A Penny A Kiss
Chapter 1 Eastern Beginnings
Being born was easy. All I had to do was open my mouth and scream, and I was initiated into the world. After that nothing worked. I never paid any attention to growing up or any of that. Life just drifted, carrying me along like an insect floating downstream on the current, upside down, legs in the air or belly flopped and watching the watery scene below move by. It was an easy way to go through life, buoyed and cushioned from the responsibility of walking on hard surfaces.
Even now, memory dim, I look back through a fog and see only feeble outlines. I see the house where we lived in Washington, D.C., and I recognize the upstairs bedroom where my mother sat in a maple rocking chair silently sewing at the window under a print of Gainsborough’s Blue Boy hanging on the wall above her. Her white fringed blouse and rose colored necklace shone soft in the yellow light.
I walked into the room and across the blue carpet flowing like a vast pool of velvet in front of me. There I stood staring at her through the stillness, watching her creamy white hand draw the needle into the air, curve around and pierce the needle into the garment, lengthening a neat row of stitches. I wanted to sit on her lap to soak in the warmth of her bosom and look out the window, but her lap was a flurry of business. Her hand waved back and forth, consuming the space above the lap I coveted. Even at age four, I understood in some visceral way that when she hid away in her room like that it was a stay-away signal.
Just Keep Shooting
Chapter 2 New York City
I hardly knew where to start the daunting round of job hunting. When I called the contacts furnished by my USC cinema buddies, they immediately cut to the core. What exactly can you do? Well—this was hard to answer. I had no prior employment in film work, no flashy credits, and no, was not a member of a motion picture film union. Sorry, we’ll let you know if…
Every day I folded myself inside the red phone booth on a nearby street corner, classifieds on my lap, a coin purse full of dimes, and dialed call after call. When the temperature rose above freezing, I leaned back on the stool and watched the flakes as they splat against the panes in fat drops and dripped downwards, trailing streaks of New York dirt. Through the bleeding glass I could see the blurred outlines of the skyscrapers, smeared together like black cutouts. I experienced an unreal feeling of being caged in a small boat in a stormy sea, and I wondered what the devil I was doing here and what I thought I was going to accomplish. The coins kept slipping from my wet fingers and the phone receiver, propped by one shoulder, rubbed like pumice against my chin. It was like shooting an arrow over a dark ocean, each rejection a shaft of hope disappearing into the fog. Just keep shooting.
I returned to the apartment shivering. Mrs. Murray served me hot tea and cookies in the living room and listened, arms folded in her lap, while I described the frustrations of working in a phone booth: running back and forth to the tobacco store for change, dropping dimes on the muddy floor of the booth, squinting to read the scrawled phone numbers on my tablet from the dim bulb overhead, and trying simultaneously to balance the receiver, hold a pen and tablet at the ready, and feed coins into the phone slot. Mrs. Murray half-smiled, shaking her head, and poured me another cup.
One afternoon Radley, Bette, and Mirat returned from the state capitol in a state of shock. They had arrived at the office of a state legislator to lobby for women’s rights, a man who welcomed them cordially with a non-committal smile, yes, what can I do for you? As Radley explained that they were citizen advocates for pro-choice and pointed out the suffering caused by back-alley abortions and the moral right of women to choose when and if to bear children, the expression on the senator’s face tightened, his glance jerked several times to the window. Of course, he fully understood their position, please leave a written report. He stood up. Clearly the man on the far side of the desk did not agree with them, and further, was not amenable to females invading his office and taking up his time. Two subsequent interviews with male legislators at the other end of the hall revealed the same reluctance. The women sensed that the controversial subject involving women’s functions was one the men preferred to avoid altogether.
Disappointed, they headed toward the elevators, through throngs of men and a few secretaries clicking down the hall in high heels, past closed doors behind which servants of the state pursued their male priorities. They saw no sign of the four females who were members of the Minnesota legislature in 1971. Inside the crowded elevator, the men eyed Radley, Bette, and Mirat with hostility—these are female lobbyists, the looks said, troublemakers who go about overstepping their bounds and stirring up trouble. When the car reached the first floor, the herd of men marched out, brushing past them and out the elevator. The women felt the looks of condescension on their backs as they walked off, scornful comments floating after them that contained the words bitch and ball-breakers.
These were not the gentlemen they met in living rooms and sat next to at dinner tables, the polite men who opened doors, removed hats, and stood when a woman entered the room, brimming with deference. Something had changed drastically.
They had just encountered the strongest dose of misogyny they had ever experienced. The group agreed—it was not to be tolerated!