Wednesday, May 19, 2010
100 –THE PIT
In that year Peter and I turned 11 and were plotting our return to Connecticut in our room on the 6th floor at 124 East 84th Street. This strange year when we had been uprooted from Connecticut again. The last time it had been to go down to a decaying resort in Florida for six moths , with Mother and Grandmother Clark but without Dad. No explanation then, and no explanation now beyond that living in the country was too hard for Mother and she needed a year off in the city. Peter and I prided ourselves on being country people. In Florida they had forgotten about us, and not even tried to get us into a school, and though peter read schoolbooks anyway, I wandered like a vagabond, my uncut hair bleached nearly white, though jungles and citrus groves.
And now this year they did just the opposite, forcing us into an Anglophile private school called Allen-Stevenson down on 78th street where Dad himself has been forced to go many years back. Our public school in Connecticut, in a sparkling building surrounded by woods, had been just the opposite of this new place. Because, they said, of ideas circulating by someone named Dewey – which strangely was also the name of our Negro handyman and chauffeur – there was no homework. We stayed in the same room all day, a place with students’ art work everywhere. As likely as a session on spelling would be a session on moving to music or finger painting. Each room had a big mural of hearty workers and farmers walking into what someone said was meant to be a socialist future. Something to do with Roosevelt and the dread depression, about which they kept complaining even when it was over. But now in the city we were marched, each time harsh electric bells rang, into different old dusty schoolrooms with old rutted desks bolted to the floor and harsh, foul breath disciplinarians who were constantly punishing me or ridiculing me because I could not understand Latin, or much of anything else. And we had to wear neckties and blazers and scratchy gray flannels. And after school, when in Connecticut we might do to some unsupervised, vaguely boy Scout event, or more like just roam, the boys in this all boys New York horror place put on comic opera uniforms of an organization called the Knickerbocker Grays and leave us behind to go off to an armor, sporting medals and always swords, to do some high society military marching thing or something.
So we were far away from what we had known – and in some ways not nearly far enough. Mysteriously, our grandparents Gaga and Nana, and their pretty daughter Betsy and her infant son Robin moved into an identical apartment on the 4th floor . Up in ours on the 6rh, where Peter and I had a room and Mother and Dad a bigger, room, and there was a fairly big room too for mother’s Southern mother, grandmother Clark, who made fun of the colored women who came to cook and clean, and made sure they gave us grits and okra with our meals.
And then more confusion. We had had nothing resembling sex education from school or home, though somehow we knew there was something very deep going on when we were up against girls, which of course we were in Connecticut. But there were no girls in this school we were in, no women teachers even. Which increased the longing for I did not know exactly what.
But a feature of our room was that it was on a direct line with the 6h floor in a building across the street where a very pretty, happy looking long haired woman, almost an adult, would lean on a window sill, lean out so she was partway through the open window, and she would smile, looking so happy there with practically with no clothes on.
I had a reverie that went way beyond the dreams about getting back to the country. It did not even seem like a dream. A sweetly smooth and tanned naked girl, sweat running down her body, was on a ladder climbing up into the sunlight from a deep pit where fires raged.