my first few days in the City

 

I was hired by the New York Friends Group at a salary of eighty dollars a week. My job title was Workroom Supervisor. I sorted mail, ran the mimeograph machine, kept office supplies intact, was messenger and delivery boy.

I had stayed overnight in Westchester with a college roommate and his girlfriend. They were visiting her family there. They drove me to Manhattan on my first day of work. It was April 1969.

My roommate said, while we on the FDR Drive, do you have any cash? Not much, I answered. He was a rich kid with a fancy sports car and was generous. He pulled $150 out of his wallet – it seemed like a large sum to me – and handed it to me.

I had almost no money and had made no arrangements for an apartment or room. I wouldn’t be paid for a couple of weeks.

Someone – an older woman, a longtime New Yorker — at the office kindly suggested a YMCA – I think on 34th Street – to me. I don’t know why I didn’t check it out. I believe it was because it kind of sounded “institutional” and the thought of staying there did not appeal to me.

The office manager at 218 East 18th Street, who was living with his girlfriend – she worked at the same place – and his girlfriend Betsy put me up overnight on my first night at their apartment in Greenwich Village. Where his wife was or the state of his marriage I didn’t know. In the morning, his two sons – the typical precocious city kids – were at the breakfast table.

Betsy, the girlfriend, and I took a cab to the office, which was on East 18th Street. I guess the office manager reported to work either earlier or later. Betsy was in her late twenties. She wore sunglasses in New York fashion and kept saying to the taxi driver, “DRIVER, turn here. DRIVER …” Imperiously. I was sort of put off by it.

For several days, I slept on the office floor. As office boy, I had been given a key to the building. (I think I had the responsibility of opening up in the morning.) I would pretend to go home at 5 p.m., would do a reversal and come back; unlock the door, go to one of the upper floors (my “office” was in the basement), and sleep on a rug. It was relatively conformable.

The only thing I knew how, practically, to cook was rice. Boiled. I bought a box of rice at Bohack supermarket on Third Avenue. I would cook it in a kitchen that was on one of the upper floors. I had probably bought soy sauce too.

Over the weekend, probably, I would go out and explore the neighborhood, feeling pretty lonely.

This went on a for a week or less; and then I had a series of improvised living arrangements which were mostly unsatisfactory and of short duration. I finally found a studio apartment in Queens.

— Roger W. Smith

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