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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes: New York 1963 Hip & Cool

Martin Green

A New York Memory
Olive-skinned Olga Simonette standing in the middle of the living room of her Manhattan apartment in white bikini panties. Her round breasts, curve of her hips, firm thighs, lights from the one lamp glinting off her body. Her dark hair falling over her shoulders. The music from the radio, the traffic noises from the street, the chatter from a party somewhere in the building, all audible a moment before, now unheard. A moment outside of time.

We'd gone to a movie on Lexington Avenue; a foreign film, Bergman or Fellini, whatever was in that year, 1963; bad print, fluctuating sound, barely legible subtitles, sagging seats, stale smell. It was our second date.
I was 23, out of college two years, working in an advertising agency.
She worked for one of the networks, a production assistant, something like that, Hunter graduate, well-off parents, a trip to Europe for her graduation present. Also, her own apartment. I still lived with my parents in the Bronx.

After the movie she'd invited me to her place, in upper Manhattan, just a few blocks from the theater. She'd made coffee and I'd started a disquisition on Bergman (or maybe Fellini), calculated to impress. But she was a girl of the sixties. She'd leaned over, kissed me, reached for the zipper of my pants; I put a hand underneath her short skirt, ran it up her smooth thigh. Then she'd stood up and stepped out of her dress. Olga Simonette in white bikini panties. Thirty years ago. A New York memory.

Afterward, walking back to the subway, I looked up at the building I'd just left, one of those tall apartment buildings which seemed to have sprung up overnight all over Manhattan. Apartment upon apartment, each with its own little balcony, stretching up to the dark New York sky, built for the young people of the city.
I was feeling good; I felt that I'd deserved this night. I'd just gotten my first promotion at the agency. The night with Olga Simonette was by way of being my celebration. I was one of those young people of the city. Sexual adventures were my due. When I got my next paycheck, with the raise that came with my promotion, I'd start looking for my own apartment.

A Conversation with My Parents
My Mother: I don't understand.
Me: It's simple, Ma. I'm 23 years old. I want my own place.
My Mother: Why? We persecute you here? You don't have your own room? You can't come and go as you please?
Me: That's not the point, Ma.
My Father: Maybe he wants to have a girl over.
My Mother: So he can't bring a girl over here? I wish he would. He's right, he's 23 years old. It's time he met a nice girl and got married.
Me: Who said anything about getting married?
My Mother: You got that raise. Now you can afford it. You can start having a family.
Me: A family? I'm just talking about getting my own place. Now you're getting me married and having children. Give me a break.
My Mother: So, you have it so bad here? You get good meals. I wash your clothes. I clean up your room. Who's going to take care of you if you move out?
Me: I'll manage.
My Mother: He'll manage? Sure. You leave your clothes all over the place. What will you do, get a maid? My Father: Don't forget the money you save by living here. You can save up, have some money in the bank.
My Mother: Yes, have some money for when you start raising a family.
Me: Look, there's no use arguing about this. I'm leaving.
My Mother: You'll leave when you get married. Then your wife can take care of you. Then you can leave.

My grandparents had come to the United States from Russia, Jews escaping from the Czar. My grandfather worked in the garment district, a tailor. My father was first generation American. He worked for the city, some office job. An only child, I was the first one in the family to go to college. They would have preferred me to become a lawyer or a doctor but accepted my job in an advertising agency; their son, the adman. Now they wanted me to marry a nice Jewish girl and start to raise a family. This is what good Jewish sons did. But it was the sixties. Nice Jewish girls who'd gone to Hunter College no longer withheld their favors until they were safely married. My parents didn't understand me. They couldn't understand why I wanted my own apartment. They didn't realize that I didn't want to marry and start a family, that what I wanted was . . . What was it I wanted? If I had to say it in one word, it was freedom.

A Dream of New York

During the first few years after I married, I'd have recurring dreams in which I was still living in New York. In most of these dreams, I'd be leaving the office in the evening and walking down one of the downtown avenues. I'd be pleased, looking at all the pretty well-dressed women passing by, because I was on my way to a bar where I was meeting my own girl. The scene would then switch, as it does in dreams, and I'd be in the bar. My girl would be sitting next to me, young, pretty, sexy, her leg pressed up against mine. But then the dream would become confusing. I'd been going out with several other girls and I'd realize I couldn't remember which one this was. She'd ask questions and I'd answer evasively to avoid giving myself away. Then I'd see one of my other girls headed our way and know that now I was really in trouble. Here, fortunately, the dream would usually end.
When I'd wake up, it would took me a while to realize I wasn't still in New York. I'd reach over and touch my wife. I was in California, in Sacramento. I was married. I had two sons. I lived in a house in the suburbs. I had a mortgage, a lawn with crabgrass, an air conditioner that always broke down in the summer. But in my dream life I was still a young man on the town back in New York.

