Gina's graduate student stipend was not really enough to live on. Certainly not well.
Gina's graduate student stipend was not really enough to live on. Certainly not well.
Gina's graduate student stipend was not really enough to live on. Certainly not well.
As with cooking, I did not learn to do laundry from my mother. She had household help for much of her life. I learned to iron (a task she NEVER learned) in the costume shop at camp in 1967. That was useful. We had a service that washed the sheets, but we had to make our beds and we had inspection every day. We did “hospital corners” for a neat look, so a quarter could bounce off the bed (if this sounds like the military, camp was very regulated in those days). I still make the beds that way, and though in Newton my cleaning lady does the sheets and towels, I do them in our Vineyard house, including after company leaves (that is true in Newton as well; I only have cleaning help every other week and don’t like a messy house).
I first did my own laundry when I went to college in 1970 – as my mother-in-law would say, “a college load”, mostly mixed, but at least I knew to separate the darks from the light. There were machines in the basement of our dorms, but we needed quarters to use them. That was true of every building I lived in until we owned a condo or house, so I’ve never used a laundromat and had the convenience of being inside my own building, though with more units than machines, there was often a wait or someone would remove your clothing if you didn’t get down there fast enough and you’d find your wet stuff in a heap somewhere.
These days, with all the athletic fabrics, where the colors don’t run and then dry very quickly, I have trouble getting a dark load together, and trouble convincing my husband that dark sweatshirts and jeans still need to be washed separately. But I really don’t want my undergarments to get tinted blue. It is an ongoing struggle; (no, he does not do laundry unless he is by himself on the Vineyard for a few weeks. Then he really does a college load).
It can take a while to move laundry from the washer to the dryer, as some fabrics don’t go in the dryer and need to hang dry. Those I need to ferret out as I move things into the dryer. Dan wears a lot of Icebreaker athletic gear, which is made of merino wool and cannot go through the dryer. We try to have a system where he leaves it hanging on the side of the hamper separately, but does not always remember and I don’t always notice when I start the load, so it sometimes goes through the dryer and shrinks a bit…oh well! Can’t get it right 100% of the time. But I give it the old college try!
Let me begin by saying that I have not widely shared this story; perhaps I’ve told a handful of people, total, in my entire life. So it is with more than a little trepidation that I share this here, but it fits the prompt perfectly. I thought long and hard before I chose to write about it. I remind every reader that I was a naïve 18 year old at the time, feeling her way in the world; just dumb enough to think she knew much, when in fact, she knew very little. Be kind in your judgement as you read this.
I was assistant stage-managing my first show at Brandeis, a Main Stage show of two new one act plays, with my junior friend Cindy, who was also a mentor to me. I called the first show from the lectern off stage left; “The 50 Year Game of Gin Rummy”, a two-person cast, a “lights-up, lights-down show”, simple to call. The other play, “Nocturnes” was very complicated with tons of cues. Cindy called that one from the booth high in the back of the theater. We each were on headsets and could hear one another, as could the people running the lights.
May 1, 1971 was the tech rehearsal, when all the lights, with their levels and exact placements are set, cues are run, any wagons that have to come on or off the stage (this was long before anything was electricified) were pulled. Every cue was set and accounted for. It makes for a long day. The rehearsal ended around 11pm and I was exhausted.
We call Spingold Theater the “cupcake building”. It is a round building with three theaters, rehearsal space and dance studio in the center of the circle; classroom, costume shop, green room, dressing rooms on the floor below and scene shop on the lowest level (accessible from the lowest, parking lot level, with a large elevator to bring the set pieces up to the theaters). Since the theaters are back to back, it is not a thoughtful design, as the noise from one production (if it is loud) bleeds through the walls to the other theater back in the day when there might be multiple shows running at once (due to budget constraints, this no longer happens). But running around the circumference of the theater to find where you want to be, or how to get to the lower level can be confusing to the uninitiated. There is a narrow corridor from stage left out to the outside perimeter, but you need to know THAT door, and THAT corridor, otherwise, you will get lost.
And that is how I found myself, quite late that night, face to face with a curly-headed stranger. Like Alice through the Looking Glass, he had opened an unmarked door and found himself in a narrow corridor that led him backstage. He had no idea how to get out. I was tired and cranky. I remember that I wore a too-tight Harvard tee-shirt may parents bought me when they were in the area a few years back for my brother’s 1969 Brandeis graduation (of course I didn’t wear a bra. This was 1971, after all), and brown, hip-hugger jeans. Nothing out of the ordinary for a long day at the theater. He wore sandals, blue jeans and a suede, fringed jacket, sort of hip-looking for the time. We passed in very close proximity in that tight corridor. He stopped to ask me a few questions, but started on a sour note: “How old are you?” (Fighting words for me.) My rejoinder, in one breath: “I’m 18, I know I look like I’m 12, but I’m 18.” Startled, he asked, “What do you say when people tell you that you look like you are 12?” ” I tell them to go fuck themselves.”
