Monday, December 24, 2007

December 12, 1931

This is Velma's posting from December 12, 1931 given to you on Christmas as per her request. I can see why she feels this is fitting. Happy Holidays to all who read.

Needing a break from my grueling final's preparation, I decided to do some Christmas shopping for my family. Now that I am earning a side income, I feel obliged to repay those who have shown me kindness and love in the past.I also had it in my mind to find little gifts for Dottie and Sarah even though Hanukkah ended for her two days ago. Both have helped to make New York City feel a bit more like home for me during these past three months.

I have heard Abby say that the only places worth shopping in New York are either Bergdorf Goodman or Saks Fifth Avenue. I'm sure I can afford neither, but I thought it would be fun just to take a trip downtown by myself and see what treasures I could find. So I rode the IRT downtown to 50th street and walked across to Fifth Avenue. I was told that both stores were within walking distance of each other, Saks Fifth Avenue being on 49th street and Bergdorff Goodman's being on 58th street. Once I reached Fifth Avenue, I noticed the towering Sak's which stood with its rigid canopies and faux columns like a giant gift box under St. Patrick's Cathedral. What grand sights to see standing next to one another. When I walked through the doors, I was amazed by what was on the other side. Like Alice stepping into Wonderland, I was in another world, one that was completely unknown to me. The smells of perfumes and powders immediately caught my nose, as my eyes spied these giant trees that wrapped up the columns of this marvelous room. There were white lights wrapped around every branch which made the store look positively magical.

Wandering around, I noticed that many people where looking, but not buying much. I have heard that since the Depression is taking its toll on all classes, people are less concerned with gifts and more concerned with putting food on their table. Walking through the women's department I saw a rainbow of cashmere scarves lied out on a mahogany table. I just loved the look of them and decided that I would purchase one for Dottie and one for Sarah, and green since all three of us love the color green. My mother's favorite color is blue, so I picked a blue one for her. Then I went and bought simple pins that suited the personalities of each of the women. A diamond shape for Dottie because she is a diamond in the rough, a locket pin for Sarah so she could put a small photograph in there. My mother would a receive a horse pin for when she goes to the races.

I went upstairs to the men's section and decided on silk neck ties for my brother and father. Although the event, rarely presents itself that they would wear them, I thought it would be nice for them to have for holidays and special occasions. When I brought my purchases up to the cashier who, I think, was amazed to see a girl of my age with such expensive tastes. When he rang the total, which I shall not record here, he asked if I was interested in opening a charge account at the store. I told him that would not be necessary. He then asked if I wanted the items gift wrapped and I said, of course. He packaged them and told me to take them to the gift wrapping room on the fifth floor. I did so. I choose different wrappings for each of the the people I was giving, which made the young woman behind the counter less than happy.

When I was through I exited out to Fifth Avenue and saw the most peculiar thing. Directly across the street from the store were heaping mounds of earth behind make-shift fences. There were dump trucks and bulldozers all standing dormant. A sign on the fence read, "FUTURE SITE OF THE JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER CENTER." It went on to say that it was going to be a complex of fourteen commercial buildings. I found the optimism of the sign and the size of the lot odd considering most development has been halted due to the Depression. The stranger sight was a line of men waiting beneath a 30-foot pine tree. It was wrapped haphazardly with garland, as if decorated for Christmas. At first I thought it was another breadline. But then I realized the men were being handed slips of paper. Most likely paychecks by the looks of their faces. Seeing as they had lunch pails and hard hats, I presumed they were being paid for their labor. I can only assume that the Christmas tree was erected in celebration of the work which is so scarce. The Christmas of 1931 would, perhaps, be the best for them. One they would never forget.

I wanted to run and tell Sarah to photograph the picture because I doubt there would be a sight like it again. It was an obvious impossibility so I walked up Fifth Avenue content to keep the image and feeling in my heart.

Thursday, December 20, 2007



NOTE: On Monday night I found two Christmas cards in my mailbox both with my name and address on them and both with Velma’s handwriting. I opened each. They were from Velma but, I assumed one of them was not meant for me.

VELMA: Hallo!

JUSTIN: Hi Velma, it’s Justin.

V: Hey there sweetheart. How are ya?

J: Great… Look I was calling because of your Christmas cards.

V: Oh did you get it?

J: I did and—

V: —I got yours. That pig is cute (my Christmas card had Olivia on it) and the note was very nice.

J: Thanks. As for yours, I got two from you.

V: Two? I didn’t send you two.

J: I’m not exactly sure if the other one was meant for me.

V: Wait a minute, did you get the card about the office and no one doing work.

J: Yeah, I got that one.

V: What did the other one say?

J: Something about unwrapping me under the Christmas tree.

V: Shit! Yeah that wasn’t meant for you. I wasn’t getting’ fresh with ya or anything. (She starts laughing)

J: Although I was flattered, I figured as much.

V: Well when you reach 91 sometimes your ducks get outta their rows.

J: Would you like me to send it back to you?

V: Nah, keep it. I’ll send another one off to the intended party.

J: I won’t ask who the intended party is.

V: Good, cause I ain’t tellin’. We gotta keep some things sacred right, kid?

J: As much as possible.

V: But you did get my note about the entry to your readers?

J: I did, and I’m working on it as we speak.

V: Cause you’re not done with ’31 yet are you?

J: No.

V: God bless your delicate constitution.

J: God bless all of us.

V: Right. Ok. Look if I don’t talk to you, have a merry merry and sorry about the mix up.

J: You too. Not a problem

V: Bye now.

So I’ve attached Velma’s cards with this posting for your viewing pleasure and the next entry will jump to December 12, 1931 as per Velma’s request. I will then go back to finish October and November. Enjoy.

Thanks to Courtney Zell for scanning the cards.

Monday, December 17, 2007

October 20, 1931


I was at a formal garden party. I was dressed well. In white. I walked into a large white tent full of people who did not know me. They were sitting at tables donned with crisp white linen table clothes and large floral centerpieces. I took special note of this, and I have no idea why. A woman with dark hair was following me and I remember having the feeling that I was in danger. A faceless man stopped her from pursuing me. I woke up short of breath.

I feel back asleep.

Then I found myself on a river bank. The river was very wide and the bank was marshy. I remember looking into the water and seeing my reflection. I woke to the morning.

I marched into Dutch class today and told Loockersmans that I would accept his post. He said that he sensed a new found air of confidence in me. I thanked him and sat at my desk a little relieved that the decision was made. I guess I have a new found talent of hiding my true feelings because I'm still nervous about the whole affair. After class he told me to report to his academic office in one week's time for my first assignment.

Friday, December 14, 2007

October 19, 1931

I have been sleeping restlessly for the past few nights, which is not typical. In Saratoga I would sleep straight through the night, or the through the world ending as mother would say.

I feel as though I am having a string of nonsensical dreams that when I wake, I cannot even begin to recall. They are so erratic. I think I am going to start writing down these images as they come to me. Perhaps they are pieces to a larger puzzle. More likely, they are the product of an anxious mind. Regardless, My thoughts are out of sorts and it must be tied up in this post that was offered to me by Professor Loockersmans. Tomorrow is the day I'm supposed to accept or decline the offer and I still have not made a firm decision either way. Part of me feels I need to break out and do it and another wants to run in the other direction.

Sarah's consul on the matter was clear. She said I have no reason not to try. If I don't feel comfortable I could just resign instead of living with the regret of never having tried. She also said that Loockersmans is doing this as a service to a student that ,he feels, has promise. She said she's heard of these kinds of things happening before. As she was wise to remind me: "It's one of the reason we go to Barnard."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

October 16, 1931

Dinner last night was the grandest time I’ve had in a good while. Sarah and I did walk east to the elevated Second Avenue line. The train itself was much like any other except higher in the air and more rickety. It stopped quite a bit and there was a great deal of rocking back and forth. This was all offset by a symphony of banging and clanging. It didn’t much seem to bother any one else, but at one point I did feel a little sick in my stomach.

