitarist who had found peace by playing country music, had the hiccups. Then she realized her mind had started editing, rewriting a blow-by-blow account of the evening’s events. She vividly reenacted how he’d screamed her name at the crucial moment, then afterwards denied it, blaming his questionable utterance on a sore throat from smoking too much pot. He said two people had to be very serious before they called out to each other in bed and he was positive that married people stopped using each other’s names after the first year of marriage. By then they were too busy fantasizing.
“He was just getting scared,” I told Nina. I secretly envied her ability to hold on to men for longer than six months. My record was three months, but who was counting?
Marvin and I were meeting spontaneously on a regular basis. We went to the movies and tried going out to dinner, but I was having trouble eating in restaurants again. Most of the time, we ordered Chinese take-out.
Sex was still exciting and he had gotten used to the sound of my orgasm voice. Sometimes we would stand nude together in front of the living room windows and give the neighbors a show. Then one night we were sitting on the couch and he popped the question.
“I’m thinking of taking a few months off and going to California. Do you want to sublet my apartment?”
“Making the pilgrimage to paradise? If I’d found a job there, I would still be in Berkeley.”
“So, do you want the apartment or not?”
Nina and I still hadn’t found a place and this was the answer to our prayers. I couldn’t wait to tell her the good news.
“Oh, and Linda—you know your eating thing? I have a friend who could help you with that.” Marvin offered. “He’s the best shrink in the city. Here’s his number. When I get back from California, I’m taking you out to dinner.”
“Thanks Marv. Maybe I’ll give him a call.”
My father packed up his station wagon with Nina’s and my things and reluctantly drove us into the city. It was a sweltering hot Sunday in July and no one felt like talking. I knew my father wasn’t happy about the move, but I was twenty-two and desperately seeking my independence. I’d saved enough money working temp jobs to pay my share of the rent for the next few months.
By then, I hoped to have a job in the city. Even if I had to work a day job in an office
We miraculously found a parking spot right in front of the apartment. Everything was going smoothly until I handed my father the key to the front door of the building.
“Are you sure this is the right key, Linda? It won’t open.” Before I could answer, he yelled, “It’s stuck! I think I broke the key!”
I didn’t need a shrink to figure out the symbolism of my father breaking the key that opened the door to my freedom.
I went down to the corner phone booth and called Marvin. He was staying with his mother in Jersey until he left for California the next day. He said he could get to us in under an hour.
When he arrived, Marvin was a perfect gentleman. He managed to get the old key out of the lock and used his spare to unlock the door. He even helped bring some of our things up to the apartment. Before he left, he told my father in his most serious lawyer voice, “I want you to know, Mr. Marks, that I was never ‘romantically involved’ with your daughter” (code for “I never slept with her”). “We just went out a few times.”
My father grabbed his hand and thanked him.
Just before my father left, he handed me an envelope. Inside was a hundred dollars in cash and a handwritten note:
Boys must play and grow
Before they fall in love and know
The beauty and the longing theme
Of a girl’s aching heart and dream.
So, my dear Linda, until then,
Until boys learn to be men,
Please accept a father’s love
That’s as old as you and a true love.
Carol co-founded and directed The New Jersey Garden State Opry and New Jersey Children’s Opry, where she wrote and performed original songs. She holds a degree in Early Childhood Education and Music from Rutgers, and taught piano and voice for many years.
The Book Junkie Reads . . .Reckless Dreams Interview with . . . Carol Selick . . .
Thank you, Carol Selick, for sharing your time and response with all of us here on the TBJR…. blogspot.