When I was growing up, all I could dream about was moving to New York, being a dancer and living in an apartment. My hometown was in the suburbs of South Jersey near Philadelphia. The house was new in 1953 when we moved in; my dad said the area once was farmland and he had played ball there, baseball. Our relatives – grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins – all lived nearby. We had a yard and a garden, neighborhood kids to play with, and in the summer we would leave the house in the morning and not come home until the 6 o’clock whistle blew. During the school year we could walk to school and come home for lunch. There weren’t a lot of cars around, dads who worked during the day took the cars or rode the bus, so kids on bikes ruled the roads.
Sounds idyllic, a place you might never want to leave; some didn’t, but my bags were packed in anticipation of following a dream. Wanderlust infects some people like a virus; others are immune to its effect. In high school, in the summers, I went on tour with a dance group performing throughout Canada and the northern part of the United States. When I was 18 my friends went off to college or in the service, Vietnam was where some of them were assigned. I took a bus to New York, became a Rockette, and lived in an apartment.
My first apartment was in midtown Manhattan, 48th Street and Sixth Avenue. My roommate and I were in an old and small fourth floor walk-up, fully furnished in a residential hotel. It was just two short blocks from Radio City Music Hall; we would cut through the RCA Building to make the journey even shorter. One day I had just finished the second show and was on my way back to the apartment when I ran headlong into Ed McMahon. He was on his way to tape the Tonight Show. I mumbled “Excuse me,” then looked up and said “Oh. Hi!” He laughed that great laugh of his and we quickly went on our way.
The tenants of the apartment building were a mixture of show business people and ladies of the evening. I got my first proposition just two weeks into my arrival. I couldn’t fathom why this guy was following me as I entered the building, until he popped the question ... “How much?” After that I learned to wear sunglasses, even at night, because some men couldn’t tell the difference between stage make-up and hooker make-up.
After about a year of stepping over homeless people who would sneak into the building to sleep, and us sleeping in our coats and fur hats in the winter because the heat didn’t make it to the fourth floor, we had to move. The building was coming down for the Rockefeller Group to expand the Center. The huge steel and glass structure of the McGraw-Hill Building now dominates where the diminutive four-story Elmwood Hotel once stood.
My roommate and I moved all our belongings to the east side in one taxi ride. This time we lived on 56th Street off Third Avenue, right next door to the El Morocco Nightclub. Our apartment had an elevator but we usually took the stairs. We were on the third floor and could generally hit the third floor before the elevator man made it from the basement to the lobby. We didn’t spend much time there, didn’t have a phone or TV; it was too far to come home between shows, we basically slept there. The next spring my roommate got married so I started looking for new digs. A friend had space in a prewar building right off Central Park West in the 80’s. It had a beautiful, large white-tiled bathroom with french doors that overlooked an interior courtyard on the ground floor. After living there a short while, I moved to 888 Eighth Avenue, 16th floor. It was a great address with fast elevators, and my windows overlooked Roseland, the Court Theatre, the Ed Sullivan Theater and the actual wooden water tower that is part of David Letterman's show background view. It's a nice building, and I once rode the elevator with Robert Goulet.
In the four years I lived in New York, I lived east- and west-side, uptown and down, all in apartments and I loved it. It was everything my hometown was not and even more than I had dreamed. I danced at the most beautiful theatre on the most amazing stage, got to see Broadway shows, ballets, museums, shop on Fifth Avenue, ride the subway, take boat rides around the island, eat at fabulous restaurants and meet really interesting people. I would go home to visit my family for a few days now and then, but once I left, from that very first day when I took the Trailways Bus to Port Authority in New York, I knew I would never go back to being a small-town girl again.
I joined Writers Bloc, a group of writers from Monmouth County, NJ, whose styles are as diverse as their backgrounds and interests. Here are some of my writings from our meetings.