Tuesday, November 15, 2022

SOL Tuesday: Ukraine

            I started reading a short story in a New Yorker from last April. Its title is “The Ukraine.” The narrator and his girlfriend are Ukrainian, and she had lived in the U.S., where some people were used to calling her country “the Ukraine.” I remember growing up and calling that part of what was then the Soviet Union “the Ukraine,” and it sounded strange for some time, after the Soviet Union fell apart, to call that new country “Ukraine.”

            The story is about the narrator and his girlfriend traveling around their country, Ukraine, stopping or passing through Luhansk or Donetsk, places we’ve read about in the news since February. Then, the narrator describes taking a selfie in Khotyn. This town is not in the news (it’s far from the front lines), but it is where my mother’s parents came from when that country was Russia. It stops me, to see the name of this town, which I feel has meaning only to me, to appear in a New Yorker short story. It makes the town feel more real, but more exposed. It no longer belongs only to me.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

SOL Tuesday: Veering to the Left?

 

Yesterday I was walking down the street. In New York City, sometimes the sidewalk is narrow, so if a person is walking toward you, you both have to veer sideways so as not to walk into each other. Usually, you both veer to the right, because that’s the default in this country.

            Yesterday the person coming toward me was a young Asian man. And he veered left. Interesting, I thought. Is he left-handed? Then I wondered, is he Japanese? Because the Japanese drive on what we in the U.S. think of as “the wrong side of the road.” So if he’s Japanese, his default will be to veer left.

            I’ll never know, since I didn’t stop him to ask. And do British people veer to the left when they are walking, as they also drive on “the wrong side of the road”?

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

SOLTuesday: A Question

            I have short white hair with pink bangs.

            At the gym today, I pass two men and a boy maybe four or five years old. As we pass in the hallway, the boy stares at me. I say, “Hello.” He continues to stare, at my head. I realize why a minute laters as I hear his faint voice, around the corner: “Daddy, why does that lady have pink hair?”

            I don’t hear his daddy’s reply, but I feel happy.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

SOLTuesday: Third Booster Adventure

I saw my doctor in early September for a checkup. The third booster was due to arrive the following week, and he said I should get it as soon as I could. A few days later, however, I had my usual cold symptoms of scratchy throat, achy chest, and runny nose, and when I called him to check, he said to wait until my symptoms had gone away. This turned out to be more than three weeks, during which I had two Covid tests (both negative) and continued to wear my mask outdoors.

            Finally, I thought I was recovered and called a nearby community clinic to make an appointment for the third booster. At that point, the next available opening was two weeks away, Oct. 17. Not great, but better than none at all.

            Then, last week, I got a voicemail saying I would have to reschedule. When I called back to reschedule, the scheduling people knew nothing about the clinic needing to reschedule; their data showed only that I’d been sent a text confirming my Oct. 17 appointment. This was very confusing. I listened again to the voicemail, and the young man was definitely saying I had to reschedule.

            So, should I wait until Oct. 17, show up at the clinic, and then be told whatever it was that was causing them to want me to reschedule? Or should I find another way?

            I called my independent pharmacy, downtown. (My local pharmacies also had boosters, but even when I’d made an appointment for earlier boosters, there’d been a long line. I didn’t want to do that again.) When I called, I was told I had to make my appointment online. And hurrah, when I went online, there was one open time the next day which I could make. Friday, Oct. 14, I took the subway downtown, got the shot, waited the requisite 10 minutes, and went home. No reaction to the vaccine, other than the usual sore arm from the needle.

            I am now triple-boosted. Still haven’t gotten Covid. Feel very lucky.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

SOLTuesday: Personal Archives

            I’ve been writing essays about all of the jobs I’ve had in a very checkered career, in between (and following) three different bouts of undergraduate education. Sometimes I was working and going to school at night at the same time, so it seemed appropriate to mention some of my classes.

            This took me to a set of files in my personal archive, a folder containing all my grades while I was at City College (in New York City), as well as a couple of folders of papers I wrote for those classes.

            There are courses on my transcript I have no memory of: Constitutional Law—Individual Liberties; Metropolitan Government and Politics (I was a history major, so those political science classes make sense, but they left no imprint in my brain); Russia Since 1855 (don't remember much of this, either, though this is probably when I read Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s “What Is to Be Done?” about 19th century Russian socialism).

            My school papers, though, are priceless because of comments from professors. On the midterm for the history class on the Progressive Movement is this note: “When will you start speaking up in class?!!!” 

            I’m not sure I ever did, not back in 1966.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

SOL Tuesday: Do I Hate Opera?

             A friend invited me to go to  Lincoln Center last night where a filmed version of the opera Boris Godunov was going to be projected on a giant screen to a crowd sitting on the outside plaza.