Once we arrived downtown at a stop called Grand Street, we stepped off the train into a patchwork of tenements and brownstones. I’ve never seen streets so packed with people. From the languages I heard there was German, Yiddish, Italian, and even a little Spanish being flung through the air. The sidewalks were almost four or five people deep on both sides of the street. On the curbs were pushcarts full of wares being peddled. Meats, cheeses, and even barrels of pickled vegetables lined the streets. Sarah directed me toward Madison Street and we came upon the Schimberg Family Kosher Deli. The golden letters on the window were written in both English and Hebrew characters. When we walked in Sarah’s father, Ira, boisterously greeted us. He instantly hugged me and said he was so happy to meet me. It was a warm gesture even though his embrace had a smell of cured meats to it.

He promptly closed the deli and the three of us walked up a backset of stairs to the Schimberg’s apartment. I’m beginning to think that all of New York is a series of back staircases. The apartment was small and cluttered. There were piles of books strewn about in all corners. Apparently Mr. Schimberg is an avid reader. I instantly could smell something like a roast cooking on the stove.

“I made a brisket,” Mr. Schimberg said.

“Ewww brisket, pop. You went all out huh?” Sarah said.

“I figured what better way to introduce the Jews to a girl from Saratoga.” He laughed. I wasn’t sure how to respond.

“It smells delicious.” I said.

“Well it should. I’ve been cooking it for five hours.” He laughed again. It seemed that all his statements were punctuated with laughter. It put me at ease immediately.

Dinner was dressed with boiled potatoes and cole slaw. We stuffed ourselves while we discussed everything from horse racing to the Depression. Mr. Schimberg is a very educated man. He was telling me that his father came to New York from Germany in the 1870’s. He started his business out of a pushcart on Essex Street selling pickles and whatever meats he could get off the boats on South Street. From there his business grew and in 1909 he finally saved enough to buy the building that we were sitting in.

“That’s why I’ve been able to fair through this damn Depression. I didn’t have a bank breathing down my neck. My other tenants are giving me whatever they can. And who doesn’t need a good deli, right?”

Sarah offered, “And what about banks, pop?”

“Please, don’t get me started. They’re all a bunch of crooks, even before this crash. Never went to one. Never will. Why am I goin’ to let some grimy suit take my money when I can keep it here.”

“Pop keeps his entire life savings in his father’s old pickle barrels.”

“So when that house of cards fell, I was none the wiser,” he laughed.

After dinner, Sarah brought me to her room where she showed me photographs of her mother. It was then that she told me her mother died of stomach cancer when she was four years old. Sarah’s grandfather was a professional portrait photographer, which is why she had so many photographs of her. She confided in me that she wanted to become a photographer herself, even though her father was sending her to Barnard to be a teacher. She saved up some of the money she made in the deli to buy herself a camera. Under her bed she pulled a box of photos she’s taken and developed herself. Most of them were of her surrounding neighborhood and the people in it. Although I know nothing of photography she has a wonderful eye for people in natural situations.

I regretted having to leave but it was getting late and I had an early class. Mr. Schimberg was gracious enough to put me in a taxicab back to campus. What lovely people they were. So happy to have found them.

Monday, December 10, 2007

October 15, 1931

Tonight I go to dinner at Sarah’s home on Madison Street. She says it might serve us well to walk to the elevated line on the east side. She said she's a walker and doesn't mind hiking going across town. I said that I didn't either. I haven’t been out east yet. By the way she speaks, Sarah makes this Lower East Side to seem almost magical. I can hardly wait to see it. She also informed me that her father is a very jovial man and likes to kid around with all of her friends. Apparently she has an extensive network of neighborhood comrades. She said that she had a feeling that a sense of humor might scare me since I don't seem to have one. She laughed out loud when she said it, but I think she's right. I might be much too serious for my own good. I think I need to laugh more. I wonder if there's a way to work on that. Perhaps a book of jokes will help. Perhaps I'm hopeless. No one laughed in the Graydon household. We were workers. We barely spoke at dinner. Mother liked things quiet around the house.

Speaking of mothers, I have noticed that there has been no mention of Sarah’s mother. She has never brought her up in conversation and I have not had the courage to ask. I can only hope that it is the best of all possible situations. I'm not completely sure what I mean by that.

Regardless, I am excited for a new neighborhood and a ride on public transportation. It will be a refreshing change from bakery speakeasies and menacing Dutch professors. All which have been weighing heavy on my mind lately.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

October 14, 1931

I went back to the speakeasy last night for my meeting with Professor Loockersmans. It was a a bit of a humbling experience to ask Dottie if she would accompany me. When I asked she simply looked at me and said, "You wanna go back? On a Tuesday night?" I told her that it was for purely academic reasons. She laughed and said she would gladly bring me there. I'm not quite sure but the idea of her going with me, comforted me. I thought that if anything were to go wrong, Dottie wouldn't hesitate to jump in and protect me. It was most likely an irrational thought.

Much proceeded as it did the last time I went to the Bakery. The secret codes, the dark alley, Mick and Rick or Rick and Mick. I did not don the trench. When I arrived inside Dottie headed for the bar and engaged the bartender, Fox in conversation. She came over to me standing sheepishly in the corner. "Fox says Look is sending someone down to bring you to his office." She looked at me and winked. My heart sank. I realized she thought I was going to engage in some indiscretion with my professor. "Dottie, it's nothing like that?"

She smiled, "Sure alright. There's nothin' wrong with workin' for your grades." She nudged me on the shoulder. "Girls do it all the time."

"How disgusting," I gasped.

Dottie ran over to Fox and ordered two whiskies. She brought one over to me. "Look, this time, not so fast, unless you think can handle it."

I hesitated and then in one breath thought it might just help me relax since my nerves had been getting the best of me for the past week. I took a small sip. The burning sensation was indescribable. I gagged a little. Then I took another sip. It wasn't so bad. Neither was the third sip.

"Thatta girl," Dottie was almost proud. She took a large sip of hers. "You know Abby is having it off with her literature professor." I nearly choked. "No one's suppose to know. So that's between you and me. Got it?"

"Yes of course," I said smiling a little bit on the inside. Dottie confided in me and Abby was not the perfect girl she tried so hard to be.

"Girl's got no self-esteem. I don't get rich dames."

"You two seem to be very close." I said now feeling comfortable to say it.

Dottie grimaced, "Nah. She was using me for booze. Howie had a connection to get some bottles onto campus. She wanted them for entertainin' her other society dames. Not my scene. Once she got the hooch, she booked."

"She went home with you though," I said.

"No. She couldn't handle Brooklyn. Ma says those girls have broomsticks up their asses. You think I'm refined, you should see ma."

In the middle of our conversation Mick or Rick came up to me. "Hiya Velma, Mr. Look is ready to see you." It really bothered me that I was not able to distinguish between the two of them.

I downed the rest of my whisky. "Good luck," Dottie said.

I handed her my glass, "Thanks." I followed Mick/Rick to the back of the room where a black curtain was pulled back to reveal a black door. It was opened from the inside. We walked in and down a hallway lit by gaslamps, which I found strange. We stopped at the end of the hall. "Mr. Look. I got Velma here."

The door again opened from the inside. Professor Lockersmanns was sitting behind a huge mahogany desk in a room stacked high of books and ancient maps. He stood up. "Rick, be gracious and refer to her as Ms. Graydon."

"Sorry, Ms. Graydon." Rick said.

"I don't mind using Velma." I said nervously.

