(Margie wrote her mother often after she moved from Philadelphia to New York City in the 1950s. Her letters, artlessly exquisite, read like the synopsis of a novel: the halcyon years between college and marriage. )
The Apartment on 31st Street:
“Well, we moved. And I will never forget it. The good Lord and He alone is responsible for our success. He provided two things that we couldn’t have done without and that we didn’t arrange to get for ourselves. The first was Harvey, the superintendent of our new apartment, a huge, kindly gent who loves flowers and plants and is a sometimes moving man. He picked up Joan’s desk and carried it upstairs on one shoulder. The second gift from heaven was a hung-over Mexican named Carlos who arrived with Annie’s Scott on Saturday morning driving a really big station wagon. He was very large, but so hung-over that all he could do was drive and moan and squint through his dark glasses, but without his car we could never and moved the sofa.
After hard work on the part of Peter, Scott, Harvey and nous trois on Friday night and Saturday we finally had all the furniture in. It couldn’t have looked worse. The men hated us for getting them into this mess, we hated each other for imagined slacking and weird ideas about where furniture should be placed, and everyone hated the apartment which was MUCH too small and painted all the wrong color. Then at about 4 o’clock, in dropped the Atkinsons and all sat around drinking beer. The guests seemed really and truly to think the place was lovely (and the afternoon sun was streaming through the windows, etc, etc) so people began to perk up. And then IT happened.
Crissy, sitting in the window, happened to look down into the garden and saw what she thought was Armageddon. Great flames were shooting up from a tarp and painting drop cloth Harvey had left on the garden furniture below.. Someone had thrown a match out the window and whammo. After a good bit of aimless hysterical rushing about and bumping into each other, we discovered there was no way to get into the garden to put the thing out. Nobody home downstairs. Harvey disappeared. Joan called the fire department and Peter set off in search of Harvey. I was sunk. I knew the firemen would burst through the doctor’s office, breaking doors etc, and by then the fire would have burned itself out. How much damage would we have to pay?
Well, the firemen (all very young and Celtic) arrived in no time flat along with Harvey who’d been dug out of the corner bar. Also arrived three policemen (more Gallic, but most courteous and considerate). And everyone behaved beautifully.
The firemen, admitted by Harvey to the garden, decided to use materials at hand – blue and white ornate flower pots, water from the little pond (“Geez there’s goldfish in this water.) and the garden hose. By this time heads were sticking out of all the windows up and down the block, and everyone was laughing (some of them a bit uncontrollably) at the sight of burly firemen in helmets and great rubber coats, daintily carrying water in those ridiculous pots and dumping it on the remains of the garden furniture . The firemen just grinned happily at us and waved goodby, while the policemen tried to figure how to report it to bring the least trouble to everyone. We are now rather well known on 31st street.
P.S. We don’t have to pay for anything but two slings for the modern chairs, and that not until next Spring. The landlord has been a peach about the whole thing.
The next day, I just walked out on the mess (Joan hasn’t moved in yet) and went with Peter to the Great Danbury Fair. (No, we didn’t go to Gettysburg.) And by now everything has fallen in place and we love our home, we really do, although Joan and Annie are at each other’s throats over the matter of Japanese prints for the living room. Come and see us soon.”
First Months in NYC
“All of a sudden the big city lived up to all the tales I’ve heard. Wednesday at lunch I found my way to the part of Bryant Park (behind library) where they give recorded concerts every noon. There, under big trees, sitting on benches, steps and walls, were about a thousand people of every description. Most of them were from the Bronx but there was a generous sprinkling of Ivy-Leaguers and assorted tramps and drags. The audience is better than the music which squawks through what Paul would call a most inferior sound system. Still, it’s a most pleasant way to spend lunch hour.
Sunday Ed and I planned to go to the beach, but it rained and the muffler had fallen off his car.Instead we had lunch at some posh place on Fifth Avenue, went to a French movie, and then back to the apartment to listen to Iolanthe.
Even without the muffler (therefore sounding like a hotrod) Ed’s car makes me feel like something out of a New Yorker ad, and to go skimming down Fifth Avenue in such a chic conveyance was almost to much for me. Lunch was delicious and I wish I could duplicate it at home. Have you ever heard of green noodles?
They’re some kind of Italian noodles,, not tubular but flat and very skinny, that have been cooked with spinach so that they’re a repulsive green and have a spinacy taste. Over this you have garlic and butter and onion sauce and oooh yummy, but you taste the garlic all day. Anyway the day was perfect and Ed and I seem to be buddies.
Wednesday night Norman and I went out to dinner and to Saratoga (the musical based on Saratoga Trunk). His rich(est) aunt had given him the tickets. It was very lavish indeed, with Cecil Beaton sets; in fact so luxurious was it that you paid little attention to the story and the music which weren’t much anyway.”
Margie the Literary Agent
(Margie writes to her mother about a prospective client, Joan Bennett, the movie star):
“And I have spoken to Joan Bennett! She is, to an extent, a client of ours. Unfortunately she is living with an actor named Donald Cook and they do everything together. But, since they are not married, we underlings must pretend that they aren’t living together (Herb is a friend, so he can know), which necessitates all sorts of elaborate circumlocutions which fool nobody – but offend nobody either. Ah me, what would Ma (Margie’s grandmother) have thought? Or even Daddy? I sometimes wonder if, could he have known what his Petunia (what he called Margie) was exposed to, he wouldn’t have felt obliged to load his revolver and fare forth to defend my innocence. How nice that you turned our so worldly.”
Dissension in the Apartment
“Apartment life is pretty stressed these days and the villain is Joan who is just bound and determined to find fault with Crissy. I am go-between and peacemaker and will probably end up hated by all. Chief bone of contention is, of all things, Bill (Crissy’s boyfriend) Atkinson’s laugh. It’s loud, I must confess, a little grating and can be heard distinctly from living room to bedroom. Joan has taken to going to bed early and wants quiet after 10:30PM. She’s been behaving very badly about it indeed – I’m surprised at her – so Crissy isn’t as cooperative as she might otherwise be. This morning I managed to secure a temporary cessation of hostilities by appealing to Joan’s pity for me as being in the middle, but oh dear.
And last night somebody didn’t clean the bath tub. Believe it or not, there are young girls of good family who are sloppier than your daughter. Much!”
A New Room Mate
“Well, I think we have a new roommate, and while I’m not overjoyed with her, I’m sure she’ll do and probably liven up the place. Her name is Annie (yes, Annie) Steinert; she is a Boston post-deb, very intelligent and well informed, although she went only to a junior college. She’s just moved from Boston to NY where she has a job in a public relations firm. What I don’t like about her is a kind teen-agish boy craziness and an affected manner of speaking (she’s been heard to use “whoopsie-poo” and “not ruddy likely” in the same paragraph – she always talks in paragraphs) which is too bad because she’s warm, likable and would be very entertaining without trying so hard.. She has a signed Picasso etching.”
Gloria Swope, Classmate
“Some night this week I’m going to see Gloria Swope, who lives in a luxurious apartment, has a high-powered job, and by her own admission spends the day and most of the night hoping someone will ask her out. This seems ridiculous to me, especially for someone with Gloria’s potential. Still, I’m looking forward to seeing her; we had a long gossipy talk on the phone and I think we can pick up right where we left off at Swarthmore.”
A Suitable Attachment?
“I think, also, that I have arranged for a ride to Philadelphia with Joe’s attractive friend. The problem now is to avoid Joe and have this paragon to myself for two and a half hours.”