            I have never cared for operatic singing. You know that stereotype of the man who’s dragged to the opera by his wife, where he complains about the screeching and yelling? I’m that guy. But Moussorgsky wrote the music for this opera, and it was outdoors on a warm night. Why not?

            It was a very pleasant evening, and I’m not sorry I went. But I’m still not a fan of opera. First, they were singing in Russian, with subtitles—and the subtitles were white. I could make out most of the words in the first scene, but the second, rather long scene featured a monk in a white robe. The subtitles were impossible to read. Impossible. And that scene was rather crucial, as a young man the monk was apparently telling an important story to, in a subsequent scene was attempting to escape Russia (why?) and was fairly hostile to the itinerant monks he was traveling with (why?).

            Next, much of the story seemed reduced to slogans: Boris resists being named tsar, then he accepts. But he feels guilty (for what? was that a subtitle I missed?). Maybe he killed a previous heir to the throne, maybe he didn’t. The young man trying to escape Russia is claiming to be that heir, but nothing comes of that plotline. The chorus represents the people, who at the beginning beg Boris to accept being the tsar, but at the end, they want him gone (why?), even though he provides food during a famine. Accused of killing the heir, Boris has a heart attack and dies. The end.

            It felt rather Macbeth-ish—though I learned later that the the opera is based on a play by Pushkin, which was based in turn on Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. And there were echoes of current affairs, an autocratic ruler reminding us of Putin, the chorus hinting at revolution that doesn't happen for another 300  years. But I did want to know more about the real-life Boris. He turns out to have been a Tatar, part of the Golden Horde, which was the European wing of the Mongol Empire in the Middle Ages. (Also an early 1950s movie I saw as a child.) Ivan the Terrible was one of them, and one of his sons was the heir Boris was accused of killing. Boris was a good ruler, but the nobility conspired against him, and then he died. And the next tsar, about 10 years later, in 1613, inaugurated the Romanov dynasty.

            Except for a couple of peripheral women characters, all the singing was done by men, so that was bearable. I haven’t become a fan of opera, but the outdoor event in the summer was enjoyable.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

SOL Tuesday: More Book Downsizing


I’ve finally finished with the European history bookcase and got rid of more than half the books I had. Many were old paperbacks I read for college history classes; heavily marked up, I could only put them in the recycle bin. One book, however, was praised by two history professors I know—they still use it in teaching—so I’m keeping it. It’s titled “The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experiences of a Single German Town 1930-1935,” and while there are certainly differences between the U.S. now and Germany in 1930, there are unsettling similarities, so perhaps re-reading now could be instructive.

            Many of the books on the 1990s wars in former Yugoslavia went to a friend who wrote about Bosnia during the wars, and two books on Czechoslovakia soon after the Velvet Revolution went to another friend who was teaching on a Fulbright in what became Slovakia in 1992, while she was teaching there.

            Then I tackled several piles of books that have been haunting me for three or four years now, on the piano bench, on the guest room bed, on a file cabinet. Most of them are now in two carts, and when the weather is less hot and humid, I’ll walk them down to the thrift shop. What a relief that will be.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

SOL Tuesday: Painfully Downsizing Books

     Until recently, all my bookcases had two rows of books on every shelf. Three years ago, one of those shelves collapsed, in the middle of the night, scaring the heck out of me. In daylight, I knew I had to pare down. Half the books in that bookcase (American history) had to go. It took a few weeks, but I did it. During Covid, I thought I’d better tackle the Fiction bookcase before its shelves started collapsing, and that task was done.

     Last week, it was time to take on the European/world history bookcase. First, I removed all the books and piled them in categories (Europe, Russia and Russian Revolution, Middle East, Africa, etc.). Then I had to go through each category: what to keep, what to give away, which books so decrepit or so marked up I have to toss them (that’s painful). 

     Today I sorted through the Holocaust section. I read “Schindler’s List” as soon as it came out, and for the first time I was conscious that there were people who survived the Nazis’ effort to kill every Jew they could find. All I had known up until that moment, at age 40, was that six million Jews were murdered, and if my grandparents hadn’t come to the United States at the beginning of the century, Iwould have been among them (whoever I would have been in that case, a more metaphysical issue). Who wanted to know any more? But survivors? This I needed to know more about. I’d read Keneally’s book in November 1982, and over the next six months I found and read 29 more — survivors’ accounts, histories, biographies, even fiction, and more. Ten of those books I still have, and have since acquired even more, most of which I’ve not read. The books to keep are mostly chosen, but there’s one dilemma I’m facing. I have two histories — Lucy Dawidowicz’s “The War Against The Jews 1933-1945” (a small paperback) and Martin Gilbert’s “The Holocaust: A history of the Jews of Europe duirng the Second World War” (a large hardcover). Maybe for now I’ll keep both and see whether there’s room for them on the shelves. 