"Thank you, Rick, you can go. Wait outside until we're done." He left and the door was closed by Harold who was standing behind it. "You remember Harold?" Loockersmans asked. "Have a seat, please." He motioned to one of the chairs opposite his desk.

"Yes, hello Harold." I sat.

"Hello," He said standing in the corner.

Loockersmans sat. "I'll make this brief, Ms. Graydon. I'd like to offer you a job. A way for you to make not only a side-income but also contacts that could help you in the future."

I squirmed in my seat. "What type of job?"

He smiled, "I need you to be a messenger for me. But not just any ordinary messenger. You will be delivering top secret transmissions to different members of one of the oldest societies in this city. It is a job that will require you to be alert, focused, and most importantly, to be fluent in many languages."

"But I'm not," I blurted.

"But you are and you will be. I've seen your records. I've searched far and wide for you, Ms. Graydon." There was a pause and I really had no idea what to think of that statement. "Who do you think it is who approved your scholarship? Who do you think it is who placed you in Dutch when German was closed?" My throat felt like it was closing up. I couldn't swallow. "Don't look so frightened you are a student of the utmost promise. You don't realize how important this job I am asking you to do is."

I felt Harold staring into the back of my head while Loockersmans grinned his way through his offer. "What do I have to do?" I scraped from the back of my throat.

"Do you accept?"

"Do I have a choice?"

He smiled wider. "Of course you do. You are not obligated to this. Although If I were you I would view it as an honor and a privilege, it does not affect the status of your scholarship."

I wanted to say no right at the moment. But there was something greater in me that hesitated to say anything. "I honestly do not know what to say, Professor."

"Why don't you try it and if it does not suit you, then you are free to leave and continue your studies... I assure you Ms. Graydon, there is nothing unlawful or nefarious about these dealings. This operation is a separate dealing. Your work would only deal with bringing and at times translating messages between members of this society."

"What is the society?"

He shuffled in his chair. "If you except, you will meet the President and he will be able to explain more to you."

I said nothing. I was still not assured of anything with him obviously withholding information.

"Take a week to think about it. You can give me your answer at any time before then. But I want you to seriously think about it."

"I thank you for the offer Professor, I am honored. And I will consider it." I'm not positive I meant what I said. "Am I free to leave?" I stood up.

He stood, "Of course. Thank you for coming." Harold opened the door. "Oh and Ms. Graydon, feather to left is Rick, and feather to the right is Mick." I did not quite understand him.

When I walked out into the hallway, Rick was waiting for me. The first thing I noticed was his hat. The was a yellow feather pinned to the right side of it. My immediate thought was, how in the world did Loockersmans know I was struggling with identifying those two?

So I went back and found Dottie. We had another whiskey. All in the course of an hour I became a card-carrying law breaker.

And I have not an ounce of guilt for it.

Monday, December 3, 2007

October 13, 1931

I just woke from the strangest dream and feel compelled to record it.

I was walking in broad daylight past a series of stately townhouses, I presume somewhere in this city. It didn't feel like Saratoga, but it could have been. Then in an instant, the sun went dark and I was in an open field. There was raging water all around me and I could feel it growing colder. A woman came directly up to me from, what seemed to be, nowhere. She was young. Her dress was not modern, but almost colonial, a long skirt and apron. Her long hair fell out of a tattered bonnet and her face was pale. She handed me a feather. It was long and blue with a dark blue blotch at the top of it. It was the most beautiful feather I had ever seen from an extremely exotic bird. I swore I could feel every inch of it in my hand. Suddenly this girl ran away as it grew completely dark around me. Then I woke.

How strange. I rarely remember my dreams. This one I fear I'll never forget.

I'm blaming all of this on my nerves. My meeting with Professor Loockersmans is tonight. I can't even imagine what I'm getting into.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

October 11, 1931

The day was brisk. A good one to stay in and read, but not for pleasure I'm afraid. I have a term paper due on the Russian Revolution and am knee-deep in Marxism, which, after awhile is a little like plainsong; it's all one note. Socialism and Communism do not sit well with me. The ideas look very nice on paper, but I do not trust even the most idealistic of leaders to carry them out properly. There are quite a few people on our brother campus who believe it's the only way civilization will be able to survive the reminder of the century. Excuse me for sounding pessimistic but I find the whole idea bull roar. Socially responsible democracy is the order of the day. I'm not exactly sure what that makes me politically. Although I do not consider myself a political person.

Now the evening has settled in, some of the girls are returning from their weekends away. Dottie was in the room all day yesterday held up with a paralyzing headache. I assume this is from the drink. She did not say much, but Abby has not called on her for two days. This has raised an eyebrow since they have hardly spent a day apart in the last two weeks. She woke this morning and told me she was headed home for dinner and would return Monday morning.

I did receive a letter Friday from mother. She said that conditions in Saratoga were grim. The tracks are now overrun with bookies and undesirables who are betting on horses as a means of income. She said they are single-handedly bringing down the caliber of the entire town. The Depression is now affecting everyone and everything. She says my father has no opinion on this matter since money is being laid down and his horses are being used. She also confided in me, that Henry is engaging in some of this gambling as a means of recreation. I fear he'll never further his education and leave Saratoga. He is very content being one of dad's stable hands. I assume he hopes to take over the family business.

Sarah has invited me to her home for dinner with her father this coming Thursday night. She will escort me down via the IRT after her class. It will be my first ride on a city train. And it will my first time on the Lower East Side. For both of these events I am excited. I only have to get through my Tuesday night meeting with Professor Loockersmans. I'm still very much on edge.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

October 8, 1931

Besides being extremely nervous about Professor Loockersmans's proposition, the past two days have been uneventful. I have walked in on Dottie and Abby having hushed conversations. When I come through the door, they politely excuse themselves and leave. I have not had the courage to ask Dottie why there is so much secrecy to their friendship. I know the curiosity is eating at the other ladies in the Hall and now it's doing the same to me.

Although I have not mentioned her yet, I have befriended a very agreeable girl by the name of Sarah Shimberg. She is from New York City and was raised on, what she frequently calls, the Lower East Side. She is here on partial scholarship because Mr. Schimberg, her father, is the owner of a kosher Jewish deli that has thrived despite the Depression. Sarah does not have the benefit of living on campus, she goes home every night on the IRT. She says that this saves her father the expense of board and she can still help in the deli, all of which I find very admirable of her.

We came to know each other over a study session in our Modern American Literature class. There was a small, but detailed paper due on Thomas Stearns Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." We were to discuss the significance of Eliot's use of the epigraph from Dante's Inferno and how it related to the content of the poem. It was a dense topic largely because we had to translate the Italian first. We safely saw each other through it. On more than a couple of occasions since, we have shared a lunch or two finding we have many common interests. She is also an avid reader and a lover of language. She is fluent is English, Yiddish, and German. She says you have to be to live on the Lower East Side.

I've noticed that some of the other girls from other areas of the country do not know how to handle someone of the Jewish faith. Of course, I have never had a Jewish friend being from Saratoga, but she is no different from anyone else. It's the same way they look at Dottie, but with almost more reservation. I guess I'm immune to their judgements because I am Protestant like them. Honestly, I am not religious. Although I strongly doubt most of these girls are either. I have a stronger feeling that it has to do with wealth. Growing up in Saratoga I saw this type of behavior at the spas and at the racetrack. It is a sad state of affairs when people are judged not on their character but on the size of their wallets. I'm happy to have no part of that. Some day education will be the great equalizer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

October 6, 1931

The strangest turn of events happened today. I woke and went to class nearly forgetting that Professor Loockersmans would be back from his language symposium. When I arrived he was standing at the door looming over everyone entering. I nervously passed by him and he placed his hand on my shoulder.

"Ms. Graydon?"

