EDWARD YANOWITZ (1918-2003)
I used to run the sixteen millimeter movie projector. The projector in Harry Goldschlagg's camp went off the blink and we loaned them ours. I was sent along to operate the precious equipment. I had a long talk with Harry while I was there. He was applying for entrance to Iowa State, was sure of acceptance, and assured me that I would be accepted if I applied. He convinced me and I sent for the application form, filled it out, sent it off, and arranged to be discharged from the CCC in order to go to college.
The application form arrived and was returned and nothing happened for a while. Then my discharge came through; I lost hope and took the long train trip home. I thought it might be fun to stop off in Chicago for a couple of hours and ran into another member of the tribe of ubiquitous homosexuals when I innocently asked a middle-aged gentleman for directions. My disgust transferred itself to the whole city of Chicago and I hopped back on the train to New York City.
I met Harry about eight years later in New York. He'd graduated from Iowa State. "Where were you?" he asked. "I kept waiting for you to come. Your name was on the list."
* * * * *
I'd accumulated some money in the C's and Hy and I took a room on 137th Street and the West Side near City College. I started going out with a rather attractive young lady who lived in The Bronx. I think her name was Esther. I had gotten a part in another Madison Square Garden Communist Party extravaganza, The Lenin Memorial Pageant, and had given her a ticket.
Meanwhile a girl friend of Hy's named Fay introduced us to a couple of girls who were going to CCNY at night. They had taken a couple of rooms a few houses down from us. Their names were Mae and Ida. It turned out that Mae was working at the Army Finance Department which, coincidentally, disbursed final CCC payments to honorably discharged veterans. She actually processed my discharge papers and hurried my final check along. I was grateful and asked her out when I wasn't dating Esther. Hy was the one who gave her a pass to the pageant. That has occasionally been thrown up to me.
Though I didn't realize it, I was at the prime age for being hog-tied and Esther invited me up to her home for dinner with her parents. After the interrogation was over, I said my goodbyes and Esther followed me out to the hall. As we embraced on the marble steps leading downstairs, I came eyeball to eyeball with a rather large louse that munched on her scalp. My ballooning passions deflating, I bade her goodbye, and leaving, itched all the way home. I made no attempt to see her again.
"O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion...."
* * * * *
Jobs were still not easy to get, but I finally landed one as a gofer at The Streamline Button Company in the garment district. My first day of work I had no problems and the boss seemed satisfied. My second day I was sent to deliver an order of buttons to a place that was being picketed. I had a short consultation with myself and refused to cross the picket line. This astonished my boss and I was summarily fired.
Mae insisted on preparing some meals for me and eventually I met her family, the Merrells (condensed from Mutterperl): her father, David; her mother, Bertha; and her two sisters, Silvia and Virginia. Mae's father had a retail coat and suit store and got one of his wholesalers to give me a job as a shipping clerk for sixteen dollars a week. When I introduced Mae to my father, he accused me of robbing the cradle–she was a skinny little thing and looked about fourteen, I guess, but what a brain!
We practiced a non-sexist regimen even then. Mae paid the two dollar license fee, the seven dollars for the pearl engagement ring and a like amount for the wedding ring. We made an arrangement to meet at Canal Street and Broadway to buy the rings. However, communication between us failed (a chronic fault)and I waited and waited and waited, and would probably still be waiting if I didn't finally bethink myself that there might be another subway entrance besides the one I was waiting at. There was. . .and so we were married.
We were married on Sunday, March 2nd, 1941, at Mae's parents' home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Hy was my best man, my Aunt Mae stood in for my father who didn't come for some reason or other (I wasn't unhappy about it), and I crunched the light bulb that was substituted for the traditional glass and so we were wed. We had a wedding breakfast and once I learned that hitting a spoon against a glass was the signal for me to kiss my blue-lace bodiced bride, I rattled merrily away. After the breakfast, Hy entertained the assemblage with an oral piece he'd developed from Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. It was a strong pacifist indictment of war and upset Mae's Uncle Marcy, who wanted the U.S. to get into the war against Hitler. He made a speech and Hy countered and it looked like havoc until Mae stepped in and requested firmly that such discussions be terminated as of "NOW!", was applauded, and the festivities meandered on. What a woman! What a woman!
Mae's sister, Silvia suggested we save money by using a friend of hers who was an amateur photographer for the wedding pictures. The temptation to save money was too great to resist and we agreed. He flashed pictures throughout the ceremony and we posed with dreams in our hearts.
