Thursday, December 20, 2007

Velma's Journal--ON THE PHONE WITH VELMA #3


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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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.  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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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 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. 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

Velma's Journal--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. An irrational thought to be sure.

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 you 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 Miss Graydon."

"Sorry, Miss 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, Miss 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, Miss 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 then, 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 Miss 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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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.

"Miss 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 an 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, Miss 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 was.

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 did not speak.

"Miss 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 Miss 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. "Miss 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, Miss 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

Velma's Journal--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 is 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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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 sounded like she wasn't 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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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

Velma's Journal--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 holy 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 dizzy.

“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.