OK, we were not off to a “great” start. His eyes grew wide. I didn’t care. I was SO tired of that question. Clearly, I had piqued his curiosity, which honestly, was not my intention, though I can see how my response was provocative (but that is how I spoke at that time in my life – I did like the shock value). He regrouped, then asked if I could show him how to get out of the theater. I told him I had to gather my things, but would be ready in a few moments, so we were off. It wasn’t difficult if you knew how to do it. He chatted with me on the way out. What did I want to do, etc. I told him I was a Theater major, hoping to be an actress.
He had a little red sports car parked in front of the theater. One didn’t see many of those on campus. He enjoyed seeing my reaction. Then he pulled out his business card: it was embossed in gold and red lettering and said his name: Jason Warner, and had the name of a well-known studio: Warner Brothers Seven Arts. I was sort of dumb-founded. If one could see a thought-bubble over my head, the words would read, “I’ve been discovered”. But I said nothing to him. He said, “That’s right, I’m Jack Warner’s son. I’m in the Boston area visiting friends and think you have potential”.
I carried that card in my wallet until I was pickpocketed while visiting a friend in New York City my senior year. But I remember it clearly. While trying to find the logo for this story, this is the logo that I found for the company at that time:
I assure you, the logo on his card did not resemble this. Too bad we didn’t have smart phones in 1971. Then I could have googled him and his phony logo. But I couldn’t 52 years ago.
What did he mean by his interest? He didn’t know anything about me, he hadn’t seen me do a scene, heard me do a monologue. WTF? He invited me into his little sports car. I hesitated. He could see I didn’t trust him and he was right. I sat in the passenger seat with the door open, my leg out the door, my foot on the ground. He wanted to get to know me better, but understood my hesitancy. “What do I know about you, besides that business card?” “Is there someplace on campus we can go and talk? I want to talk about your career?”
Oh, this guy was good; he kept this young girl intrigued.
My mind raced. Where would I be safe at this hour? What was open with people around. The Student Union was brand new, having just opened the previous November. It was open 24 hours a day and always had a guard at the front desk. I thought we could go to the front lounge there, where the guard could keep a watchful eye on me, so I suggested we drive around the campus to the Union and I got fully into his car. My heard sank as he drove right past the Union and parked in a dimly lit little lot behind the library, out of the way. Now I was on high-alert. But his banter wasn’t threatening and I parried each comment. I tried to stay calm and present.
He told me he could get me on “Laugh-In” right away (it was a hugely successful show at the time). I brushed that offer away. “I’m an artist, I don’t want to be on some vulgar TV show!” That flummoxed him. He’d just offered me the moon (which I don’t think was even produced by Warner Bros. but who knew that in the moment). We continued to talk about my ambitions (such as they were). Somehow, I mentioned that I had posed nude for a senior studio art major. He said he’d pay a lot of money for that painting. I told him it wasn’t for sale. It was hanging in a gallery on campus, part of the student’s senior portfolio (and the pose was twisting and back-facing, showing little of me besides legs, back and shoulders). It must have been close to midnight when he told me had blue balls. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t have much experience in the world and didn’t want to increase mine now! He unzipped his fly and proceeded to whack off in front of me. I was horrified, but tried to stay calm. When he finished, he gave me a kiss and a snuggle, then asked if he could see me to my dorm.
Dear lord, I thought, how am I going to get rid of this guy? My roommate hadn’t slept in our dorm in days, but I fervently prayed that tonight would be different. We drove the short distance around the perimeter road to my dorm, DeRoy, and he followed me up the stairs to the second floor. And there, talking on the pay phone at the end of the hall, was Carol my roommate. I don’t think I’ve been so happy to see anyone in my life!
“There she is! That’s my roommate. Good night, Jason”. He kissed me goodnight on the cheek and walked out of life. I never heard from him again. Perhaps he figured that I wasn’t as easy a mark as he’d hoped. I gave as good as I got.
My senior year, Dan and I had bought a black and white TV for my dorm room, as we were all but living together (though he graduated the previous year). I had the news on before dinner one night and was half paying attention when an ominous story came on. A young woman in Cambridge had been raped. She’d given a description of her attacker to the police and the sketch from the police artist was shown on TV: a curly-haired white guy with a round face and even features. He looked suspiciously like Jason Warner. I started trembling. I thought for a moment, then picked up the phone in the suite and called the Cambridge police.