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Saturday, July 23, 2022

Job #11: New York Times, fall 1964

             Why did I apply for this Antioch co-op job? I had never worked on a newspaper at school, but by this time in my life, I was reading them avidly. I even subscribed to the Antioch Record while I was dropped out and had a letter to the editor published. It was exciting to see my name and clever words in print.

            But the primary reason: I wanted to be in New York City. Jack and I were still a couple, and after we’d made a weekend trip to New York the previous winter, before I went back to school, he had decided the city was where he wanted to be. In May, he found his way there, via a two-week-long detour to Antioch, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. In New York, he got a job as a waiter at a coffee shop at the Hotel Meurice on West 58th Street. I spent the break between spring and summer quarter with him in New York and throughout my summer quarter on campus, I made three trips to see him—someone was always driving to New York for the weekend. Was I in love? I don’t know, but I was certainly in lust. We had great sex, and our senses of humor meshed delightfully.

            The New York Times job was for upper-classmen; I applied, was accepted, and reported for work on September 28 — and moved in with Jack on the Upper West Side.

 

The job

            I was a copy”boy”—even though I was a girl. There just was no job title of copygirl, and I was the only female in my role on the news floor. The newsroom was immense, stretching from 43rd to 44th Street, and we copyfolk (there were three or four other copyboys, all around my age) stood near one end, waiting to be called to work.

            Our duties were simple: wait for a copyeditor on one of the three nearby desks — city, national, foreign — to call out, “Copy!” One of us would hurry over and take the marked-up story, on one or more sheets of paper, and return to our stand. There, we’d roll up the story, place it in a plastic tube, close the tube, and place it in a pneumatic tube that would whisk it upstairs to the composing room. We did this many times a day, and while we waited for the call of “Copy!” we read the day’s paper, joked with each other, argued politics. One of the copyboys was conservative, and he and I had an ongoing argument when a white civil rights worker was killed; he insisted that a woman should never have gone South because she had children and her first responsibility was to her children, while I suggested that her responsibility to improve society was also a benefit for her children. Neither of us persuaded the other.

            These three copy desks were like three spokes of a wheel, all pointed to where we copyboys stood. Behind us and behind glass doors was the wire room, where stories came in on teletype machines from distant correspondents and the Associated Press. We would collect those stories and take them to either the national or foreign desks. This is how we learned that Khrushchev was deposed, in October, just a couple of weeks after I’d started work. That was my first thrill of learning the news before anyone else in the city.

            One day I got a tour of the composing room and the pressroom. In the composing room, enormous Linotype machines lined one wall. Operators sat at attached keyboards and retyped each story into the machine, which would then spit out hard-type, individual metal letters, and those would be placed in forms by compositors. An editor looked at each form, but because of union rules, the editor had to stand on the opposite side of the form from the compositor and was forbidden to touch the type; thus he (usually a “he”) had to develop the skill of reading upside down and backwards. Each form was inked, and a piece of paper pressed on it to produce a galley, so other editors could read in a normal fashion. On another day, I was taken to a large room with a handful of older men reading those galleys; they were proofreaders, but it was strange to learn they were reading yesterday’s paper. They were workers who’d lost their jobs to automation, and this was a union-negotiated way to keep them working. Once they retired, these jobs would retired as well. Having grown up in a pro-union family, this made a certain sense to me, but I wondered if the men could have been taught a new skill instead.

            On another day, I was shown the pressroom, where enormous, and enormously noisy, presses rolled out the daily paper. I had no idea at the time that almost everything I saw at the New York Times that fall was soon to become obsolete — and the unions would have a hard time negotiating soft landings for their many members.

            Beyond the three copy desks were rows and rows of tables, four chairs at each with a tall manual typewriter in front of each chair. Here’s where the local reporters sat and wrote their stories. Some of these were rewrite men: reporters out on the street called in facts and quotes, while the rewrite men (and they were mostly men) put the information into a readable story. When the writers were done, they’d call, “Copy!” and one of us would take their story to the city desk, no, excuse me, this was the period the city desk was being transformed into the metropolitan desk. More about this later.

 

First a copyboy

            The first six weeks at the Times, I worked as a copyboy. I learned who the writers were behind their bylines: Gay Talese was extremely sexy. R.W. Apple sometimes came down from Albany, David Halberstam arrived from Vietnam for a few days. There was one woman who sat among the local reporters. She was short, in her 50s, I think, and I don’t remember her name.  Almost all of the staff were men, with a scattering of women who worked as secretaries to the top editors. One secretary, I noticed, sometimes worked on the copy desk on the weekends; she later became a full-fledged reporter, after women’s liberation led to a meeting with the then managing editor. But that was in the 1970s, almost 10 years after my Antioch co-op stint.