I stopped and turned like a little child caught by father, "Yes, Professor?"

"Come to seem me after class in my office."

It was all I could to look him in the eye, "Yes, sir."

The class itself seemed to drone on for hours. The Professor offered no explanation as to why he was absent the last two weeks, which I found unprofessional. He went right into the text speaking of negation. All I kept hearing was "neit," "neit," "neit." I was not paying attention at all. Suddenly, Professor Loockersmans barked at me, "Mw. Graydon, luister u?"

I jumped out of my daze and quickly replied, "Ja, Professor." I noticed the students looking around at each other in amazement. It just came out of me and I'm not quite sure from where. We really had not started conversing in class since it was a introductory course. I saw a slight smirk come across his face.

After class, the Professor asked me to walk with him to his office. We crossed over Broadway to Columbia's campus. He did not say a word the entire way and neither did I. It felt like a death march honestly. I pictured a scaffold and hooded executioner waiting for me.

We took the stairs to the third floor of one of the smaller nondescript building facing Barnard's campus. His office was ample, centered around a large mahogany desk and a wall that was covered, floor-to-ceiling with massive old tomes. His window looked out onto Barnard. I noticed a lantern sitting on his desk, which struck me as immediately odd.

He asked me to sit at one of the two chairs opposite his desk. I thanked him. He sat and said, "You are disappointed in me for running a speakeasy?"

I couldn't open my mouth. There was something about his demeanor. I was completely unsettled by him.

"I understand. You're idealistic. But I know for a fact, in time, Prohibition will be over and sooner than you think."

"But it's illegal at the moment," I couldn't believe I said it.

"Charming, Ms. Graydon. Really."

I couldn't find anything to say and become nervous with the silence. "Professor, why am I here?"

"I assume you wanted to tell me you were dropping my class because I am a criminal." He smirked and what a cold one it is.

How did he know? My next thought was that Dottie told him. "I was seriously considering it," I mumbled. I was more frightened than I wanted to be. I wanted to fearless.

"What if I told you my establishment was run in cooperation with the City of New York?"

I didn't speak.

"Ms. Graydon, there are many forces at work, in these times. The world is in grave danger and we are coming upon greater troubles. People are starving, governments all over the world are falling and rising, and there are people with dangerous ideas taking advantage of this."

I still had nothing intelligent to say.

"So, you see. Consumption of alcohol is the least of our problems."

Harold barged in through the door. "Ohhh, Professor, I didn't realize you were back."

"Yes Harold, the door being shut, should have been an indication."

He looked down at the floor. What an awkward thing. "Yes, Professor."

"No matter, Harold, you know Ms. Graydon?"


"Nice seeing you again, Harold," I said.

He smiled not saying anything to me. "Professor, Mr. Rapalje telephoned. He said if you could ring him as soon as possible."

"Thank you, Harold. I will."

Harold shut the door and the Professor rolled his eyes, "He's really quite intelligent. I know it doesn't show." He looked at me frozen still with fear. "Ms. Graydon, you are here for another reason. To put it bluntly, I need you."

My heart lept up to my throat. "Whatever for?"

"Believe it or not, not only are you a gifted linguist, but you are also a keen observer. And I have a job for you that will require all of your skills."

"I don't understand. I just arrived last month. How ever can I help?"

"Tell me, Ms. Graydon, what was the color of the first door of the speakeasy?"


"And the second?"


He smirked again, like he did after I answered him in him in class, "Now if I asked my two doormen, they would not have a clue, neither would any of the other patrons for that matter."

"I still don't understand how I can be of service to you."

"If interested, and I know you are, I will explain it all to you. Meet me next Tuesday night at my establishment. Ask for Rick to take you to my office. And I assure you, I'm not asking you to bootleg alcohol."

He stood up from behind his desk and went to his door. I stood with what seemed like my knees knocking. "Thank you, Professor," was all I could utter.

"Don't be nervous, Velma. The world is opening wide to you now."

Harold came to the door and showed me out of the office. I was in such a state I was nearly hit by a checker cab crossing on Broadway. My stomach is still in knots and the world has completely turned upside down.

Friday, November 16, 2007

October 4, 1931

The tops of the trees are turning bright yellows and reds. Thinking of it, the colors must be brilliant at home. The first weekend in October is always best for foliage in Saratoga. There's nothing like riding one of dad's horses through the fields in the fall.

When I woke, I found Hewitt Hall completely quiet. Dottie came home as day was breaking. She washed herself up and by 8 was heading for the train home. I'm not sure if Abby accompanied her or not. She doesn't share this kind of information with me lately. Since our night out a few weeks ago, I think Dottie looks at me as an embarrassment. She's distant and I have a feeling the story of my fainting spell has traveled, especially at the hand of Abby who is a vicious gossip. I can't help but think all of these girls see me as awkward and stuck-up.

I'm afraid this all amounted to terrible homesickness and an awful case of self-pity. So I took a walk this afternoon as a remedy. I wandered north on Broadway. I found myself in a patchwork of tenement neighborhoods with a variety of languages being spoken on the streets. They were Italian and German mostly. It was a thrill to see this people side-by-side peppered with the brogues of Irishmen. The more I thought I should turn around and head back to campus, the further north I walked. To my delight the terrain became varied. There were steep hills abutting the neighborhoods and rock formations like I’d never seen. Almost like buildings themselves.

I made my way up a street called Fort Washington Avenue which ran along a series of steep cliffs that looked out on the Hudson. At its zenith was a high-walled park. A plaque commemorates the spot as Fort Washington where Revolutionary troops where defeated by Hessians in November, 1776. It says years later, Washington and his army marched back to the fort triumphantly and reclaimed it when the war was won. How I would have loved to have been there. To fight for that incredibly noble cause. How thrilling to think of the history that drenches this island. There is so much hope in history.

I turned south and slowly walked back to campus, new, hoping for my noble cause.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

October 1, 1931

September seemed to race right by me what with all my academic responsibilities. I still have not had the chance to properly explore the city and it is my biggest regret to date. Most of my days are spent writing papers or working out mundane Dutch translations. In regards to that, I have a firm grasp of the basic written language, but speaking is a bear and understanding someone speaking is far worse. I have to remind myself that I've only been working at it for three weeks. I must not get discouraged, although my professor is a potential criminal and that is discouragement enough. Harold says he will be back to conduct class on Tuesday. I am interested to hear of his travels.

Dottie is never in our room. She is constantly with Abby who is rumored to be visiting the bakery speakeasy on a nightly basis. The girls are still all aflutter about this friendship especially with the newest scuttlebutt that Abby may accompany Dottie home this weekend for Sunday dinner. The society girls say it is virtually unheard of for a girl to go any further south than the Heights nowadays. This of course means nothing to me, but apparently it speaks volumes to them.

Although I would rather die than admit it. I am jealous. There is a part of me that wants nothing more than to be invited to the Cento home in Brooklyn. It seems like an adventure I would enjoy. Honestly I would cherish the opportunity to take the BMT or the IRT for that matter. With this new month, I’ll make it a point to spread my wings and explore. They say the new Empire State Building is a marvel. Perhaps that will be first on my agenda.

Monday, November 12, 2007

On the Phone with Velma #2

This is a transcript of a phone conversation with Velma that took place on Sunday, November 11 at 2:32 PM.

VELMA: Hallo!

JUSTIN: Velma?

V: Yeah?

J: It's Justin.

V: Yep. (She sounds like she's not sure.)

J: I'm blogging the journals.

V: Yeah sweetheart, I know who you are.

J: Oh cause I wasn't--

V: -I'm not senile yet, dear. And I can hear, so don't talk loud. No need for it.

J: Was I talking loud?

V: No, but I'm just sayin' cause it drives me crazy when people assume I can't hear.

J: Got it.

