Yesterday I was in midtown for a doctor’s appointment at Madison Avenue and 33rd Street. Afterward, I walked up Madison — and it was “up,” as I realized why this neighborhood is known as Murray Hill — to 40th Street.
My first job in New York City was as an assistant to the educational sales managers at Bantam Books. It was the mid-1960s, and a new federal education act provided government money to educators, who were just beginning to see the value of paperbacks as supplementary reading. We printed catalogues for educational association conferences and also responded to teachers and professors who wrote in asking what books would be useful for, say, an American history class or an English literature course.
Bantam then published only paperbacks, the kind known as mass market. They did classics, like Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (this in a dual-language version, the Middle English on left-hand page, modern English on facing page), as well as nonfiction such as Only Yesterday and Since Yesterday by Allen Frederick Lewis. Part of my job involved writing copy for catalogues, describing what classes each title was most appropriate for, as well as answering teachers’ requests for exam copies and desk copies. For this latter task, I typed the books’ code numbers on address labels, the codes consisting of a letter and a four-digit number. To this day, 55 years later, I still remember that F = 50 cent book, H = 60 cents, S = 75 cents, N = 95 cents, and Q = $1.25 (a rare price in those days).
Bantam’s office was at 285 Madison Avenue. On the corner was a bank, the Chemical Bank, which became my bank. Yesterday, when I peered through the glass door of 285, it was stunning to realize that the lobby was not only deserted, it was hollowed out. The building looked abandoned. Then I saw the real estate signs on the windows. The whole building was empty and for sale. Was this because of the pandemic? Or had it been emptying out before everything shut down last year?
And the bank? It’s now a space for playing computer games — it didn’t look like an arcade, but I didn’t look inside to see the setup. It seemed too weird.
I’m participating in the 14th annual Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. This is day 20 of the 31-day challenge. It’s not too late to make space for daily writing in a community that is encouraging, enthusiastic, and eager to read what you have to slice about. Join in!