            The 1964 national election happened in my sixth week — and my first chance to vote for a president. This was the election between Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barry Goldwater, the campaign during which Goldwater said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.” The Democrats’ campaign TV ad, shown only once, capitalized on “extremism” by showing a small child counting the petals of a daisy, until a voiceover countdown to a nuclear explosion. I had already read about the Tonkin Gulf “confrontation,” which seemed bogus to me, so I was not inclined to vote to LBJ, but there wasn’t a chance I’d vote for Goldwater. I was registered to vote at my parents’ address in Pennsylvania, so applied for an absentee ballot as a student. My protest vote went to Ho Chi Minh, possibly the only vote for him in the state.

 

Election night at the Times

            On election night, however, I was one of three copyboys assigned to work in the special room set up for election coverage at the New York Times. Many of the big names were in that room: Tom Wicker, James Reston, Anthony Lewis (I called him Tony in my letter to my parents), and others from the Times’s Washington bureau, as well as the top editors from the national desk. Everyone authorized to work in that room was given a tag, a small round piece of cardboard on a string that we pinned to our clothing — and there was an actual guard at the entrance to keep out anyone who didn’t have the tag. I personalized mine by drawing the Ban the Bomb symbol; no one commented except the other copyboys.

            The election room had a direct wire to the headquarters of CBS’s Voter Profile Analysis — which I think must have been either early exit polls or actual counts from precincts — while two copyboys at the 44th Street entrance to the Times building brought up material motorcycled over from CBS. Every time a bulletin came from the CBS VPA, a little bell rang, and everyone got all excited. Even though VPA called the election for LBJ shortly after 9 p.m., there was still a paper to get out and lots of stories to write, so everyone continued to work into the night.

            Around midnight, Tom Wicker stood up and in his heavy Southern accent, he declared, “I demand a copyboy go out and get me a beer.” So a copyboy went out and brought back a case of beer, but we copyboys had to buy our own six-pack — or so I told my parents. Can that be true? The Times wouldn’t let us have any of case of beer?

            At 3:30, the third edition was finally put to bed, and I was able to leave. Out in the newsroom, there were piles of the earlier editions, quite a few reporters and copyeditors at the national desk, but the rest of the newsroom was eerily quiet and dark. I was given money to take a taxi; as a young female, I couldn’t be expected to take the subway at this ungodly hour. The boy copyboys were on their own.

 

Next, a news clerk

            Because the Times was a daily newspaper, I did not have weekends off; my schedule was Friday–Tuesday. After election day, I had two days off, and when I returned, I was no longer a copyboy. I had been promoted to news clerk. This meant I spent three days a week at the metropolitan desk and the weekend days at the foreign copy desk. I began to see a bit more about how the paper worked, and also the personalities of some of the editors.

            The metropolitan desk. The editor in charge was A.M. Rosenthal, and his deputy was Arthur Gelb.  Why was it no longer the city desk? The name had changed about a year before, and I never got a clear answer to why, but it seemed that “city desk” didn’t sound dignified enough. Was this Rosenthal’s opinion? He clearly thought the name was important, because if Gelb called a reporter to the city desk via the P.A. system, Rosenthal would correct him, and he would have to repeat the call, to the metropolitan desk.

            The metropolitan desk consisted of two tables. At one, Rosenthal and Gelb faced the long rows of reporters desks and I sat on the other side of the table, directly opposite Rosenthal. But he did not see me. Literally. I might have been transparent as far as he was concerned. One day it seemed to register to him that a girl was sitting three feet away from him as his eyes focused on me. He asked a question, I don’t remember what; I answered, and he promptly forgot me. I wondered if there was some way I could be more interesting, and didn't yet have the confidence even to think, “he’s an asshole.”

            But there was no chatting among anyone at the metropolitan desk. Reporters wrote their stories and brought them to the desk. Gelb or Rosenthal read them, made marks, called the reporter to the desk and told him (it was mostly “him”) how to improve, and then the story was taken by a copyboy to the metropolitan copy desk.

            What did I do? I opened voluminous amounts of mail and distributed it to the appropriate people after it had been properly marked. I answered the phone, and you might or might not be surprised at the number of crazy people who call a newspaper. Well, they weren’t always crazy, but their reasons for calling often seemed ludicrous. One week there was a dental convention in town, so the PR person for the dental association called every day to repeat to me the events at the convention that day, even though he had already sent us a press release listing the events at the convention that day. One was an exhibit of Brigham Young’s denture, which was made in 1851 by the first Jewish convert to Mormonism. A blind woman called to express her appreciation for the newspaper helping her find her canine companion 10 years (!) ago, and continued to talk for several minutes. I thought it would be rude to hang up on her, but after 15 minutes, I was told that I should just do that.