In the car driving down to our honeymoon-and-after apartment, which was on the fourth floor of 368 East Tenth between Avenues C and D, Mae told me that the son-of-a-bitch had made a pass at her, demanded a kiss, and left in a huff when he met with adamant refusal. We never did get any wedding pictures.
We carried some of our belongings upstairs and we went down to get some more and found a parking ticket under the windshield wiper. I found a parking place across the street while Mae went back upstairs with another heavy load. I finally arrived upstairs with the car-emptying bundles and when I got to the fourth floor apartment I found the door locked. I swore a bloody oath, unlocked the door, called, "Mae," got no answer and started to get a creepy feeling. "Mae," I called again and then scouted the apartment. She wasn't there! I looked out the window; she wasn't down on the sidewalk. I ran up to the roof; no Mae. I ran all the way downstairs. I stood in front of the building and I shouted, "Mae! Mae! Mae!" and nothing. I was going mad. The bubonic plague story about the mother and daughter in a hotel in Paris started to haunt me. I went mad. I shouted up the building from the ground floor, "Mae! Mae! Mae!" went outside and shouted up to the fourth floor again and, distraught, I stared at the building next door. It was a twin of ours.
"Well, it's about time," my bride said as I staggered onto the fourth floor landing where she sat placidly on her suitcase. "My key doesn't work." With my saber I cut her head off–nono, I clasped her to me feverishly, passionately, lovingly, and she was nonplussed until I picked up her suitcase, carried it downstairs and led her into the correct building where she apologized feverishly, passionately and lovingly. God, how tolerant and forgiving I was then!
Hy moved in with us and Mae was hard put to hold to her projected weekly budget. Hy, kainenhorra, could eat! He was broke and he borrowed and who could deny him?
A world-shaking event occurred on June 17, 1941. It was a Sunday and we enjoyed sleeping late when we could. We were catapulted from our bed by a Gestapo-like drumming on our door. Timidly we opened it, and there stood the prototype of Liberty, Leading the People. We gathered from the impassioned speech delivered by the young woman that The Soviet Union had been attacked by Nazi Germany and we must immediately station ourselves at assigned posts and spread the news that now the war was sanctified. It was no longer an Imperialist War fought by Imperialist Nations. It was a war to free the enslaved peoples of the world!
The messenger departed. Mae and I looked at one another in bewilderment and went where we were told to go. I stood for perhaps ten minutes, not accosting anyone, and went home.
* * * * *
My job as a shipping clerk was seasonal and the end of the season came. My father came through and got me a job in a scab shop that somehow was allowed to operate by the union. My task was to sort caracul skins that were various shades of black, degrees of curliness, sheen and texture into uniform matching piles so that a garment sewn from skins from a matched pile would appear to have come from the same Persian lamb.
My trainer gave me all of five minutes of rapid-fire description and left me to flounder–which I did. If any of my matched piles would have been used for a garment, the garment would have created a sensation with any potential customer–a sensation of dismay at least. I lasted for two hours and got bupkes for my efforts, which actually were Brobdingnagian.
My father didn't give up. I think perhaps he wanted to have a son in the elite echelons of fur. He himself was of the lowest stratum: a nailer. To be a cutter was like being a member of the priestly class in Judaism–a Cohen, as distinguished from the progressively lower Levy (which I actually am) and the lowest–the Israel. My father would have kvelled if I succeeded in becoming not merely a nailer or an operator, so he got me apprenticed as a cutter at J. B. Gross and Frishman, where he worked.
As an apprentice I was contracted to start work at seven-fifty the first week, ten the second week and then increments of five until I reached scale which was seventy-five dollars a week–a munificent amount. I'd wet down and stretch lynx-dyed white fox skins for Mr. Frishman and watch him cut out the eyes and ears. After I became proficient in watching him, I was given a knife and allowed to cut eyes and ears in profusion under declining supervision. Eventually I was allowed to slice stretched and nailed mink skins. This approached artistry and as time went on, this task was turned over to J. B. Gross's immigrant cousin who had fled Hungary. I cut fox collars and eyes and ears and the weeks passed and my salary increased and a week before Christmas I reached scale–and was laid off.
I gave a few days to the war effort by cutting donated furs that were sewn into jackets and headgear for sailors in the merchant marine who, in the early stages of the war were suffering a tremendous number of casualties. Convoys in the North Atlantic were sometimes decimated by U-boats.
My brother, my wife and I acted in Irwin Shaw's Bury the Dead. Mae was the young wife whose complaint was, "Why can't I have a baby?" She was at least four months pregnant at the time.
