It is 1917. The Great War is raging in Europe. But the two friends, Miriam and Minerva, have their minds in another place. They finally travel to New York to get a glimpse of the glittering city that’s been the object of Miriam’s dreams since she was a little girl. Minerva, her best friend has planned this excursion to entice Miriam to move with her to NYC.
They are bedazzled. People of every variety, skyscrapers, seeing 7 shows in 3 days, meeting the artsy mover and shaker Frank Shay — it all appealed to every sense in their bodies. They vowed to make this happen. To live in Greenwich Village as bohemians. To meet famous artists, actors, writers. To be free, free from restrictions of their immigrant families in Boston. To be independent – to smoke, dance, drink sweet cocktails, dress in those slinky beaded, fringed dresses. And to pursue their careers.
It reminds me of my first adult (age 19) time in Manhattan. Before my junior year at University of Michigan, my friend Judi Koback from Chicago and I moved to NYC for the summer. We didn’t have grand ideas, as Miriam did, of going on stage. But, we anticipated having a thrilling summer, supporting ourselves, soaking in the cultural atmosphere of the City. (photo above is me as teen)
We found a small room in a seedy part of the upper East side. The apartment belonged to an eccentric old woman who dyed her hair blue and wore bangly, jangly jewelry on each arm and ear lobe. It was a bit of a walk from the subway stop on 96th Street, so I was wise enough to be a little nervous about walking by myself at night. I’d remembered a Julie Christie film where Julie conveyed her self-assurance by walking upright, looking like she had a destination and a mission, and swinging her pocketbook. So I did just that and had no trouble.
We each found mundane jobs, me as a hosiery salesperson at Lerner’s on 42nd Street across from the wonderful main public library, where I often lunched on the steps in the torrid New York summer. We had to dress up in skirts and heels and hose and STAND UP for the whole 8 hours, looking like we were busy professionals, even though barely one shopper came in per hour.
I learned quickly that I was not cut out for this. I’d had no experience being employed. In fact, my parents believed that kids should not work, that they’d have plenty of time for serious endeavors as an adult. So, here I was, trying to earn enough to pay 1/2 of the rent on that room and feed myself and have a little left over for cultural events. I tried to hang in long enough for that. I don’t remember, but I suspect I didn’t last long and had to wire home for some cash.
But, my mother, to whom BEGUILED is dedicated, and whose imagined fantasy life I modeled the story after, must have been living vicariously through me and my New York sojourn. She must have complied with my request and allowed me to stay until end of summer.
Miriam and Minerva’s New York experience was fraught with drama and suspense. Mine had a bit of that, because of an unexpected visit from my Michigan boyfriend. But, the life I imagined my mother, Jeanne Brooks Kitaj, might have had, as portrayed by the feisty Miriam, was much more intriguing. Still, I conjured up my own memories of this time, an innocent college girl in a big city in the 1960s, and enjoyed reminiscing with myself about them.