A Conversation with My Son Gene

When my son Gene was 18 years old he wanted to drive from Sacramento to Corvallis, Oregon, to pick up his friend Andy, a student at the University of Oregon, at Christmas time and drive him back home.
Me: It's not a good time to be driving to Oregon. It's liable to snow and there's the danger of black ice, especially around Grant's Pass.
Gene: I have chains, Dad. There won't be any problem.
My Wife: What about Andy's parents? Can't they can't drive up to get him?
Gene: I told you, Ma. They're both working. Anyway, I want to spend a few days up there at the frat house.
Me: The frat house?
Gene: Yeah, where Andy lives. It'll be a blast.
My wife: Will there be girls there?
Gene: Maybe.
Me: How's your car running?
Gene: Good. Remember, I just got the brakes fixed.
Me: I hope nothing else needs to be fixed.
Gene: Dad, there's no problem.
Me: Look, we'll leave it that if the weather's okay, you can go. But if there's a storm forecast then Andy can get back by himself.
Gene: Okay, Dad. We'll see what the forecast is. When Chris goes back to his room, we can hear him picking up his phone. He's undoubtedly calling his friend Andy to tell him how foolish his parents are. My wife and I look at each other and know we can't win.

A Visit From Zee
The other day I came across a picture of myself and Paul Zimmerman, Zee, two skinny young men standing in front of a New York City apartment building, goofy smiles on their faces, clowning around, feeling good. I worked with Paul at the ad agency and, if I remember correctly, it was through Paul that I'd met Olga Simonette; she was a cousin of his or something. It was also Paul who'd gotten his own place first, in upper Manhattan; that picture might have been taken in front of his building just after he'd moved in.
About five years after I'd come out to California and had moved to Sacramento, Paul, who'd been in Los Angeles on agency business, came up to visit. It was a hot day in July and, the air conditioner being out, we sat on lawn chairs in the shade under the one tree of our little back yard. My first son, Alan, was two years old then, and my wife was pregnant with our second son, who'd be named Gene.
We tried to talk while Alan ran around the yard getting into trouble, chasing Floofer, our cat, stubbing his toe on our patio step and screaming as if being tortured, spilling soda all over his playsuit. Finally, I dragged him into the house and ordered him to take a nap. "The terrible twos," I said to Paul when I got back.
Paul had to leave at six. I walked with him to his rented car in front of the house. He looked around at our suburban street, the neat little lawns, and said, "So, is this it?"
I gave him a New York shrug. "I guess so," I said.
He didn't say anything but gave a little nod.
"Say, do you ever see anything of Olga Simonette?" I asked.
"Olga? I think she got married and then divorced. She drinks a lot. Why?"
"Just wondered."
"Oh, yeah. You went out with her, didn't you?"
"A couple of times."
We shook hands and Paul got into his car to drive to San Francisco and then get a plane back to New York and I returned to the backyard. My wife was asleep in a lawn chair, the cat Floofer perched high on her stomach. I sat in the chair next to her and looked out at a stand of trees in the nearby field where two hawks circled overhead in the hot heavy Sacramento air.

A Walk in the Snow

A few months after he'd moved in, Zee gave a big New Year's Eve party in his new apartment. The place was filled with young people, a lot of them from our agency, moving from room to room, drinking, talking loudly above the music that was blaring from somewhere, trying to make out. "Hey," Zee called out to me, "This is great, isn't it?" He seemed pretty well sloshed to me. So, I guess, was I. "Yeah, Zee," I said. "Great."
Just before midnight, I spotted Olga Simonette. We hadn't seen each other in six months. As we moved toward each other, Zee yelled, "This is it. Happy New Year everyone." While everyone screamed and balloons floated in the air, Olga and I kissed. Without a word and still clinging together, we moved into one of the bedrooms. I looked around. The room was empty. "Do you think we should?" I asked. But I knew what the answer would be. Some time later, in the gray dawn, I walked back to the subway, just as I'd done months before when I'd left Olga Simonette's apartment. Just as I'd done then, I looked up at the buildings, all with their little balconies, stretching up above me. It was snowing. White flakes floated gently down, to melt on the hard sidewalk. How can anyone raise a family, I thought, in those tall apartment buildings? How can anyone raise a family in New York? Enjoy the snow, I told myself. I knew that later that the next year I'd be going to California.

© Martin Green October 2004

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