“I just saw the story on TV of the Cambridge woman who was raped, along with the police sketch of the rapist. I had a run-in with a man who looked very similar about three years ago out in Waltham on the Brandeis campus. I could identify him in a heartbeat.” The person on the other end of the line asked if I’d been sexually assaulted. I replied that I hadn’t, but had just barely escaped. He had played with himself in front of me and perhaps he was escalating. The person thanked me, but said it was not likely to be the same person after so many years (having watched years of the “Law and Order” franchises, I now beg to differ, but never mind). So that was it and I forever closed the door on “Jason Warner” until choosing to share this pervert with you now, dear reader.
Little songs would run on endless loops as I concentrated. It was a sort of fuzzy daydream state, where only vague thoughts of work or the future hovered at the periphery, kept at bay by my mantra of the day. “Doing the garden, pulling the weeks, who could ask for more?”
I used to joke that I had motor oil running through my veins. Thanks to my great uncle: Uncle Meyer, as I’ve written about before, most of the Sarasons came north from St. Louis to Detroit to work for GM (my father worked in Flint for the Chevrolet Division starting in 1937, but after WWII, did not return to GM. With a partner, he got a used car lot, which became a DeSoto Dealership, then a Chrysler Dealership. He is the man in the lower right-hand corner of the Featured photo, with pith helmet in waving hand). He had a cousin who owned a Buick Dealership, another with a Cadillac Dealership. One brother was comptroller of GM, another worked at a Pontiac Dealership. On the other side of the family was a Ford Dealership. Motown and all that it entails, is a huge part of who I am.
Woodlawn Cemetery, final resting place of Aretha Franklin, her father, and Rosa Parks, is one block from the little house where I lived until I was almost 11 years old. We moved because the tax that funded the schools was voted down. The school system was already overcrowded and soon it would fall apart altogether. We built a house in a near-suburb, right by the Detroit Zoo and moved on October 1, 1963. Until we moved, I attended an integrated school, with an excellent curriculum, far ahead of what I moved to. I skipped a half grade when I moved (complicated system in Detroit), so was young, but had no problem keeping up academically, only with the social life.
The Motown sound became big as I hit my adolescent years and that was what we listened to (also British invasion music – we loved the Beatles too – but we were proud of our homegrown music) and we learned to dance to that music. My mother wanted to be a professional dancer and I picked up my natural rhythm from her, as we used to dance together when I was a tiny little thing.
As teens, we practiced the dance moves of the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes and loved Marvin Gaye, Aretha, Tina Turner and all the other soul and rock singers coming out of our home town. We all could rock out to them, or do smooth moves at our school dances. My dance moves were not unusual. We all did them. I got a lot of attention for my dancing style when I came east to college, but back home, I was just one of the pack. Learning to dance the way that the Motown singers did was just what I knew how to do. No biggie.
My new school system was lily white, but I spent my early years seeing integration at work. I also grew up in a liberal, Jewish household, where the ideals of the New Deal were firmly embedded, my family was committed to charitable work, I attended Sunday School at our liberal, Reform Temple starting in kindergarten, going through 12th grade. Being Jewish was as important to me as coming from Detroit. My father was on our temple board; my mother volunteered for Hadassah, the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, National Council of Jewish Women.
All of these influences turned me into the person I am today; a committed liberal, who seeks to “heal the world” (one of the tenets of Judaism), who still loves Motown music and can out-dance most people, though I’d love to learn the new dance moves too. They look pretty cool, even to this 71 year old.
Two years ago, my grandniece Eliza Judy was born. I haven’t met her yet, but the postings show a smiling and adorable little girl, hugging her stuffed animals, running with toddler steps, dressed in a cute Halloween costume, laughing when parents or grandparents interact with her. She is healthy, well-off and well-loved, bright and radiating hope for the future.
We were recently on a deluxe cruise around Italy and Croatia with some well-heeled travelers on a beautiful ship, 600 passengers in all. We certainly didn’t meet most of them, so could make up stories about the lives of people we only saw in passing. Several evenings we had to wear formal attire. On almost every other night, men had to wear jackets, women wore cocktail attire. During the day, we could wear anything. One man, whose cabin was on the same level of the ship as ours, I frequently saw in workout clothing and on the two days that I used the gym, he was there, working hard with heavy weights, doing crunches, and an aerobic workout. I’d peg him to be in his 60s, with a full head of silver hair, but who knows. He looked good.
Back in Dan’s marathon running days, he worked out with the same group of guys, all members of the Greater Boston Track Club. One used to say sarcastically of anyone who was NOT is shape, “yeah, he’s got his number”, referring to a qualified number to run that year’s Boston Marathon (in those days, one had to run a sub 2:50 marathon to qualify for Boston; there were no charity runners). The phrase came into being after our friend saw the photo I took at the finish line of the 1980 Marathon. It was a hot day and Dan did not finish the race that year. He “hit the wall” at Heartbreak Hill and crashed at a friend’s house, who lived right there on Commonwealth Ave at the time (ironically, we now live around the corner). I waited at the finish line (we then lived in the Back Bay), snapping away and got a photo of the first woman across – the infamous Rosie Ruiz, who hopped on the subway, hoping to be in the middle of the pack, but accidentally WON the race, so I took her photo as she came across the line.