V: So what can I do ya for?

J: I was calling to see if you were interested in my readership knowing more about you?

V: They're reading my journals, how much more do they need to know?

J: I mean a profile.

V: I hate my profile. I got a nose like a coat hook.

J: (Here we go) No, Velma it's not a picture.

V: Oh a photograph?

J: No. A short description of your interests. Words.

V: Wait! (Pause) Are people reading these conversations? You're not writing these out are you?

J: Ummm--

V: Cause I don't think like I speak.

J: Velma, they can't hear you.

V: I know the difference between a phone and a computer screen. If I had you in front of me, I'd clock you square in the nose.

J: (I don't doubt she would) The website just wants to know the kind of books you read. The type of music you listen to. Ya know, your interests. (That was me changing the subject)

V: (Pause) This isn't for a dating site is it? I'm not looking for that right now.

J: (I chuckle) No, it's a blog, not Match.

V: Yeah, alright, when I have a minute I'll write you a letter with some things you can include.

J: No email huh? It would be so much quicker.

V: My assistant has one. My eyes are awful, I can't stare at that damn screen. You'll get a letter.

J: Okay, good enough.

V: What date you up to?

J: Ahh, I just did September 27.

V: What year?

J: 1931.

V: For the love of God, you're delicate.

J: Completely.

V: I shoulda gave them to some dame at Katherine Gibbs. Alright, get lost and get typin'. And don't waste your time typing out these conversations.

J: I won't.

V: I don't believe you.

J: Have a good one, Velma.

V: Yeah, okay. Bye.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

September 27, 1931

There is still no sign of Professor Loockersmans. His nasally assistant, Harold said that he was attending a language symposium held by the Dutch government in Amsterdam. I wonder.

I've come to the conclusion that Dottie has an incredible ability to be a social chameleon. Thinking back to her rough and tumble ways last week at the bakery, I realize she is a bit more refined now on campus. I put great stress on "a bit." I would love to study how her language pattern changes in different social situations. I can only imagine how she is with her mother and dad back in Brooklyn. And I wonder all this only because I've noticed she has taken up with this high society girl by the name of Abigail Putnam. To her friends she is known simply as Abby. Word around campus is that Dottie and she have become fast friends. This has been puzzling the other girls here in Hewitt Hall since Abby vowed she would never associate with anyone on full scholarship.

Abby is Boston money if you couldn't tell by the staunch New England name. Her father owns a large shipping business. Dottie's father is in bricklaying. It just does not make sense to me. Regardless, Dottie does not speak the same with Abigail as she does with her associates at the speakeasy or even with me. It's fascinating.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

September 21, 1931

When I came to, I found myself in a small room. Mick or Rick was sitting at a table playing cards with himself; presumably solitaire. I was laying on a old, moldy sofa. Mick or Rick immediately heard me rustle then moan as my cottony mouthed sounded for water.

"How ya feelin'?" He said not looking up from his game.

"Thirsty," I said.

"Ya went down like a tonna bricks Dottie says." No offer of water.

"I felt like a ton of bricks," I assured.

He looked at me while I struggled to pick my body up off the sofa. "I'm Rick by the way. I know you was thinkin' it. Our own mudda couldn't tell us apart."

"Where am I?" I asked.

"You're in the kitchen. Well, the side room off the kitchen. This is a bakery see."

"Yes, I got that." I was irritable I admit.

"We always gotta clear out of here by 4 bells so they can start bakin'."

That made me think of it. "What time is it?"

He looked at his watch. "'Bout midnight. I was asked to watcha till you came to."

"By whom," I asked.

"The boss," he said.

Then I remembered my whole reason for coming to this Godforsaken place. "Who's your boss?" The reinstatement of my mission gave me energy.

"He says he knows you."

My heart began racing. "How?"

"He's a professor at your fancy pants school."


"Das his square name. Round here we call him Mr. Look, cause he sees all."

"Really?" Now I started feeling slightly ridiculous for this poor soul. Obviously he was conned by a criminal into thinking he was more powerful than he really was.

"Yeah I don't know how he does it."

It could easily be explained that Look was easier for his thug cronies to say than Loockersmans.

"Maybe it's cause he's from anudder country."

I rolled my eyes at his pathetic comment. "Can I see him?"

"He just left. Had business elsewhere," he said.

I felt my shoulders slump. I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or relieved in not having to face him. "Will he be back tonight?"

"I dink he left the country. Took an aeroplane or something," he said.

"Impossible, I have class with him tomorrow," I said sternly.

He threw down his cards in a huff, "Hey, dollface, I only know what I hear outta da horse's mouth and now that you're up, I gotta go back to the door." He stood up leaving the cards strewn on the table which I found terribly irresponsible. "Let's go."

I followed him out into the kitchen past the ovens and into a slim dark stairwell. I heard the noises of people as we descended. He pushed open what seemed to be a wall and out we came into the speakeasy. I was still woozy from the drink and the combination of smoke and heat hit me once again. "I need to leave," I said to Rick.

"Then follow me," he said.

I looked over and saw Dottie shooting pool with Howie behind her counting a stack of bills.

Rick said, "Shame ya gonna miss Dottie beat the pants off those fellas."

I'm sure I'll hear all about," I said.

Rick was right. The class I was supposed to have yesterday with Professor Loockersmans was led by his assistant, a mousy young man by the name of Henry. Rest assured when he returns I will find him... during his office hours.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The past two entries have been dialogue heavy and what I have transcribed is exactly what is written on the pages of her journal. I have in no way altered the dialogue phonetically. Velma, fascinated by spoken and written language, tried her best to capture the vernacular of the Broadway speakeasy culture. For a period it almost became an obsession. Also, since Velma fancied herself more of writer than a diarist, some of her entries read almost like narrative. She assured me that her memory is phonographic and the dialogue was true almost to the word.

Monday, November 5, 2007

September 20, 1931

As I’m sitting here in the library, I am desperately trying to piece together what happened the night before.

At 9:30 PM when I am usually tucked away in bed with a book, Dottie told me it was time to get ready. She ran down to the showers and washed herself. She flew back into the room in a terry robe and quickly threw on a slim black dress with white trim. Although Dottie has a pale complexion for someone of the Italian persuasion, I still think black washes her out. Of course she feels she can rectify this by over roughing her cheeks and painting her lips cherry red to match her finger nails.

I put on a simple blue dress and over it a trench coat. Of course Dottie had something to say about this. “What are you some shamus or something? You’re going out, not solving a crime.”

“I’m investigating.” Was my retort to her.

Her face grew stern. “Listen to me and listen good, I swear to the good Lord if you rat on this joint I’ll bust your nose in.” She made a fist to enforce her claim.

“Dottie, I’m only curious to see if my professor is there. I’m not out to ruin anyone’s fun."

She unclenched her fist. “As long as we’re clear. Just cause you’re whacky doesn’t mean the rest of us need to be.”

I kept the trench on since the evening was moist. We walked over to Broadway and traveled a few blocks south from campus. The restaurants and coffee shops were full of life, which amazed me. I would have been asleep for at least an hour on any other night, but here a whole other world went on right outside my door.

Dottie stopped in front of a dark bakery. She looked both ways. In the dark sliver of space between the bakery and the building next to it was a red metal door with high grate climbing above it. She tapped on the door lightly and whispered, “Sticky buns.” With that the door opened to a crack and we were permitted to enter. Behind the door was a slim dark-haired gentlemen who whispered, “Hiya Dottie.” He looked over me. “This a friend?”

“My roommate, Velma. Don’t mind the jacket. This is her first time out.”

He tipped his black hat, “Nice makin’ your acquaintance, Velma.”

I cracked a smile through my fear, “You as well.”

“Howie’s inside waitin’ for ya,” he said to Dottie.