* * * * *
Some of the first year of marriage was fun, perhaps ecstasy, but I was a tough sonuvabich to get along with (WAS?). I was a pretty good lover though and the union bore fruit. Ricky was born on February 4, l942. I used to cause Mae to giggle with embarrassment when my answers to questions appeared to indicate that he was a seven-month baby, perhaps even a six-month baby. I got confused. In those days counting months was an indoor sport.
He was a beautiful kid. His crib was next to our bed and one morning when Mae got up to change him, he lay in his bare beauty as she stepped to the bureau to fumble for a diaper. At that precise moment he arced a fall of baby dew right on my upturned sleeping face. Mae chortled. I was pissed.
I guess I became a warmonger after the Soviet Union was attacked, so despite the "Day of Infamy" I was glad to see the U.S. get into the war against Hitler. I don't think I was as anxious to fight the Japanese. I knew they were doing monstrous things to the Chinese, and I supported a boycott intellectually, sang:
Please stay in style;
Wear clothes made of lisle;
Don't buy anything Japanese.
Lisle's three times as strong;
Lasts three times as long;
Don't buy anything Japanese.
I never wore silk anyway, but I supported the idea. Big deal!
We were eating at Mae's folks' house in Mount Vernon that Sunday. I remember that Mae's mother was trying to get me to eat carrots, which I had perversely decided I didn't like. She persisted, I demurred. I got my way. Silvia and her boss, a dentist were at the dinner table. I have the sense that it was about five and I guess Mae's father must have turned on the old-fashioned floor model radio, and we heard FDR's voice re this "Day of Infamy." We gasped, mumbled, postulated, predicted, and ate.
Hy tried to enlist a number of times, but was turned down because of his eyes, but was finally accepted in the medics. I remember when I was in basic training years later how I would console my fellow-trainees as they lay prostrate during the ten-minute-breaks on a twenty-mile march carrying sixty pound field packs. "My brother told me," I would say, "that this is good for you. It strengthens you, gives you stamina; you'll be happy about this one day." Oh, how soberly they greeted my brother's wise words. I would be flooded with choice expletives and threatened with bodily harm. I only meant well.
Hy was in the European Theatre during the war. I know he saw action, but I don't remember discussing his experiences much with him. In fact, I think that once he went overseas I didn't see him, or hear much from him until he essayed poultry farming in the U.S. He wrote a few letters to Mae while I was in the army, said he was arranging for her to get an allotment from him to make her life easier and she did receive one check, at least, before other demands must have made him rethink his generosity. I don't think Mae ever held it against him. Hy had a pretty blameless personality.
During the year we moved up to 1180 Sherman Avenue in The Bronx. This was when Mae became pregnant with what eventually became Ricky. How vulnerable babies make us! Mae's milk disagreed with him and Ruthie suggested that we change his name. Rank superstition, but we changed our plans to name him Barry and named him Richard Barry to fight off the evil spell in exchange for living under a pall of shame for the rest of our lives whenever we remembered our cowardice. Love and Fear have much to answer for.
When I was laid off by J. B. Gross and Frishman, I couldn't find anything in fur; it was the slack season, but the shipyards were hiring. Big money was to be made in defense so I wanted my share. I got a job as a pipefitter's helper at Todd Shipyard in Kearny, New Jersey. I was on the night shift so I'd eat breakfast at five p.m. and started work about seven-thirty. I was given an hour overtime so I got home about five o'clock in the morning. We were refitting the Ile de France so it could be used as a troopship. I was usually tired, but not from working. I rarely worked–I wanted to, but I was usually told to get lost along with a lot of the workers.
I made friends with a fellow who lived in the same building as John Dos Passos, who was calumnized by the Communists as a Trotskyite, who were The Enemy. More hatred was leveled at them than at the Capitalists. I was nonplussed about the whole leftist movement that had schisms within schisms. In my naive simplicity I thought that "In Unity there was strength," but traitors rated special dispensations of hatred.
I've forgotten my friend's name, but I owe a great deal to him. He introduced me to clam broth in Jersey City, to clams in a giant indoor market in downtown New York, taught me what prairie oysters were (the testes of bulls, I guess), showed me another segment of the world.
He explained to me that we were working under a 'Cost-Plus' contract. Whatever it cost in labor and materials would be used to calculate the profit the company received. The more they paid out, the more they made. I worked five nights, took out my ire on my pregnant wife, who recognizing my breaking point was near offered me a palliative that worked in reverse. Lovingly she mixed my favorite drink–a bottle of milk flavored with cocoa and sugar. I smashed it in the sink and refused to go back to the non-work. Mae cleaned up the debris and eventually I apologized.
* * * * *