            The foreign copy desk was somewhat more interesting, but had its own idiosyncrasies. All the foreign stories came via the teletype machine, and in numerous “takes.” My job was to keep track of all the stories coming in, collate all the pages, and when a story was complete, I attached the pages with a paperclip and handed the story to the foreign copy chief. Stories did not come in sequence, either; sometimes I’d get pages 2, 4, 5, then 3, then 1.

I learned that a story was complete when a page had “30” or “###” typed on it. I also learned that there is a right way and wrong way to attach a paperclip. The foreign desk copy chief insisted that the small part of the clip be on the front. It had never occurred to me that one way was better than the other, but I learned to pay attention.

             The foreign desk copy chief handed completed stories to the copy editor who had the proper expertise: the Soviet Union, Latin America, France, Germany, Great Britain. The only copy editor I remember is Betsy Wade, because she was the only woman on the foreign copy desk. It never occurred to me to talk to her, and there’s no reason she would have talked to me; there certainly was no time. The copy desks were always busy. Even though we were working on what was called the “dayside,” and as a morning paper, the Times’s busiest times were in the evening, there was still always work to be done. There might be chatting about a story someone was working on, perhaps a question of fact one copy editor wasn’t sure of or couldn’t remember, but there was no casual conversation.

 

How the New York Times was different then

            In the paper I wrote to get co-op, or work, credit, I marveled at what the Times produced. What other newspaper printed the entire text of the Warren Commission’s summary report on the assassination of JFK and the killing of his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in  September 1964? What other newspaper printed the entire text of the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the church in the modern world, in November 1964? What other newspaper continued to publish updated election results for days after the election? Nowadays, in the time of the internet, nothing like these documents are printed in any newspaper, though they might be published as instant books — think the Mueller Report. Much of this information goes online, where it has to be sought out by anyone who’s interested.

 

Meanwhile, there was personal life


           
Jack had rented an apartment on the Upper West Side, 82nd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. On the corner of Columbus was a bodega run by Cuban exiles. When Jack went there to buy beer, he thought it was funny to sing revolutionary songs; they just laughed, they were safe in the capitalist U.S. of A. On Columbus was a diner-type restaurant called Joe’s Seafood, where we ate many cheap meals; our kitchen was minimal, a stove so old it stood on legs and maybe only about two feet wide. And Jack found a civil rights group affiliated with CORE to join, which met in a storefront on the other side of Columbus Avenue.

            A few weeks after I moved in with Jack, my father called to invite me to dinner. (There had not been a phone in the apartment until I moved in. Jack seemed to think it was cool to be incommunicado with the world.) Dinner turned out to be an ordeal. My father had come by my address and noticed my name and Jack’s name on the same mailbox. My mother also arrived for dinner from their Philadelphia suburb, and they both behaved like any conservative parents of the 1950s, even though it was well into the 1960s and they were far to the left politically.

            I got home just after Jack had returned from a CORE meeting, furious at my parents, who would be fine about our living together if we were planning to get married. Jack said, why don’t we get married? I wasn’t thinking about getting married, I had just gone back to college and still had more than a year to go. On the other hand, I was a girl raised in the 1950s. I thought I had to get married — and maybe no one else would ever ask me. I could say yes, mollify my parents, and if it didn’t work out, we could always get divorced. When I called my parents a couple of days later to announce we would be getting married, my father said, “We’re not forcing you to do this, are we?” “Oh, no,” I replied, silently furious at them.

            (I called a few New York relatives who I hadn’t seen since I was a child, and Esther, one of my mother’s aunts, married to Morris, said, “Is he Jewish? [pause] Morris wants to know.” A question, to their credit, my parents never asked.)

            We got married at City Hall the day before Thanksgiving, with only our best friend Gerald attending, and went to Top of the Sixes to celebrate. I wore a cream-colored crocheted dress I’d bought at Macy’s (and never wore again) — why did I think I should wear any near-white color? Then we went to Sylvia’s, another good friend, where we helped prep for Thanksgiving dinner the next day, then played bridge late into the night. Very romantic.

            A week earlier we had gone to a Progressive Labor party at a huge apartment on Riverside Drive. Jack sat in an Eames lounge chair, and I sat on his lap and told him this was a very expensive chair. I wonder now whether the hosts were among the radical chic Tom Wolfe wrote about six years later.