“Thanks Rick. Come on, Velma.” She took me by the arm and led me through the alley. “That’s Rick. Sweet kid.”

“He seems it.” I was trying to mask my throbbing nerves but the shady alley lit by one light bulb and the secret passwords were not helping.

She stopped in front of a smaller green door and tapped again four times. The door opened cautiously and we entered. The man behind this door looked exactly like Rick at the first door. “Hey, Dottie.”

“Hiya Mick.” She looked at me. “They’re twins.”

“Oh,” I said. Mick and Rick sounded like the Vaudeville.

“This ya friend?” He asked.

“My roommate, Velma. Don’t mind the jacket. This is her first time out.”

“Nice to meet ya, Velma,” he said tipping his black hat.

“And you as well,” I said nodding my head.

Dottie rolled her eyes at me. “She’s from upstate so that’s why she’s all formal-like.”

Mick smiled, “A formal dame ain’t something I’m used to here…. Howie’s inside.”

“Got it. Thanks, Mick.” Dottie put her arm out and with her hand clutched the air and drew it to the side not only to reveal a room spotted with candles and hanging lanterns, but the noise of the seventy or so patrons drinking and conversing. The black velvet curtain blocked out all sound and light from escaping.

We stepped down a short staircase into the main room. “We call it the Bakery seeing as it’s behind a bakery.”

“Very clever,” I said; my heart racing. The smell of cheap liquor and the clouds of cigarette smoke made me immediately faint.

“The air’s not so great. You might want to lose the jacket.”

She was right I was beginning to sweat. “No I’m fine.”

“Suit yourself, honey.”

Out of thin air a man in a cheap blue suit came from behind Dottie, wrapped his arms around her waist and swung her off the ground. She yelped out with a smile, “HOWIE!”

I was frozen with fear.

He turned her around and kissed her on the lips. “Your sucha nut,” she said laughing.

“I know it, but I’m your nut, doll face.” His eyes were light with an angular creamy face and the distinct trace of freckles on his cheeks.

“Howie, this is Velma.”

“Nice to meet ya. Dottie says awful things about ya,” he starts laughing. I hoped he was joking.

She slapped him across the cheek playfully, “Howie’s an idiot who says the first thing that comes across his pea brain, but we keep him around for fun.”

“And Dottie’s the dame who can hustle any of these guys at pool,” he said proudly.

“And Velma’s the one who can speak eight languages. Now that we know each other’s talents, let’s get a drink,” Dottie heading toward the back of the establishment.

“Nice meeting you Howie,” I said. “But I can only speak three languages although I can understand five.”

“Alright, enough,” Dottie said as the three of us walked over to the long wooden bar. “What ya got tonight, Fox?”

Fox seemed to be the short older gentlemen with absolutely not a trace of hair on his head and a round pug face. His white apron was impressively spotless. He replied tersely, “Gin or whiskey.”

“What’s homemade?” Dottie asked.

Howie chimed in, “The gin and you can taste it.”

“Ok, three whiskies and put ‘em on the rocks in honor of our new friend, Velma.”

“Dottie, I’m not drinking,” I urgently reminded her.

The man called Fox poured the drinks into ice-filled glasses. “Yeah you are. It’s on me.”

“No, I’m not,” I insisted.

Dottie pushed Howie out of the way and put my arm into a vice grip. “Listen sister if you walk around in a joint like this in a jacket like that and you don’t drink, kids are gonna start thinking you’re the fuzz and it won’t be pretty for any of us—”

“Ladies, ladies,” Howie started seeing the fear in my eyes, I’m sure.

“—so drink the damn drink.” She let my arm go and smiled. “Besides, you might like it.”

“You're a beast,” Howie said to Dottie with wild excitement in his eyes.

“Remember that when some pretty dame walks in front of ya.”

“I will,” Howie said with a grin. Dottie picked up a glass and handed it to me. Then one to Howie and she took the last for herself. She raised her glass, “To breaking the law,” she took a large sip and placed the glass on the bar. Howie took a reasonable sip.

I looked at the full glass and just wanting to be done with the whole thing, I took a breath and drank the entirety of the amber liquid. In an instant the combination of heat, smoke, body stench, and poison hit me and all went black.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

September 19, 1931

Speaking Dutch is more of a challenge than I figured. Unlike English or French, the way Dutch words are spelt greatly affects their pronunciation. All their words altar their spellings significantly in order to make way for different endings. There is also the concept of vowel sounds being determined by closed and open syllables. For example "boom" which means tree drops an "o" and adds an "en" to form "bomen" and thus the plural, trees, is formed. It would be pronounced "bo-men" which is obviously much different from the original "boom." I believe this is why Dutch can sound like English, French, and German, all at once, in natural conversation.

Also on the matter of Dutch, I can't help but think of Professor Loockersmans as a proprietor of some vile speakeasy. Although his appearance is always clean and his stature is of the utmost intelligence, his demeanor seems rank with deception because he is so spare with his words.

Regardless, tonight will be the night I find out. Like some amateur gumshoe I am accompanying Dottie to her "spot." I do not intend to drink but to observe and if Professor Loockersmans is indeed heading the establishment I’m not sure what I’ll do. I don’t think I have the courage to confront him, nor will I have the respect to learn from a criminal. In which case, I will then drop Dutch and wait for German to return next semester.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

September 15, 1931

I had two involved papers to work on over the past few days and have regretted not writing. The first paper was for my modern poetry class concerning Whitman’s stance on the Civil War as reflected in his later verse. The second involved the socio-political climate in Western Europe after the Great War. The research is rewarding but the topics are not my favorites.

After the unfortunate incident with Dottie a few nights ago, I decided to confront her on the Loockersmans comment she made in her stupor. She explained that Loockersmans owned the establishment where she found the music swinging and the hooch cheap. I explained to her that Loockersmans was also the name of my Dutch professor.

“Yeah, so?” Was her response.

“Don’t you find it irresponsible to educate young minds and break the law at the same time?”

“Christ with you and this (I shall omit her harsh expletive) law. It’s only a matter of time before they change it. The man’s making scratch (which means money apparently) hand over fist. Then she said if I was so curious as to why he was running a speakeasy, I should go see him there myself. I hesitated at the idea but then I thought it might be to my advantage. Leverage, as Dottie calls it.

I have to admit, I do like Dottie. She may be a bit gruff but I feel her heart and mind are sharp. She said she was going home next weekend and would bring me back a tray of her mother’s eggplant Parmesan. A thoughtful gesture for sure. I’ve never tried eggplant or much Italian food for that matter and in times like these, it is rare that people share food.

Friday, October 26, 2007

September 10, 1931

Dottie came in at 4:30 this morning and vomited clear across our small room. It, of course, brought me out of my pleasant sleep.

When I turned on my desk lamp I found her sitting on the floor, red-faced and sweating. She said she found this “swingin’ place” very close by. “The hooch is real cheap,” she said with a grin.

“I can smell that,” I said to her more annoyed than anything else.

“Ahhh lightin’ up, Velma,” she stumbled in her dense Brooklynese; a language all to itself, I assure you. “We’ve been here over a week and you haven’t gone out the once.”

“Drinking is illegal.” The conversation now took place over me cleaning the mess with some old towels from the laundry.

“Yeah, that’s why cops do it too,” she mumbled indignantly.

“Ridiculous!” I said.

“Velma, honey, how naive are you? No one believes in that bunk law.”

I do hate it when she calls me honey. It’s much too familiar.

“Don’t you want to practice law?” I said to her.

“Yeah and the first thing I’d do is fight to turn this stupid amendment over.” Then she fell forward on her face. She remained incoherent while I finished cleaning up. None of this was enjoyable, mind you, and I only did it because no one else would.

