Between midtown and The Upper East Side, Manhattan, 1977
I have never participated in or been to an orgy.
Somebody I briefly dated invited me to go to Plato’s Retreat. For a hot second I thought it might be interesting to watch. Then I realized I would be expected to participate. From everything I had read it sounded grosser than gross and very unsanitary so I did what any hipper than thou but basically sweet child of the suburbs would do and declined. OK probably not any, and I wasn’t the most innocent girl around but….
The year before I had moved into a huge rent-stabilized studio (in other words–cheap) of my father’s dreams off Fifth Avenue in the 60’s. He thought it had moats that would protect me from unsuitable people, and I would meet a Jewish man who would sweep me off my feet and onto Fifth Avenue proper.
The reality was a bit different. We should have enquired as to who my two next door neighbors were. On one side was a notorious crazy psychiatrist with frizzy dark hair that was too outrageous even for the 1970’s. One day he would be found dead in his apartment of an overdose.
On the other side was a “kept woman”, Cindy. I had never met a woman near my age who lived off a man. This particular man was the bad seed of two famous families: one was known for its philanthropy and brilliance; the other side consisted of dissolute playboys and the women who loved them.
My then best friend and I befriended her. Once we went to a restaurant, Grass on Second Avenue. When I went to the ladies room she ate all the shrimp off my plate. That was almost as strange as her lover locking her out of her own apartment. One morning she screamed for somebody to call the police. So I did.
Her lover spoke to them and they then came to my apartment and gave me a long and serious lecture on wasting the police’s time. And how men like him were worthy–but girls like me….It was nine AM on a Saturday. I was hungover and the clothes I tried on and discarded before going out after work the previous four nights were strewn around the apartment.
Later, I understood that the police assumed, like everybody else I was one of Reva’s girls.
Maybe we should have understood that a woman like Reva had occupied the apartment when we first saw it.
One of the panes in the casement bay windows in the back of the apartment was knocked out. The walls were covered with foam that was falling off. The ten by ten feet kitchen had a stove and oven that looked as if they had never been cleaned; the fridge was one step up from an icebox. The kitchen floor was covered with some material in some obscured color.
But the five by five feet archway that separated the kitchen from the studio room and the potential for the studio room took my breath away. It had potential. Though I wasn’t sure what exactly the potential was for.
I first saw the apartment with my parents and sister.
The alcoholic super told us that a madam had lived in the apartment for 25 years. She had recently retired to Miami.
For the next five years men in $2,000 suits would ring my bell. Some would stand outside my door until I left the apartment or came into the building. A typical conversation went like this:
“What’s your name?”
I would stare at them–half-shy and half-angered.
“Well, what’s your name?”
I would stand there scared to go into the apartment or down the hall to the two doors that led out of the building. The men got into the building as the intercom almost always didn’t work and when it did most of the people didn’t know how to use it anyway. Somebody would always buzz them into the building.
I never knew if I should answer the men or not. They didn’t teach you this at college or work and I didn’t feel comfortable discussing it with my parents or my friends. All my friends had more cojones than I did and sharper wits. They would have known what to say. Hell, Shelby would have probably hooked up with a few of them.
Finally a question I didn’t feel quite comfortable answering but did anyway.
“Reva moved. I live in the apartment now.”
“No you don’t. Reva would have told me if she were moving. You must be one of her girls.”
Whoever was there would look me up and down for the tenth time. I would feel like asking the man if he wanted to inspect my teeth.
“Really, I don’t know Reva.”
“Oh you’re a feisty one. Play the schoolgirl well. How old are you? Eighteen?”
“Will you please leave me alone? Honestly I have no idea who Reva is.” Then I would quickly open the door, go into the apartment and slam the door shut. The man would stand there for awhile and ring the bell.
Then he would slip his card under the door. If anybody went through my card collection (not that I ever kept them together) they would think I knew the executive vice presidents of some of the biggest companies in America.
Between the men who came to my apartment and the doormen at The Pierre, who, when I passed them on the way to the subway in the morning, would ask me if I wanted to make easy money, I could have had an amazing career.
This is part of a series on life in a rent-stabilized apartment in what was then the richest zip code in the US.