            I noted in my datebook a few movies — Topkapi, Point of Order, Beckett — saw Dave Van Ronk at Carnegie Hall, and the Messiah at Lincoln Center (I had sung the Hallelujah Chorus in high school and loved this music). My last day at the Times was December 26, and we took the bus to Washington, D.C., for a New Year’s Eve party. I too an overnight bus to Antioch College on January 2.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Job #10: United World Federalists, June 1963–March 1964

             So it was on to UWF, or back to UWF, however I wanted to think about it. The organization was in a new office, near Thomas Circle, not far from the old one on Thirteenth Street. If I felt like it, I could walk from my apartment just north of Dupont Circle, on 19th Street, but it was almost a mile, and I was not much of a walker in those days. In the fall, after I had moved into the  communal living arrangement we then called a co-op, but later came to be known as a commune, a few blocks up 19th Street, one of the male residents there occasionally gave me a ride on his motorcycle, but I didn’t want to encourage him.

            I worked for Al Mark, who was director of public relations and also membership. UWF did direct mail drives, both for renewal of current members and to solicit new ones. I don’t think I ever knew where the mailing lists for new member solicitations came from. But I’ve always remembered that a 10% return (which doesn’t sound like much) on a direct mail mailings was considered very good. My boss also collected publications from “the other side,” including “Red Channels” and the “National Review,” and documents from HUAC and organizations like the American Nazi Party and the John Birch Society. As I filed these, I’d read bits and pieces, but it was sometimes hard for me to understand their points since what they described bore no relationship to anything I was familiar with.

            More interesting, and more pivotal for me, was that UWF now had an Antioch co-op, someone I knew from my freshman first quarter. Janet was working on the Student Federalists, which had first been formed in the 1940s, then joined UWF in the early 1950s as its youth division. Specifically, she was working on organizing a conference to be held in New York City in late November. And personally, she stressed that I should return to Antioch College. I had already started taking courses at American University, a political science class on international affairs that summer and in the fall a class on 19th century American novels. (One book I read was Moby Dick; I skipped all the chapters about whales. Another was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, based on his time at the utopian Brook Farm; I didn’t at the time understand his skeptical attitude toward the communal community, perhaps because I was on some level taking seriously the communal community I had just moved into. More about that later.)

            1963 had many political events worth remembering. At the end of August was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was eager to go, but Susan, my roommate, had reservations. For some reason, she believed rumors that with many residents attending the march, there would be a rash of burglaries; she intended to stay home to protect our apartment. This seemed ridiculous to me, though I didn’t have the political sense to call out her implicit racism. I went with Anne, a co-worker. The day was easygoing and friendly. As Anne and I walked along Constitution Avenue toward the Lincoln Memorial, we got into conversation with a teenage girl from North Carolina, who’d come on a chartered bus that had traveled all night. It was exciting to meet someone from a part of the country I knew only stereotypes of. The whole Mall was filled with groups of people; this was long before police corralled demonstrators between and behind barriers. People walked as close to the Memorial as they could, where speakers, including John Lewis, Bayard Rustin, and A. Philip Randolph, orated all afternoon. It was hot, and the crowd was thinning where I stood. I decided to make my way home, but I’d only gotten halfway across the Mall when Martin Luther King Jr.’s words caught my ear; it was partly his repetition of his “dream,” but his mention of “the red hills of Georgia,” where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” stopped me. I stood there to the end of his now famous speech, feeling touched and elevated by this appeal to the best in human nature, and still too naïve to imagine the worst that was to come later.

            A few days later, Susan moved into her own apartment, and I needed to find a new place to live. How did I find the commune? Michael, the resident manager, was a grad student at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which the center where Susan worked was connected to, so I may have learned about available space that way. I met him at a civil rights meeting and had an instant crush — he was just my type, blond, blue eyes.

            He was resident manager of two adjoining buildings, also on 19th Street, just a couple of blocks from my partment: one a rooming house, the other with two upper floors that became a communal home for six people with a political purpose.  We were to be a research group for peace candidates in the 1964 elections, called the Political Action Information Service, or PAIS. “We” consisted, in mid-September, of Peter, a political lobbyist for the United Auto Workers, and also an Antioch College dropout; Ed and Gerald, undergraduates at George Washington University; and me. There needed to be six of us for the rent to be reasonable (was that $50 a month per person?). Will, a leftist who worked as a messenger, was part of our group, but living in the rooming house. (Will had been dishonorably discharged from the army, perhaps because, during the Cuban missile crisis the year before, when one of the NCOs had said, “We might be going down there,” Will had replied, “You might be going down there, but I’m not.”) There was also a teenager, recently graduated from high school, named Doug. Theoretically, he was going to be a paid worker for PAIS, but he didn’t stay long, then left, supposedly with our mailing list, and went to work for the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.

            We were soon joined by one more male person, a guy named Jack. Jack was from Kansas, had come to D.C. a month earlier, and had been looking for an apartment at a bulletin board at George Washington University when he was told about us by a person whose name was unfamiliar to any of us. Will was immediately suspicious: “He’s from Kansas, he must be from the FBI.” The rest of us thought Will was taking us more seriously than the FBI was. Besides, Jack’s constant uniform of gray sweatshirt and sweatpants was not usual FBI attire. Jack moved in.