As I was putting her into bed, I heard her start to mumble nonsense. Then out of the clear blue she said, “Lookersmans.” She started laughing and saying things like, “Such a stupid name.” She laughed a little more then fell into a drunken sleep in which she snored louder than usual. Was it my Dutch professor? If so, how did she come in contact with him? She wasn’t taking the class. Actually, she poked fun at me for taking Dutch. I found the whole situation queer.

When I climbed back into bed, my mind was reeling with the possibilities. But as I fell asleep, I wasn’t sure what had really happened and what was my sleepy imagination.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On the Phone with Velma #1

“What?” I hear Velma’s voice yell out before she even brings the receiver to her ear.

“Velma? Hello?”

“What?” She seems to be breathing heavily into the phone.

“The blog is up.” I say triumphantly. Like it took years of work.

“Is that supposed to mean something?” Sometimes I think she plays this ignorant old lady thing on purpose.

“It means the general public will be reading your journals.”

“Yeah well,” she labors. “I hope it works,” She struggles to gain her breath.

“What works? Are you okay?”

A guttural cough right into the phone, “Yeah I’m fine.”

“What’s with the breathing?”

“Oh, you caught me doing yoga.” You see what I mean about the old lady act. “I was doing kapalabhati.”

“That’s crazy stuff.”

“It’s the reason I’m still alive.”

I lob a little pause in there. “So, what works?”

“What are you talking about, sweetheart?”

“You just said I hope it works.”

“The journals! It’ll make ‘em realize what’s going on.”

I chuckle, “Yeah, well, I think it’s an entertaining read.”

“I know you do, but there’s more to it.” At this juncture the reader might take note that Velma thinks some of the more
fantastical elements of her journal are not fiction. I can say with confidence that, I think, they are. We humor her. “So do you
need more?”

“More what?”


“Velma, I’ve only posted three.”

“THREE? Whatta ya waiting for?”

“Do you know how long it takes to read your handwriting? I have a day job.”

“Oh Christ, I’ll be dead by time you type out ’35.” It’s possible. “Work faster!”

Me changing the subject, “Look I called to see if there was anything you want to say about your journals? For the readership?”

“Yeah—” Suddenly I hear what sounds like a legion of cast iron skillets falling onto tile. “DAMMIT MIMI!” Then another crash
and the squishing sound of the receiver under Velma’s ear as she moves about. “Never keep a peacock indoors. They get into everything.”

Knowing what I know now about Velma Graydon this statement does not strike me as odd as it may you.

Mimi in the other room! NOW,” she yells. “You see it’s supposed to rain and I don’t want them outside.” There are two of them. “They get so ornery when they’re wet.”

“Ah huuuuh,” I draw that out because I have no idea what to say.

“So the early journals,” she refocuses. “Yeah, they’re awful.”


“They’re so sophomoric. I was in love with my own brain. I thought I was the bees-knees for going to college. Now everyone goes to college.”

“That’s what you have to say about your journals?”

“Oh God, I cringe when I read them… Skip ahead. So much flower so little root. The later ones get to the point.”

“Velma, I’m not skipping.”

A deep sigh, “No? Well, then I’ll just die before you get out of the 30’s.”

“Okay. Anything else you want me to relate.”

“Sure, let them know I don’t shit diamonds like I thought I did seventy-five years ago.”

“Right, okay.”

“And don’t say shit when you quote me. I want your civilized readership to think I’m intelligent.”

“Got it.” Little does she know that I’ve been transcribing our conversations word-for-word. She’d be fine with it, I’m sure. No use in telling her right this minute.

“You know I didn’t say my first curse until I was forty.”


“Yeah, now I can’t stop.”

Monday, October 22, 2007

September 5, 1931

I had my first Dutch class this morning. It was taught by this goliath of a man named Dr. Gerdi Loockermans who is obviously Dutch himself. He hails from the city of Utrecht and came to New York to study at Columbia. If I had to guess, I would say his is in his late forties. He is a quiet man with an extremely deep voice and I couldn’t help but feel that he was staring down each of his students throughout the session. It was as if he was trying to find something in us. His eyes are very large and dark; a rich brown. Perhaps he was trying to intimidate us with the staring or perhaps he can’t help it. I will admit it was unsettling to say the least.

He didn’t start speaking in Dutch right away. His English is impeccable with very little trace of his native accent. But when he began to introduce the language the tenor of his voice completely changed. The pronunciations are so alien to me. The vowel combinations will be hard to master and there are words you have to literally change the shape of tongue to say things correctly. I’ve heard that this is also the case with German so perhaps Dutch will be a good precursor to my German studies. It seems that the Dutch sentence structure is virtually the same as English so, just paging through the two slim volumes required for the course, it seems that it’s all a matter of vocabulary and declension.

My roommate Dottie Cento, who is also here on full scholarship and who has left her family in Brooklyn to live “up city” as she calls it seems to be very friendly, and quite a free spirit. We have been here barely three days and she’s gone out each night. She hasn’t said what she’s done but she does reek of liquor when she comes in. It doesn’t bother me, although I don’t fancy myself a drinker, I knew I would come in contact with it here at school. Even though it is illegal, I’ve heard the stories of the countless speakeasies here in the city. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have the courage to go to one.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

September 4, 1931

With the amount of work that seems to be ahead of me, I will not be able to write in my diary every day as I would have liked. Yesterday was so crammed with little tasks like finding my classes and purchasing books. Then, of course there were the little social gatherings amongst the girls on my floor here in Hewitt Hall. With all that I scarcely had the time to remember my name. I will have at least one class everyday of the week. It would appear that my Wednesday schedule is the lightest, so I will take that time to roam the city and find my way around my new home. For the past two days I’ve seen nothing but the campus of Barnard and yesterday evening I was able to stroll through Columbia’s neighboring campus. It makes me anxious to think of the entire island of Manhattan that I am still yet to see. All in due time I keep telling myself.

I found that the German class I was hoping to sink my teeth into has been postponed till next semester seeing as the professor broke his leg in two places and has gone on medical leave. Needless to say I was extremely disappointed especially considering that they have placed me in a Dutch class as a remedy. I honestly have no interest in Dutch, but I was told it will be good practice for German next semester. I’m not even sure how Dutch functions as a language. My guess is that it’s an amalgam of English, German, and perhaps French thrown together in deep guttural sounds. I assume I’ll find out since the class is tomorrow.

I was able to telephone home and tell mom and dad that I had made it to New York. I assured them that my arrival occurred without incident. I arrived at Pennsylvania Station around 1:30. The marvel of the place really was a grand indication of the city I have chosen to school myself in. The glass ceilings in the depot alone were a miracle of human engineering. Then walking into that waiting room my jaw dropped. What a breathtaking structure! It looked like a magnificent church or a Roman bath (which I believe it was modeled after). In all honesty I had never seen a structure that large before, inside or out and it pleases me that it is the first thing I saw on my entrance. It is truly a divine gateway on which to enter this city.

After stepping off the train, I went out and found the nearest cab. It was a Checker Cab driven by a very polite Italian man. I so wished I had taken Italian so I could converse with him. Although I’m sure Spanish would’ve sufficed in a pinch, of course I didn’t want to insult him saying so. I told him the address in English and he brought me up to the campus taking Broadway all the way from 34th street. What a magnificent street, Broadway. It winds through the grid defiantly, as if it doesn’t care that it’s breaking all the rules, almost like a river cutting through the other streets.

Barnard’s campus is small, but since it is considered to be the sister school of Columbia, I also consider that to be my campus as well. It is quieter than I expected up here. The campuses have great trees dotting them, and the other students walk hurriedly around, not stopping to talk to one another. I did imagine a bit more noise and crowding. Perhaps I’ll need to go downtown for that.