Our friend took one look at the cellulite on her legs and said, “yeah, she’s got HER number”, and a slogan was coined. Dan and I still use it, as we did when we saw that buff man, heading to the gym every day on our cruise, but not meant sarcastically. We really meant it when we saw him.
(A college friend excelled at sussing out cosmetic surgery and gave me pointers. I do not mean to be harsh or catty with some of the following comments; just making honest observations – some women do “refreshes” and look great. Some women either go too far or their doctors are not skilled and they do NOT look great. I can usually tell the difference.)
Toward the end of the cruise, we sat near a group that included the buff man and his wife, a blonde creature who’d had too much plastic surgery, wore her cocktail attire with a leather studded jacket draped over. I began to imagine they were from Texas and he wore a Stetson when not cruising (I heard a slight drawl from him, not enough to be from Alabama or Mississippi, which is why I dreamed he was an oil man from Texas; purely speculative, of course).
I pointed out another woman that same evening (a good one for people-gazing – we had a great view of the dining room). She had cheek implants and blown up lips. How could I tell about the cheeks implants, Dan inquired? I just knew (thanks to my college friend). They certainly did not look normal. Her husband looked much older. That might have been a mirage. I have a friend, someone I’ve known since my college years, who is very involved in the art world in Boston and Palm Beach. He made a sardonic comment to me once about the women in Palm Beach. He said there are so many “smiling” faces (faces pulled too tight by plastic surgery) who are not happy. I felt like I saw some of those aboard this ship. Some were immaculately groomed and dressed in beautiful gowns. They were not on any excursions we went on. Perhaps they luxuriated all day at the spa.
The ship had lovely amenities. I took a “Pilates” class one afternoon. It was unlike anything I’ve taken and I’ve taken a lot of classes over 14 or so years. This was a series of squats and lunges, using weighted hand-held balls, then some shoulder bridges and push-ups. OK, we’d call that some form of Pilates fusion here in the States. The teacher was a young German man. At least I got a body workout. The other woman in class was German, dressed in leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. She spoke perfect English and informed us she had a shoulder injury, so couldn’t actually do much in the class, but I admired her persistence. She wasn’t familiar with this form of Pilates either.
After class, Kamil, our instructor, asked what shows we’d seen (at 9:30pm there was always some sort of entertainment). She liked the Motown review we’d seen the night before. She wasn’t happy when I gave the Vegas-style dancers in their sequins, doing ballet moves, a thumbs down. I informed her that I come from Motown, started to sing “I’ve Heard it Through the Grapevine” and dance properly to it, as any true Detroiter would. The instructor was impressed. She just sniffed and said she enjoyed the show as it was performed. This woman knew nothing of real Motown. I thought she might be around my age, perhaps a bit younger, hard to tell. Foreigners don’t know how to dance like we did, growing up in Detroit. They just want a show. But hearing the show singer with a foreign accent perform “Proud Mary”…well, no one can rival Tina. Or Aretha, as that same woman tried to sing “Respect”. I can’t imagine anyone rivaling those originals, or ever coming close.
The word “prejudice” derives from the Latin word “Praejudicim” which means “prior judgment”, or a preconceived opinion not based on actual experience. The following is an example of “post-judgment” based on actual experience.
“The Bronx? No thonx!” wrote the poet Ogden Nash.
As a kid growing up in the Bronx I didn’t get it, I didn’t realize my borough had a bad rap, and I certainly wouldn’t have understood why. The Bronx was my home and I loved it. (See Parkchester, Celebrate Me Home)
I even went to college in the Bronx, but then grad school and marriage took me away. But although I was then living elsewhere, I spent four decades of my working life commuting back as a public educator in Bronx high schools.
And although there may be some degree of rapport between all folks who discover they’re from the same home town, I contend there’s a special bond among us Bronxites. We seem to share an unpretentiousness, a true grit, and of course that Bronx accent.
And we all know Ogden Nash was dead wrong!
– Dana Susan Lehrman
Jackie Robinson was subject to unimaginable prejudice. Teams would bring up their Southern minor leaguers to taunt and insult him.
One day during a game in Cincy, a border town to the former slave state of Kentucky, Robinson’s Dodger teammate, Louisville native Pee Wee Reese walked over to first base and put his arm around Jackie.
Quite a gesture for a Southern gentleman, and that day the haters shut up.
The writer with unnamed Retro admin.
– Danny L, guest writer