            I was in a room for two, sharing with Janet until she returned to Antioch for fall quarter, so we needed one more girl. One came for a meeting. Since we were an organization, we wanted to know that whoever moved in was aligned with our actions; this girl seemed to have little interest in politics, so she was nixed. Next, I thought I might find a roommate among the girls I’d met at NIH; I’d kept in touch with Norma, one of the college-age schizophrenics being studied at the Clinical Center, who told me her therapist thought she could live outside the institution. Perfect, I thought, why not move in with me? Norma thought that was a good idea, but I think the commune was too chaotic for her. She moved into our shared room on a Friday, but by Sunday evening she’d become more and more dissociated from reality; by Monday morning she’d returned to the security of NIH. It was the first time I had ever seen a person have a psychotic break; it was alarming and scary.

            Living in the commune was a combination of study and play. Peter would hold educational sessions in which he’d name a congressional district and we were to name the congressman in that seat. Ed was clearly studying; he knew a lot. Gerald knew some, but not as many. I was mightily impressed; I knew my congressman was Richard Schweiker (I was still registered in Pennsylvania, where my parents lived), but neither of my senators. Jack thought it might be a fun enterprise, but he didn’t engage. He was more interested in drinking and in playing bridge, as were others in the commune, so I attempted to learn. We played with Janet and Peter.

            Meanwhile, I was getting other political lessons. Madame Nhu, the sister-in-law of the president of South Vietnam, had come to the U.S. to stir up stronger support for her country against North Vietnamese guerrilla fighters. (A digression: I had first heard of Vietnam at age 12, reading the September 1954 issue of “My Weekly Reader,” a newspaper of current events for students. On the left side of page 1 was a story about the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional. On the right side was a story about the end of the Vietnamese war of independence against France, its division into North and South, and that Catholics were fleeing the North because it was controlled by communists. Having leftist parents who told us communism wasn’t the evil we were told it was on TV, I was confused about why people would be “fleeing” communists. And “Vietnam” stuck in my mind.)

            Madame Nhu was scheduled to speak at the National Press Club in October, and the politicos in the commune decided to picket her appearance. Along with some other groups I wasn’t aware of (an internet search now says they included SDS and Women Strike for Peace), the demonstration was scheduled for lunch time on a Friday. The National Press Club was not far from the UWF office, so I went there on my lunch hour. When I arrived there was no one in front of the Press Club, but maybe a dozen people were across the street, walking in a circle with signs. Apparently, the police had arrested several people, including everyone I knew, because the police said they were blocking the sidewalk and the picketers refused to move, claiming they weren’t blocking the sidewalk—in fact, the police trying to persuade them to cross the street were the ones blocking the sidewalk. But I knew none of the remaining demonstrators. I’ve mentioned my shyness. This wasn’t like the March on Washington, where I was one of hundreds of thousands. Now I was uncertain.

            Further down the block, however, I saw another line of picketers. These men were members of the American Nazi Party, swastikas clearly visible on their clothing and signs. I knew that the American Nazi Party had its headquarters nearby, in Arlington, Virginia. It was upsetting to see swastikas so near, but as I stood on the sidewalk trying to decide what to do, it felt clear to me that to do nothing would somehow mean that I didn’t see any difference between those protesting against Madame Nhu and the swastika-wearing Nazis. I had to show that there was a difference, so I overcame my nervousness and stepped into the picket line of people walking, walking, walking in the circle. Some smiled at me, and I felt welcomed into this small community. This was my first real political activism.

            (P.S.: About a month later, there was a trial for the demonstrators who’d been arrested. Before a jury? probably not. Must have been before a judge. The verdict? Maybe it’s in an SDS history somewhere, but I don’t remember.)

            Then there was the tragedy in November. Around lunch time, after all of the department heads had left for lunch, the husband of one of the secretaries called — and she told us that Kennedy had been shot. That was more shocking than anything I’d ever heard. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. This didn’t happen in the United States. Could it be real? I called home and reached Gerald. Yes, he said, the president has been shot and there was no word about his condition.

            The office was silent. No one knew what to say or what to do. After a while, I thought someone should find our bosses to let them know. But when I stood outside the restaurant, I could see there was a TV above the bar — they knew. They didn’t need me. Back at the office, nothing much got done, especially when we got word that Kennedy had died. We just stared at each other, mumbled about how insane this was. Our bosses came back from lunch and sent us home.