I would think to write all this in a letter to my parents, but the mood doesn’t strike me. Besides, I promised to call once a week and they can hear it all then. Letters from my own hand bore me. I’d much rather read someone else’s written in a different language.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

September 2, 1931

“There is a magic in the world and all you need do is open your eyes to it.” That’s what my third grade teacher, Mrs. Ham used to say every Monday morning before she called roll. Now that I’m older, I realize that everyone needs to recognize the possibility of something magical on something as awful as a Monday morning. Thinking back on it, Mrs. Ham probably did it to remind herself of the world’s enchantment as she stood bleary-eyed in front of the responsibility of twenty-six children. But as I climbed out of bed on this morning, some years after the days of Mrs. Ham, I saw a world full of magic. The late August morning I found outside my window had a fine mist covering it. The field outside that I have looked on for all eighteen years of my memory was a bright green, wet with the dew of late summer. Dad’s horses trotted by for the first run of the morning. Their nostrils expelled the vapor and the hooves kicked up the moisture. Mom’s coffee called from the kitchen downstairs and all was as it always had been.

My life has always been in Saratoga on my father’s ranch. The routines have been unbroken from grammar to high school where I unlocked the academic mysteries of my own small world. I spent my time working carefully on words until their meanings were revealed and their relationships established. Words are my greatest friend and constant companion. I want to make them my life’s work. My teachers have told me again and again that I have a gift for language seeing as I mastered French and Spanish before I was in high school. While in high school I conquered Greek, Latin, and I am now trying to master German. With recent events in world history, German may work to be useful. It seems that Americans are wary of anything associated with Germany, but I feel a need to understand them may arise.

It is also my ability to master languages that has given me the opportunity to start a new page in my life. This morning as I write in this diary, I am sitting in a nearly empty passenger car bound for New York City. Tomorrow morning I will begin my first class at Barnard University where I have received a full scholarship to study linguistics. I am the first person in the Graydon family to receive a college education. I’ve watched many of my friends leave school to marry or work for their families in these difficult times. I tried to convince them that leaving school would not help; their educations would lead them to prosperity. My own parents told me there would be no higher education because they couldn’t afford it. The tracks have suffered because of the Depression. My father has not seen as much business as in past years. He had to let most of his stable hands go, leaving most of the work to him and my brother Henry. My mother has taken to working up at the spas waiting on the rich women who come in for the baths. Yet even those patrons have become few and far between since those who had fortunes have lost them. My only comfort is that I will be one less charge for my family being out of the house and on my own.

When I came down the old wooden stairs this morning I had three green trunks packed with my most important possessions. One was clothing and two were books that I simply couldn’t part with. Mom was annoyed that I didn’t wait for Henry to help me with them. She told me a lady has no need for so many books or such heavy trunks. She’s so old-fashioned and has never been able to understand my independence. In her eyes I should be staying in Saratoga searching desperately for a husband to sweep me off my feet and knock some sense into me. But father believes in my education and encourages it. When I received word of my scholarship from Barnard, he was the first to say that I needed to go and then eventually insisted, much to my mother’s protest. Deep inside of my mother, I feel it’s the regret of her own choices which raised her objections. She left school after the fifth grade to help on her family’s orchard, and at the age of seventeen met my father and was quickly married. Her life has been her husband and children. Mine will be words.

Just an hour ago, as I stood on the platform, looking on my home town and seeing my family sending me off, I couldn’t help but think that I never belonged there. That was never my life. For eighteen years I was only marking time for this moment; to leave for a much bigger world. Of course, I will miss my family and look forward to returning for holidays, but my life will now be in the city. This diary will be a record of the events that soon mark that life. On this very morning as I ride through these green valleys, I am speeding toward the wonder of New York City.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Introduction by JR

Doing research at the Museum of the Native American down on Bowling Green, I came across the strangest old woman. I was alone(Courtney was off making photocopies of Lenape longhouse sketches) and looking for a book on the the Lenape language. Said old woman was sitting at one of the round reference tables poring over a Lenape linguistics guide. It was likely the only one written and that, most likely, the only copy in print. I couldn't help but notice how furiously she was writing in her black leather-bound notebook. I also couldn't help but be amazed by the look of her. She had pure white hair in a perfect bob and thick round-framed black glasses. For a second I thought Lee Krasner was before me taking an interest in the impossibility of the Lenape language.

Without even looking up she said, "Can't take your eyes off me, huh?" Her voice was gravelly but not so deep that it would frighten. There was just enough season to know she was a life-long New Yorker.

"No, I actually need that book," I said smiling. Works with all the old ladies.

"You do?" Genuine surprise. "What the hell for?" She liked me already. I could tell.

Many have asked that question, "I'm working on a graphic novel."

"And it's in Lenape?"

"Parts of it," I said sheepishly. I usually lose people at that point in the conversation, but her face turned rosy and warm.

"What's it about?"

I expel a regretful sigh, "The history of New York City."

She lights up further. Her posture even improved, "What's the story?"

I was confused. I thought that was pretty self-explanatory. "Umm, well, the Dutch settle New Amsterdam after Henry Hudson discovers the island of..." I lost her.

"You mean it's straight history?"

"Ah, sure," I say without confidence.

She grimaces, like only a New Yorker can, then quickly motions for me to come closer. Naturally I had been keeping my distance. Anyone who's interested in Lenape shouldn't be trusted.

I move slowly toward her. I figured she was going to hit me with the book for my apparent audacity. "Do you wanna hear a real story?"

I'm not sure I had a choice, "Sure?"

Two and half hours later (Courtney had gone to have lunch without me) she's talking about Coney Island in 1942 and a giant sperm whale out to take revenge for her dead calf (put on display outside of Nathan's). From the content of what I heard before, I was pretty sure this lady was a loon.

"What? You don't believe me about the whale?"

It wasn't only the whale. I was dumbfounded by the time I had invested in this woman. "Well I-"

"Check it out. Makes for a better story than straight-up history." And she continued on for forty-five minutes filling in the decades after, which were even stranger than the centuries prior.

"Then the story's not over?" I ask cautiously.

"No, but I bet it'll be one helluva finish," she says with a grin.

"I'm sure."

She knew I was humoring her. "You should read my journals if you don't believe me. I'll tell you what. You wanna good graphic's novel..."


" the journals. Come back next week and meet me in Bowling Green. I'll give you all of 'em."

"I don't think that's nece-"

"Come on! Whatta ya gotta lose? Besides, they start in '31. Real slice-a-history." She did have a point. I was a sucker for history. "What the hell is a graphic's novel anyway?"

That was almost two years ago. Last May I met her again to return all 19 volumes of her journals. What she recorded from 1931 to present is at once fascinating, thrilling, and frightening. When I saw her I said, "You should publish these."

"Nah. You use them."

"I think I might."

"Really?" Her 90 year-old face smiled back the wrinkles.

"It's fascinating stuff.

"Isn't it though."

"But it's your property-"

"No, no. I'll be gone soon and this crazy story is gonna end. I need your youth to get it out there," she smiled and lightly smacked me on the cheek.

"Courtney and I have decided to use some of this in the graphic novel. If that's ok with you?" I asked. "Also, I hope you don't mind, but I photocopied the journals for research purposes."

"Wonderful. And the resolution is coming. You just need to stay tuned sweetheart," said like a real old-salt New Yorker. Crazy as sin and full of heart. "So why me?" I asked.

"You had a nice smile." With that, Velma Graydon, a spry 90 years young walked off. This blog contains her journal entries transcribed. Her handwriting is impossible to read and it takes a day or two to translate each entry, so I'm typing them one at a time. When I last spoke to her she said she was pleased that more people would be able to read them, but had no clue how to access a "glob" to see if I was doing them justice.

I told her I was doing my best.