            That evening I had a date with a guy named Lee, a musician, I think. We were supposed to see a movie at the Washington Film Society, but nothing was normal anymore. We went to a bar or café, sat at a table, and mostly just stared at each other, numb. Lee suddenly stood and went to talk to someone he saw at the entrance. “We’ve got to leave,” he said, back at our table. We drove to his apartment, where he flushed something down the toilet. A friend had just told him the police might be looking to search his apartment, so he had to dispose of a batch of magic mushrooms. This didn’t feel more outlandish than what had happened in Dallas that afternoon.

            That evening there was a candlelight vigil in front of the White House. Gerald and Jack were among a few who’d also gone to the White House with different motives. Jack later reported that Gerald started to chant, “Ding-dong the witch is dead,” but Jack shut him up, not wanting to get them killed. Kennedy was not loved on the left.

            (P.S.: Almost 30 years later, Oliver Stone made “JFK,” Jim Garrison’s conspiracy theory that the CIA killed Kennedy. In one scene, Donald Sutherland, playing an anonymous but in-the-know informant, tells Kevin Costner, playing Garrison, the New Orleans D.A., that all phones in Washington, D.C., went dead the afternoon Kennedy was shot. This is not true. I was there. Phones worked.)

            The following weekend was Thanksgiving, but because many of us would be away, we’d planned to have a Thanksgiving dinner that Sunday. We sort of sleep-walked through the preparations. After our midday dinner, I was in the kitchen cleaning up and listening to the radio — the radio had been on all weekend — and heard the in-real-time report that Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot as police were moving him from one place to another. This was really too much. I didn’t drop a dish, just walked upstairs to tell everyone else that Oswald had been shot. More numbness. More nothing feels real.

            (P.S.: Conspiracy theories cropped up almost immediately, too many to describe. None made any more sense than the unbelievable events themselves. Neither Jack nor I ever thought it was more than what it appeared: a lone gunman got a lucky shot, and too many people in Texas can walk around with guns everywhere, even police headquarters.)

            Thanksgiving weekend was the Student Federalist conference in New York City. I got a ride with Ed (was he attending?) and Gerald (who wasn’t), listening to the radio for news about the assassinations (JFK and Oswald). I must have been there to work, at registration, giving out materials, helping to make sure the conference went smoothly. The only speaker I remember was Amitai Etzioni, perhaps because his name was so unusual. He was then teaching sociology at Columbia, but I have no recollection of what he spoke about. Perhaps this photo was taken at that conference.

            Working as a secretary even at a liberal organization like UWF, I felt like a lower form of humanity without a college degree. The Case of the First Names, as I called it in the paper I wrote to get work credit at Antioch, for example. There was the staff, the people with job titles, and the secretaries and guys in the mailroom. The staff people called everyone by their first names, but the secretaries addressed staff members as Mr., Mrs., or Miss last name. One day I called my boss by his first name, and he seemed fine with it, but I didn’t work that closely with other staff members, so didn’t feel comfortable addressing them familiarly. It seemed unfair that such a minor issue had meaning, yet I was sure that if I had a college degree I could be on a first-name basis with all my co-workers.

            I had not yet committed to reapplying to Antioch, and at the end of December applied to Columbia University’s School of General Studies, a part-time version of Columbia’s program. But in January Janet was back in D.C. and now my roommate, and soon I’d written to Antioch and gotten transcripts sent to the college for the two classes I’d taken at American University. She wasn’t back at UWF, but awaiting notice whether she could work at the Peace Corps. That didn’t work out because she was associated with a known subversive; Peter, the UAW lobbyist, was refusing to cooperate with the draft, and by the next year had started a three-year prison sentence. (On receiving letters from the Selective Service System, he would write back: “Please take me off your mailing list.”)

            Work at UWF continued, as my association with the organization moved from interest, engagement (joining a weekly seminar that read Louis B. Sohn’s “World Peace Through World Law”), to disillusion. A meeting of the national executive committee revealed its members thought of themselves as “respectable revolutionaries,” an oxymoron to me; they now seemed as much part of the Establishment as the politicians they wanted to persuade to give up to a world government their power to engage in war. I was ready to move on to politics somewhat more radical. My boss took a month’s vacation in January, so I may have been working for others in the organization. Meanwhile, I started dating Jack. Antioch readmitted me, so I could start back in the spring quarter, in April. My last day at UWF was March 20, and the next day I was in New York City, joining my mother and sister on a cruise to the Bahamas.

       On returning to Antioch, I wrote papers to get work credit for the jobs I’d had in the previous two years. Here's the title page of the one I wrote for United World Federalists — on tissue paper of what was called a carbon set. What did I mean by that title: “The Cause and the Calling”? Did I think a “calling” was more important than a “cause”? Was a “calling” more internal than a “cause”? Was it more admirable to feel a “calling” than to follow a “cause”? These are all my thoughts now, but what did I think at 21?